Interview with Annette Siragusano: Data Storytelling in PR

Annette Siragusano is Digital Mind and loves agile working. She has demonstrated this in a wide variety of positions. She started working according to Kanban with her communications team at comdirect bank AG back in 2014. In recent years, she served as Global Head of Content Strategy & Cross Channel Campaign Management at Engel & Völkers headquarters. Her responsibilities included Digital Communication & International Enablement, Social Media and Content Creation & Management. From 01.10. she starts as Division Manager Communication at the Otto Group. She is a driver, companion and enabler of an ongoing digital change process, a member of the Modern Leaders initiative and on several juries. She also leads WG5 ‘Data Storytelling’. The interview was conducted as part of the webinar ‘How to succeed with data storytelling in PR’, hosted by IMWF on May 31.

Thomas Mickeleit: Annette, what importance do data have for you in the focus of your topics? Do you have a data culture in your team that supports topic management with data?

Annette Siragusano: We are seeing a very strong shift towards data in marketing/communications. If we compare how we worked five years ago versus how we work today, we see that data is becoming more important. Of course, many communicators have been working with media response analysis for many years. And this also has its justification, but this alone is no longer sufficient for the future. I believe that much more is possible these days due to technological developments, especially to work with data in a forward-looking way. The data is then no longer just a justification for why so many press releases are sent out, for example, it opens up the opportunity to work with it in day-to-day business. The real challenge is not having the data, but working with the data. And that requires a data culture. And not everyone who works in communications or marketing jumps at the idea of data. That’s fair enough to say. We are embarking on a journey in this direction, and at the end of the day we need a data culture that needs to be built up successively, and at the same time it is a matter of finding colleagues who have a high affinity for and enjoy data.

Thomas Mickeleit: How interested is your team in data? How far do you want to get involved with that as well beyond your team? Can you share that with us?

Annette Siragusano: There is a very high interest in data and facts. The days of making decisions based on gut instinct are over in many companies. There is a very strong move towards fact-based decisions. Nowadays, we are able to generate insights, that is, really new insights. We can evaluate content and facts in a completely different way on this basis. But that requires working with these data and insights and seeing the data as an integral part of daily activities. Just having a number is nice, but: What does that mean? What is the consequence? How do I prepare that? And how do I make it so that I don’t have a wallpaper of numbers and say, “Look at all we know.” Yes, fine – and now? This transfer performance is crucial, and that’s where competencies that marketing and communications people in particular come in. They create the transfer performance of a data scientist into the operational activity. In this way, insights can be gained, learnings identified and, in the end, concrete actions defined. This is elementary and is becoming increasingly important. One of the supreme disciplines of the future will certainly be working with data, interpreting it and actually preparing it so that you can work with it in such a way that it has an effect.

Thomas Mickeleit: According to Brent Dykes, a datastory consists of data, narrative, and visualization. First of all, nothing works without data, but data alone is not enough. But if we look at data now, many communication colleagues say: data, I don’t really have any at all. And you said earlier: Well, we actually have enough data. And I would now be interested to know what data is actually available and how does data management take place? Is there something like a command center, which we already know from some companies, that marketing, communications, other functions, all throw their data together and use the source as well. What experience have you had?

Annette Siragusano: Of course, I would love to have the ultimate super duper dashboard with all the numbers at the touch of a button. I think that’s a very good target picture. At the same time, I’m a big fan of a Pragmatic Approach. I think it’s more important to start working with data and in doubt it’s different dashboards that you work with because you have different sources as well. That means looking at a wide variety of sources: Website data, social media data, your own data, third-party data, market research data, trending data and also SEO data. Just as there is classic media response analysis data. So there is a lot of data. The challenge is: break down silos and develop a common understanding of what the “single source of truth” is. At the beginning, there may be a few numbers, which are then successively enriched. But it is precisely these figures that you then look at, start with and try to derive trends from. If you start out looking for the “egg-laying lizard”, you’ll never get it done. You get lost in the details too quickly. That’s why it’s totally relevant to define together first relevant data to work with and then really start. The art is to start and iterate and not die in perfection.

Thomas Mickeleit: We took with us not to wait for the perfect model or the totally integrated dashboard. You can conjure up quite good things, but should definitely start. How do you get internal stakeholders on board? Is there a preparation of data according to the interests of different target groups?

Annette Siragusano: First of all, it is important to have a common understanding of data within your own teams. Regular data sessions with deep dives or even some kind of quizzes help to stimulate a data culture. It’s about taking away fears and bringing joy to these topics. The point is to show the range between hard facts and exciting or unexpected numbers that arouse curiosity. Reports often lie dormant in a drawer. It’s much more effective to have a conversation now and then where you go into the exciting findings and then really get into the discussion: What do the numbers look like for you? Shall we take a look at it together? Can it become a shoe? With this, you can start tomorrow with your team to institutionalize and expand this piece by piece. All the challenges that lie ahead will only be mastered together, and for this it is important that everyone in the company has a feeling for data and its use. And not just to say: Here are the data, eat or die. But to ask: And now? What does that mean now? What do I do with it? Is there another way to look at it?

Thomas Mickeleit: That was also my experience with my ex-boss, who said, “What shalls” every four weeks to the media analysis data? I can’t leave it at the data, I have to explain what I’m doing with it. Last question for you, Annette: We haven’t talked about visualization yet. Is there a specific strategy you’re driving? Is there a special secret you can share with us?

Annette Siragusano: I’m a big fan of automation and don’t believe in spending days preparing data in fancy PowerPoint slides and building the prettiest graph. When in doubt, I’d rather have real-time data at my fingertips. It’s about automated dashboards that manage to visualize the core essence. We are overwhelmed by visual representations that are just not that self-explanatory. And you always have to put yourself in the shoes of the reader, who may only have a few minutes to understand the message. Therefore, always have head: What is the key statement, what is the theme that I see here? Afterwards, what is the essence in its entirety and the consequence of it? For this it is important to consider at the beginning: What goes on the Management Summary Dashboard, what goes on the Portfolio Board, and what goes on the Work Dashboard? A clear structure saves time for interpretation. Otherwise, it is quite easy like a little die in beauty, but does not help in the end.

Thomas Mickeleit: Thank you very much for the insights you gave us, from the real work of a data champion!