Thursday, 7 February 2008

Days of Information Overload & Insight Scarcity - Crack Research Tools for PR Commandos!

Militant as I sound, it must be the general pall of slow down in Bombay, IPOs tanking, doomsayers with the recession din, the taxi strike, the weather, and the general non happenings of the week.

The only things that I am a little excited about are some tools for research that I have had a chance to play with recently. These have long been used international PR firms and it is quite interesting to to see their slow acceptance and investment in these tools by Indian PR firms too.

We live in a world of Information Overload and Insight Scarcity. Have you ever wondered when a 26-year old from a management consulting company presents at an industry forum, leaving everyone spell bound by trends and the insight he or she spouts? Similarly how investment banking professionals get the detailed information to discover synergies that decide when to merge and acquire companies, or top Sales people to design and sell solutions for their customers? These are the tools that leading professionals use to know about their customers, markets and industry in real time!

I don’t have the time!

In the PR business, whether it is preparing for a meeting with your client; writing a new business pitch or presentation, or writing a pitch note for the journalist, there is always a chronic shortage of time. In a landscape dotted with delivery milestones, reviews, internal processes and various other mundane activities that are urgent but not important these reserach tools come really handy. They help save time in searching for information, time which is then saved for analyzing and surfacing insight to finally arrive at a positioning statement or stance in the media. It further helps do a snapshot of where a client is at, and where he aspires to be in terms of peer group companies and competition. If you have the first two licked, finding a workable communication strategy to reach these objectives finally comes on the horizon.

What is required is actionable intelligence to optimize your communications strategy, this intelligence today is not just about the good old print medium but requires media analysis across traditional and social media. The ability to benchmark competitors, find PR weak spots, defining focus areas-which sectors, which markets? Finally an ability to track the drivers of your clients’ corporate reputation!

I am referring to the information databases, news aggregators and news wires, prominent among which is Factiva, a tool that is an effective news aggregator and search tool. Besides the latest news on a Company or topic that you may be researching across sources of media reporting on a company or topic, the issues at hand, stick price changes, key executives and a lot of other information it would take you weeks to gather from multiple sources. In addition, Factiva has something known as Search 2.0 that throws up graphs and through other pictorial visualization tools like heat maps really useful to depict trends. Trends that can help you understand the success of your PR campaign; the effectiveness of your spokesperson and measure your success to show bang for the buck!

There are others such as Datamonitor, Hoovers which are again general business research tools. In addition, you will discover deep dive tools for different domains such as a Gartner, Forrester, IDC, for Information Technology, and Ovum for Telecom related information. Similarly for information of a financial nature there are tools like a Dow Jones, Reuters Knowledge, Thomson Financials, and Bloomberg. I can go on and on but will close here to say that there are best-in-breed research tools out there for pretty much most domains and these can change you life if your information needs are critical for your business decision making and survival in reputation management.

In a time often replete with 25 hour work days; these tools help you climb a growth curve which would be pretty much uphill if not impossible as a PR professional, without the help of these tools. In these days of consolidation in the PR space, it may well prove the magic bullet to enable the local tigers and independents to hold their own as they scale up the ladder to compete with their MNC peers who are old users of these tools.

The challenges in adoption are of overcoming inertia and building a research-based PR culture besides of course having some bean counter sign a cheque. Mind you some of these databases do not come cheap but the benefits in time saved and the value of the information that news aggregators provide, more than justifies the investment.

The information age is here and the question is does your organization have an information strategy and tools to take the next big leap?

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