This article originally appeared in the B2B PR Sense Blog by Marx Communications on September 4, 2020.

By Wendy Marx

Data and storytelling are probably two words that you wouldn’t expect to go together. But they do. Data storytelling can be a key way to turn dry facts into exciting stories — a transformation that could win high-tier media coverage for your brand.

But what is it and how can you use it? Let’s look a little closer at data driven storytelling, why it’s important, and how you can leverage it in your strategy.

What is Data Storytelling?

First, let’s talk data. Data can be incredibly powerful in the right hands. Whenever you do a research study or conduct a survey, that information gives key insight into your industry. It could reveal trends, behaviors, prevailing attitudes…the list goes on. It could also unveil new, surprising information that people want to know.

So, you have the data. But if you just present raw facts and figures to your audience, you’ll likely overwhelm them. Nobody will want to sift through pages and pages of data and spreadsheets to get to the essential information.

It falls on you to translate those pages of data into real, tangible stories that mean something.

That’s where storytelling comes into the mix. Find the story behind the data. What about this data should interest your audience? Will it change how people in your industry work? Does it have  emotional impact for community at large? This is what media outlets seek when sifting through pitches. They want something their audience will enjoy and share with others.

So how can you explore your data and create a gripping story? Let’s look at a few key ways to use storytelling with data.

The 5 Secrets to Successful Data Storytelling

1. Look at Your Target Audience

Just plain facts are not going to get you media coverage. Give those facts life by connecting them to your target audience. To do that, you need to know who they are and what they want.

Ask yourself who makes up the media outlet’s audience. The following questions will help you to narrow this down…

  • What’s their average age?
  • What positions do they hold?
  • What interests do they have?
  • What are their biggest concerns?

These answers will give you direction on how to tailor your content to best appeal to the media outlet and its audience.

2. Do Your Research

This is all about being armed with the right knowledge. Dig into the media outlet’s archives to learn as much as you can about the kind of content they publish and how often. How often can be a key question — if, for example, the outlet publishes content like yours once a month, you might find it harder to get its attention.

Discover what kind of content the outlet features?  Does it prefer visual content, such as videos and infographics?Or mainly feature text-only content? This will help you tailer your content strategy to give it maximum appeal.

Remember to research the writers you pitch. What kinds of articles have they written? What kinds of data have they used? How was it presented?

The last thing you want is to send out a template pitch that you downloaded from the Internet. It should feel personal. Media outlets receive tons of email pitches every day — and the number goes way up for top-tier media outlets like The Wall Street Journal or The New York Times. While a pitch template can be a good guide, take the time to make it specific to each recipient.

3. Find a Human Connection

Straight data doesn’t have much, if any, curb appeal. It’s often just a set of numbers and percentages. It requires you to take that data and give it a face — in other words, create a human connection or story that draws in your audience.

This doesn’t have to be complicated. Just show how this data impacts your community. For example, which of these two headlines draws you in more?

Headline #1: New Study Sheds Light On Cell Growth

Headline #2: Researchers Discover A Key to Cancer Treatment

I think we can all agree that the second one has more appeal. Why is that? Both headlines refer to the same data set, but the second one goes beyond the data and presents an emotional reason that the readers should care.

And that is the crux of the matter. The main, underlying question to ask when using storytelling with data is, “Why should people care?” Answer that, and you’re one step closer to success.

4. Widen Your Appeal

Hyper-specific industry subjects will get you only so far — eventually, you will wear out the things you can talk about. That’s why it’s also important to cast your net wide and branch out into more general subjects within your industry.

Say, for instance, you specialize in accounting for small businesses. Start with accounting. What subjects branch off of that? This mostly likely leads you to financial planning, taxes, managing money. Take it a step further and think about how money impacts the individuals in the businesses…building a family, buying a home, saving for retirement.

You can go on and on. Expand it as you would a mind map. Then sit down and ask yourself, “Which of these subjects do people care the most about?” Then do the research to see what questions and concerns people have about those topics.

5. Look Out for Data Sources

Sometimes you have data in-house that you can use, which is ideal. It’s easier and unique to you. But if you don’t, it’s not the end of the world. You can still use data-driven storytelling.

Data is everywhere — and with the internet, it’s easier than ever to find. Look at freely-available data on government sites and on social media.

If you have a large audience pool already, consider a survey tool like SurveyMonkey to send out a questionnaires and surveys, and use that data.

Let’s take a look at 5 public relations tools that will help you to make a success of storytelling with data, as well as your overall strategy.

5 Public Relations Tools That Will Help Your Storytelling Strategy

1. Keywords Everywhere

This useful  tool gives you key insights on keywords for your content. For any keyword you enter, it will tell you search volume, CPC, and level of competition. This tool comes as a handy extension on Chrome and Firefox browsers.

2. Answer the Public

Answer the Public is a free research tool that provides insight into what questions people ask about any given topic. Simply enter in a keyword or topic and its engine will search the web and generate the most common questions people ask on that topic. It’s a great way create content that is guaranteed to satisfy your audience.

3. Prezly

Prezly is an all-in-one solution for your PR strategy woes. Its platform allows you to pitch stories, manage contacts, and publish your news. Its analytics also helps you keep tabs on the results throughout your campaign so you can see what works and what needs to be revised.

4. Traackr

Would you like to connect with your audience, but worry that traditional ads might not work? Then influencers are definitely the way to go. Traackr is one of the best influencer management platforms out there today. Simply enter a keyword and Traackr will generate a list of top influencers, complete with their contact information, reach, and details on what they do.

5. BrandWatch

This nifty tool helps you to seamlessly keep track of what is happening with your brand. Keep track of brand mentions and industry trends at the click of a button. You will be able to see the health of your brand in real time and know exactly when issues arise.

In review…

5 Ways to Successfully Leverage Data Storytelling

No matter what your media strategy looks like, we are confident that data storytelling will be a great addition. How can you start using it today? Let me know in the comments.