The Measurement Life Interview is pleased to welcome Gini Dietrich, one of the most visible and successful women in PR today. Gini is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, a digital marketing communications firm based in Chicago. She is the author of the book Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, co-host of Inside PR, and lead author of the Spin Sucks blog. For a taste of Gini in action, view this video chat as she discusses artificial intelligence with Christopher Penn. And here’s some brilliant back and forth between Gini and CARMA’s own Chip Griffin.
—Bill Paarlberg, Editor, The Measurement Standard: Hi Gini, welcome to our Measurement Life interiew. First, let’s learn a little about you: What’s on your iPod, turntable, or Pandora channel right now?
—Gini Dietrich: Hi Bill, it’s nice to be here. Right now I’m listening to the Happy Days playlist on Spotify, coming to my office through Alexa. “Be My Baby” by The Ronettes is on.
—BP: How did you become interested in measurement and evaluation?
—GD: Four score and 20 years ago, I was in a meeting with Ocean Spray, which was the main account I worked on at FleishmanHillard. We were doing our normal dog and pony show at the end of the year. We had hundreds of millions of impressions from a huge launch we’d done that year. From a PR perspective, it was one of the best campaigns of my career. At the end, the chief marketing officer said, “This is great and you really hit the ball out of the park. But sales of cranberry juice are generally down and our growers aren’t doing very well.”
I remember that as if it were yesterday. All of that work. All of those “results.” And it hadn’t helped. It was then that I knew there had to be a better way.
“The advantage I have to owning the joint is I get to determine how we measure the effectiveness of our work.”
—BP: What course of study did you follow? What would you recommend for today’s students?
—GD: I have an English degree with minors in creative writing and math. I did the math because I was interested in statistics, without realizing how useful it would be in data analysis later in my career. The point is, you don’t have to have a PR degree to do what we do. You do, however, have to know how to write, how to analyze data, and how to build relationships with actual human beings.
—BP: What’s so special about measurement and evaluation? Why does it have a place in your business?
—GD: There is absolutely nothing more satisfying than being in a meeting with a client or executive team and being able to prove that communications drove significant business results. That’s what makes it special. We finally have the opportunity to prove we’re an investment. For so long, we’ve been considered an expense—one that is easy to take out of the P&L when sales are down. OK, there might be a few other things that are that satisfying, such as beating a bunch of boys in a road race.
—BP: Wait… “road race?” So you are an athlete? Tell us about that: what events do you compete in?
—GD: It sounds strange to call myself an athlete. Perhaps that’s a bit of imposter syndrome. But yes, I ride my bicycle… and not just for exercise. I ride with a team here in Chicago, and I have a coach who is currently killing me—every part of my body hurts! I took a three-year break from racing because a certain small child arrived, but I’m back at it this year.
—BP: Ha! Good for you. During college my dream in life was to ride the Tour de France. For a few years there the most important thing I did every day was get a ride in. I was Cat. 1 for a while, rode the Nationals way back in… ah, a million years ago. I could climb well, but never had much in the sprint.
—GD: Cat. 1? I’m impressed! I’m at Cat. 2 when I’m at my peak. I’ll do a few centuries (100 mile bike races) this summer, a few criteriums, a couple of time trials, and will even ride some at the Velodrome. Most cyclists are men (it’s not a very kind sport—I’ve broken lots of bones) and it’s fun to get out there and drop them.
—BP: Yeah, and it’s no fun getting dropped. We all know the slow agony of not quite being able to hang onto the back of the pack. Some time over a beer we can trade road rash stories; I was hit by cars several times. OK, back to measurement…
—BP: The expression “Spin Sucks,” the title of your blog and book, seems almost quaint nowadays, when politicians seem fearless about outright lying, and when fake news puts a new and insidious spin on spin. Thoughts?
—GD: I don’t know how I feel about that term “quaint.” This is my life’s work! Politicians have always spun the truth. So has Hollywood. Our industry definitely has the perception of putting spin on things to make them seem better than they do. It drives me crazy.
Sure there are unethical people in our industry—I mean, “alternative facts” was used by a certain spokesperson—but by and large, we are all doing the very best, ethical work we can do. That’s the point of Spin Sucks. To show that the unethical jerks are few and far between and the work the rest of us are doing is ethical, valuable, and measurable.
—BP: Your interview with Chip Griffin emphasized the entrepreneurial aspect of your business. How does measurement and evaluation relate to entrepreneurial-ism?
—GD: The advantage I have to owning the joint is I get to determine how we measure the effectiveness of our work. So often, clients will say, “Well, what are the media impressions?” Or, “How many Facebook fans do we have?” It’s been my role, as the leader of the organization, to change those conversations.
In the beginning, we gave those “metrics” to the clients who asked and we also gave them the real metrics, the things that drive revenue for their organizations. I’d say it’s been at least five years since our clients have asked for the vanity metrics, simply because, in our new business development and onboarding processes, we show how we measure our work that is meaningful and relational.
“I think everyone in PR faces unique challenges because the industry, as a whole, has not done a great job of setting a standard way of measuring the work we do.”
—BP: As an entrepreneur, you have plenty of on-the-ground experience with using measurement and evaluation to further business goals. How does the art and craft of measurement and evaluation further your own business objectives?
—GD: We measure everything. I can tell you, right off the top of my head, what kinds of conversions we have from social media, from advertising, from pure owned media, from the blog, and from email marketing. I was just telling a friend that 2017 is the year of the data, mostly because we haven’t always done proper measurement for ourselves. So we built this really big, active community without installing the plumbing in the beginning. Now we’re having to rip up the streets and install it, so to speak. We’re making that investment because I know the data will better inform our decisions.
“My advice to young women today: No one is going to look out for your best interest but you. Protect your destiny as if it’s the most important thing in your life.”
—BP: You are one of the most visible and successful women in public relations today. What advice do you have for young women who are considering entering the field?
—GD: Well, that’s nice of you to say. Thank you! The advice I have for young women entering the field is the same as for all young women, no matter what they’re doing. It’s to negotiate, to stand up for yourself, and to ask for the things you want.
My husband’s business has had a really big growth spurt in the past three months and he’s doing a ton of hiring. I’m shocked at the difference in men and women candidates. Every single male candidate has negotiated his package. Every single woman has not. And, unfortunately, I’ve found the same in my business. I sometimes want to shake candidates and say, “Negotiate with me!”
So that is my advice: No one is going to look out for your best interest but you. Protect your destiny as if it’s the most important thing in your life.
—BP: Have you found that women in PR and measurement in particular face any unique challenges or opportunities?
—GD: I don’t think it’s a gender issue. I do think everyone in PR faces unique challenges because the industry, as a whole, has not done a great job of setting a standard way of measuring the work we do. Some say PR is media relations and that’s measured through impressions and brand awareness gains. But PR has evolved to include much, much more and, until the industry has consensus, we’ll always have the measurement challenge.
—BP: 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?
—GD: We used to fight the battle and then we realized it was the war we needed to win. So we give them the “metrics” they ask for while also providing the things we know make better business sense for them. It doesn’t take long before they say, “You know, we really don’t need to know the impressions anymore. They’re kind of bunk, no?” I love it when you can make them think it was their idea!
“I love good ol’ Google Analytics. Then just add a customer relationship management software, a marketing automation tool, and a monitoring service. With those four things, we can measure anything and everything.”
—BP: Suppose you have to address a tough audience about a tricky project. What A-game presentation techniques will you bring to the meeting?
—GD: I almost hate to give this away! One of my very favorite things to do is, pre-meeting, ask for some dashboards from their Google Analytics. Then we go into our monitoring software and set up a query for the prospect’s business to see how much has been said about them in the past year. Then we take their analytics and compare the two. Typically we find that the current PR efforts are not driving any results, which is where we focus.
It’s risky play because it does one of two things:
- It pisses off the people in the room because they think we’re there to make them look stupid; or
- They want to marry us.
We hope for the latter, but it doesn’t always happen when you’re dealing with human beings.
—BP: What are your favorite measurement tools or projects?
—GD: I love good ol’ Google Analytics. Then just add a customer relationship management software, a marketing automation tool, and a monitoring service. With those four things, we can measure anything and everything. I’m also starting to test IBM Watson to see what machine learning can do for PR measurement. I’ll have to report back.
—BP: Tell us a story of when you used measurement or evaluation to significantly improve a client’s program. Yes, when you were the hero; go ahead and brag.
—GD: My very, very favorite case study is of a client who has a robust ecommerce program for information products. When we started working with them two years ago, they weren’t selling online at all. Because we’d learned to install the plumbing before building the house, we set them up correctly and tied together their four software programs so we could hit the ground running with results. We used Infusionsoft, Google Analytics, and their website, and we got all of the data we needed to build an effective program. This is a unique client because they pretty much handed the ecommerce part of the business to us and let us run with it. So all $3M of their current business is attributed to our work!
“I see things going toward machine learning. Perhaps, even as early as the end of this year, we’ll be rid of spreadsheets and measurement will be done with the click of a button.”
—BP: Where are measurement and evaluation going? What great strides do you see in your crystal ball?
—GD: I mentioned IBM Watson and I see things going toward machine learning. Perhaps, even as early as the end of this year, we’ll be rid of spreadsheets and measurement will be done with the click of a button. Man, that will save my team so much time! I don’t know yet if we can get it there, but I’m certainly working toward it.
—BP: If you could invent one magical measurement or evaluation tool to accomplish anything, what would it be?
—GD: I would really, really love to have one tool do everything. Alas…
—BP: Hey, you never quite know what the future will hold. Ride hard on the bike, Gini, and thanks for the interview. All the best.