Written by Melinda Tolliver, WWPR Content Co-Chair Board Member,
Senior Manager, Digital Media, National Alliance for Public Charter Schools

Who among us hasn’t said, “I wish I had the data to back that up.”?

Last week, WWPR held a panel discussion on harnessing the power of data for strategic communications. Panelists included seasoned communications and data experts who shared key learning on how data mining has evolved to enhance communications efforts. 

Attendees heard from: 

  • Andrea Christianson, Managing Director, Hamilton Place Strategies 
  • Carrie Jones, Principal, JPA Health 
  • Lisa Kiefer, Managing Director, Morning Consult 
  • Kathy Steinberg, Vice President, Harris Poll 
  • Shakirah Hill Taylor, Moderator, executive leader in strategic communications and digital strategy

Panelist shared these key ways to incorporate a data-driven mindset into your work:

Plan Your Approach

We often need data to help add credibility and context to what we’re communicating, so the first piece of advice given by our panelists was to have a plan in place before seeking out the data. Consider your objectives and identify gaps in your communications plan where data would be helpful.

In particular, one panelist suggested picturing your “dream headline” and using that to work backwards when you know the research will be public-facing. Once you have the data in hand, what do you want to be able to say about it and what makes it stand out from the crowd?

Use the Resource You Have, But Don’t Sleep on the Budget

The panelists were quick to point out that budget is typically the culprit of why research isn’t included in the planning of a campaign. But, investing in data is important to avoid legal issues and hits to your credibility as a company or organization.

That said, you do have more resources at your disposal than you think. Be sure to do the initial research (Google can be your best friend here) to see if someone has already done the work for you. There are also many federal agencies out there with a lot of data and information that focus on a host of issues. Don’t be afraid to pick up the phone and give them a call–in most cases they are happy to find someone who cares enough about the data to ask. 

Consider How to Externalize the Data

In addition to planning and data collection, the panelist also tackled how to ethically implement that data into a communications campaign. Many times, communicators can be eager to push a certain message rather than letting the research be as open and balanced as it should be, but that is a mistake. It’s important to find that balance in market research and you can risk damaging your organization’s reputation if you don’t. 

The panelists reminded attendees that just data isn’t enough. We need to use the power of storytelling to humanize the data. As much data as we have around an issue, in most cases, it’s not moving the needle on its own. Stories are essential to changing hearts and minds.

What the panelists want you to know:

  • Carrie: Use the power of data available to you to understand how widespread an issue is (or isn’t)
  • Kathy: Don’t be afraid of data. It can seem overwhelming, but you’re smarter than you think you are.
  • Andrea: Read stuff about data, like Enlightenment Now by Steven Pinker. The more you read about data, the better you’re going to be able to use it.
  • Lisa: Have a steady drumbeat on the need and value of information. One tip is to integrate internally and partner to pull budgets together if funding is an issue.

Missed this event? If you are interested in accessing the recording, please email pd@wwpr.org