Advancing communications measurement and evaluation

Sarab Kochhar Interview: The Passion that Drives Her, How She Measures Her Own Success, and Bollywood Classics

The Measurement Life Interview is pleased to welcome Sarab Kochhar, Ph.D. She is an associate director in APCO Worldwide’s Washington, D.C., office, where she serves as a strategic counsel for clients across the globe on measurement and evaluation of communication programs. Ms. Kochhar is also Director of Research with the Institute for Public Relations (IPR). At the IPR she is the chief research strategist, advising and leading the Institute on priorities and research programs. The most recent of her many publications is “Top Three Trends That Will Drive Public Relations Research in 2017,” just released by the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications.

—Bill Paarlberg, Editor, The Measurement Standard: Hi Sarab, welcome to The Measurement Life Interview!

Sarab Kochhar: Glad to be here, Bill.

—BP: First, let’s learn a little about you… What’s on your iPod, turntable, or Pandora channel right now? 

—SK: Old Hindi Bollywood classics.

—BP: You grew up in India, right? Would you tell us a little about that, please?

—SK: I grew up in Chandigarh, India, and my parents, my siblings, and my best friends are all in India. I speak Hindi, Punjabi, Urdu, as well as English. It is a big place but is fast making its place on the world map. I still get questions about India, asking if “we have computers in India.”

—BP: And what would you say is your driving motivation in life?

—SK: Both my parents worked, and so we grew up with the attitude that we would all work and study hard. William Hazlitt said, “A strong passion for any object will ensure success, for the desire of the end will point out the means.” If I were to describe my life’s philosophy in one word, it would be passion. The passion to learn new things in life, change my dreams into reality, and to make a difference to self and society. Self-belief, inquisitiveness, hard work, and strong willpower, then, become but natural necessities and outcome.

Oh! This is my birthday month. In India, when it is your birthday month, it signifies a new start for you. And you always hope that the future brings you more success.

Sarab Kochhar presents with Gregor Halff at PRAXIS India.

—BP: And how do you measure your own success?

—SK: To me success is being able to help and inspire others. If I can do that I’ll be a success. It’s important to me to be a good human being, that’s how I’d like to be remembered.

My father is one of my best friends. I talk to him a lot. He always tells me, “A tree with more fruit on it is always bending down, not standing tall.” So it’s more important for me to be productive and humble than proud.

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

—SK: I have had a very interesting journey. I did my bachelors in communication and English literature from India, and then did my Masters in Mass Communication from Panjab University, India (It is one of the top five communication programs in India). I then came to U.S. to pursue my Masters in Strategic Communication from Gaylord College of Journalism at University of Oklahoma, where I worked as a research assistant with the Institute for Research and Training. As a leader of the research team, I led the creation of the first-ever database of schools of journalism and mass communication.

I returned to India and joined Genesis Burson-Marsteller and worked on some of the biggest IT corporate clients, strategizing their communication plans and global outreach campaigns. After working for few years, I then returned back to the U.S. to pursue my Ph.D. at the University of Florida.

—BP: How did you become interested in measurement and evaluation?

Sarab Kochhar receives the 2013 Ketchum Excellence in Public Relations Research Award. Also pictured are David B. Rockland, Managing Director of Ketchum Global Research & Analytics, and CEO of Ketchum Change, and Jocelyn Jackson, Ketchum staff member.

—SK: It started with my work with the State Government in India, where we worked on tourism programs with Pakistan. The outcomes we were trying to achieve were difficult and could not be easily explained or quantified, given the sensitive relations with Pakistan.

—BP: You are now the Director of Research for the Institute for Public Relations. What does your day-to-day job involve?

—SK: A lot of reading, working with our amazing Board of Trustees, and managing research projects. At present, we are working on a couple of projects in digital and social media, organizational communication, behavioral insights, and measurement. I also manage our research symposia and Research Bootcamp.

—BP: You just finished this year’s International Public Relations Research Conference, right? How did it go?

—SK: It went well and it is always great to attend the conference. The IPR does not host that conference, but we do support and sponsor it each year. The IPR gave two awards this year to papers of practical significance. One of these was on internal communication and other was on risk and crisis communication.

—BP: What’s so special about measurement and evaluation? Why are you doing it and not something else?

—SK: It is an amazing experience to apply theoretical constructs to real-life challenges. As a researcher, I am always intrigued by the various uncontrolled people-driven variables in public relations and communications research which are so unique across the globe. And that is what takes me back to the drawing board. I not only enjoy the process of research but also connecting it back to the profession with the right insights.

—BP: What advice do you have for young women who are considering entering the field?

—SK: I want to help make a difference and empower others with my expertise and experience. One piece of advice I have for the young women starting out in PR or measurement is to have passion in what you do. When you start out, the will is stronger than the skill. So be curious, willing to learn, open to change, and the best at what you do!! Continue to learn. As George Iles said, “Whoever ceases to be a student has never been a student.”

Sarab Kochhar and Harold Burson

—BP: Have you found that women in PR and measurement in particular face any unique challenges or opportunities?

—SK: The PR industry has been challenged on gender-pay disparity, and more recently on diversity and inclusion. It is strange that, being a woman from India, I fall into both these discussions. I think women in PR and measurement, just like many other fields, have similar challenges and obstacles they face; work-life balance, leadership roles, and equal pay.

—BP: How is doing PR or measurement in India different from in the States?

—SK: PR in India is both a lot different from and a lot similar to the way it is done in the States. It is different in the way the clients work with their PR agencies. But is very similar in how they demand and still focus on outputs and amount of media coverage at times.

—BP: Right now is a tense and difficult time for many immigrants and would-be immigrants to the United States. How does the current U.S. political climate effect you personally, if at all?

—SK: The current U.S. political climate makes my parents more nervous than me. They constantly monitor the news and often send along job openings in India. I am a Sikh and my husband wears a turban, which often confuses people.

—BP: The world of measurement and PR research includes many tools (media analysis, for instance) that could perhaps be used to investigate or inform the current U.S. policy or attitude on immigration. Any thoughts?

—SK: I think when we talk about the tools for media analysis to inform the US immigration policy we limit ourselves to the output measures. What we need is a way to focus on the behavioral change towards immigrants since they are contributing significantly to the U.S. economy as well.

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

—SK: My biggest presentation technique always is to know what you are talking about, and how that will resonate with the audience. Presenters often choose content which is not right for their audience. It is important to engage with the audience and pay attention to their nonverbal feedback to make changes to your presentation.

—BP: What are your favorite measurement tools or projects?

—SK: My favorite measurement tools are the ones that help my clients to simplify or solve their measurement problems! So the tools can be different for different research projects.

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

—SK: The measurement and evaluation trends that are evolving right now focus on big data, analytics, and predictive modeling. I think the biggest challenge with most measures is that they are not persistent given the changing media and technology landscape. The measurement and evaluation would continue to focus on engaged and effective measuring where business objectives will tie back to profit, revenue, customer retention, and satisfaction.

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

—SK: I would like to invent a tool that would help me measure the uncontrolled variables in human behavior, and account for why humans behave the way they do.

—BP: Thanks for the interview, Sarab, all the best.

—SK: Thank you, Bill

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Bill Paarlberg
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Bill Paarlberg

Bill Paarlberg co-founded The Measurement Standard in 2002 and has been the editor ever since. He has been writing about public relations measurement for 25 years. 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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