The Communications industry, and particularly the role of Communications leaders, has seen a huge transformation in recent years. We’ve gone from a communications world led by intuition and gut feeling to more advanced data-driven decision-making. Reputation management is also pressingly important across the C-suite and key stakeholders. How can today’s Communications leaders better position themselves as trusted advisors to the C-suite using data?

In our recent webinar, ‘Managing a World-Class Measurement Program at a Fortune 500 Company,’ we heard from Nicholle Manners, Vice President, Communications Intelligence, Communications Ecosystem Enablement at Prudential, and Stacy Ries, Global Communications VP – Team Lead at SAP, share their expertise. Here are a few key takeaways*:

How can communication leaders position themselves as trusted advisors to the C-suite?

Come to the table with data

Nicholle Manners: 

“I would say the first thing is to come to the table with data. With the shift away from gut feelings, there’s been a proliferation of data sources. Having a clear point of view on the priority metrics that are most instructive for your actual business strategies, your industry, and the particular focus areas your executive team is leading at that time is critical…

Don’t rely on out-of-the-box frameworks or metrics from static tools. Instead, partner with the tools you bring in-house to develop metrics specific to your situations. Making sure you can explain and defend them to your leadership goes a long way to position communications as an extension of the company’s risk monitoring function. I’d say that gets you a seat at the table and keeps that seat at the table.”

‘Show, don’t tell’ the C-suite

Stacy Ries:

Data allows you to show, not tell, the C-suite the value you bring from a PR function. [At SAP], our executive suite is highly focused on brand equity. When providing analytics—whether it’s real-time data during breaking news, a snapshot of the impact of a specific event, or cyclical reporting (weekly, monthly, quarterly)—it’s crucial to represent the value in the context of brand equity. Communications, as a function, has become the prism through which we manage the brand. This evolution highlights how our function plays into the overall business value.”

What’s the value of having a robust measurement program as a Communicator?

Using data to inform real-world decisions

NM: “I view the measurement program as a way to keep a finger on the pulse of the environment. This ensures that the initiatives we put out in the marketplace are not tone-deaf to what our audience actually wants and needs at this time and are also informed by the competitive landscape.

We strive for a 360-degree view to understand what’s happening so we can identify the right intervention points and their effectiveness for our brand. It’s one thing to be guided by what audiences say they want; it’s another to be informed by how that content actually plays out in the real world.

We can’t control all the external dynamics once our campaigns hit the market, but we can monitor their performance and pivot or double down as needed. Measurement truly informs all the decisions we make for the brand, both internally and externally.”

How can you use data to shift the mindset of key stakeholders across the company?

Emphasizing quality over quantity

SR: “[Measurement] has definitely been a journey—a marathon, not a sprint. A few years ago, we had to rethink our strategy to shift the mix, focusing more on securing tier-one coverage in addition to trade publication coverage. Staying true to the outside-in value our function brings to the organization and brand, we implemented two key changes driven by measurement. 

First, we emphasized quality over quantity. Metrics and data were game-changers in shifting the internal mindset and demonstrating how we were changing our media coverage mix… We agreed that saturation of the addressable media market was the right metric to use to show progress in moving the needle. This focus on impact and sentiment helped us gain momentum within the team and with stakeholders. We could show progress and explain seasonal variations, for example, the traditional low media coverage during the summer, leveling things out instead of panicking over dips in numbers.

Metrics have been our throughline, guiding us in knowing what works and what doesn’t. As we evolved, we moved from targeting specific reporters to focusing on the overall outlets, continually refining our approach based on the data.”

How do you use data to protect your brand reputation? 

Know your ‘normal’ to monitor major shifts

NM: “In addition to the proliferation of data sources, there’s also a proliferation of relevant audiences and places where they consume and spread information, which presents a complex challenge for professionals like Stacy and me every day. Our task is to keep a finger on the pulse across all these different areas.

We establish regular metrics for normal levels of chatter, sentiment, and topics surrounding our brand externally. Whenever there’s a shift, these tools alert me so I can investigate whether it’s positive or negative, its origin, and how to address it proactively with our leadership. This proactive approach helps us identify specific or industry-wide issues that could affect our brand and strategize accordingly to protect it.

Apart from this ongoing protection, we also prepare for potential crises. With a deep understanding of our audiences’ concerns and interests, we can provide valuable insights during a crisis. This includes identifying messages that resonate and guiding course corrections as needed. Instead of weekly check-ins, we monitor these situations hourly during critical times to ensure any negative story’s virality diminishes over time. This allows us to confidently update leaders, explaining that while a headline may have been an issue yesterday, the conversation has since evolved positively.”

Identifying digital footprints and mitigating associated risks 

SR: “There are two different levels where we assess the risk factors and insights we gain from tools like Signal AI regarding the brand. One level pertains to the enterprise, such as identifying and mitigating security risks related to software. It’s crucial to clarify that SAP does not pose such risks within its environment.

On the other hand, there’s the corporate brand aspect. For example, many companies, regardless of size or location, face situations where an employee’s negative social media presence becomes associated with the brand through media reports. Even though the employee’s actions are personal and unrelated to their role, navigating this issue is complex yet essential. Identifying these digital footprints and understanding the associated risks is vital. The data and metrics discussed are essential tools for performing these tasks effectively.”

Watch the full on-demand webinar for more insights on leading a world-class measurement program at a Fortune 500 company.

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*Portions of this webinar transcript have been edited for length and clarity