Great communications requires great measurement…

I recently attended an internal communications event. I always enjoy getting the opportunity to meet and hear from other communicators. You’ll always pick something up.

This particular event included a panel with four internal communications practitioners.  They each covered a range of topics from what was working best for their organizations, to using social channels with internal audiences.

The moderator’s last question addressed that most notorious of topics for communicators everywhere – measurement. 

Here were the responses…

Panelist 1 (PR agency): “Well with our client <name redacted> we’re buying access to employees on Facebook.”

My take: OK.  That’s a tactic and many companies are investing in Facebook to engage their employees.  But it’s not really measurement….

Panelist 2 (In-house private mid-sized company): “Our company is just too small to measure communications.”

My take: Eh.  Your company is too small to measure communications but big enough to pay the salary of a full time communications person? How do you justify your existence if you’re not measuring your work?

Panelist 3 (In-house large national company): “Well we’ve a big team that looks after measurement but I don’t really get involved in it.”

My take: Where do I even start with that?  So the company is measuring communications but the communications person never asks to see the results? Oh my….

Panelist 4 (In-house high profile (relatively new) public technology company): “Well our company is all about data.  We’re a completely data driven company.  But to be honest, I don’t use data to measure internal communications. I know what’s working and what isn’t”

My take: Sorry I can’t even address that one…

I sat there quietly.  I’m not sure if I was rocking back and forth in my chair, but I could have been.  I was trying to work out how I could respectfully address just how ridiculous, misleading and wrong these answers were.

I did, respectfully.

But here’s the thing.  The experience worries me about the communications profession.

How, in the 21st century, can a communicator not measure the impact of their work?  How do they get budget? How do they make decisions on the right tools, channels and content to use?  Do they stick their finger in the air?

Back in the early 1990s where there was little or no digital tools or channels, we measured communications.

Today, everything is digital.  Data is everywhere. It’s not expensive. It’s not complex – unless you consider using a search engine complex. How can you not measure the outputs and outcomes of your communications?

I realize that, on the whole, we communicators aren’t mad about numbers, or data and analysis, but today this is central to your job.  Central to understanding the people you’re communicating with. Central to understanding what’s working and what’s not working – where to invest valuable time and resources and where not to invest.

Not measuring communications isn’t a failing or a missed opportunity. Not measuring communications is gross negligence.

If you don’t know about measurement then research it on the web.

Start with Katie Paine or the International Association for Measurement and Evaluation of Communications.

If you want some food for thought listen to this great podcast from the FIR Podcast Network on ROI and measurement.

Measurement isn’t just about justifying your existence, it’s about learning, doing a better job, driving better results. It’s simply a non-negotiable.

If you say it’s dead, it’s probably not.

As Jim Diamond sang in the 80s, I should have known better. 

And I did. 

When I heard about Robert Phillips’ plans for a book titled: Trust Me, PR is Dead, I knew I’d disagree with the central premise. 

Social media’s overuse of the word ‘dead’ to describe a profession or service has always annoyed me.  It betrays poor judgment and a lack of realism. The reality is never that simple.  Not in the real world.

However, I also believe that a healthy mind, is a challenged mind, and perhaps Mr. Phillips would impart some radically new thinking that would make me question my beliefs.

So, not only did I buy his book, I supported the fund raising* for it and signed up months before the book was even finished.

I was planning to review the book here.  (30,000 foot summary: there’s some mildly interesting content, I actually agree that businesses (and PR firms) need to change their behavior. However, much of the thinking in the book is flawed in the extreme.)

But then I listened to Shel Holtz’s review and realized there was no need.  Shel has done a great job addressing the book’s flaws – and not to ruin the ending he recommends not buying the book.

You can listen to Shel’s review here.


*One small comment on this crowd funding thing.  I have to say that I found the whole process annoying in the extreme.  To pay for something up front is one thing, but to be constantly bombarded with emails promoting progress on the book and also asking you to support other book projects is another.  Next time I’ll wait for the publication.

PSA: Objectives, Strategies & Tactics…

There’s a surprising amount of confusion out there about the differences between an objective, a strategy and a tactic. I’m amazed how often I see tactics mixed up with strategies in plans and proposals.

As part of my on boarding process when I started my first PR job back in the early 1990s, they provided a simple but effective way of remembering the differences:

Objective – a description of the end result:

  • I want to go to Ireland for a vacation starting on Monday

Strategy – how the objective will be achieved:

  • I’m going to travel by plane – it’s faster than going by sea

Tactics – specific actions to be taken:

  • Check for the best flight prices
  • Book a room in the Shelbourne hotel in Dublin
  • Hire a car for the trip from Avis

Book Review: It’s an issue Jim, but not as we know it

Last October I read an interview with Eric Dezenhall on the changing dynamics of issues management that piqued my attention.

Dezenhall, who was promoting his new book: “Glass Jaw: A Manifesto for Defending Fragile Reputations in an Age of Instant Scandal”, was incredibly pragmatic about how the combination of technological and social trends have changed the nature of a crisis.  Furthermore, he believes that the idea that there is a magic PR potion that can solve any reputational issue is nonsense:

"Most crises are not resolved through rhetoric. They are resolved through operations. What’s more ethical, doing what Exxon did and recognize after Valdez that the PR war was over—and then they spent 25 years investing in double-hulled ships and radically overhauling their safety procedures, and they’ve never had a major incident since—or do you do what BP did and spend half a billion dollars saying you’re a wind and solar company?"

I finally got to read Glass Jaw over the break and I’d recommend it.

In a world where the physical and virtual book shelves are filled with Harry Potter-esque tales of social media hocus pocus, Dezenhall provides a pragmatic, real-world view of how the world has changed and reputational risk has changed along with it.


For me, a good business book combines opinion, insight and knowledge that ultimately combine to provoke the reader to think. That doesn’t necessarily mean I agree with the author throughout – and there are some elements of his thesis that merit future discussion – but on the whole it’s a recommended read, if only to challenge you to think harder about how you approach issues management.

As you would expect, Glass Jaw presents a pretty grim picture for people responsible for the positive image and reputation of their employer or client. The emergence of social media and the associated culture of overreaction, coupled with the changes we’re seeing more broadly in society are combining to create a difficult issues environment.

It’s interesting to note that PR people aren’t exactly helping themselves or their colleagues either. I completely echo the author’s sentiment that you can’t work in issues management and not have a ‘deep empathy’ for people fighting a reputational issue.

This makes it all the more surprising to see the rise of the ‘self-invented pundit class that declares the controversy to have been mismanaged’.

He acknowledges that ‘in most crises, there are things that could have been done better, and reflection is constructive. Most high stakes situations include experimental actions – some effective, some not – and we do our best to make more good decisions than bad ones’.

Let me digress from the book for a moment. Having spent a lot of time dealing with a wide array of issues – large and small – I really don’t have any time for the ill-informed armchair pontification that accompanies a reputational issue. Anyone who has been embroiled in a real issue knows that it’s complex, challenging and often surprising. To think that someone sitting comfortably in their pajamas with no knowledge beyond what they’re reading on Twitter – and often not even that level of knowledge – can judge someone’s work is just wrong. In my opinion these ‘pundits’ are the PR profession’s equivalent of ambulance chasers.

Back to the book.

While the author does paint a great picture of the changes taking place that impact how effectively you can manage an issue, there are some things I don’t agree with.

For example, Dezenhall believes that ‘social media is of marginal value and often a disaster’ in crisis management. I both agree and disagree with him. I think it’s becoming increasingly difficult to decide when and more importantly when not to engage in social media, but I don’t agree it’s not a tool or channel that can help in the right circumstance – of course correctly identifying that timing and circumstance is the key.

He also believes there is no ‘trust bank’ and that commitments like Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) while worthwhile, do not inoculate against controversy. I agree that operating responsibly doesn’t give you a ‘get out of jail free’ card, but I’d also point out that if a company is committed to shared value, operating responsibly and meeting its commitments, it inherently reduces risk through more responsible decision making which in turn will aid organizational recovery.

There is always a risk when you’re reading a book about how the world of crisis communications is changing that you’ll finish it having lost all hope.

But there is hope. The world has changed. We deal with more issues today than ever before. Every issue is different, every issue has different dynamics,  we no longer have the luxury of a simple cookie cutter approach to successfully addressing an issue. Instead we must evaluate each issue on its own merits and act accordingly – in the knowledge that success is not guaranteed.

Glass Jaw is a welcome addition to this discussion. Just don’t be too depressed reading it. It’s not that bad :).

Great PR requires a little bravery

The explosion of data and analytics has created fantastic opportunities for marketers and PR pros to get better insights into the impact of their work.

While the benefits of measuring the results of an announcement or campaign are immediately obvious, the potential for data to inform future decision making has traditionally been more challenging.

The potential of data to provide insights and inform new approaches to communicating or engaging with people is pretty exciting.  Where before we based decisions exclusively on experience and perhaps a gut feeling, now you can test an idea, measure the impact and refine it – or never do it again Smile.

The potential to have quantifiable insight along with your experience and opinion is a powerful thing.  The downside is that to garner that insight you must try something new and in some cases that could be a calculated risk.  You may have to establish a baseline or measure impact, and that could potentially put you outside your comfort zone.

Of course personal and professional discomfort is one thing, the legions of online Monday morning quarterbacks just looking for the opportunity to dissect your work and question your professionalism and/or competence is another. 

However, these pundits rarely let knowledge or insight – into your objectives or even the actual results – get in the way of their opinion.  My advice is to ignore them.

The reality is that in today’s changing world we must trial and experiment new things.  Data gives us the potential to measure their effectiveness and thereby help us to be more successful in the future.

It may take a little bravery to take that first step, but if you do it thoughtfully, it can deliver real, tangible long term benefits.

I think it’s probably worth the risk and Albert Einstein would probably agree.

Sometimes it’s better to not share your views..

Last week a friend passed along a post from a PR firm’s blog that had me rolling my eyes so hard and fast that I strained them.

You see, in the rush to publish a critique in a timely manner, the author didn’t allow ignorance or even the most rudimentary research get in the way of their opinion. It was like they had a pre-canned post and they were looking for an example they could use.  It resulted in a piece that was was not just inaccurate, it was ill conceived and simply untrue.

After reading this critique I did something that the author clearly had not done, namely a little bit of research.  The blog is from a firm that claims to provide ‘strategic counsel’ -  though in fairness the website didn’t specify what they provide strategic counsel on.  Reading the blog post, I’ll wager it isn’t strategic counsel on public relations.

There’s been a rise in this quick reflex PR ‘analysis’ – and in fairness it’s not something unique to PR -  you see it everywhere. People don’t stop to let facts get in the way of their published opinion.

But they should.


Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with reasoned criticism or opinion. But that’s not what this was.  This was a post in search of a meme.

It’s a kind of professional trolling and while it’s not new it is on the increase.

When I see a crisis unfolding I feel empathy for the PR team involved. 

Having been on the inside of many issues, I know that the communications team will be working through tough decisions and there’s not always an easy or simple resolution.  In fact, the growth of social media has meant that issues today have far more phases, twists and turns than ever before.

Regrettably these days communicators are often not only dealing with the issue in question, but they’re dealing with the hurlers on the ditch who often pass judgment without any insight (or interest) into many of the complexities involved.

I have no problem with fair, reasoned criticism but the rush to jump on the bandwagon without any insight or rudimentary research isn’t something that should be encouraged.

Get your life balanced and productive

You may have seen the story about Mita Diran, a young copywriter in Indonesia, who died soon after tweeting about how she had worked 30 hours straight.  Now I don’t know if there were complicating factors, but even if there were, it’s a timely and tragic reminder that we all need to take responsibility for our work-life balance.

It’s an understatement to say the world of work has changed since I started my first job back in the early 1990s. I did have a computer, but no email. I had a phone, but no voicemail. No mobile phones, no Skype, no text messages, no instant messaging, no blogs, no RSS feeds, no social media, no Internet, did I mention no social media?

On the downside researching a new business pitch back in the early 1990s meant driving to the local library with a bag of 10p coins to feed the photocopier.

Today by comparison we face a dizzying variety of channels, and the volume of information being pushed through those channels is incredible. That’s before you think about interruptions, calls, conference calls, meetings and unexpected distractions.  Load on the growing expectations of your clients and co-workers and the ability of technology to keep you connected wherever you are. Now try and balance all these competing demands while trying to find some time for family, friends and yourself.

I see two core issues here.

Firstly, we need a better way to manage all this ‘stuff’ while remaining sane. I’ll come back to that a little later in this post.

Secondly, we need a wakeup call on our priorities.

I’ve read a number of tweets and blog posts recently, where ‘being always on’ is some sort of badge of honor. Seriously. People not only brag about it, they claim it’s non-negotiable.

What a complete canard (and I’m not being bi-lingual here).

Let me tell you something. The quality of work you produce and how well you meet your commitments, is far more important than how many hours you spend online.

End of story.

Working in PR or marketing, I’m sure we’ve all had times where we have worked for weeks on end with no break – perhaps months. Actually Mira Diran’s story isn’t that shocking to many of us. But it should be.

But besides the physical impact of this effort, there’s something else you should remember. Long before you hit ‘the wall’ of exhaustion you can be sure that the quality of your work and your decision making has dropped.

That I can guarantee you.

Whenever I’ve talked with executives I’ve found they all share a common trait.  A clear understanding that they must balance hard work with rest, exercise, balance and productivity.

The reality is that if you want to be a creative, effective, productive, high achiever, then you need to ensure you’re getting mental and physical rest. You need to be looking after yourself, exercising, resting and giving your brain downtime. That’s how you perform effectively – and ultimately come up with your best work.

Many years ago I had personal experience of burn out. After overworking for months I had a serious fright. It made me re-assess my approach to work. It motivated me to explore best practices in terms of performance, productivity and work life balance. While my wife would readily point out I don’t always get the blend right, she’ll also admit I’m much better at balancing what’s important while still delivering great results at work than I was.

At work I have the great privilege of working with a high performing team. My job is simple, help these folks  do their best work while ensuring they are achieving balance. They’ll all happily tell you I bore them to death by telling them they’re no good to me if they’re burnt out :). We work hard, but I try and ensure we also have balance.

Take stock of how you’re working, learn how to get more productive (see below), make time for what’s important from your personal health to your personal life.

This is your responsibility not your employer’s. A smart employer will understand and support you getting this balance, because they’ll understand that’s how they get the best results.

If your employer doesn’t get it, then find one that does. I can assure you that not only is it a better place to work, but they are probably delivering better results.

You are (I’m sure) primarily measured on outputs and results not inputs or how "hard" you worked.

Ensure you can do your best work by getting the balance in your life right. What are your professional and personal priorities? How are you going to achieve them?

There’s no panacea, it’s an ongoing struggle. I don’t always get the balance right, but at least it’s something I am acutely aware of. There’s one thing I can tell you, it’s not about being ‘online’ all the time.


How can you more effectively manage all the stuff you have to deal with, how can you keep a focus on the results that matter?

A couple of weeks ago I had an exchange on Twitter with Stephen Waddington, Sean Fleming, Sally Whittle, and Mark Pinsent that began about the evils of e-mail.

My view is that email is simply a tool. Used correctly it’s incredibly useful, but of course in reality many people abuse it.

So how do you manage not only your email but all the rest of the information hitting you on a daily basis while keeping on top of your commitments and deadlines?

A few years ago – after the fright I mentioned earlier – I quickly realized I was drowning in information and as I got clear on my personal and professional priorities, I also started looking at my own productivity.

How could I more effectively manage everything that was crossing my desk while staying focused on what’s important?

I quickly discovered there’s a lot of processes and systems for keeping yourself organized and focused on managing all the demands you have.  I also discovered that there’s no one size that fits everyone, it’s all taking some pointers from these systems and applying what works for you.

Probably the best known workflow is David Allen’s Getting Things Done. (You can find a huge amount of content around the web on GTD.)

In summary, Allen provides a framework for thinking about managing all the stuff in your life from emails, post, to bills, a thought, an article, a tweet, a project, a commitment or an objective. He argues that unless you capture and process all this different stuff (and process can mean creating a reminder, or a new project, or just deleting it) it creates distractions which ultimately waste time and make you less productive and less focused.

He provides a framework that can be summarized as:

  • Having a system you trust to capture everything in your world. This ranges from incoming emails, tweets, drive-by meetings, phone calls or ideas you’ve had in the shower.
  • Process all these items and make decisions about them. For example, you have an email from a colleague, is there an action you need to take? If no, then do you delete it, file it for later reference, or if you can’t do it now put it on a list? If yes, what is the action? Is it a new project? Do you need to delegate it? Can you do it in less than 2 minutes? Then do it.
  • Organizing all this information into a system you can trust and use.
  • Regularly reviewing your (personal and professional) lists, commitments, goals, objectives and schedules is key. It’s how you keep the system live and relevant.
  • Taking Action. The whole point is to actually get stuff done.

Of course, like Stephen Covey’s ‘Sharpen the Saw’ you need to stop and invest time to get your system up and running, but in my opinion it’s worth the investment.

Here’s a question for you: How often do you get your email inbox empty? Every day?

Why not grab a copy of Getting Things Done and give it a read.

As we wind down 2013, it’s a great time to take stock of where you are in your personal and professional life, think about where you can make changes in the year ahead and get the balance between those lives back in check.

Remember life really isn’t a dress rehearsal, so is checking tweets at 11.55pm really the best use of your time on the planet? Probably not.

Technology is part of the solution, but only when it’s combined with clarity on your priorities and a system that helps you be more productive.

I’d love to hear about how you manage.


If you’re interested in more information about how you can use technology to help with your productivity – once you’re clear on your priorities – here’s are some recent posts on the subject:

Is the quality of our (PR) work judged by our standards?

I have always been a big believer in the important role that professional bodies play in the world of Public Relations.  Promoting a common set of standards across this reputation-challenged profession is a good thing. 

However, with no common enforced regulations, perhaps the quality of our work can by judged by the standards we set for ourselves?

There was recently a great guest post by Jean Valin and Daniel Tisch on the PR Conversations blog discussing the Melbourne Mandate (and this week For Immediate Release posted an interview with Jean and Daniel on the Mandate), which aims to define a set of roles, responsibilities and principles for PR practitioners.

From the website:

Today, unprecedented public access to communication presents new challenges and opportunities for organisations – and for global society. This presents a new mandate for public relations and communication management: a set of roles, responsibilities and principles hereby endorsed by delegates to the 2012 World Public Relations Forum in Melbourne, Australia.

The new mandate

Public relations and communication professionals have a mandate to:

  • define and maintain an organisation’s character and values;
  • build a culture of listening and engagement; and
  • instill responsible behaviours by individuals and organisations.


I’d strongly recommend you to take some time to review the Melbourne Mandate and see how it applies to the work you’re doing.

The Global Alliance for PR and Communication Management is behind the Melbourne Mandate. It’s an organization that represents many of the world’s largest PR professional bodies and is also involved in the Barcelona Declaration of Measurement Principles, a set of proposed standards for measuring Public Relations.

Given the changes taking place in the world of communications this is a good thing.  As I’ve said before, as long as PR agencies are using proprietary measurement as a competitive differentiator we’re in trouble.

Bonus: Read Andy West of Hotwire PR on the importance of supporting the measurement debate

Great communications is built on the basics..

I recently had the opportunity to review a ‘report’ by a social media guru analyzing the ‘social strategies’ of a number of household brands. The report had some lovely visuals, some interesting examples of tactical executions, but overall it was a great example of what is too often missing from discussions on social media and often PR.

The report had many opinions but was light – read non-existent – on how these programs were tied to clear business objectives and more importantly how well the campaigns actually performed against those objectives.

In other words, in the real world, where a marketing or communications professional is building programs to drive against business objectives, it was value-less.

This is often where I find the industry of social media punditry fails.

Of course, social media is important, but before you get to the interesting, execution, you have to stop, understand your business, your industry, your  objectives, your competitive challenges, your internal challenges, your audience, your resources, and when you have a clear understanding of those elements, then you start planning.

If this is obvious to you, that’s great. If you’re not taking this approach, then there’s a real opportunity for you to significantly increase the impact of your work.

Let’s extend Mr. Ogilivy’s thesis – 50% of advertising is useless but you never know which 50%- to the world of social media and Public Relations. If we’re looking for what’s useless, I’d be willing to start with programs that aren’t tied into a set of defined business objectives.

Measurement can be a thorny subject – though at least there’s beginning to be some consensus – but executing campaigns not tied to business outcomes is at best madness and at worst negligent. Communications requires a balanced scorecard that encompasses a range of measurements from the basic inputs, outputs and results, to qualitative measures over time. And this work all starts with the business objectives.

These processes don’t mean you can’t experiment or move quickly – or indulge in ‘real-time marketing’.  Actually it’s the complete opposite.  If you know your business, are clear on what you need to achieve and are actively measuring outcomes then you’re in a better position to experiment and in a better position to learn and evolve your execution.

We may live in a troll producing always-on, always-connected world, but engaging with people, building relationships and trust takes time.  There isn’t a shortcut. In fact, as people become more sophisticated in how they use media and struggle to manage the ever increasing volume of information they come across every day, the process takes longer and is indeed more difficult.

There isn’t a silver bullet, but there are some tried and tested things that help us frame communications campaigns and put us in the best possible position to not only have impact, but to demonstrate that impact.

On a related topic, I strongly recommend you read Alastair Campbell’s speech at the Center for Corporate Public Affairs Annual Oration in Melbourne. In my opinion he does a great job explaining why objectives, strategies, and a commitment to long term thinking are so essential in the changing world of communications:

But you do it (communication) within a clear strategic framework, you engage the public in a much more sustained way, and you run co-ordination systems that work, so that over time your messages get through, over time your changes are understood and they deliver, and over time people become much more reasonable in their analysis. What you do is more important than what you say, but how you say what you do will help you if you are doing the right thing. Every time you say or you do, you land a dot.

While social media may appear immediate and tactical, successful social media, like the rest of communications, requires planning, insight, strategy, measurement and commitment.

That’s the starting point for great communications.