forrest andersonAs I mentioned in my last blog, PR luminaries, including Paul Holmes, are calling for practitioners to tap into “Big Data.”

The Summer 2013, Issue of Kellogg Magazine (published by the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University) includes “Embracing a Big Data Mindset ” in which Florian Zettelmeyer, professor of marketing at Kellogg and an expert in data analytics, talks about the mindset that organizations such as Reader’s Digest, Capital One, Amazon and Facebook all have in common. He calls it the “Big Data Mindset” and says it encompasses four elements:

  1. Designing marketing processes with data in mind
  2. Engaging in research and development everywhere
  3. Using predictive analytics
  4. Challenging conventional wisdom

Notice he does not mention “Big Data” itself.

I highly recommend you check out the article at the link above, and while you’re there, look into the other articles on big data in that issue of Kellogg. I would also broaden Professor Zettelmeyer’s first element to “Designing all processes with data in mind,” not just “marketing processes.” We need to get out of our PR and marketing towers and understand our entire organizations if we wish to add value.

My recent reading about big data suggests the key to it is really analytics. I believe our focus should be on that rather than “Big Data” per se.

Thomas H. Davenport and Jeanne G. Harris, in their marvelous book Competing on Analytics: The New Science of Winningwrite that “Analytics” means:

“The extensive use of data, statistical and quantitative analysis, explanatory and predictive models, and fact-based management to drive decisions and actions. … Analytics are a subset of what has come to be called business intelligence: a set of technologies and processes that use data to understand and analyze business performance.”

That the power of big data is really in analytics brings us back to the point I tried to make in my most recent post (“Big or Little as Long as It’s Data”): PR organizations — both agencies and organizational practitioners — need to be data- and insight-driven to succeed in the evolving business environment. It doesn’t really matter whether the data is big or small, as long as it is good data and managed according to best practices to generate insights that lead to more effective business decisions and communications programs.

Going to a top management meeting without analytics to support your recommendations and demonstrate your results will be like going into a pro football game wearing sandals and carrying a Nerf football. At best, you won’t be taken seriously; at worst, you’ll be carried out on a stretcher.

If you have any thoughts or comments, I’d love to hear them.  You can post them on my blog at:


Forrest Anderson is an independent Planning & Evaluation Consultant with 30-plus-years of experience. He is a founding member of the Institute for Public Relations Measurement Commission.

Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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3 thoughts on “It’s Not Big Data, It’s Analytics

  1. Good article Forrest with good points. The PR/corporate communication field must not miss the boat on this issue. However, it would also be good to see the ethics of big data included in discussions. It rarely is. But with companies seeking to exploit big data – or “aggressively harvest” big data as one of the major business consulting firms says – some significant ethical issues arise. Are we in PR/communication in the business of exploiting people just to sell them more products on behalf of big business? Or are there guidelines, sensibilities and sensitivities that need to be recognized? Where is the two-way symmetrical communication in relation to big data? I hear a lot of ‘analyze, target, sell’ from marketing and business, but who is considering the stakeholders other than as targets and customers?

  2. Hi Mike.

    Thanks for your comment. My sense is that the interesting work in communications is going more and more to consulting organizations like Booz Allen Hamilton, because they apply business disciplines, such as analytics, to communications. We practitioners can be much more effective, if we use information and insight to drive communications rather than guesses and assumptions.

  3. Well-stated, Forrest! Your observations regarding analytics (what our firm and clients think of as “actionable data”) are embraced throughout our firm (Booz Allen Hamilton) and integrated in our client thinking and processes wherever possible. I hope that others in the PR profession will make an effort to understand your message.

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