Numbers Don’t Always Tell the Story

We continue our review of the Arthur W. Page Society’s paper, “The CEO View: The Impact of Communications on Corporate Character in a 24×7 Digital World,” today examining the CEOs’ stated desire for hard data.

From my perspective as a veteran communicator, it is clear to me that measurement has always been one of the communications profession’s weak points. Some have tried to divine a more scientific approach to the problem with, I would argue, limited success.The Numbers Game

Sure, you can measure the number of media hits or try to ascribe some sort of “tone” valuation on stories appearing in the press. Many large PR agencies use such systems in an effort either to serve clients more effectively or to spawn more revenue. I leave it to the reader to form a personal opinion on the usefulness of such proprietary approaches.

Now it turns out, according to the Page Society survey of Fortune 50 CEOs, that those top guns want authenticated results from their communications efforts in the form of hard data. Sorry to tell you, big guys. Such proof isn’t always as ironclad as you might like (besides, why do they need to know about the opinions of 15 discrete stakeholder groups if they plan to reach them with same message anyway; see previous post)?

There are lots of things we can measure: The boiling point of water, the right answer to a mathematical equation, how much of a load a building’s foundation can bear. But trying to measure such intangibles as attitude, belief, and degree of positive or negative reaction is darn hard at best.

You can ask questions about positivity on a 1-5 scale, conduct focus groups, and hook up electrodes to test skin reaction all you want. While you will retrieve some data, how useful is it really?

At some point, the data-thirsty crowd must acknowledge that concrete measurement just isn’t a reality in all situations. You can’t magically transform the qualitative into the quantitative.

Here’s where the brains of your communications executives enter the picture, along with the CEO’s trust in those experts. The best knowledge (note that I say “knowledge,” not “data”) flows from a combination of numerical data from things that are actually measurable with your experts’ opinions based on long and valuable experience.

I have long wondered about the viability of measuring seemingly immeasurable situations. How do you measure those intangibles in your communications shop?



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