Advancing communications measurement and evaluation

3 Qualities That Make a Great Communications Measurement Professional

What qualities does a truly accomplished and effective communications measurement professional possess? What distinguishes the outstanding practitioner from the everyday pro? In this article you will discover three critical qualities of a great measurement pro. Perhaps you can use them to up your measurement game.

First, a two-point preamble about the nature of the job of measurement…

Point #1: Measurement is complicated, measurement is simple

A measurement pro uses data from communications or PR programs to help themselves and other people to understand the impact of those programs and to improve them. It can be a tricky job.

Measurement is complicated… Any communications measurement professional must wear many different hats: Data whisperer, creative researcher, wrangler of execs at objective-setting meetings, statistics-as-a-second-language, eloquent presenter to a skeptical boss or board. It’s tough to do all these things well.

…but measurement is simple. The goal of great measurement is simple: use the data to tell a direct and compelling story about how to improve a program. Yeah, O.K., that’s an easy way to sum up a complex job. But, as we will see below, it’s also a valuable way to think about what makes truly great measurement.

Point #2: Math is just another tool for a curious brain

When many PR people think of measurement, they fixate on the math knowledge and statistical skills needed. And that’s understandable. For many PR pros, basic statistics can be a challenge; doing math is probably not why they got into PR.

Math skills are important. But remember that math is just a tool. It’s a means to get the job done. And that job is to tell the story.

3 key qualities that distinguish a great measurement pro

A truly great measurement pro brings more than individual skills to the table. They bring the intellect, attitude, and curiosity with which those skills are employed. More specifically:

1. A great measurement pro is interested in the stories that data tells, rather than specific tools

A great measurement pro first works to understand the problem at hand. That is, how the impact of communications can be discovered in data on the business objectives of an organization. This is a creative process that requires building a conceptual bridge between what PR does and what the C-suite wants to see happen.

Only after this connection is understood can one properly consider which tools best fit the task.

This is easy to say, but often hard to do. In most cases, the people who will use measurement results and insights don’t care about specific tools or vendors. They only care about what story the data tells. About the questions that need answering, the problems that need solving, and improvements to a communications program.

But at the same time, many measurement situations only have certain data available from certain sources. It is easier to get data from tools or vendors that are already in place than from those that are not yet up and running. Sometimes it’s better to use the tool that you have than to purchase a new one and learn how to use it.

But the big point here is that selecting and and learning tools and techniques—whether they are old or new—is just one of the basic requirements of doing measurement. Great measurement transcends the tools. Great measurement is about the story the data tells, not the tools that collect the data.

2. A great measurement pro wants imperfect solutions

A measurement pro understands that measurement is often a creative approach to hitting a moving target. After all, the goal of communications programs is to cause the the landscape to shift under your feet. And the nature of fast changing technology insures the same. And so whatever story the data tells is a quick snapshot of a moving landscape. Moreover, measurement conclusions are constrained by the limits of the data. Many times you use the data you have, rather than the data you want.

And so a great measurement pro knows that measurement is not one-and-done. A measurement pro understands that measurement and evaluation is an iterative process. You do it once, make changes, do it again, and make more changes. Each time improving and adapting the communications program.

3. A great measurement pro is the ultimate communicator

A great measurement pro has to understand the lay of the land going into a project, and be able to tell a story about that land coming out of a project.

There’s a lot of communication involved just in getting any particular measurement problem off the ground. Setting S.M.A.R.T. business objectives is one of the most difficult parts of any measurement program. It often involves lengthy meetings, discussions, and priority-setting. A measurement pro often has to do some hand-holding and some also some tough love to get the compromises that will result in eventual agreement and buy-in on the specifics of a program.

At the other end of the measurement process the measurement practitioner must be able to present the results in a compelling way. If there is an Ah-Ha! moment to be had, you as the presenter have got to make it happen for the audience. When presenting results and recommendations the measurement pro must be able to speak to the needs of the program, to the stated objectives, and to the audience. They must express their results and conclusions not just in charts or graphs or tables, but in a story of what those charts and graphs mean for the business.


(Thanks to Lee-seonghak on Pixabay for the image. And a tip of the measurement hat to “What Makes a Great Data Scientist?” for the idea for this article.)

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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