Throughout my career — in both politics and business consulting — I have repeatedly emphasized how research is an integral part of the equation in engaging with the public. That view has never changed and is in fact a driving force behind the evolution of Hill+Knowlton Strategies today. As you may know, H+K recently announced the launch of Research+Data Insights, an independent division of the firm that will provide primary research and data analysis to clients. The launch of RDI is yet another illustration of how important research is to measuring and influencing public opinion, as well as of the growing need for people who can interpret data and make it useful in the public domain.
We are now at the peak of the information age where data, as Gary King, director of Harvard University’s Institute for Quantitative Social Science, describes it, has become a “revolution that will sweep through academia, business and government.” King says no area will go untouched. I couldn’t agree with him more. This ever-growing mountain of data, and the power to analyze it, is transforming the way people work, as well as the “stories” companies are crafting for the public.
Public policy expert and University of Toronto professor Richard Florida coined the term “creative class” to define a class of professionals that adds value to the economy through creativity. Whether they work in business, design, strategic communications or any other number of professions, members of this creative class work to make data relatable and universally understood.
Extrapolating on Professor Florida’s idea, I believe there is actually a much larger group of people in the creative class — but I’d refer to them as the “narrators,” those who serve as the interpreters of our data-laden generation.
Taking the U.S. as a small slice of the world, it stands to show that the industries that rely significantly more on communications and the need to interpret data tend to thrive and develop at the greatest rate. According to my rough calculations using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, approximately 75 percent of the total U.S. workforce — 110 million people — is employed in industries such as management and professional occupations, as service workers and in sales and office positions that require narration as a skill.
The people who make success possible within any business are the narrators. They are not only communications and marketing experts but also social media analysts and those at the forefront of production and digital solutions. The class of narrators spans business sectors, from health care and law to financial, retail and sales professionals. All have a role in shaping a company’s message and the resulting public conversation. These individuals are becoming increasingly important, particularly as industries become more automated and dependent upon technology. When jobs are outsourced to machines that are not capable of collaborating creatively or interacting at a personal level, narrators rise even closer to the top of corporations.
With over 90 percent of data available in unstructured forms such as pictures, videos or analytics, a specific knowledge of strategic communications and creative thinking is required to transform that information into narratives that resonate with key audiences. Narrators create interactive, data-driven narratives that allow companies and campaigns to share ideas and shape public perception. With the disappearance of traditional intermediaries who “translate” and filter information before it reaches the public, the narrators are more crucial than ever.
It is no coincidence that the companies, politicians and social movements that refine their narration skills to communicate with the public are those that experience the greatest success. Take, for example, Starbucks and GE, which have built their reputations on telling their stories and not only improving corporate responsibility, but including that as part of their stories.
I have always believed that we must maintain a balance between research and creativity, but I’ve also found that the two cannot be considered separate. As an increasing amount of data becomes available, we must be able to transform that mass of information into useful material that effectively narrates a message capable of shaping public opinion, regardless of the industry.
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