The Measurement Standard is pleased to welcome Elise Perkins, founder of ep communications. Elise has worked with Washington, D.C.-based trade associations and think tanks, and sits on the board of Washington Women in Public Relations. She brings a sharp and thoughtful approach to measurement in our interview.
—The Measurement Standard: Welcome to our Measurement Life interview. First, let’s learn a little about you: How did you become interested in measurement and evaluation?
Elise Perkins: I blame Shonali Burke. I had been working in communications and marketing for about six years before I even realized that there was a better way to measure my work. Of course, social media for business was just starting to take off around 2010/11, so there was a fairly large learning curve around what content mattered to audiences and what was appropriate to share. Measuring that content beyond “likes” and “retweets” was kind of a distant idea. Shonali’s #MeasurePR chat was a great introduction as to why measurement mattered, and how it could help comms professionals drive home stronger returns on their investment.
—TMS: What course of study did you follow? What would you recommend for today’s students?
EP: I majored in American Studies at Dickinson College. They didn’t have a mass communications program, and I thought studying about culture was a pretty good primer; also, I had no idea what I wanted to do career-wise. Today’s job market is a bit more competitive. I still think that you should choose a course of study that is of interest, and work hard to find internships for real, on-the-job training. Course lectures alone won’t cut it anymore, employers want experience. I adopted a mantra early on in my career that I would get comfortable with being uncomfortable, and it has served me well.
—TMS: What’s so special about measurement and evaluation? Why does it have a place in your business?
EP: It is really important to measure communications efforts, especially as earned media becomes harder and harder to acquire, and those above-the-fold stories and op-eds become rarer. We all know that what matters to a company doesn’t always resonate with its intended audience; by understanding which posts gain the most traction and engagement, they can better refine communications efforts over time.
We all know that what matters to a company doesn’t always resonate with its intended audience; by understanding which posts gain the most traction and engagement, they can better refine communications efforts over time.
—TMS: 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?
EP: I struggle, like many entrepreneurs, with making the time to work on the business instead of focusing solely on client work. When I launched my online course last fall, I needed to create a marketing strategy that flourished online, instead of pitching in-person. I worked hard to map content against a timeline and conduct ongoing evaluation about how people were responding to my emails and posts. When I saw an engaged person, I worked hard to activate them to become an ambassador. That kind of micro-influencer work was tremendously helpful, albeit time consuming. There isn’t always an easy automation to get the results you want and need.
—TMS: When a client asks you to do measurement or evaluation in a way that you know to be misguided, how do you handle it?
EP: It has become easier to explain the problem with vanity metrics over time. I think tying evaluation to goals is the easiest way to course-correct; most CEOs don’t care about likes if their audience isn’t buying a product, registering for a conference, or reading a report. Those click-throughs matter a great deal more. Google Analytics is making that easier than ever before to chart and report out.
—TMS: Suppose you have to address a tough audience about a tricky project. What presentation techniques will you bring to the meeting?
EP: Visuals…and compassion. Few people care about what you have to say if it doesn’t solve a problem for them, and there could be a great many problems per project. It’s easy to speak broadly about outcomes and outputs, but I believe a good way to diffuse tricky situations is to let people throw their challenges at you. You don’t have to have the answer right away, but you build good rapport by following up in the days that follow.
I think tying evaluation to goals is the easiest way to course-correct; most CEOs don’t care about likes if their audience isn’t buying a product, registering for a conference, or reading a report. Those click-throughs matter a great deal more.
—TMS: What are your favorite measurement tools or projects?
EP: Anything free (haha). Google Analytics, Twitter and Facebook all have great free tools that I check (at least) monthly. There are definitely more fine-tuned platforms that allow you to track in-depth metrics, and I think they are probably worth the money. But, I’ll generally take what I can get gratis and then put in a little elbow grease.
—TMS: Free is always good! Now, tell us a story of when you used measurement or evaluation to significantly improve a client’s program.
EP: I’ve been doing a lot of auditing work for clients against their competitors recently. I think comparing your own company against others is a great way to step back and think about communication in general. How are they using language to elicit a response? What do their visuals have that ours lack? What techniques do they use to brand content? Are they responding to criticism online? Are they being social on social media, or just throwing stuff out into the ether. Sometimes it’s easier to evaluate another brand’s performance, and then bring the lessons back home to implement. Most internal comms teams are overwhelmed trying to manage all of the day-to-day work; we could all use a helping hand!
—TMS: Where are measurement and evaluation going? What great strides do you see in your crystal ball?
EP: I think measurement and evaluation reports should be issued quarterly so that employees across the company can understand data to drive changes in a company. Don’t let communications live in a silo; adopt a plain-English approach to sharing the findings.
—TMS: If you could invent one magical measurement or evaluation tool to accomplish anything, what would it be?
EP: Predictive analysis of which type of content (type and topic) that a company should produce next to drive conversation based on previous engagement reports from them and their competitors. The company who understands what their customers and audiences want and can stay ahead of the curve? Genius. That’s a tool that I would pay good money for.
—TMS: Thank you so much for spending some time with us, Elise!