data journalism marketing public relationsLeading journalists have gathered data for decades to reveal facts, build stories and attract readers’ attention. Content marketers and PR can use data journalism to tell compelling stories, win media mentions and stimulate their audiences’ interest.

Data journalism involves collecting and analyzing data, sometimes huge amounts of data with the help of computer programs, and then transforming that information into easily digestible stories, often with data visualizations or videos. The best data journalism captivates viewers while simultaneously revealing previously unknown insights.

Despite the substantial benefits of data journalism, few PR or marketing teams try to take advantage of it, and those who do, often do it poorly, experts say. 

Data journalism can establishes an organization as an authority and thought leader, which is becoming increasingly important as brands transform from advertisers to publishers, says Ashley Carlisle, brand relationship strategist at Fractl, in a Convince & Convert post. Fractl often uses data journalism, but the strategy can work well in any content strategy or vertical, she says.

Carlisle offers these recommendations:

  • Create new content from existing data. Simplify information and pull key findings from data to add value. If marketers do not create new content or add value, they cannot stand out in the sea of content.
  • To avoid perceptions of bias, present findings without an agenda. A transparent methodology and fact-checking also help avoid bias charges.
  • Obtain data from reputable sources. Those sources include: government databases, specific information scraped from social media networks, and original data such as surveys and interviews.

Common Sources of Data

Social media analysis offers of wealth of data. More than half of the top performing campaigns in the automotive vertical curated data from the social networks, according to a Fractl analysis. An analysis of four years of posts revealed what cars Instagrammers most frequently included in selfies (BMW won that race.)

Although time consuming, field research can produce superb data. One agency set up cameras on I-95 in Florida to video distracted drivers. In the 20 minutes of videos, 8.6 percent of drivers were distracted. The analysis generated nearly 200 media mentions.

In a study of hotel cleanliness, a travel logistics website collected swabs of bacteria from different hotels. Its findings lead to 700 media mentions, Carlisle notes.

Present the Data Well

“There is a huge potential for sites that publish content — no matter what the topic may be — to infuse their information with statistics and compelling, supporting visuals,” says Pratik Dholakiya, founder of The 20 Media, a content marketing agency, and PRmention, a digital PR agency. In an article for HubSpot, Dholakiya recommends:

Make data appealing and interactive. An interactive graphic by ConcertHotels educates viewers about the history of American music. Besides showing relationships between music genres, the graphic plays music samples when viewers click on a category.

“Sometimes people need more than simple pie charts and graphs to understand data. Data journalists get that,” Dholakiya writes. “And as a result, they must continuously hone their design and development skills.”

Look beyond numbers. In fact, data journalism doesn’t need to rely on numbers. An article in The New York Times revealed the lack of Asian-Americans in Hollywood films not with statistics but with quotes and examples.

Tell a story / Include emotion. The best content contains a clear, convincing and emotional narrative. More than 5,000 people died from heroin in New Jersey. But instead of simply relaying that statistic, created an interactive graphic with tombstones for each person. Viewers see the first name, age, town and year of death when their mouse hovers over each tombstone. The same story could have been told by organizations that work to prevent or treat drug addiction.

Bottom Line: Data journalism is no longer restricted to newsrooms and large publishing companies. Marketing and PR can employ data journalism to tell compelling stories and gain attention, including extensive media mentions. Extracting key information from existing data to create new content or producing new information through surveys and field research can propel organizations past competitors.