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Data Storytelling: The Key to Presenting Data to Clients

Published on October 16, 2023, 1:29 p.m.
by Alison Reed. 

When it comes to planning a public relations campaign, practitioners have to decide upon goals, define target audiences and craft messaging. However, the foundation of a successful PR campaign is built upon data storytelling and strategy.

According to Midas PR, using data to influence and drive a PR campaign will lead to more optimal results. With the increased access to data, the use of this information has become crucial in creating effective campaigns. There are a variety of ways that data can be used, from search engine optimization to understanding a company’s target audience.

As PR practitioners begin to become more familiar with using data to define a campaign’s strategy, they may become more

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comfortable in navigating large data sets. However, it is important to find ways to break down the data to better communicate the information to clients.

Defining data vs. strategy

For those less familiar with creating public relations campaigns, the words “data” and “strategy” may get confused.

According to Zachary Carpenter, group strategy director at LUCKIE, data points are simple observations or facts. Carpenter explained that often people make assumptions about target audiences, but the truth is that people are much different from each other.

“People are not rational, and data shows us that,” said Carpenter. He explained that data acts as a “source of truth” when consumer’s actions and thoughts don’t always align. By using data, practitioners can understand the reality of how their audience is behaving compared to what they say.

Carpenter stated that “insights are [like] art for the strategist.” Insights are lateral jumps in logic from data point findings made once the data points are analyzed.

These insights are then used to inform a campaign’s strategy. A PR strategy is the overall framework or guideline of a campaign, according to Digital Ceuticals.

Before gathering insights to help define the strategy behind the campaign, practitioners must carefully pick relevant data points.

Selecting of relevant data

In the digital age, there is certainly no shortage of data to which practitioners have access. Whether it is social media analytics or demographic data, practitioners can easily gather a plethora of data points that they can use to inform their clients.

When communicating data to a client, it is important to include only the necessary information. For example, if a client is looking to understand millennial travel habits, do not present data explaining baby boomer housing trends if it is not directly relevant.

Not only can clients become confused if they are presented with too much data, but also practitioners can become overwhelmed and misguided if they are not focused when selecting data.

Carpenter recommended that practitioners find a singular data point that is compelling, and then to conduct an analysis of said data point. Once an insight is found, Carpenter recommended moving on to the next relevant piece of data.

“You will have a bunch of inferences about the data that you can then [use to] draw connections between [the insights],” said Carpenter.

These connections will become crucial in presenting the data to clients in an understandable way.

Telling stories using data

After selecting the most important data points for the client and their objectives, it is time to begin analyzing the information.

Nancy Brinson, Ph.D., is an assistant professor and director of integrated channel planning at The University of Alabama. Before teaching at The University of Alabama, Brinson worked as a media director for companies such as Ogilvy.

Through her career in working with distinguished brands, Brinson has found that “it is essential that your data tells a story.” She explained that she primarily uses the consumer decision journey (CDJ) to easily relate data and research the client’s needs. The consumer decision journey is a well-known framework that analyzes consumer behaviors at each stage of the purchasing process: from initial consideration to repurchase.

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Carpenter follows a similar process to CDJ by using frameworks to perform data storytelling. He noted that “there’s a lot of different techniques and really smart frameworks out there” and explained that metaphors and dramatizations of data can help bring information to life.

“You want to put the data into a journey to bring the client along to how you ended at your conclusion,” explained Carpenter.

Without creating a story using your data and insights, the client is more likely to be confused or unconvinced. The context that is used surrounding the data is of utmost importance as it further establishes the narrative of the data.

Bringing the data to life

As the data story is beginning to fall into place, it is important to begin thinking about how to present said story to the client.

In the public relations industry, information is usually presented to clients through slide shows. The key to having a slide show stand out is bringing the data to life.

By creating a target persona based on data, practitioners can “describe [the consumer’s] decision journey along each step of the way to purchase, using the different data points available to you,” according to Brinson. This approach allows the client to clearly see how their product or service fits into the lives of their ideal consumer.

Brinson further recommended “not presenting tables full of numbers. Instead, translate your data into pie charts, line charts and other infographics that visually tell the story you want to communicate to your client.”

Data visualization is a tool that practitioners can use to help clients understand complex sets of data in the form of visual graphs and charts. By bringing data to life through visuals and personas, clients are more likely to understand what is being communicated.

Pulling it all together

From campaign creation to media pitching, data is crucial to any public relations campaign. Data is one of the uniting things between advertising, marketing and public relations.

It is important for practitioners to thoroughly understand data and how to pull insights from the information.

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Carpenter further explained that all forms of effective communication use data. He said data is the “secret people don’t know” in creating successful campaigns.

“Every advertising job I’ve ever held has required providing some type of data to clients to justify the effectiveness of their media spend,” Brinson noted when emphasizing the importance of understanding and communicating data.

Data storytelling is the key to communicating data to clients in a way that they can understand. Data storytelling allows both practitioners and clients to be on the same page in creating effective campaigns.


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