Most of you reading this will work in the PR and communication industry so will be as excited as me to hear about a new tool that crunches data from a person’s online presence to give you tips on how to communicate with them.

Newly launched, it’s called Crystal Knows and all you need is a person’s name (although you can also add company and city for a more precise search). You’ll quickly find yourself searching every man and his dog – colleagues, business partners, acquaintances, friends, family, ex-employers…the list goes on. It becomes quite addictive and my experience so far shows can be scarily accurate in many cases.

How Crystal Knows works

In its free format it will give you tips of how to speak to, email, work with and sell to that person. It also lists things that come naturally and not so naturally to that individual.

Crystal reviews data it gathers from its community as well as thousands of publicly available online data sources to find information written by the individual. Crystal then runs a personality detection analysis on the text to match with one of 64 different personality types.

How it can help PR and communication professionals

Tone and style is very personal and matching these to people you contact will undoubtedly make you a better communicator. It’s a great tool for better PR targeting with:

So, what does Crystal’s analysis look like? I wanted to show you this by taking screen shots of some high profile CEOs like Mark Zuckerberg and Tim Cook, but unfortunately nothing comes up which brings up the question on its scope and accuracy.

Instead, we’ve profiled the most PR proof journalist – Robert Peston – famed for his slamming of the PR industry having called all PRs ‘the enemy’. Any PR should approach Robert Peston with caution, but here are some tips from Crystal Knows.


Robert Peston on Crystal Knows

Be mindful of the accuracy

Crystal will provide an “accuracy confidence” index which is determined by the relevance and volume of data – a useful indicator on how much you should trust the data (i.e. seriously or with a pinch of salt).

I mean, how many of you used to see how old the robot thought you are looking at just a photo of you? Many of you, I presume. And how accurate was it? Not very (but very amusing).

It’s unfair to put Crystal in the same bucket as as the data analysis is a lot more sophisticated. However, it would be foolish to solely rely on the insights Crystal gives you. It’s far better to invest time in the content of your email and building that relationship so that regardless of whether you say ‘hey’ ‘hi’ ‘howdy’ or ‘dear’, that person will open, read and engage with you.

We’re sure this won’t be the last example of how big data can be used to improve communications, but it shows a growing trend and desire for improving how we communicate. We’re still yet to see the next generation of communication, despite innovations like Periscope, but we’re sure that sooner or later the ‘email killer’ will reveal itself.


I recently celebrated the 40th birthday of a friend that shows no sign of slowing down (despite the advancing years) and I probably spend more time with them than my wife. This friend saves a lot of time, but sometimes bombards me with unnecessary information. A friend who I see every day at work and sometimes pops up offering vouchers, coupons and all sorts of tempting deals. This friend is often verbose, at times to-the-point, occasionally coarse and at other times tone-deaf. Can you guess who this friend is?

If you guessed email – or as it was then called, “electronic mail” – you’d be right on the money. Of course, commercial use of email hasn’t been around that long. This anniversary marks the date the very first email was sent by MIT graduate, Ray Tomlinson, over a network used by the US military. The first ever email message read, “QUERTYUIOP” and didn’t travel far, going from one computer to another one right next to it.

Tightly woven into the fabric of life and business

Since then, email has evolved into one of the most ubiquitous communications tools for personal and professional use. Pingdom reported that in 2010, 294 billion emails were being sent daily. The reason for its success is its sheer simplicity: the ability to send a communication in real-time to multiple people with full reporting capabilities.

Email has also evolved into a preferred marketing tool, appealing to the hearts and minds of receptive audiences. It has become an integral and essential part of the marketing mix, undergoing many changes over the years, including sophisticated designs, personalised content and user-friendly formats. By delivering email campaigns that convey the right messages, at the right time, to the right audience, email marketing can drive a reliable return on investment. It has also helped marketers move on from the ‘batch and blast’ approach.

This evolution has parallels with the public relations world, where gone are the days when PR consultants would “email blast” irrelevant press releases indiscriminately to hundreds of journalists. With the advent of highly customisable platforms like email marketing, not only can you reach the masses; but you can segment, inform, entertain and more effectively engage them.

Email maturity helps with ROI

As marketing budgets for digital channels such as social media, SEO and paid search fall, citing lack of return on investment, email marketing has actually seen growth in its investment levels. Its success, measurability and fast turnaround make it the most effective and preferred channel across campaign phases – from customer acquisition, retention, loyalty, up-sell and cross-sell, through to news, education and brand awareness.

Asked whether email would stand the test of time against social networking and other forms of digital communication, Ray Tomlinson (founder of email) commented: “I suspect possibly we’ll see a morphing of email and other, more instant methods. But there will always be a need for people to be able communicate asynchronously – that is, send messages that won’t be read or replied to immediately, and that’s what email allows you to do.” In today’s information-overloaded society this is probably more critical now than ever before.

Email marketing has come of age and as we continue to innovate, there are no limits to the possibilities. It’ll be interesting to see what the next 40 years hold. Love it or hate it, email is not going anywhere and is one of the most effective forms of communications.


Illustration: Dondy Razon

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