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Relevance of data in storytelling and its changing role

For the second edition of the ‘e4m PR & Corporate Communication 40 Under 40’, the group held a grand event on November 27, 2020 to reveal the list of 40 top achievers under the age of 40 in the public relations and corporate communications industry. The mega event was replete with panel discussions covering all things PR and communication. 

The first panel discussion of the event featured speakers Abhilasha Padhy, Co-founder and Jt. MD, 80 DB; Anjali Sehwag, Sr. Account Manager, Media Mantra; Dushyant Sinha, Founder, ICCPL; Karan Bhandari, Executive Vice President - Integrated Media Strategy, Weber Shandwick. The discourse was moderated by Tasmayee Roy, Assistant Editor, exchange4media.

The topic of discussion was ‘Storytelling with Data, talking about intertwining within the two’. Roy, in her opening remarks, underscored the importance of data and how it has permeated every business today. Keeping that in mind, the first question she asked was about how the panelists leverage data at their respective practice.

Padhy chimed in by stating that storytelling with data has taken “centre stage” in the two decades she has worked as a communicator, especially in today’s world where data is integral in communication.

“We remember stories better than we do raw data, but stories by themselves will be fiction and data by itself does not catch any imagination. Woven together, they have a deeper impact at an emotional and an intellectual level,” she said.

Karan Bhandari said that data helps make a linear process like storytelling a cyclical process. He also added that data is not only crucial for the story but also for arriving at a story, whom to target with the story, and its evaluation.

“The way we contextualize data is how it helps us arrive at three things—it helps get rid of the bias; it helps establish a connection, it provides the right time where data becomes real time. How am I contextual or topical in my target audience’s life? Therefore story has better meaning and better reception,” said Bhandari.

Roy said that data was redundant without storytelling as she drew the panelists in to speak about case studies of successful integration of data.

Dushyant Sinha said that he has seen wider media acceptance to anything data-centric which is why they focus on publishing reports, research and analysis which form the crux of regular activities.

“Media functions from a reader’s perception. What would the reader love to read in a publication? For example, if it is a report on buyer’s sentiment in one of several cities in the country, what we do is we decode the entire report into multiple releases so as to make it relevant for the target audience,” said Sinha.

He said that he prays for more data-centric reports as it ensures that they get their coverage and that is one of the ways they have achieved fruitful integration.

Anjali Sehwag stressed upon how data is needed to tell a compelling story. From a PR perspective, she has experienced a lot of growth stories, expansion stories, raising investments, in her seven years’ journey.

“Data plays a significant role as it helps us talk about where we want to reach from where we are and it all depends on it. Customization is key and work around the plan of action,” said Sehwag.

She averred that when there is no data, a journalist also fails to recognize the story as it is not as strong as it would be with data.

Roy then proceeded to talk about the role of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), and its application before throwing the floor open for the panelists to contribute.

Padhy began by talking about how they rely on technology such as Unmetric and Falcon which provides them with insights on perceptions around the brand which they then use to create a customized plan for their clients.

“We also use something like Covergae Book which helps us in saving time in terms of inputting the kind of reports that are required and understand KPI and give our stakeholders the information which is required. Falcon helps us with sentiment analysis. We run various user-led surveys to understand their behaviour which can be used as talking points in our outreach across platforms to create more content,” informed Padhy.

Karan said that in the aftermath of COVID-19 they have been using a lot of AI-based tools to understand what is happening with the internal stakeholders to help arrive at communication strategy to pivot in the right direction.

“AI and ML take us far beyond what is being said and break it down in gestures, and phrases,” said Bhandari.

On 2020 as a disruptor and the role of data in the changed environment, Dushyant said that they organized nearly 12 webinars till September to keep the clients engaged and nudge them to reach out to the audience on a regular basis as one should not lose visibility.

“While conducting those webinars, data was vital. Integrating the digital sphere with data to make PR more relevant. We were filtering data every day to ensure taking our content to the right audience and helping engagement,” said Sinha.

He explained that reaching the audience is a challenge as the internet is a “huge bucket” for which AI will become huge in coming times.

Anjali told the panel that digital integration has helped them in stepping up their “storytelling game” by creating engaging content such as podcasts, white papers, and ebooks.

“It can only be done with the help of a professional agency who help in devising the right message, the right influencer, the right social platform, the target geography, they all help in getting the desirable ROI,” said Sehwag.

The year has also changed the way they interact with their target audience due to the way users engage on social media, according to Anjali.

Which sectors use data the most? Which sectors use digital channels to promote their offline business?

Abhilasha cited the example of data being used across several sectors form start-ups, FMCG, and fintech. “My favourite example is a large retail brand that we worked for is to make it more accessible to millennials and we used data extensively to understand what was keeping them away from that brand. Was it lack of product offering or knowledge and it turned out to be latter.”

According to her, data is not sector-specific but rather sector-agnostic.

In her final question, Roy asked the panel about information overload and how to strike a balance.

Anjali said that filtration of data helps in amplifying the objectives as to what the client is looking forward to and we have to be careful in the way we deal with it.

“Data can be easily misinterpreted. It is overwhelming in case of digital PR in terms of how everything is right out there so the client knows everything too owing to which we cannot put up a face where we are like: ‘we are the boss, we know everything’ as it is not the case. It is not as easy it was before,” Sehwag concluded.


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