Episode

Storytelling With Data

with Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic

About this episode

Public Relations professionals excel in storytelling. PR has a reputation for not using data as well as other marketing disciplines. So when Stella came across the wisdom of Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic, author, founder & CEO of ‘storytelling with data’, she had to interview her on the PR Resolution Podcast.

Cole is the author of the best-selling book, ‘storytelling with data: a data visualization guide for business professionals’ and, through her courses has helped thousands of people around the world tell better stories with their data, but what does she think about PR data?

In one of Stella’s favourite interviews to date, they explore;

If naturally right-brain people can tell great data stories

The latest Barcelona Principles 3.0 update & how it’s possible to communicate outputs & outcomes visually

Why getting to know report readers is SO important

And why starting with data is actually the wrong place to begin your measurement journey..

Here’s the transcript from the podcast

Stella: Welcome to the PR resolution podcast. I’m your host Stella Bales in this podcast series, I’ll be interviewing experts in emerging areas of PR.

 We’ll be taking those hot topics in public relations. Dispelling, any myths, breaking down the jargon. So you are completely glued up and ready to speak to your stakeholders by the time you reach the office. If you have any questions around the episode, please feel free to tweet me @stellabayles. 

Welcome to the PR resolution. I hope you’re doing all right – We are actually approaching our second year of the podcast. I think the anniversary is next week. So I just really wanted to take this opportunity to say thank you. Over 21 thousand of you have downloaded the podcast and that’s pretty warming to know. It’s good to know that we are sharing knowledge, that you guys are finding this useful. And as I sit here in my makeshift studio at home, it’s pretty heartwarming for me to learn there’s people out there listening  – thank you. Anytime, feel free to get in touch with me on Twitter I’m @stellabayles -we’ve also got an @PRresolution too. 

I love interviewing people for this podcast. I learned so much and today’s episode is no exception. We are diving into data, but with a twist. So I have interviewed Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic. 

She is the founder and CEO of storytelling with data. It’s an organisation and a learning resource that helps people become better data storytellers. I’ve actually had Cole on my wishlist of interviewees for quite a while. I get her email straight into my inbox. I’ve read the blog and I’ve learned loads from her and the people that she works with at our organisation.

The reason why I’ve really wanted to interview her for the podcast is because she brings together the two worlds, which kind of crash for us in PR. So it’s hard, honestly, obviously people in PR are great storytellers, right. But sometimes we struggle with data. So this is why I was so excited to interview Cole. She is the author of the best selling book storytelling with data, which is one of the best business books. And she’s an expert in data visualisation. And as you know, I love PR measurement. So it’s pretty important for us to be moving in this direction if we’re not there already. So I just really wanted to get Cole’s view on how it all fits into public relations.

So in this episode, we cover if naturally right brain people can be great data storytellers. We also cover the recent Barcelona principles update from AMEC and how it’s possible to communicate outputs and outcomes visually in reports.  We also explore why getting to know your area. And why starting with data is often the wrong place to begin your measurement. 

Interesting. Cole shares why she believes that you should start with the story and then go back to the data. This point in the interview, I couldn’t help, but wonder why we don’t start with the same kind of planning stage that we do for our creative activation and our campaigns for measurement. Something for you to ponder there as you listen to the 21st episodes of the PR resolution. Enjoy!

Right now, what we’re seeing is a lot of PR agencies are now hiring more analytical backgrounds and learning and analytical people into teams too. So we can get better at putting insights and, and evaluating our campaigns. And the flip side, we’re also having a lot of creative communicators who are trying to train their brains to become more analytical, which is similar to what I did when I was working in PR.

So my first question is can right-sided brain people be analytical in the kind of data story setting that you think?

Cole: [00:04:11] So first, I would say people may associate right brain, left brain. We’re using our whole brains all the time. Right. We’re flexing different things. So I just don’t want people to fall victim to the, Oh, I’m this type of person.

And therefore I can’t do that. Because these sort of stories we tell ourselves become limiting and it’s not the case. Right. You can do that. And with you starting from the creative right PR sort of background, it means you understand the story and the way that that can be used in a really strategic way. So then the question is, and I make that point by the way, because I deal with a lot of people coming at things more from the other side where they’ve got these heavy quantitative backgrounds, but not the experience communicating and weaving things into stories.

And so for folks who identify as, you know, quant first and foremost, their fear is on the communication side typically. And so switching that background to the other side, right? If you’re strong on the communication side and you know the ability to get your point across, really what you want to think about is just now, how do I weave data into how it, how do I do that?

Or when, when does it make sense to weave data in? And it doesn’t, it doesn’t mean doing it all the time, right? It means like everything being smart about when and how we use these different strategies. And one of the things that I’ll often come back to, you know, in the books or as we’re teaching people through our workshops, which I think is probably how your designer came into contact with us, Stefan, which is great, is to really think about your audience, right?

Who are you communicating to this time? And given that, how does that mean you use data, you know, is it the first thing you lead with because they’re going to, you need that to believe what you’re about to tell them. And you want to use that to build credibility in a new way, or is it a known audience who you have interacted with before and you already have that sort of trust and then maybe data comes in later.

And if you are finding that you are hiring more people who have more quantitative backgrounds, how do you bring them into the fold and have conversations about what you’re working on so that other people can help point out when data might be useful or how and where you could weave that into what you’re working on.

Stella: [00:06:35] So you just mentioned the audience being so important in how you communicate data. And I’d just really like to just jump on that as an area for a minute. So, so with PR, okay. So the way that I’m thinking about data and how it’s referred to in these interviews, when we are using it, when we are doing our PR communications, we’re working with journalists, we may have data to back up our stories.

So I guess the audience there. It’s public that could be narrowed down into different types of public, or we could get into that detail, but taking the other side of when we might use data in PR which is when we are communicating the activity that we’ve done back to stakeholders as PR people, so this could be for an agency, it could be back to our clients who has provided the budget or it could be the CEO of our organisation who has signed off this PR work or marketing work. So, I just want to focus on that kind of audience first of all. So with PR measurement, I work in this area and are quite passionate about PR measurement and this and this audience point is quite interesting to me because often what we see is there is one report. Yeah. One report that is produced and that could be sort of the coverage and some insights, maybe some graphs off of the insights that we’ve seen.

And then that is either presented or sent. But it’s often one report, as I say, But that could be then sent to a PR director, a marketing director, a CEO, maybe a sales team. It could be, I mean, there’s some people I know there’s some of our users of CoverageBook say that they send, they hit send on an email of a report and there’s actually a hundred people on that, on that BCC on the email.

Let’s explore that then, because you just said how important the audience is – all those people have different objectives, right? 

Cole: [00:08:50] Yes. And the challenge is, but while it may seem efficient, right. So, okay. We’ve got this report. Let’s send it to them, all those a hundred people, or even more than that, right.

Every time. The challenge is that by trying to communicate with everybody simultaneously, we, we don’t, or we run the risk of not meeting anyone’s needs specifically. And so when we’re doing exercises in a hands on setting, we’ll often start with this piece on the audience. And say, okay, you know, you’ve got this data, right.

In your example, you’ve got this mega report set that aside though for a minute. And now let’s get really specific on who are you? Let’s first list out who are the various audiences who you might be sharing this information with. Okay. List those out now who are the, the primary audience is who are the most important ones within that?

Cause oftentimes there are things that we need to communicate to everybody, but really it’s this. Smaller segment, who we actually need to take an action or make a decision, or do some sort of follow up with. So getting really specific on who is that this time for this scenario and when you can get that down to a single person. And, and we can come back to that piece, but the beauty of it, when you get it down to a single person, is you can be really specific about who they are. What they care about, what motivates them, what keeps them up at night, and then you can really tailor the message and the data and what you need them to know or do to that specific person and in doing so, you’re more likely to get their attention on what you want to communicate.

You’re more likely to get the action that you need, or if not the action that you need, then start the right sort of conversation that will bring more context into place so that everyone can make smarter decisions. I know it’s easy for people to wave their hands and say, no one person, I can’t do that. Right. I have this report. It goes to everybody. 

Okay, fine. So then who are, who are the five people? Right. And where do they have things in common and where do they not, you can figure out, is there a space of overlap that you can use to communicate to all of them at the same time? Yeah. Or do you actually need to communicate differently to these different people?

And in all cases, the underlying report might be the same. It’s what you add on top of that, that’s going to be different because I focus on my team and I focus on explanatory data visualization, and I pretend to draw this distinction between the exploration of data, right. And the explanation of data. So the report for me is an exploratory process, right? Somebody going through that or multiple people are going through that saying, where are things, what we expected, where are they different from what we expect, right? Where is there a red flag where we need to take action or something that might be heading that direction, where we need to keep an eye on that?

Or maybe take some precautions or have some discussions on what we do, but. The communication doesn’t end there. The communication happens when the analyst or the PR person or the whomever it is, who’s communicating. The data says, well, I’m going to look at it through this lens, and I’m going to communicate to this specific audience, and I’m going to focus on these important parts of it.

And I’m going to lead them towards this sort of action. This is where storytelling piece comes in, where you’re using data to inform your messaging and help people understand, you know, the relative severity or how it plays out in different parts of the organisation or the product or whatever you’re looking at –  but really making that specific each time. Okay. And in cases where you really have to communicate to a wide group at the same time, then you want to think about how do you do that in a way that’s going to align you for success?. And so that can mean having specific sections of what you cover that are going to be targeted at a given group or given individual.

If you’re sending something off and you’re not there to talk through it, then it means. Organising your materials, such that people can easily see and turn to the parts that are going to be relevant to them, but always test this assumption, because I think too often, we default to this idea that we need to communicate to everybody all at the same time, because we can be more targeted and get what we need when we split things out.

So even though it seems efficient to communicate to everybody who wants, if you’re communicating to everybody at once and nothing is happening as a result of that. That is likely why.

Stella: [00:13:17] Something that you have mentioned. You said that maybe if you correct me, if I took this wrong, but if you didn’t know every single person or exactly what keeps them up at night, you could potentially have sections if you really did have to.

So what do you mean by that? If I sent it to the PR director, marketing, director, CEO, maybe finance director, I’m just saying that as examples, you could, you could have that because often the reason where I’m going with this often in PR we, not everybody, this is like a bit of a generalist, but some people have direct lines to the C suite. Not everybody does. often there is a challenge for PR to get to that senior level. However is it worth just having them just in case. Sometimes people find that it does just get forward, especially if it’s been a really great campaign. Sometimes it is just to hit, someone hits forwards. So is it worth just having a one pager or, or some, some section that we’ll talk about that higher level business impact as well?

Cole: [00:14:21] Yeah, because I think the value and adding that layer to it is. You give everybody something, right? So for the person who, even if it was a fantastic campaign, right, that may not have time to go into the details, they still have that. So what upfront, and if that piece piques their interest, then you can actually prompt people to want to dig into the details in ways where might’ve just slid across somebody’s desk or in our inbox. If it weren’t for that. 

And we’ll come back to your point on when we may not have direct access to the person, right. Even if we can narrow it down to the person that we’re communicating to, we may not know them personally, or be able to talk to them personally. And that’s where you want to be smart about still pausing and thinking about the audience and making some smart assumptions or talking to them.

Other people who have communicated with this individual or communicated with people like them. Right? What can you assume might motivate them? If we take the finance head, for example, well, we can assume they’re probably going to be focused on costs as one of those things. So then maybe that makes you approach your messaging differently than you would if you’re going after there’s making things up here, but the CEO who’s really driven by competition or winning in the marketplace.

And so. Even if the messaging is similar, even your framing can change to take some of these things into account. And when the person on the other end feels like you’re communicating to them and taking their needs into account, they are more likely to pay attention. To the thing that you’re communicating versus, you know, the canned report that everybody sees that goes to the hundreds of people.

And then we’ll do an exercise often and I’ll send you the links. You can include this in the blog posts that you mentioned, but the big idea worksheet or the big idea is this idea of let’s get our point down to a single sentence. Where that single sentence article, our point of view, conveys what’s at stake, not what’s at stake from our point of view, but what’s at stake from our audience’s point of view.

And it’s a single complete sentence. So we have a worksheet that we work through in our workbooks, or there are examples of it in the second book as well, but that just five or 10 minutes really thinking about the various audiences, the specific audience thinking about what did they care about? Are these things that we talked about?

What’s at stake, both on the positive side and the negative side, right? What are the benefits if we act in the way we think we should, or the detriments, if we don’t? Write what’s at risk and then pull those pieces together into a sentence. And in cases where you have a widely varying or mixed audience, it can make sense to do this quick exercise for each of those, primary audiences.

And then you can assess, does this mean, right? Are their needs sufficiently different? And is it sufficiently important that I should be communicating them separately or where they overlap? How might I make this work in the scenario where I need to communicate with them together? And it’s, it’s an easy exercise and it forces us to step back from the data for a minute and think about the big picture of what do we need to happen, because if you can articulate that, then you can turn to the data and say, okay, now how do I use data to help me make this case?

Right? How do I present this in a robust way where I’m going to be credible and people are going to believe me, and we’re going to make smart decisions as a result of this. 

Stella: [00:17:47] Can you do this kind of exercise? Always for like, after, after whatever has happened has produced that kind of data. Is it worth it? If we are planning before the activity for the campaigns, we’re planning it in our sort of our insight phases. And then we’re thinking about what kind of time that we might have at the end. And we set it in the most important KPIs. Should we be doing this exercise upfront? 

Cole: [00:18:15] That’s a great question. Right. And, so I worked at Google for a number of years on the people analytics team there. And I’ll just pull in an anecdote from there that helps answer this question. So there we used to do this massive employee survey. Every year, right. Where we’d ask everybody who worked there across a ton of stuff. Right? How do you feel about your manager? How do you feel about the work environment? And what we would be doing is, we’d be thinking upfront of the stories that we thought we were going to want to tell with this data, right? The hypothesis that we wanted to test. And we did that in some cases, before we even designed the survey instruments so that we would know what questions ask right. To get the right sort of data confirm or deny the hypothesis that we had going in. So yes, this can be a great thing to do. You know, the double edge of that sword is you have to be very, yeah, very careful not to let those preconceived hypotheses of how you think things are going to play out, not let that bias how you analyze the data, because it’s easy to only look for confirming factors and discount or ignore things that run counter to what you expect. And so you really have to have a critical lens in that case for testing alternative hypotheses, playing devil’s advocate.

Bringing people into the loop who, you know, will have counter opinions so that you can have robust dialogue and either sort of prove things right. Or prove them wrong. And so. Yeah, while preconceiving stories up front can make the analytical process more efficient. You just have to be careful about biasing that process, but there are very intentional steps that you can take to keep that from happening.

You just really have to be open to that and adjust your storylines as you learn from the data and change things as you go from that standpoint. 

Stella: [00:20:00] That was really interesting. You just mentioned having people involved in sort of the analysis who were beaten on bias and having that dialogue of playing devil’s advocate 

Cole: [00:20:13] Right. Even better. If you can get someone who is biased from the other, your side of things and see, and that’s, I think that’s the danger that we fall into in analytics sometimes, or, you know, people are starting to mistrust data cause it’s fake news and all of these things is that right? If you’re only looking for things that confirm what you already know to be true, you’re only going to find things that confirm what you believe to be true.

And so the way to be robust or one way to be robust in how we look at data is to intentionally seek out people who you know, are going to have different opinions or people within your organisation who come from very different parts of the business or have different backgrounds and engaging in dialogue and talking through the things that you’re finding and asking about, you know, does this make sense?

Where does it not make sense or on the periphery? Where might we dig in more to either help confirm something or not? And how does that change? How do we think about things? Because I think that’s part of what’s led us to. Where we are in the broader state of things today, people are just reinforcing. What they already think is true, which is not, not a smart way to go about things in general, but with data specifically, that can be very dangerous.

Stella: [00:21:27] So interesting when relating this back to public relations, a couple of things that jumped into my head. So I think I mentioned right at the beginning that they’re starting to see people with analytical backgrounds and education being brought into the industry. So a team that I work with quite a lot is Nicole Mario’s team in, she leads the analytics team at Ketchum, which is an agency in New York or they’re global, but, that’s quite a new department, if you like in PR. What traditionally happens is the people who are working on the campaign, you’re coming up with the creative, then analyse how successful that was or not. And then go back to the client who provides the budget to say, this is great because… it also tends to be because it’s in I guess, a communicates nature to be positive. We have been said that we put too much of a positive spin on things. I guess, this move of bringing people in then, especially in like the example, it’s not just Ketchum, who’s got that department now. Other big agencies have the budgets where they are able to do that. But, I guess that’s a huge benefit there that they, they are a team who are working directly with the, on the campaign or directly with the client and they can have a slightly more, but  unbiased view when they are analyzing that data and not just putting a positive spin on things, which is quite interesting.

Cole: [00:22:52] Yeah, it brings in another viewpoint. Right. But I would caution because those two sorts of brains together work very well. Right. Where you’ve got the person who knows the campaign, knows things from that standpoint. And now you’re pairing that with data, but what you don’t want is for either of those sides to sort of win. If it makes sense, right? And you don’t want the data side to win and maybe that’s the wrong word, but any more than the creative side, because the creative side, that person has the context and the, you know, the, the client knows the client better likely knows the context, better, the environment what’s going on.

And so. I just went, I’m bringing this up mainly to say that don’t, don’t just trust the data right. In what you know, and what your gut says as well, because data is just one piece of the puzzle, just like a, you know, the creative is just one piece of the puzzle, but it’s when we can make all of these things balanced for the given need and work together in coordination that that real awesomeness can happen.

Stella: [00:23:52] You just mentioned context and which is really, really important. Isn’t it? The amount of times I’ve, I’ve seen a graph –  actually, dashboard’s. So the listeners know that I work for CoverageBook which is a reporting tool, we work alongside monitoring tools.

So monitoring tools would go and see where you’ve been mentioned. And then, and then bring that in. And often that there needs to be, there is a need for dashboards to be there to show you all of your mentions. So where there’s been brand mentions on different social networks at different articles, et cetera, et cetera.

But it’s literally just that here’s the data. They’re not, they’re not refining that down and that’s, and that’s not their job, but I haven’t seen where that it’s just literally sort of sent on to a client or sent on to stakeholders and without any kind of insight you know it’s just – as I think I’ve seen somewhere – data puke and not really  telling me anything 

Cole: [00:24:49] Well, and this comes back to, we talked about this a little bit with the report example earlier, but for me, dashboards fit into that same sort of. Category, right. Reports, dashboards. It’s still exploratory where it’s gathering data, it’s presenting it up, but somebody, he still needs to go through that information and make sense of it.

And that’s where that layer that we talked about coming on top, it’s just as needed in the dashboard as it is for the, you know, a hundred page report that goes to all the different people, because those things both serve a need, the dashboard and the report. I’m not arguing against either of those things, but the need they serve is different than if you’re communicating to your client or you’re communicating to the C suite and you need them to know something and do something right. If you, if they want everything  and in some cases they do, or they say they do, which may or may not be the case. Right then you can share the dashboard, but have that piece ready to go as well.

That says, alright, we’ve shared it right, the dashboard or the report. We’re happy to take you through it, to your heart’s content, but we’ve actually already done the benefit of doing that. And here, you know, highlighted with story, focusing attention and bringing in all of these best practices when it comes to how you show your data or how you present your information and how you communicate that here, we’ve done this up front.

This is what you need to pay attention to this time. And by pairing those things, that can be really powerful. 

Stella: [00:26:11] So it’s doing that kind of storytelling. We talked about this specialty right now. You know, we are doing this podcast over zoom right now, and I’m sure that there has been a lot. Well there’s no in person meetings going on right now. We know that. So reports are, and insights are being sent over email, maybe on zoom. I think going back to that context point, can you, can you really get across that, the story and the insights and deliver the kind of context that data needs? First of all over Zoom on a video call, second of all, where without any kind of human communication at all, can it be done on email?

Cole: [00:26:53] Yes. So it, it can, it means changing. I think how we think about things and we’ve had to learn this even for ourselves and our work, right. We’re used to being at a client organisation, being in a room with other people teaching. And I was skeptical that you could do that in this sort of flatland environment of the virtual world, but you can, and we have to right, we need to figure out how to make this work.

So the thing that you lose when you’re not there, okay. In the room with your client you can’t use your physical body, right. Can’t move around the room. You can’t emphasize or gesture with your hands in the same way or point to something on the screen. And so what we have to do when we’re communicating in a virtual environment is figure out how we can let our materials and our person, when we’ve got cameras on which we should absolutely do whenever we can to do that for us.

And so oftentimes when we are talking about data and presenting data, we’ll actually build it piece by piece and we do this in the live setting, but this works particularly well in the virtual environment to where you can imagine. I might start off with a blank, blank slide. This forces people to listen to me.

And now I can start setting the context of why are we here? What did we set out to do in the first place? Right? Maybe I put a couple words on the screen to reinforce that, or maybe I just force people to listen to me and I have nothing on the screen and I have my camera on the screen so I can still use my hands and my voice, and I can speed up and slow down and use other things to get people’s interest. Right. And keep them focused on me rather than their inbox that is calling to them on the corner of the screen. And then we start introducing data, but we can introduce it piece by piece.

Imagine I start and I just show the axes. Of my graph. And then I add the labels to one of those axes and I talk my audience through what we’re going to look at right today on our Y axis. We’re going to look at, you know, how many mentions we got over the course of time. So my Y axis is number of mentions, and I’m gonna start building my X axis is going to be time starting at the beginning of our campaign, which was back in April and ending with our most recent point of data, which is just last week.

Now I’m gonna start building this line. Right. And you can do that. You can build it point by point and notice even without seeing the visual you’re picturing what I’m doing here. 

And so when you compare that with the visual, that actually shows people, all right, I can take them along point by point to say, Oh, here was a high point in our campaign….this is what we took those other actions that cause things to go crazy….that was also, we’re going to do more of that or, Oh, we have this low point here…this is why people’s attention, more diverted on this other thing. Fine. And you can take people through. And this does a couple of things. One you’re changing up the screen regularly, and that motion in and of itself keeps people’s attention.

Right. They sort of pop back to that if they’re getting distracted because they see something move and it feels like they’re going to miss out. If they don’t see what happens next, which is another cool thing, it creates this sense of anticipation of like, Oh, Hey, empty graph. I don’t know exactly how things are going to play out.

I’m going to tune in. I see. And so, but it’s not just the graph notice. It’s how I talk through the graph as well. It’s going to keep your attention. I, if I’m presenting data, need to be very interested in that data. If I want to expect anybody else is going to have interest in that data, because that comes across in my voice and in my mannerisms. And so people need to be able to hear me even better if they can see me. Right. And you take people well through this path, I noticed this, I’m doing this. I’m telling a story. I’m bringing in the relevant context. You almost don’t even know you’re looking at it because of the way it’s being paired.

And, you know, you can listen, can you watch it reinforces a ton of things from a memorability standpoint, when we think about the verbal and the images and pairing those. Things, which is why story and data can be used so powerfully. One of the reasons it can be so powerful as a parent in the first place.

And so, no virtual world does not kill our communications with data. It means we need to be nuanced about how we present our data, but we always needed to be that. It’s okay. We’re just all sort of figuring that out now or the world in general. I guess it’s figuring that out. I like to think that we’ve been focusing on that for some time.

But then to your other question, Stella about email…. 

Stella: [00:31:09] I feel like it’s a no…

Cole: [00:31:15] I don’t know though. It’s thoughtful about how you communicate your data and  make that work. So oftentimes what we’ll do when we’re illustrating this is in the live presentation, right? Whether it’s in person or virtual, you do what I talk about, where you’re building things piece by piece.

You’re focusing your audience’s attention very specifically on where you want them to look in what you’re showing, which you can do by virtue of either not showing anything else or using colors, varing the  size, right? These are things that your creative audience knows, right? Because you use it in marketing campaigns all the time, but how do you direct attention where you want it in your data as well?

And so in the live presentation, we’ll bring the audience through this progression and it’s the voiceover, it’s my narration. As I’m going through that lens, the context or where I answer people’s questions, or make the point clear in an email, all of that has to be written down. Because what you don’t want to do is just send the data, right?

People say, well, I want the data to speak for itself and that’s fine. The data can speak for itself, but it might say something different to every single person who looks at it. And that’s a problem. If there’s something specific that we need to have happen as a result of it. And so it’s thinking about.

How do we make things explicit? Which means the graph, you need to have a graph title and, and access titles and have things labeled so that there’s no question or assumptions on the part of your audience, what they’re looking at. Right. Make that clear by having the labels there, even if it feels redundant, because it just helps rule out any questioning or brain power that’s put on that piece.

The scenario where someone says, I don’t really know what I want and they move on to the next thing. So by labeling everything, annotating specific points of interest. Right? If we take that example where I was building something over time piece by piece, my static version would have that line graph annotated with the interesting context that was happening, tying that specifically to the data points that support it and having words in terms of if there’s a main takeaway, which there should be put it at the top in the title. So your audience doesn’t miss it, have context written out. So the thing that you send around needs to try to accomplish what you would be doing in person, right? Where it’s anticipating questions and answering those building context, highlighting important things, and really focusing on your audience and what you need them to do and making that front and center.

But to your point, if you can do both of those things, right. If I can take you through the live progression and then I have a final annotated page or two that leaves the audience who’s processing it on their own through that same sort of story. That can be a pretty magical combination. And we advocate that approach a lot, because even for the people who were there for the life progression, it gives them something to reflect back on or something to share as they help amplify your story.

Stella: [00:34:04] How about recorded videos of you and I’d say to them and sharing the insights, would you recommend that?

Cole: [00:34:10] Yeah. So it’s interesting. And I’ve seen organisations increase only doing interesting things with video. So there’s something there, right? Because in a video I can’t, I can walk you through and I can change my pitch, my voice.

And you can do all of these things. The challenge though is still is you have to have somebody click play first. And not everybody’s going to click play. And so that’s a hurdle that we have to figure out, but I think there are absolutely uses for video. And again, thinking about your audience, thinking about the culture, like the organisational culture in which you’re doing something and whether video is something that would fit and be accepted there.

Or if you, you know, if it’s older school and it might be better going with, something static, but. The bigger picture is to be thinking about these things and planning how you’re going to communicate with data or otherwise, accordingly. I think too often, we just fall into the habit, sending things the way we’ve always presented them, because we’ve always presented them that way.

Not because it’s the most strategic or going to get us what we need. And so for me, the bigger point. Point in all of our communications. And particularly if it’s something critical and important is to be thinking about all of these things, right? All the different constraints that we face, what we need to have happen, who the players are, what biases they’re going to come in with, whether we have data, how we use the data and to try to make all of those things work too, gather in a way that that was us to accomplish what we need.

Which is an easy thing to say and a very hard thing to do. And so it takes practice. And so nobody is naturally good at any of this stuff. I’m going to put it out there. It takes practice like anything. So if you feel like, ah, I’m not good at data or I’ll often encounter, because I deal with more people that are coming off the quant side of that, I’m not a designer. Right? I don’t know how to communicate. I don’t know the story. I don’t know how to make things look pretty, don’t tell these stories to yourself, practice, right? If there’s something that you feel you’re not as good at, that’s where you want it to double down and spend more time. Yeah, we actually, earlier this year launched the storytelling with data community, which is an online resource help people do exactly that because I’m a strong believer that to get good in the space means practicing and getting feedback, iterating, and having conversations with others who might be dealing with similar challenges or have found useful solutions. And so we developed the storytelling with data community to try to help facilitate all of these things. So for anyone who wants to undertake exercises, where things are provided for you, right? The data provided the scenarios provided and you can just play and practice. And when you share your solution, it unlocks our team’s solution, as well as anyone else who’s done the exercise, which is a great way to compare and contrast how different people approach the same problem, which is another good thing to keep in mind – there’s never a right solution or a right answer or a right way to graph your data. Different things will work better or worse in scenarios, but just being thoughtful about how you’re showing what you’re showing and what point you’re trying to make with it can be super helpful there, but in the community also places to get feedback and interact with me and my team directly. So definitely recommend it for anyone, particularly if you’re feeling uncomfortable with data and visualizing it, or figuring out how to weave it into stories, there are specific things there that can help you. And that’s all at communitydotstorytellingwithdata.com.

Stella: [00:37:30] I’m going straight there. There’s so many areas within. As communications are not in silos anymore, right? When we’re no longer PR people just talking to journalists. So we’re trying to develop our knowledge and our skill sets and all sorts of new areas of marketing. But I quite competently say that if we’re going to develop our skills anywhere and there’s all of those most valuable areas, we should be developing our skill set and it is being able to communicate our work properly and not just being able to learn more and to better our skills but also setting the time aside, making sure that we’re when we all starting to get those budgets signs off for the year or the beginning of the campaign, making sure there’s enough time for you and the rest of the team to go through this process at the end and not just think Yay the campaign’s done,  someone will just do the reports tomorrow. That’s fine. I know that people will know it takes more than just one day, but for what we’re talking about is just so important. I mean, there will be no budget. We’re not going through this process. 

Cole: [00:38:41] And this is one of those things. That’s always surprised me and it still surprises me.

And I will say, you know, PR world marketing, you are not alone in feeling this way and feeling like data should come in, it should play a bigger role. And we need to spend time on this. That’s a consistent theme that we see across all industries. And, you know, some maybe have been working with data longer, but you know, we’ll even have clients who are banks who come to us.

We’re like, okay, data all day, you know, for many, many years that are struggling with how do we communicate well? And so don’t feel alone, right? Yeah, everyone is facing this as a challenge at different levels. And as I mentioned before, these are not skills that people are now naturally good at. And increasingly people in roles that have historically not had to deal with data much are being asked to use data in new and different ways.

So give yourself a little bit of empathy, I guess, there for that, right? That we’re all being asked to do a lot today and a lot with data. But know that it’s possible, and by practicing and being thoughtful about how we do it, we can actually encourage smarter decisions, more robust, understanding, more and more data every day.

So more that you can position yourself in a place where you can help others turn that into information, right? Figuring out what resources you have to help make that happen. It’s a really powerful and exciting position to be in. So I would encourage anyone who is feeling hesitant about data and about their skills, try to see it as something to embrace.

And yes, there’s a learning curve, but figure out what resources do you have right at your organisation or outside of your organisation. And as I mentioned, we have a ton of resources that I encourage folks to check out, and spend time on this. And to your point, this is the thing that most easily gets cut because you have to run the campaign, right?

You have to collect the metrics as you’re doing it. But at the end of that, we’re out of time, we hit send on the report and we’re done. But that communication is the only piece of all the hard work that anybody really sees. And so my view is it deserves at least as much time and attention as all the other pieces, but we can also be smart in how we’re doing things, right.

And that comes back to some of the things we’ve talked about already. Thinking about our audience, designing with them in mind when we show data and making sure it’s clearly labeled and that we are trying to answer the question. So what for our audience, and you can take easy steps with words and sparing use of color to make it really clear what you want your audience to focus on what you want them to know from that, that doesn’t take a ton of time.

And so I’m always encouraging folks to, and particularly if you’re feeling like that’s overwhelming, I could do so much here. Look for the low hanging fruit first, what are they? Easy changes. You can make eight when you communicate with data that are going to go the longest way in terms of benefits. And typically the lowest hanging fruit that I see, there are the two areas that I mentioned use of colour and words, colour used sparingly to direct your audience’s attention to where you want them to look and words either in your spoken narrative or written physically on the page that tell your audience why you want them to look there.

Those two things alone can go and this way and taking right. Maybe it wasn’t the perfect graph or maybe it’s cluttered. But where your audience still knows where to look and why to look there. So look for small wins. Those small wins can help build credibility and confidence to be able to do more over time.

Stella: [00:42:22] I feel like I’m having a one to one lesson here. I feel very lucky. So why, I’m sure there’s so many areas that I can dive into…we are in the week following the latest updates in our industry, we call the Barcelona principles. So I’m pretty sure most of our listeners will be aware of that. So that’s the association of measurement and evaluation for communications, a brilliant organisation, which we have we’re members of, they have updated the guidelines on what PR people should be doing when they’re evaluating their work.

And it was updated last week, just a few days ago and released. So I just want to touch on it a little bit because it’s an area which is well, so very, very important. But one of the points that has been updated and it always comes up time and time again is about when we all report to any PR, we really focus on the outputs of the activity.

So yeah, that’s what happens and the outputs of that and something that we all need to make sure that we’re doing all the time is, is the outward focus on the outcomes, not just the output and the addition this year is that we need to be looking at different audiences, which, which you’ve been talking about, which is fantastic.

So the addition this, this time around is not just looking at the outcome for stakeholders and the organisation, but also society as well. So there’s a lot there just thinking about that. So part of the outputs and outcomes. Should they be very separated in a report or…. 

Cole: [00:44:13] So my  initial reaction and I’ll bring this back to something that we talk about in our workshops, but is that you need to do both at the same time and. From the analytical work that I’ve seen, right? Not just in PR, but across different industries. That’s where we fail too often, is that we actually, we stop at the insights or the, the outcomes, right?

In, in your example, where, where people analysing the data often think of themselves. As you know, I’m gonna put this, this data out there for my clients or for the audience, and they know more about the content texts. They’re going to know what to do with this data. Which is just not the case, right? If you are the one who was managing the campaign or analysing the data, you know it better probably than anyone else, which means you are in a unique position to help people derive greater value from that information.

And so for me, this means taking it past just sharing insights or sharing, you know, the outcome of the thing you just measured and taking it to a, you know, you talked about impact. I frame this often as the action, right? What needs to happen now that we know this new thing? What comes next? Does it mean we keep doing things the way that we’ve been doing?

Does it mean we change something up? Does it mean we have a discussion about something or consider some different scenarios or options? Right. How do we not just have data for the sake of data, but learn from it and intentionally do things now that are smarter than they were before we had the data. And I think the person who is communicating that data is the one who’s in the position to be able to drive.

If not the action, then the discussion that helps lead others to that action. And not just informed, right? Informing is too passive for me, for anyone who’s working with data or numbers, right. You don’t just want to inform, you want to help guide people what to do now with that new information. And it doesn’t mean you have the answer, but it means starting people out in a way that they can have the right sort of conversation. And so it could mean right in the case where you don’t have an answer, right. It’s not, we found this and therefore you do that sometimes it’s that cut and dry, but it’s kind of a rarer case more often it’s we found this. Yes.

And so now what, but rather than just giving folks a blank page to start with for that of serving up something. Right. So it could say, Hey clients who we’ve seen have similar findings before have taken this suite of potential actions or done this to their strategy is, and you can serve up things as a way of just planting that seed to get people started talking about the right sort of things.

So the challenge is if we don’t take it forward to action, we just share data or information. It’s easy for our audience to say, Oh, that’s interesting. And then they move on to something else. Whereas if we ask for some sort of action, right, here’s a decision you need to make a conversation. You need to have options to consider.

Now, even if our audience disagrees with what we’re suggesting or what we’re suggesting,  it gets people talking about the right sort of things, and that is more likely to come to better outcomes than when we simply show data. So for me, I’m always thinking it through anytime you’re communicating with data for an explanatory sort of purpose, who’s your audience?What do you want them to do with that? How do you make that clear?

Stella: [00:47:45] Hmm, it’s super useful. So we have been talking about PR measurement and our communication of the work itself. I just, just before I let you go, I just wanted to ask you just flip over to the other side of the audience just very quickly from my last question for you, Cole was, when we are using data in our stories on behalf of our organisations, when we’re sending in those stories to, to publications, to journalists, to influencers, and based on data, the audience is completely different –  it’s the public. And it could be, well, first of all, we are talking to a journalist, first of all that’s the first line that we need to get passed. And then  beyond the journalist, they are the gatekeeper to the public. So we could take, we could take a big news publication, like Huffington Post, for example, when we think about a visual, a visualisation for our data there is like a generic, general visual that will always capture everybody’s imagination, like what makes a visual?

Cole: [00:48:53] I’ll go a different direction than you anticipate with this, which is the way to capture someone’s attention with a visual. Is to weave it into a story that they care about. Right. It’s not that it’s not the graph. Right. So you, if you’re communicating to the general population, right. And if you’re communicating in general, we typically want to stick to the sort of visuals that people know, right. Line graphs, bar charts, even some pie graphs now. And then, and though I have mixed feelings, on those, where. Because that allows you. You don’t have to spend any time teaching people how to read the graph. They already know that, which means you can more quickly jump to the data and what it shows us. But I think when data and the story, right, when the communication around the data is done, well, we may not even notice we’re looking at a graph because what we’re looking at, isn’t the graph.

It’s what we do. What the data shows us. And it’s everything that we’ve talked about, how we package that and what’s around it and the titles and the story and the, you know, the fact that they’ve thought about me as the audience member, even if that’s a broad audience that makes that happen. So I would spend less energy on finding the perfect graph and more energy on figuring out why people should care about the data and have that be the focus.

Stella: [00:50:11] It’s funny. You should say that as you would explaining that. I remember my favorite graph. I didn’t know I had a favorite  graph, but I must do as it just popped into my head. I remember looking at. It was a move visualization graph  and I need to go and dig it out. Now. It was quite a while ago it was rappers over time. And how many lyrics they had or something about that. It was such a cool graph, but I think it’s because it was completely useless information, but I wanted to keep it.

Cole: [00:51:01] Memorability is one of these things. Right? And so I’d encourage everyone with graphs. You encounter, pause and reflect on each and note for the ones that grab your attention. What is it about them that does that? You know, how long do you stick with them? How easy do you know what information you’re supposed to get out of them equally useful can be to pause on a graph that’s not effective, right?

That misleads in some way, or feels really complicated and recognise what specific elements are lending to that. So that you can learn from every example that you encounter, what to emulate in your own work, what maybe is worth trying to avoid. And I’ll just come back to some of the resources that we have in the storytelling with data community.

Cause we do a monthly challenge each month and it’s usually a different graph type that will encourage people to try out. Right. So try your hand at creating a line graph this month or scatterplot. And what it creates beyond the immediate ability to practice and find some data that you’re interested in and do something with that and share it is that right.

Everyone can access these archives. So if you want to see a hundred different line graphs and how people approach them for different data sets yeah. You can scroll through and notice what works well. What do you like about the components of how it was designed? What do you not like about different things and see a lot of graphs at the same time. And there’s also some great search and filtering capability for if you’re interested in trying to figure out how people who visualise something specific there, ways that you can get to that information and just see a ton of examples. So this is absolutely a space where if you see something that works.

Emulate it and make it work for you as well –  there’s no shame in that, right? Give credit where credit is due, but learn from, those who’ve been doing this longer and, and use your own sense when it comes to what works and what doesn’t, because there are always, you know, very trusted sources who do don’t ever do everything perfectly all the time.

So don’t assume because something comes from a trusted source that it’s necessarily the way to show something, because there are a lot of different things that go into figuring that out.

Stella: [00:53:04] I think it’s going to be so important for the listeners is that everybody is constantly learning in this space.It’s not that we are just stepping in from, from the PR world into this new analytical world that we need to start from scratch. Everyone is different I guess, on that, just as my last point , I’m definitely going to join the community and say, I love getting, receiving your email into my inbox and going  off to the blog to learn more so I am constantly learning and hope everybody else will too, by joining the community. Well, how did you learn in this space, you seem so knowledgeable and experienced, where do you get your inspiration from?

Cole: [00:53:44] Everywhere. Really. I try to be a sponge and, you know, from examples, I see two things around me that have nothing to do with data. So I spend a lot of time in other sorts of like, I’ve been researching topography recently and understanding when you might go down one path with a font versus another. And it’s always interesting to me what we can learn about how we communicate and how we visualise things through subjects that, you know, that ones more directly related, but sometimes they’re not related at all.

I learned a ton from my kids. I have a seven year old, a six year old and four year old. And I learned from watching how their brains process things like how they put puzzles together, how they make sense. Sense of the world around them in terms of how that means we can help people make sense of their data and communicate that.

And so being a sponge, looking for inspiration in unexpected places and just having a critical mind when it comes to what can I learn from that I can apply in ways. That’ll help me in my own work or for me, that’ll help others as we’re teaching about some of these things. and on both sides of things, what works well and what doesn’t work well, what can I learn from things gone wrong? When it comes to being strategic in how we develop our skills and how we develop others, 

Stella: [00:54:58] I love that that you’re learning from your kids. That’s the outset, right? Just one, one last mention of the community and the blog for people to go and find out more. That would be amazing. 

Cole: [00:55:08] Yeah. So everything that we do, you can be found on our website, that’s storytellingwithdata.com.

There you’ll find information on our workshops, which we do a ton of virtual stuff. Obviously. Now we actually have a public workshop coming up. That’s in September of 2020, and that draws individuals from all around the world, different organisations. So if you are interested in getting some more hands on.

Practice when it comes to community shading with data, that would be an excellent place to do so ton of resources in the community, the books. And again, you’ll find the podcast, you’ll find all of this on the site. So that’s the storytelling with data.com. I’m also active on Twitter. I’m @storywithdata.

We have a LinkedIn page where we post tips, articles and resources on a daily basis. So check that out too, and I’ll be sure to send you all those links because they can share with folks as well. 

Stella: [00:55:56] Wow. Thank you so much. I feel that I’ve led so much just in these last five minutes for me to continue my learning journey.Thank you so much. 

Cole: [00:56:07] Thanks for having me.

Stella: [00:56:11] This is the PR resolution podcast. Keep in touch by following me on Twitter @stellabayles for more reading on PR head to blog  and don’t forget to tune into the next episode and make sure you subscribe to the series on iTunes. Now. See you there.