How to tell a story using data and leverage it to get quality press coverage

How to tell a story using data and leverage it to get quality press coverage

In the world of PR, data stories can be a powerful tool to gain press coverage, improve your brand reputation, provide value to your target audience and drive conversions. From in-depth data journalism to PR campaigns employing data insight as a news hook, data stories are a key part of the news agenda today.

This article will teach you about leveraging data to tell a good story and using it to secure press coverage.

What is data storytelling?

Data storytelling is the concept of communicating insights through a compelling narrative based on complex data and data visualisations. Successful data storytelling will be tailored to influence and inform a specific target audience.

Why is telling a story with data important?

Data storytelling is important to validate claims you make as a business, provide new insight, encourage better decision making and assert your brand as a thought leader. Data is just a collection of numbers until you turn it into a story. Presenting reports and dashboards can be overwhelming without adding a narrative for context.

Providing data without a story, for example in a dashboard, will show the ‘what’ without explaining the ‘why’. Communications can lack depth and a level of insight that would be useful for your target audience.

Communicating a story without the data to back it up will lack the credibility and authority you need to engage with your audience. In PR terms, it is also unlikely to gain the interests of journalists and secure coverage for your brand.

What journalists look for in a data story

Data stories are more likely to interest journalists if they:

  • are topical, of the moment, and something people are talking about right now
  • are relevant to the target audience that their publication writes for
  • are interesting; perhaps out of the ordinary and something which will deliver an element of surprise. Think: ‘what kind of story will make a headline’
  • solve a problem
  • are human interest. What impact will it have on your customers and their readership?
  • have a clear narrative
  • use good, objective data which shows the full story – not just what you want people to see
  • are supported by well-designed visuals to present your points and complex ideas.

How to tell a compelling story with data – and get press coverage

1. Identify your proposed story

The first step is to conceptualize an idea. At this stage, it is an embryonic idea, and you’ll need to validate whether or not it is worth pursuing by doing exploratory data analysis. Here’s how to start:

Think about your audience

Journalists will typically only engage stories that they deem to be of interest to their audience. It’s important to understand what they want to hear and how they want to hear it in order to craft an interesting story that speaks their language and answers their questions and concerns.

What are their main goals or priorities? What are their pain points in their personal life or at work? How do they spend their free time? What type of story may present a solution for them?

Running focus groups with your clients or customers is a great way to get this information. Social media listening is a way to quickly access this data on a larger scale. This technique involves monitoring relevant keywords to shed light on what your target audience is talking about. Brandwatch, BuzzSumo and Sprout Social are good examples of tools to do this.

Identify trends

Trends indicate the direction in which something is changing or developing. Once you understand your target audience’s interests, you can validate or support your ideas with research into trends. For maximum newsworthiness, you should aim for it to be at the cutting edge of a trend. Here are two ways to do this:

  • Search for relevant terms on Google Trends. This website by Google analyses the popularity of top search queries in Google Search across various regions and languages
  • Use keyword research tools like SEMRush to understand the average number of people searching for relevant phrases or questions.

NEWS scanning

News scanning is an essential part of any PR activity. It tells you what news stories media outlets are covering right now. You should have an awareness of stories covered in the national, regional, local and trade press most relevant to your business, and think about potential news hooks they would be interested in.

Analyse the competition

Before pursuing your idea, you should check to see what content your brand competitors are publishing and what type of coverage they are achieving. You may learn some lessons from this, such as what types of data stories have worked well for them, and how they have been presented.

Google Alerts is one way to do this. It lets users create custom searches based on specific words or phrases. In this case, you can set alerts for your competitors’ brand names. Google will then send you a notification anytime it finds the search term in new results.

Another way to check their digital press coverage is to research which sites have linked to your competitor. From there, you can find out what content included the link, and what the story was. SEMRush and Ahrefs are great tools for this.

Ensure the story aligns with your business goals

Data stories can require significant investment, in terms of time or money, to get right. To determine if it is worthwhile, you should check that your proposed idea aligns with your business goals.

Consider these questions:

  • What are your goals for telling this story?
  • What results or outcomes do you want to achieve from telling it?
  • Could this outcome help drive your business’s bottom line?

If the answer is no, you should go back to the drawing board.

2. Gather or commission your data

There are lots of different ways to access relevant data. The best option, or combination of options, depends on what data you already have within your organisation and your budget.

Using your own proprietary data

Starting with what you already have is always a prudent idea, but you should be sure that you – and your brand – are comfortable with it being released in the public domain. Proprietary data can include, but is not limited to:

  • Sales statistics
  • Internal staff surveys and interviews
  • Client surveys and interviews.

Having a mix of both quantitative and qualitative data is a good idea – the qualitative element, such as interviews and audio, can dive deeper into trends noticed within the quantitative, such as a survey.

Commissioning data through a third-party

If you don’t have suitable proprietary data, or you do but it doesn’t suit your needs, don’t worry. You can commission data through a third-party provider, for example, a PR agency or directly through a consumer intelligence provider like YouGov. A third-party provider will often handle the analysis and report on their findings.

Be sure to brief them thoroughly on your initial proposal for your brand story, along with any information you have picked up from your previous research. If you’d like to interview particular high-profile people, provide them with a list of names and job roles.

Supplement your data set with open-source data

Whether you’re on a tight budget or looking to enhance your existing dataset, there are lots of publicly available data sources you can explore for free. We’ve provided an extensive list of these below.

3. Analyse your data

Thorough data analytics is the foundation of your story. Here are some methods to try when trying to craft a narrative from the data.

  • Identify trends

Use descriptive analytics – the simplest form of data analysis – to summarise the main features and characteristics of a dataset.

  • Look for correlations

Use diagnostic analysis to understand the causes of trends and correlations between different things.

  • Look for outliers

Are there any interesting anomalies in your data? They could form the basis of an interesting story.

  • Predict what may happen in the future

Use predictive analysis to use your dataset to predict what may happen in the future.

  • Make recommendations for what should happen next

Using prescriptive analytics, you can suggest what actions should be taken to solve the problem.

  • Ask yourself: do I have enough data to prove my point(s)?

If the answer to this is no, consider enhancing your dataset with third-party sources.

4. Decide how to present your data story

The professional and clear presentation should be the aim of the game. The best way to present your data depends on how you plan to distribute your campaign and what format would drive the best results with your target audience.

Pro tip: produce a digital content hub for your data. This will serve as somewhere for your target audience and journalists to access the story in full detail. You can also get creative with it and an extra bonus is that some websites may include a link to your website. Your digital marketing team will be pleased!

Here are some examples of audiences for a B2B data story:

  • Junior: first exposure to the subject; would benefit from simple explanations, a break downs of key terminology and engaging visuals to make it more accessible
  • Generalist: aware of the topic, but looking for an overview to understand major themes
  • Managerial: in-depth, actionable understanding of intricacies and nuances with plenty of data visualisations to back up the points made
  • C-suite executives: expert-level communication with in-depth analysis, with a short, to-the-point executive summary of key points at the start.

Here are just some of the many formats you can consider for data storytelling:

  • Articles or blog posts
  • Long-form reports
  • Podcasts
  • Infographics
  • Interactive data visualisations.

5. Build your narrative

Follow your brand guidelines and messaging

Your data storytelling should be on brand, both in terms of the tone of voice, messaging and aesthetic. Deviating from this could confuse your readers.

Use a narrative structure

A verbal or written narrative, also called a storyline, is used to communicate your insights and the context surrounding them, and actions you recommend and aim to inspire in your audience.

When writing a data story, it can help to write it as prose, and then think about where interview quotes, graphics or data visualisations will work best.

Tell your story linearly, starting from the beginning to provide context and building from there to take your reader on a journey. The key stages of a data narrative include:

  • Context: set the scene of the subject you’re covering
  • Characters: who are the key players? Who does your findings impact?
  • Problem: what are the pain points facing the characters?
  • Solutions: what actions do you recommend to improve the situation?

6. Use engaging data visualisation to support the story

When it comes to presentation, visual representations of your data and narrative can provide real value by communicating its story clearly and memorably. These can be charts, graphs such as bar charts or pie charts, diagrams, pictures, or videos.

7. Write a press release journalists just can’t ignore

Writing an effective press release is an art – it can be challenging to capture the attention of busy journalists who often receive thousands of emails every day. Our top tips are:

  • Pick the most impactful key insights from the data and present them as bullet points
  • If you’ve created a digital content hub, provide a link to it
  • Ensure your press release concisely covers the five basic questions: what? Where? Why? When? How?

Read our detailed guide on the five questions to ask before writing a press release and how to successfully manage the press release distribution for more tips.

Frequently asked questions

Data stories vs. data visualizations: what is the difference?

Data stories are sometimes confused with data visualization, but they are slightly different things. Data visualization presents information via images, while data storytelling creates a narrative with the data.

Data visualization is just one of the key components of compelling stories. Visualizing data can help to explain key trends and differences through time, for example.

Data visualizations can be used in other contexts, for example, dashboards, without the need to tell a story.

Where can I access free data sources?

If you’re looking for free third-party data sources to enhance your data set, we’ve put together a few ideas for you.

General data sources

Free and open access to global development datasets.

London Datastore

A free and open data-sharing portal where anyone can access data relating to London.

Run by the European Commission, Eurostat is the home of high-quality statistics and datasets on Europe.

WhatDoTheyKnow is designed to make Freedom of Information Requests easier to submit to public authorities. It reports on all requests and publishes the response.

This government hub houses a bounty of data published by central government, local authorities and public bodies.

Financial data

The Bank of England database offers data insight on bank money and credit, household credit, business finance, household interest, capital issuance and effective interest rates.

Travel and tourism

These sites offer reviews and images of establishments and activities on a global scale:

Crime

The below offer general statistics on crime in the UK by location:

If you’re looking for a trusted partner to help you craft data stories that get results, contact our award-winning team for an informal chat today [email protected].