I started my career in public relations in a public relations agency using the media as a proxy to reach audiences. Planning consisted of flicking through a paper directory to find publications that matched the target audience for a client.
Managing relations with the media on behalf of an organisation remains a signification part of the business of public relations but as the media fragments the industry has a much bigger opportunity to help organisations engage with their audiences directly.
In the UK 90 per cent of journeys on the web start with a search query on Google according to Experian Hitwise. In the US its closer to 70 per cent according to comScore.
Audiences on the web are no longer characterised by demographics. Instead they are defined by their search history which is made up of personal motivation and interests.
In many ways the market for tools is distorted by Google. Its business is predicated on selling keyword search terms. It makes its tools freely available so that anyone can understand how their audiences are engaging with their markets online.
That’s great for the advertising and public relations industries but it has created the mind-set that tools and data should be free. On the web as in any other aspect of business if a product or service is free then the business model is almost certainly based on you and your data.
Nothing is ever free but that’s another story for another day.
Google almost certainly knows more about your web browsing habits than even your partner and its dominance in search means that it is a good place to start to understand how audiences behave on the web.
Google makes its data available via a series of tools that it has wrapped up into the Google Media Planning Toolkit as part of its Think Insights programme. Here you’ll find a wealth of data and tools that a decade ago or less would have cost thousands of pounds.
“Think of these services as Google’s gift to the public relations industry,” says public relations and web analytics practitioner Andrew Smith of Echerman.
The public relations industry should have an obsession with data and the tools to help understand audiences and markets both online and offline. To not take the time to use and understand and use these services is one of the industry’s biggest missed opportunities.
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