With a master’s degree in medical & psychiatric social work, venturing into the world of PR and communications was not even a remote idea for Melissa. Today, many years later, she is the head of communications at IQVIA.
1. How did you end up in PR & comms?
My entry into PR was completely accidental. With a master’s degree in medical & psychiatric social work from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, I was offered a job as an executive social work & public affairs at Glaxo India Limited. The role was within the PR Department of Glaxo and, as a pre-requisite, I was required to complete a course in Public Relations. Glaxo sponsored me to do a Diploma in Advanced Public Relations from the Xavier Institute of Communications. Three years later, when I moved to Bangalore and was looking for a job, I kept my social work and public relations options open and landed a PR job with Corporate Voice Private Limited (now Weber Shandwick) and never looked back.
2. What was your first interaction with data?
My first non-PR experience with data was probably when I was doing my master’s thesis. I used all the knowledge gained from my statistics classes to do some cool analyses like regression analysis and so on. It was challenging, tough, and not made easy by the enormity of what I had on hand but provided very enriching insights that helped contribute to a fulfilling and well-received thesis on mental health and halfway homes.
I think my first exposure to data in PR was when I was involved in employee surveys with our internal newsletters at Glaxo. These surveys were done periodically, had rigor to them, and were taken seriously. They helped inform what we were doing and contributed to an increasingly better product that was in tune with what employees wanted. It helped me at a very early age to understand the importance of data as feedback and evaluation mechanism.
3. How did you start using data in delivering your campaigns?
I’ve used data across the lifecycle of a campaign – from developing campaigns to determining the efficacy of a campaign to its evaluation. My career in PR began pre-internet, before one had access to the plethora of online tools one has today, so you can imagine that accessing data early on in my career was a lot of hard work. It meant gleaning through reams of newspapers and research documents, face-to-face or telephonic interactions with people and, in some cases, analyzing physical (as in postal) responses to campaigns and running reports on them.
Preventive health education was a major program run by the PR department at Glaxo and one of our initiatives was the creation of preventive health education films which we would market to NGOs, as well as screen at various fora in the country, urban and rural. Post the screening, we would have interactive sessions with our audience. In rural India, we would get so much valuable qualitative data that helped shape and refine our films even to the point of what kind of facial features and treatment appealed to mass audiences.
I remember another time doing focus groups with employees of a technology company, relatively new to India and wanting to brand itself as an employer of choice. The focus groups provided a wealth of interesting insights and data not just about what employees liked about the organization but also how their families related to the corporate brand which led to an extremely successful employer branding campaign.
Of course, throughout my consultancy experience, given the heavy dependency of PR campaigns on media coverage, I used a lot of media metrics in our reviews. The permutations and combinations they lent themselves to make for interesting presentations and equally interesting reviews.
4. Did you come across any challenges in communications where data helped you solve them?
I think the biggest challenge in communication is always justifying the need for a particular campaign and then evaluating its impact and return on investment, both of which data has helped address and validate several times over. Data has also helped determine and justify PR budgets!
5. What is the most important metric for you as a comms person?
Data has been a tremendous asset in employee/internal communications, whether it is data from employee surveys, focus groups, panel discussions and so much more. Given that many organizations today are at a critical inflection point with regard to the pandemic and the future of work, I believe we will continue to depend heavily on various employee metrics to enhance the employee experience and drive better employee engagement.
6. What are your favorite tools for data insights?
I don’t really have a favorite as the tools I use– vary by campaign, audience, and what is being measured. However, I enjoyed playing around with LinkedIn analytics when we launched our LinkedIn India handle a couple of years ago and have been able to effectively use the data to build our platform to deliver the results we want it to. There’s a definite thrill in seeing the interplay between tweaks and changes in campaigns and their impact as gleaned from the data and insights.
7. How do you see data in comms and marketing evolve in the coming days?
As newer tools and technologies emerge, we will continue to see more refinement in what we can measure, how we measure it, and, most importantly, how we derive insights from the data that emerges. The communications fraternity has always been challenged by measurement and we will continue to invest heavily in developing more effective and efficient tools to measure PR campaigns, as well as find ways to link the impact of PR campaigns to business and corporate goals. I also hope that the PR profession will use data as it relates to issues our own fraternity is challenged with, be it around mental health and work pressure, diversity (gender and otherwise), and pay parity to drive change for the PR industry.
8. Which is the favorite campaign that you were part of?
A very interesting but equally challenging campaign I worked on was a name change and rebranding campaign for a large global conglomerate. Its Indian entity was well entrenched in the Indian market with a name that was not just a household name but had a lot of emotions tagged to it. We worked on a three-year name change mandate which may seem unusually long but there was a lot of heavy lift and shift needed to be able to transfer the strong and positive associations with the old brand to the new. A research agency was part of the core team and their periodic research-informed and guided our campaign through the three-year journey. It was a campaign that was exciting to work on and delivered great results because it was built on and propelled by data.
9. Would you like to share your two cents for the budding comms professionals?
Data is only as good as the insights you can get from them, so ask the right questions at the beginning to ensure you get data that you can actually work with. While data and metrics are important, don’t be enslaved by them. Intuition, experience, and sometimes just plain common sense are equally important measures.