Interview Lea Waskowiak: Data competence becomes a success factor in communication

‍‍Lea Waskowiak is a communications scientist and has been with Covestro responsible for data analytics in the Media Relations & Corporate Channels department. She is also an external doctoral candidate at the Chair of Communication Management at the University of Leipzig. The interview refers to Lea Waskowiak’s contribution to the webinar “Why communication strategies fail”, which took place on 23.2. was organized by the IMWF. You can watch the webinar here view

The questions were asked by Thomas Mickeleit, communications consultant for digital transformation and head of the CommTech WG

Thomas Mickeleit: Lea, is it true that you are currently still an “exotic” figure in the communications scene with your work as a “data analyst”? Is there a trend?

Lea Waskowiak: Yes, at least it has only been in the last few years (with the onset of the pandemic) that we have seen increased development of the digital infrastructure of communications departments. Data has taken on a new significance in this context. Integrating them into daily work requires a systematic development of competencies. Those who educated themselves early on or provided resources internally may be considered “exotic” now, but probably not in the long run. In any case, a change in thinking is evident. Communications departments are asking themselves what set-up they need to adopt in order to meet this trend and its requirements.

Thomas Mickeleit: There is a growing interest and willingness to be more data-driven in communications, what is your experience in your role at Covestro?

Lea Waskowiak: Our colleagues are also very interested in integrating data into their daily work – whether it’s setting up a topic monitoring system or creating a dashboard for evaluating press work. Although my role was newly created at the beginning of 2021, it was quickly apparent to all newsroom colleagues that my job was not about control, but about objective assessments and results. Looking at the data has become an integral part of our meeting routine. At the same time, I get a lot of freedom to initiate new projects, but also to critically question the tried and true. This form of cooperation is very important to me. Only when we systematically analyze and interpret data together do we succeed in checking our own communicative punch and drawing conclusions from it.

Thomas Mickeleit: What advice would you give to communications leaders about how they should build their organization to make full use of data? How does it behave with the data treasures of other functions? How are they lifted?

Lea Waskowiak: I think there are two adjusting screws that can already be turned with little effort. One is competence building within communication. If it is possible to build up a certain know-how among colleagues and encourage them to integrate data into their daily work or even to carry out the analysis themselves, the topic is already widely implemented. The other point concerns communication management. Often, data is used only in the analysis or evaluation of communication activities. In fact, data can be used at any point in the management process. Let me give you an example: We regularly look at the Share of Voice on our strategic topics and key messages. The findings help us to decide which topics we should put on the agenda or (more) strongly occupy. We can then take this into account when planning our communications activities. In addition, we are in regular exchange with the company’s other communications functions such as Public Affairs. By sharing technical resources such as tools, we can take advantage of synergy effects.

Thomas Mickeleit: Data analysis is a marathon; only five percent of users follow up their findings with action, according to a presentation by U.S. expert Brent Dykes. What is your observation on this? How do we move from evaluating communication to controlling it?

Lea Waskowiak: I can only agree with that. Implementing the findings from data analysis and taking them into account in communications management – either in day-to-day business or in long-term strategic decisions – also proves to be a challenge for us. But one that can be managed. Achieving the last five percent can only work if we succeed in moving from a communicative is to a communicative should. Data-driven approaches provide us with the right impetus here to define action requirements for future communication. Again, I refer to the Share of Voice analysis: For us as a fairly young DAX company, for example, it has proven particularly effective to play on individual, very specific sustainability topics such as climate neutrality or the circular economy. Measured by the share of voice, we are also associated with this on the part of the media. We have anchored this accordingly in our communications strategy and in our Message House, and have specifically included Climate Neutrality as a core message, for example.

Thomas Mickeleit: CommTech also means mapping the stakeholder journey in communications efforts. To what extent does data help us to address stakeholders according to their status in the stakeholder journey, and is this already being practically incorporated into our work?

Lea Waskowiak: We understand the stakeholder journey as the sequence of media contact points with the company – this also influences our communications work. Data helps us here primarily from a listening perspective. Particularly with regard to social media, we are seeing that stakeholder interactions are no longer linear; after all, interactions are also taking place among stakeholders, both with and without the involvement of the company. This co-orientation of stakeholders must be considered from the outset and incorporated into the management process.

Thomas Mickeleit: The interest on the part of internal stakeholders is as varied as the data. How do you gain the attention, especially of management?

Lea Waskowiak: I think data culture is a good keyword here. A living, positive culture and knowledge of the needs and mindset of internal stakeholders are important prerequisites – regardless of whether these are my direct colleagues or the management board. In my experience, concrete cases are very helpful in attracting attention to a particular topic or problem. By setting up a report or an alert, for example, we can show a direct solution option. In addition, we also succeed in sharpening our reputation within the company and positioning communication as a value driver.

Thomas Mickeleit: A brief look into the future. In five years, will we have a “data analyst” function in all communications departments?

Lea Waskowiak: I am convinced that a certain knowledge of data will be part of every communicator’s repertoire in five years. This is evident not least in studies that investigate such trends and examine whether and to what extent technology and data literacy can already be found in the curriculum of German PR degree courses. A certain know-how on the subject of data will therefore be indispensable in the future. The “data analyst” will then definitely no longer be an exotic, but an established position in well-positioned communications departments. And that makes sense. After all, we don’t just need generalists, but also specialists who think ahead about a topic or trend and look at it from new perspectives.