measure twice, cut once

by Darren Caveney

I’ve always had a fascination for stats, and a sadly photographic memory for stat-related trivia.   This problem surfaced as a youngster.  As a 10-year old I could reel off the brake horse power and top speed of pretty well any car in my Top Trumps sports cars pack.

I even began to memorise chunks of the more interesting sections of my 1977 edition of the Guinness Book of World Records.

When it came to football I could bore with the best of them on stats and figures. It partly came from spending too much time staring at Ceefax on a Saturday evening following the day’s results (pages 312 through to 324, for those in the know).

And I could probably tell you the attendance, to within a couple of a hundred, at most of Birmingham City’s key home games in the past 20-odd years.  

 

So, no surprise then, that one of my favourite quotes ever comes from Vic Reeves who once said that “88.2% of statistics are made up on the spot.”

Simple, clever but true. How many meeting have you sat in when someone blurts out a statistic to cement their argument with little to no basis for those stats? Yep, thought so.

The timeless adage ‘measure twice, cut once’ has never been more pertinent than it is right now.  In the era of swingeing budget cuts, demand for ROI and pressured performance measures.

We comms and marketing folk should know our stats inside out.   We should never feel the need to make them up, or worse, not even know our own metrics. Comms and marketing is too often seen as fluff by senior people and so we’re really not helping our own cause if we’re not totally on the money when it comes to our own magic numbers.

Be it a short-term piece of PR activity, or a long-term piece of staff engagement, targets up front, on-going monitoring and finally post-evaluation analysis is so, so important.  Stats. See, I wasn’t so daft back then after all.

I suspect that for many of us, our important number crunching sometimes gets lost in the side-wash of competing demands. Wrong, but a reality.

For the large campaigns we’ll carve out the time to evaluate the results, impact and outcomes. But what about for the smaller pieces of work? All too often, the pressure is on to pick up and run with the next project or handle the next media crisis.  Before you know it that last piece of work you delivered was never properly evaluated.

And if we run into activity without some clear targets, then how will we know if it has worked or not,  other than via our own well-honed, but unscientific, nose for these things. And how exactly can you present that ‘nose-view’ to your customers and leaders?

So it’s in our gift, and interest, to measure twice and cut once.

When Dan and I embarked on comms2point0 six months ago we set some targets. All simple, straight-forward stuff, but targets nonetheless.  

If you don’t have a destination in mind how can you possibly know if you’ve reached it, right.  It doesn’t matter if they are modest. Sometimes it’s wiser to manage expectations down a touch, even if on the QT you would like/want/expect to actually perform better.

For comms2point0, we set out to attract 1,000 twitter followers (proper followers, not pretend ones) in our first 12-months.  We also set out to attract 1,000 unique visitors to our website each month.

Initally twitter and our website would be our key channels (although we do have some plans for some more traditional activity too)

So as we approach our own version of a first 6-monthly reporting and accounting review, we’re pretty chuffed with our numbers – our twitter follower numbers have been achieved in half the time, and we’re achieving well over double the monthly the web visitor numbers we’d hoped for.

We’ve had lots of help and support along the way and some brilliant guest bloggers who have shared comms nuggets and PR gems of learning which hopefully many of us have benefitted from. We thank you all.

One thing we hadn’t set as a target was to monetise the site.   Have it wash it's own face, so to speak.

As it happens we have been approached to carry comms job ads on the site. We’re somewhat mixed in our views on this. The purists in us like the site being kept clean and simple.

But the job ads are something we are flagging up each day on a voluntary basis now anyway, and it seems to be providing a useful service to some of our followers, judging by the stats.

Our largest concern is whether it would be right and proper to carry comms jobs ads. It would be discreet if we did do it – no whizz-bang, flashing lights - and the organisation that has approached us are highly reputable.

But before we do anything we’re genuinely keen to know what our followers and site visitors think about this, and even more importantly what our blog contributors think. If you have a firm view one way or the other we’d be really grateful if you’d let us know.

We reckon that 88.2% of you would think it was a good idea.  

(special thanks to my 6-year old daughter for the graphics – her first ever ‘infographics’)

photo credit