Advancing communications measurement and evaluation

The Measurement Life Interview With Richard Bagnall

The irrepressible Richard Bagnall is a 20-year communications measurement industry veteran. He was co-founder and head of Metrica, the global measurement business that now powers Gorkana’s evaluation products. He left Gorkana in 2013 and is now CEO of PRIME Research UK and SVP of Europe.

Richard spends plenty of time looking to advance the sector for the benefit of all, being a board director of measurement trade association AMEC, where he also chairs its social media measurement group. Richard is a member of the CIPR’s social media panel, with which he has co-authored two books on social media measurement. He’s also is a member of the UK Government’s Evaluation Council advising on how best to measure the impact of its work.

One of his proudest professional moments was being asked by the UK government to be one of three external specialists to conduct a government-wide review of its digital communication capabilities. The review looked at how digital communication is planned, executed, and measured throughout Whitehall and beyond and made a number of recommendations. The report was published and accepted for implementation in November 2013.

Trumping all of the above, however, has been the recent birth of Thomas, his son—with whom he is absolutely besotted.

The Measurement Standard: First, let’s learn a little about you: What’s on your iPod, turntable, or Pandora channel right now? A lullaby for the baby?

Richard-Bagnall-and-Thomas2Richard Bagnall: Actually yes, well, on my wife Marion’s anyway. We had our first baby at the end of March (I know, I know, I was a late starter!) and little Thomas is being bombarded with French nursery rhymes to keep him in touch with his maternal French heritage. So I’m having to hum along too. Frère Jacques, Alouette, and Sur le Pont d’Avignon are the current faves…

TMS: Well congrats to you and Marion, and hello there little Thomas. As long as Thomas is here, let’s ask him a couple questions. So, Thomas, what’s your favorite color?

Thomas Bagnall: [looks at Dad, looks at Mom]

TMS: So, Thomas, what’s your favorite food?

Thomas: [looks at Mom, smiles]

TMS: So then, Thomas, where’d you get that great hair?

Thomas: [looks at Dad and rolls his eyes]

TMS: OK, then, back to you, Richard: How did you become interested in measurement and evaluation?

RB: I used to work for one of Saatchi and Saatchi’s global PR agencies in the early 1990s. I was part of a team tasked with presenting to a major client the results of our work. None of us really understood the indexes and metrics, but the numbers were up and we were confident.

It was only when the client asked how the crisis that had erupted that month could possibly be showing up as a good thing that we stopped to really think about it. It’s fair to say that my interest in measurement started there and then; there had to be a better way to measure the effect of communications.

Round about that time I was lucky to meet up with Mark Westaby who had recently had the idea behind Metrica. We built the company over the next 15 years into one of the major global providers of meaningful measurement services.

“I studied at Royal Holloway College, part of London University. It didn’t teach me how to add things up—working in a pub in the holidays did that.”

TMS: What course of study did you follow? What would you recommend for today’s students?

RB: I studied Classical Studies at Royal Holloway College, part of London University. It didn’t teach me how to add things up—working in a pub in the holidays did that. But it did broaden my horizons and cement in me a passion for ancient Greek architecture, so much of which still has the ability to take your breath away 2,500 years after it was built.

For today’s students I think it’s important to study something that makes you passionate. And if you can’t think of something that does that, then I’d suggest a degree relevant to the business skills that you’re going to need for the next 40 years.

TMS: What’s so special about measurement and evaluation? Why are you doing it instead of something else?

RB: I started my career in PR. I love it—it’s an industry full of great people who know how to work hard and play hard. When PR’s done well it has the power to influence opinion, change minds, enhance reputation, and support and drive desired organisational objectives. However, it continues to suffer from bad press, and too often struggles to prove its value.

First and foremost this is an educational challenge. I derive great pleasure helping fellow PR professionals think about their measurement challenges and work out ways to demonstrate the contributions that they make to their organisations. As an ongoing process this can be frustrating—some conversations can feel like “Groundhog Day.” But this is more than made up for by the personal reward of helping a client implement an appropriate measurement plan and get the results that they deserve. Added to this, our industry continues to go through unprecedented change, which means that every day there are new issues and challenges to keep things fresh.

TMS: When a client or your boss asks you to do measurement or evaluation in a way that you know to be misguided, how do you handle it?

RB: The old advertising tele salesman in me comes out! I never get in an out-and-out argument with the client, as this creates a no-win situation. Instead I listen carefully to their point of view and welcome their opinion. I’ll aim to ‘normalise’ it too; it’s unlikely to be a unique situation or the first time the request is being made. Then I’ll respectfully explain the reasons why I think what they’re asking for is misguided, and suggest an alternative that will help them achieve what they want without the risk of making them look silly.

“Never present a measurement report page for page—not even a single slide from the report. Presentations and written reports are two different things, and are designed for different purposes.”

TMS: Suppose you have to address a tough audience about a tricky project. What A-game presentation techniques do you bring to the meeting?

RB: First, never present a measurement report page for page—not even a single slide from the report. Presentations and written reports are two different things, and are designed for different purposes. If I need to show a chart in the presentation, I’ll recreate it especially for the presentation—animate it if possible—and make sure that it’s really easy to see and understand.

I always try to bring my points alive by telling the story around the measurement, not just looking at the stats themselves. I’ll keep the slides to a minimum and do all I can to avoid boring the client. None of us like PowerPoint presentations, and massive decks always depress. Never use bullets. I try to use pictures to convey my points.

TMS: What are your favorite measurement tools or projects?

RB: analytics.twitter.com With the unique data it holds about its users, it reminds us that many of the basic output metrics the measurement industry has relied upon are becoming so very flawed. Let me explain. I have approximately 3,800 followers on Twitter. None of my tweets, of course, are ever exposed to that many people, although most measurement tools assume that they are. Twitter analytics reveals to each user the exact number of times it has rendered their tweet to another user’s screen. So, just last week at the launch of the revised 2.0 Barcelona Principles, I tweeted consecutively all 7 revised Principles. They were displayed respectively 2594, 409, 411, 461, 419, 407 and 1182 times. Measure that in a one-size-fits-all tool…

“I always try to bring my points alive by telling the story around the measurement, not just looking at the stats themselves.”

TMS: Tell us a story of when you used measurement or evaluation to significantly improve a client’s program. Yes, when you were the hero.

RB: One of my global IT clients was able to use our measurement programme not only to prove that they had hit their planned targets, but exceed them too. Armed with that information they were able to deploy resource away from the accomplished objective and focus it instead on another initiative which had been underperforming. With the additional resource, this area too was able to achieve unprecedented results—and without any additional costs being incurred. My client’s boss, and therefore my client too, of course, were both delighted.

TMS: In a nutshell, how does doing measurement and evaluation differ between the UK and the States? Or is it the same, and we’re all one world?

RB: The primary difference isn’t the measurement, but measurement’s key ingredient: the content. The USA is much more comfortable with relying purely on online and digital content. Also, its approach to copyright is much less rigid and complex, although I expect this to change in the near to mid future.

TMS: Where are measurement and evaluation going? What great strides do you see in your crystal ball?

RB: From a supplier point of view: There’s much greater emphasis on collaboration between measurement suppliers looking to educate and advise the sector on best practice. Ten years ago measurement suppliers were very precious about their proprietary offerings, their unique ‘black box’ approaches to analytics. Now they’re working together to define terms and metrics, establish frameworks and best practice, and ultimately to set standards on how communications measurement should be conducted.

From a PR practitioner point of view: There’s more interest in measuring comms than ever before. The sector is red hot. Ten years ago it was common to meet a prospective client who was being forced to put a measurement programme in place, and was doing so reluctantly. They were difficult to get to engage with the data and the benefits that measurement can offer. This has totally changed. PRs are eager to understand the best ways to prove their value and also to unearth real-time insights that allow them to course correct campaigns.

The heat of the sector is evidenced by the number of mergers and acquisitions that have occurred recently, as well as the red hot valuations that social analytics and digital PR management businesses are attracting.

TMS: If you could invent one magical measurement or evaluation tool to accomplish anything, what would it be?

RB: A one-size-fits-all magic number that provides a meaningful value for every organisation in every situation and against every objective. But that’s never going to happen. So until that point let’s make sure that before any comms activity we define our objectives, set targets, and measure appropriately, focussing on the things that matter and not just those that are easy to count. AMEC has many great resources to help PRs do this, including our social media measurement framework and user guide, and the new integrated communications measurement framework which we will be launching soon. Head on over to www.amecorg.com for more info.

TMS: Thanks for the interview, Richard, and you too, Thomas. All the best.

RB: You’re very welcome Bill, thank you for having me!

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Bill Paarlberg
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Bill Paarlberg

Bill Paarlberg co-founded The Measurement Standard in 2002 and was its editor until July 2017. He also edits The Measurement Advisor newsletter. He is editor of the award-winning "Measuring the Networked Nonprofit" by Beth Kanter and Katie Paine, and editor of two other books on measurement by Katie Paine, "Measure What Matters" and "Measuring Public Relationships." Visit Bill Paarlberg's page on LinkedIn.
Bill Paarlberg
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