The Measherment Interview: Johna Burke Talks About Her New Job at AMEC, Meeting Engelbert Humperdinck, Meditation, and Choosing Happiness

In The Measurement Advisor’s MeasHERment Interview we present profiles of women who make a difference in communications measurement. That difference might be in the ideas they promote, the tools they invent, or the barriers they break. If you have a nomination for our MeasHERment Interview, please send it to us here at

For our MeasHERment Interview today we are pleased to welcome Johna Burke, AMEC’s new Global Managing Director. Anyone who has met her knows she is very smart, very good at measurement, and very often smiling. In our talk with her we learn how she stays grounded (hint: “I choose happiness”), her keys to working efficiently, her thoughts on the future of measurement… and we meet her dog Peanut.

Bill Paarlberg: Hello Johna, thanks for talking to The Measurement Advisor.

Johna Burke: Hi Bill, I’m pleased to be here.

TMA: Congrats on your new post at AMEC! We are going to talk about that in a minute, but first let’s get to know you. Do you have any superpowers?

JB: I wouldn’t say it’s ‘super,’ but I do always try to exercise balance and look at issues, situations, and experiences from all perspectives. It definitely quells manufactured drama and unnecessary distractions. Allows for interesting debate and broadens my thinking.

“I believe happiness and attitude in general is a choice. I always choose happiness; it doesn’t always choose me back, but I persevere.”

TMA: Seems like a useful ability for someone doing measurement and evaluation. I’d say smiling is one of your superpowers, too. You are always smiling. Or maybe you’re just always happy to see me? 🙂

JB: Of course I am always happy to see you! I believe happiness and attitude in general is a choice. I always choose happiness; it doesn’t always choose me back, but I persevere.

TMA: “Choose happiness.” I like that… so then how does that work out?

JB: Well, for an example, think about working efficiently. The biggest thing is to not manufacture drama, and to not buy into manufactured drama. We all know people for whom everything is an emergency. They drop bombs on you and then go on to do it to someone else. Meanwhile, you continue to suffer. So I always say, “Don’t let anyone live in the penthouse rent-free.”

TMA: Oh, that’s good, I need to use that myself. I let people get to me too often. And speaking of happiness, how were your holidays?

JB: A went to a couple of parties, but mostly it was good to be unplugged and relax. My favorite thing of the holidays is really just dinner and talking with family. I missed Thanksgiving, because I was in Bulgaria, so these holidays were great.

TMA: Wait… Bulgaria? What were you doing there? What sort of measurement do they do in Bulgaria?

JB: I keynoted a Measurement Month event hosted by A Data Pro, an education sponsor of AMEC.

TMA: Speaking of AMEC, tell us about your new job. What’s AMEC’s mission?

“The biggest thing is to not manufacture drama, and to not buy into manufactured drama. We all know people for whom everything is an emergency.”

JB: We’re the world’s largest media intelligence and insights professional organization. We represent organizations and practitioners who provide media evaluation and communication research. We facilitate practical measurement applications and learning, most prominently at our annual Global Summit on Measurement (this year in Prague May 21-23). Also by sponsoring Measurement Month, a global focus for PR and communication professionals.

 TMA: What’s your to-do list for your new job?

JB: Right now my attention is on shoring up our global relationships. Our focus is always and will continue to be our members and the market. We’ve launched our Measurement Maturity Mapper so organizations can see where they are on the measurement journey, along with next steps to evolve their program. Combined with our other resources (like the Barcelona Principles and the Integrated Evaluation Framework) we help them take their communication game to the next level.

 TMA: How does your new job differ from your old one at BurellesLuce?

JB: The biggest change is that my old job was focused on domestic and my new job is truly global, which is a different mindset. I’ll be in Prague this month, and England in February. I work mostly European hours, but also Asia Pacific, too.

TMA: You must be very busy juggling all those time zones. How do you deal with it?

JB: Well, I am busy, but there is a blend, right? Again, it’s all about balance. Just because someone puts themselves into your inbox, that doesn’t mean they get to control your day. I like some down time.

TMA: So you’re not always available?

“To be always on is not sustainable… And the more people try to do it the faster the robots will take over.”

JB: No. To be always on is not sustainable, for me or anyone. And the more people try to do it the faster the robots will take over. I love the Do Not Disturb setting on my phone. If I get a chance, I like to sit down and read a book with no one around. It’s those simple times that give us reflection and balance. Also, I meditate.

TMA: Whoa. How does that help?

JB: Twenty minutes of that and you can’t help but feel better. You’re charged up and you’re in a better frame of mind to tackle the challenges of the day.

TMA: How many days do you spend traveling each month or each year?

JB: I anticipate I will be on the road approximately 30% of the time.

TMA: What’s your most favorite thing about traveling for work? 

JB: People. Having conversations with the ‘locals’ domestic or international is so enlightening, I love it. It definitely fuels my belief that we should always give people consideration that life is more difficult than might be obvious. Kindness is free. Choose kindness.

TMA: What’s your least favorite thing about traveling for work?

JB: People. It always amazes me when people throw tantrums at the airport… they seem to be totally oblivious that they are only a small part of a functioning society.

TMA: Have you met anyone particularly interesting or famous while traveling?

JB: I meet a lot of interesting people, but one of my favorites was Engelbert Humperdinck.

TMA: Get out!

Johna Burke and Engelbert Humperdinck

JB: Yep. On a flight to Los Angeles from Phoenix. It was the first time I ever saw someone shuttled onboard ahead of everyone else. The airport was so crowded that day, and I gave the flight attendant my best eye roll… only to be seated right next to the guy! He introduced himself. While the plane was still boarding he asked his assistant to come up from coach to bring him a pen. I assumed Engelbert was jerking the guy around, forcing him to fight his way upstream from the back. I couldn’t hold my tongue and I offered to loan him a pen. When his assistant arrived, Engelbert told him, “She’s cross with me for having you bring me a pen.” This very nice assistant immediately responded, “I have been with this man for 40 years and there is nothing I wouldn’t do for him.” I paused for a moment, thought about my perspective and incorrect assumption. Then I smiled at them both and told them that they had a beautiful relationship. This wasn’t the pretentious celeb I had assumed, but a hard-working man who surrounded himself with people he treated with kindness and respect to earn their loyalty. It was a quick flight, but Engelbert and I chatted the whole time, which resulted in a great selfie.

TMA: Got any interesting hobbies, phobias, or pets?

JB: Before my shoulder injury sidelined me 🙁 I was a trap and skeet competitive shooter. Now, I am always up for a good ghost hunt. I ‘might’ have a slight germ phobia. One of the first things I do when checking into a hotel (after looking for signs of bedbugs) is to slip the ice bag over the remote control. It’s one of the dirtiest things in the hotel, almost everyone touches it and it is never cleaned.

As for pets, I have a beloved Boston Terrier named Peanut. He is a devoted companion and I love him!

TMA: Tell us a story of a time you were a measurement hero.

Peanut the Boston Terrier

JB: There once was an insurance client who was able to use measurement to understand how to improve call center scheduling during ‘crisis’ mode. They measured their communication cycle against call center activity and determined that by improving their communications they were reducing the communication cycle. They improved their messaging, resource links, and assets related to their claim process, and thus reduced overtime scheduling and efficiency at their call center. It was brilliant and inspiring when they shared all the pieces of the puzzle.

TMA: For many years we worked just to get people to start doing measurement and evaluation. Then we worked to get them to do it properly. So now, what’s the next big challenge?

JB: Abandoning the quest for a ‘single metric’ of success. No need to breathe life into an AVE 2.0. If it comes in a black box then it is likely not the silver bullet anyone thinks. It’s ridiculous when you apply that concept to any other effort, so why do it in measurement and evaluation? Think about it this way: If your car could only have one gauge, what would you choose? Gas? Speedometer? Oil pressure? Choosing just one gauge is ridiculous. So the best way to measure your communication efforts is to use an index that combines several metrics. And not just the brothel (fast, cheap, and easy) metrics. An index comes from a data stack, and so determining what goes into that stack will become the next big thing.

TMA: Got a quick measurement tip for our readers?

JB: Sure: Don’t try to calculate ROI or even use the term “ROI” unless you really know what return on investment means and have the numbers to back it up. How can you calculate ROI unless you have all the data about expenses? You can’t, because you probably don’t have the data. And if you start talking about ROI and can’t back it up, well, that’s when your credibility is lost.

TMA: Thanks for talking to us Johna. Any final words about AMEC?

JB: Sure. I want to encourage agencies to join our agency group, because we can help each other. Agencies are the first influencers and the first to see changes. So AMEC needs the agencies to help us keep pace. Meanwhile the agencies need AMEC to bring them along and make them better consultants for their clients with best practices. Also, we have a great certificate program that will help everyone improve their skills and validate their measurement credibility.

TMA: Thanks again for talking with us Johna. All the best to you in your new job.

JB: Thanks Bill, a pleasure to be here. ∞

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