Spreadsheets, Access, Literacy and Tools Can Help Build a Data Culture

“Data and visual stories are pretty consistently among our most saved and forwarded content,” Emily Laermer, managing editor for Ignites at Money-Media, told us at SIPA 2019 in June in a session titled Numbers Drive Engagement: Telling Compelling Stories Using Data.

“In the most basic sense, data stories are ones that just have a ton of information. So they can be generated from a huge spreadsheet or Excel file. But they don’t necessarily have to be numbers driven. They can be stories that have a lot of facts. So for example, new rules and regulations are great data stories. The first story I worked on at Ignites required that I read a 400-page rule on mutual fund regulation and how the funds were going to have to change their reporting. That’s a data story.”

The spreadsheets caught my eye. In telling about his reporting using data for The New York Times, Reed Abelson, a health and science reporter, wrote this:

“In a recent article, I used data from researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, to show how hospital mergers had helped lead to higher prices in various communities. And I created my own spreadsheet to look closely at the experience in a single state. Being comfortable with data and spreadsheets allows me to ask better questions about researchers’ studies. Spreadsheets also provide a way of organizing sources, articles and research, as well as creating a timeline of events. By putting information in a spreadsheet, you can quickly access it, and share it with other reporters.

Here are more tips on building a data culture:

From Laermer:

Hire people who know that stories are not always best told through narrative. Check her or his reporter instincts and make sure she or he understands numbers, is extremely detail oriented and a creative thinker. You also want good design sensibilities and knowledge of JavaScript, R and Python.

Make sure the proper tools are acquired.

Unsilo—open the conversation up with other relevant departments (graphics, tech, etc.).

Make sure that data people are involved as early in the content process as possible.

From Sciforce:

Encourage your reporters to use data — The team needs to clearly see the value of using data clear and have no barriers to access it.

Support experimentation — Management needs to insist that reporters bring data into their everyday decision making freely and from internal and external sources.

Educate in the use of data — The team needs to receive training on how to use the tools at hand to access data, to make it informative, and to interpret results. (See NYT link below.)

Foster critical thinking — The organization needs to create an environment that would promote questioning biases, distrusting intuition, and displaying a healthy degree of skepticism but would celebrate critical thinking, curiosity, and the deeper desire to question things.

From TechCrunch:

Build data literacy. In a data-driven organization with broad data access, staff will frequently encounter reports, dashboards and analyses, and they may have a chance to analyze data themselves. To do so effectively, they must be sufficiently data literate.

Compile a data dictionary. This is an aspect that trips up many organizations. When you don’t have a clear list of metrics and their definitions, people make assumptions — ones that may differ from colleagues. Then the arguments ensue. A business needs to generate a glossary with clear, unambiguous and agreed-upon definitions.

Create broad data access. Having clean, high-quality data, from a central source, and with clear metadata, is ineffective if staff can’t access it. Data-driven organizations tend to be very inclusive and provide access wherever the data can help. [This] means assessing the needs of individuals, not just the analysts and key decision makers, but across the whole organization, out to the front-line of operations.”


To listen to Laermer’s session, click on the SIPA 2019 Presentations page.

Sciforce’s blog post is here.

The New York Times extensive data materials are here.

TechCrunch’s 5 building blocks of a data-driven culture are here.

New York Approves Regulations for Education Law §2-d

The New York Board of Regents approved regulations for Education Law §2-d. The law was passed in March 2014 introducing contract requirements between schools and vendors, security standards when handling student data, and financial penalties for vendors if found out of compliance. The regulations go into effect on January 29, 2020.The full summary on the original law is available to SIIA members here. Some important components of the law include:

  • The New York Education Commissioner will appoint a Chief Privacy Officer that will take the lead in developing standards and model policies for data security and privacy.
  • The development of a statewide “Parents’ Bill of Rights for Data Privacy and Security” which outlines parent rights and is to be included in contracts between education technology companies and schools.
  • A number of requirements on education technology vendors including staff and contractor privacy training and specific data security requirements.
  • An education technology company could be subject to civil penalties of up to $250,000 for non-compliance.

The new regulations were developed with select stakeholders on the New York Data Privacy Advisory Council. Earlier regulatory proposals to the Board of Regents note that industry participated in the DPAC yet there was no industry voice on the list of advisory council members. SIIA weighed in throughout the regulatory process submitting comments at each step (comment 1comment 2comment 3). The final regulations include but are not limited to:

  • Clarification on a number of terms left undefined by the 2014 law including “encryption” and “commercial or marketing purpose.”
  • Outlines a specific process for the filing of complaints about breaches and other authorized releases of student, teacher, or principal data.
  • Adopts the National Institute for Standards and Technology Framework for Improving Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity Version 1.1 (NIST Cybersecurity Framework or NIST CSF) as the standard for data security and privacy for educational agencies.
  • Requires education technology companies to include a data security and privacy plan in contracts with schools that includes a number of things outlined in §121.6 of the regulations and comply with the data security and privacy plan of the school.
  • Requires that education technology companies not sell, use, or disclose personally identifiable information for any marketing or commercial purpose.

Education technology companies may begin hearing from schools and districts as they look to adopt and publish new privacy and security policies which are required to be updated by July 1, 2020.

This post should not substitute for a detailed review of the new laws and regulations nor should it be taken as formal legal guidance.

SourceMedia Rebrands as Arizent, Preps Launch of New Membership Business

Eighteen months after SourceMedia named Gemma Postlethwaite its new CEO, the financial information company today unveils a new name: Arizent.

The new brand is intended to convey the company mission of helping to raise up and advance the financial industry as well as professional services such as accounting and HR.

“We’ve been bringing employees and customers along on our journey for the past 18 months,” Postlethwaite tells Connectiv. “We asked, what do we look like on our best day? How do we unlock our value? There is no sense in changing the name just for the sake of it. The essence of our value proposition is how we unlock actionable insights and analysis for our communities, business growth for our customers and personal growth for our employees.”

Like many of its peers in B2B media and information, the former Source has long contended it’s no longer just a media company and the new name helps emphasize its focus on delivering interlocking content, research, networking and more to its audiences, while selling integrated programs across the collective DNA of its more than 40 brands that span live events, peer-to-peer-networks, subscription services and media.

“The term ‘media’ is no longer adequate to describe the breadth of our value proposition,” says chief strategy officer Jeff Mancini. “Our communities are no longer content to be just passive consumers of content. They are looking for a broad range of insights and analysis that spans research, live events and peer interaction. The same is true for our marketing clients. In order to sell integrated programs, you need to talk about what you do differently. The value we bring today is not just through an IAB standard banner or a 10×10 exhibit at an event.”

As part of the rebranding strategy, the team broke down the three pillars that defined the company, including,

Transformative Ideas. “SourceMedia’s editorial brands have always stood out – and won awards for – their independent authoritative journalism. By investing more in original research and analysis, we can go really deep into coverage of ideas that are disruptive and transformative, such as AI and technology, that are moving the financial services sector forward,” says Mancini.

Community. “We then rally leaders around those ideas,” says Mancini. “We have over 20 live events plus new peer-to-peer networks.”

Redefining Industry Standards. A roll-up of Arizent’s benchmark products, such The Most Powerful Women in Banking, Best Banks to Work For, Best Fintechs to Work For and Rising Stars. “All these programs are research-backed and represent what we believe is redefining the industry standard,” says Mancini.

Arizent to Launch New Leader Membership Network in March

One of the most significant new initiatives for Arizent will be the launch in March of a new leadership network that will build off the framework of the company’s 17-year-old Most Powerful Women in Banking Awards as well as other gender inclusion programs.

But rather than just offer networking opportunities for a single demographic, the new program will include leaders throughout the financial services industry and offer members access to exclusive content and research, as the group collectively advances a common goal, like greater gender diversity.

The network features a corporate membership structure that enables members to participate in year-round programming, which will culminate in the latter part of the year with the Most Powerful Women in Banking Awards as well as the launch of a new summit (the name will be announced later in the year).

“We will be working on tangible things, such as getting more women on boards, helping to solve the pipeline problem of getting new talent into financial services and the summit will be the moment when we bring the most senior members together to report on how we are doing,” says Postlethwaite.

Marketers will also be able to participate in the network, not to be in sell mode but to be “champions of change” by offering resources such as data and training to the group, according to Postlethwaite. “For example, an executive search firm can sponsor one of the board events but their duties will not just be to thank everyone for coming but to make sure that every woman leaves that meeting with her resume done,” she adds. “Those are the very practical, tangible deliverables that we are looking for.”

While Postlethwaite won’t reveal pricing for the new network, she says the program represents a completely new business for Arizent at a totally different price point than traditional B2B subscriptions or media. “This starts to deliver on the promise of a community,” says Postlethwaite. “If you actually look at what it takes to build a community, not everyone is doing that. This is what we stand for and why we matter.”

More Growth, Less Niche

Overall, Arizent is seeing significant growth in its subscriptions and events businesses. “We’re fortunate that we have sizeable subscription asset, we have a sizeable events business and we have a great media business,” says Postlethwaite. “Over the course of the last 18 months, the team has been elevating the conversation with our media clients and turning them into true solutions clients.”

Postlethwaite says Arizent will see significant revenue growth in 2020 and that growth will stem from a focus on a community-first approach. Where page views once ruled Arizent now expects to grow subscriptions, events and new community plays like the networks. From there, marketing services becomes more effective due to a quality over quantity engagement strategy.

“You can now show up in a newly defined community that’s much broader and less niche,” adds Postlethwaite. “If you’re in banking, you shouldn’t just be in American Banker, you should be in all our brands. That’s where the growth is on the media side.”


How OPIS Used Video – and Story – to Sell Their RetailSuite

“Gas station owner Mike is struggling to keep up with the times, and not just in his wardrobe.”

Thus begins one of the many OPIS animated videos featuring Mike, here wearing a psychedelic shirt and headband. “Because Mike is comfortable doing things the way he’s always done them, he’s falling behind retail fuel price trends… Mike needs to understand how his direct competitors and the stations with the top brands in his region change their prices. Then use that data to capture market share during periods of price volatility.

“That’s when Mike’s assistant manager Mary had a suggestion. She recommended AnalyticsPro, one of the five components of the OPIS Retail Suite.”


This 98-second marketing video is one of many in the OPIS RetailSuite Video Series starring the buyer persona (but not Oscar-nominated) “Mike the station manager.” Joining Mike on his journeys toward discovery are Bob his boss, rival station manager Matt (boo) and assistant manager Mary. It took all of about 20 seconds for me to fall in deep like with Mike and Mary, and apparently OPIS customers felt the same. This campaign helped produce 600+ closed sales in 2018, and drove a 17% YOY increase in sales revenue for the retail segment of OPIS business.

The video series also won a 2019 SIPAward for Best Use of Video in Marketing.

“In late 2017, OPIS (Oil Price Information Service) launched RetailSuite, an online platform with five tools to help convenience store operators and gas station owners sell more fuel and increase profits,” wrote Rick Wilkes, executive director of marketing for OPIS, in their winning entry. “To introduce this breakthrough product to the retail fuel market, we implemented a multi-channel marketing campaign to establish a product brand, build awareness of it and generate demo requests.

Video proved pivotal to the success of this campaign, and provided inspiration for spin-off activity in other channels. They created a series six “explainer” videos, including one overview and separate versions for each product module or tool.

“We used animation as the format, with ‘Mike the station manager’ as the main character and continuing thread connecting the series,” Wilkes wrote. “Each video showed in just 1-2 minutes how the individual components of RetailSuite helped Mike improve his business in an entertaining and easy-to-understand way.”


In another video, Mike trains for a marathon and starts thinking about competition. That leads to “How to Grade Your Gas Station’s Profit Margin Performance With OPIS MarginPro. In another, Mike wants to expand his business and looks to “How to Increase Your Retail Gas Station’s Market Share With OPIS MarketShare Pro.”

“We posted these videos on the OPIS YouTube channel, and on the OPIS website (both product pages and the video library),” Wilkes continued.  “We promoted them via email (8 blasts) and social media (48 posts on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook). All of this activity combined to generate 5K+ views.”

In an age where all the editorial and marketing experts promote storytelling, Mike’s adventures and travails resonate strongly. In fact, in a previous talk at a SIPA conference, Wilkes spoke about where their authenticity comes from.

“We talked to our sales director and asked, ‘When one of your customers comes to our site, what are they going to want to know right away?’ ” he said. “What commodities we cover? Are they going to want to know about our market segments? He said, ‘No, they’re going to look for who they are. They’re going to say, I’m a retailer, I sell gas. What do you have for me?’ So what we tried to do is immediately show buyer personas, and a who-we-help section. You can see all these fuel chain personas and there are a lot of them.”

OPIS also showcased video in what Wilkes called “the single most offbeat—and lucrative—effort of the RetailSuite campaign”: a printed brochure with the overview video embedded inside. They mailed this piece to 91 high-potential prospects chosen by sales, providing reps with a memorable context for follow-up calls and emails. Early last year, that promotion had already generated 15 leads and four conversions with very little expense.

I can’t wait to see what Mike is up to next.


In High-Value B2B Research Publishing, Understanding User Behavior Creates Competitive Advantage

This is a guest blog post from Edwin Bailey, director of strategy, at Publish Interactive.

Increased competition from lower cost producers, reduced customer budgets and new and alternative content types all contribute to an increasingly difficult trading environment for publishers of high-value B2B research.

The high-value market research industry has been slow to embrace the opportunity presented by new technology and is only just waking up to the possibilities presented by digital publishing – so, how should they respond to ensure they stay relevant to customers?

The digital shift

Some firms have already shifted away from a traditional ‘transactional’ model based around single copy sales and adopt new technology to power subscriptions. The reason they have done this is because for those businesses keen to prosper in the digital world, change is necessary.

The biggest opportunity open to publishers is the potential application of new technology to create convenient, new services that deliver exactly what their customers need. However, Creating and delivering services of this kind will require publishers to first establish a much better understanding of their customers.

So, how do they do that?

Data, content and context

In its whitepaper Beyond transactions – How understanding user behaviour creates competitive advantage, Publish Interactive explains why publishers need to look hard the ‘three kings’ of research publishing: data, content and context – and consider each from the point of view of the customer.

Publish Interactive helps deliver and monetise content through a software platform that offers authoring and workflow tools, licensing and subscriber management and usage analytics. As such, it’s well placed to help high-value B2B research publishers understand the challenges facing their industry, remain relevant and excel.

The whitepaper suggest how publishers can ask questions about their own businesses – and those of their customers – to create competitive advantage for each. Every high-value B2B research publisher looking to understand its customers better, it says, needs to ask itself key five questions:

1.       Where is my content, how are my customers using it, and why?

2.       Are we really providing original opinion or insight?

3.       What is the user experience (UX) of our customers?

4.       How can our content be intermeshed with technology and consumer workflows?

5.       Can we unify our multiple content sources?

Gain understanding

Once it has gathered its responses, a publisher will know its business far more thoroughly. Establishing a better level of user understanding will, in turn, help the publisher create a competitive advantage by knowing what customers need and how and when they need it.

From here, a publisher can create services and delivery systems that respond to changes in the way customers want to access, engage and consume research content. This will help them establish long-lasting relationships and continue to deliver reoccurring revenues and future value to customers.


To find out more about how Publish Interactive is helping innovate the research publishing sector, please click here.