Inspect what you expect from communications (but you probably won’t)

Great communications, great PR, how do you measure it? You do measure the impact of your communications don’t you?

There is no single question that I know of that is quite as effective in getting a room of communicators to examine their shoes.

It can be a real conversation killer too.

Recently I was talking to a senior PR professional leading a large team driving global PR for a multi-billion dollar business in a related industry. Super smart, we had a great conversation, great insights. As always I learned a lot. The conversation was going very well until I popped the measurement question. I felt the room temperature drop. Eye contact was broken. An awkward silence reigned.

“Do you want the honest answer?”

I nodded.

“If the boss is happy then we know it’s going well.”

In a world of readily available big data, online metrics and artificial intelligence, where companies are investing scarce resources in communications, it shocked me. How can we not be seeking insights into our audience, into the impact of our work on the business? It’s not just about measuring results, but on garnering insights that will make your future work more effective.

We should be. But then this is a long and winding road for PR and communications.

As long as PR agencies treat measurement as a competitive advantage we have a problem.

As long as people are willing to put forward opinions on the effectiveness of communications with no data to back it up, we have a problem.

I’ve heard all the arguments. Communications is hard to measure. We don’t have the time. We don’t have the budget.


If you want communications to have a seat at the table, you better bring insights.


Thankfully it’s not all bad news. There is progress being made to bring insights to communications.

I was heartened to see some of the tweets coming out of the AMEC 2018 conference. (AMEC is an organization that deserves more profile and credit in the PR and communications world. It represents organizations and practitioners who provide media evaluation and communication research in 86 countries worldwide).

The conference showcased some of the work being done across our profession to upgrade how we think about measurement and insights. (Bonus: check out the sketchnotes from the various sessions)


Here are some posts that will give you a flavor of what was discussed:

As communicators we need to embrace big data, measurement and insights, not fear them. Better understanding the effectiveness of your work will help you make informed decisions, allow you to experiment and learn, and last but certainly not least demonstrate the value of what you do.

Want to get started? Read the posts listed above. Take some time to peruse the AMEC site. Reach out to other practitioners. Start thinking. Embrace data. It’ll improve your creativity, your work, your results and your credibility.

There’s no judgement here. I along with every single communications person have much to learn around data, insights and measurement. Technology is changing every day. As a result so is our ability to use that data to understand how our programs are performing and how we can have an impact on the business. Let’s commit to learn and use those insights.

To ignore data, insights, and measurement borders on professional negligence.

Comms: It's not what you do, it's the way that you do it

The Wisdom of Crowds has always been a concept that concerned me.  The behavior and knowledge of “crowds” too often resembles the Stupidity of the Flock.


There are often benefits to the Crowd, but in a connected world, this groupthink often results in the mass adoption of falsehoods with no basis in fact.

There’s a lot of this behavior in discussions about communications.

Let’s take email as an example.  I was at an event where the ‘wisdom of the crowd” was that email was at best dying and at worst dead.  However, some precision questioning on this topic found that email was still the most used way to communicate.  People proclaiming the death of email didn’t actually measure whether it was working or not.  It was a hunch – at best.

Now don’t worry I’m not going to try and mount a defense of email.  Email may or may not work for your communications. That’s not the point.  The point is that today, more than anytime in the past, we have access to data that helps us to gain insight into what’s working and what’s not.  Reading it on Twitter doesn’t count as insight.

Before you take a position on the effectiveness of a tool or channel, measure it.  If you’re not measuring it, how can you tell?  Your gut?

Secondly, once you’re measuring a tool or channel, invest time and care in how you execute.  Too many communications today are lazy, sloppy and unimaginative.  Yet people blame the tool without honestly looking at the execution.  Too many templates and not enough energy in experimenting with new approaches, with design, with creating something that might be compelling or engaging. Experiment and measure.  See what happens, then start to form a thesis or a opinion.

Thirdly think about multiple tools and channels.  Think about how people prefer to consume information – or better again ask them.

Do yourself a favor. Before jumping on the latest bandwagon, develop your own opinion.  Your boss will thank you for it.

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.