When the measurement industry began it was primarily run by women, and yet today it’s run by men. Why? This is the question that prompted us to begin The MeasHERment Interview. Our goals include a desire to recognize strong female role models, and to nurture female industry leaders.*
This month we are thrilled to welcome Kate Nicholas to The MeasuHERment Interview. While editor of PRWeek in the 90s, Kate ran a high profile campaign which led to the development of a set of standards enshrined in AMEC’s (Association of Media Evaluation Companies) research and evaluation toolkit. Under her guidance, PRWeek became a leading voice for standards for PR measurement and higher quality metrics for the PR profession, long before these topics became popular elsewhere. She went on to to apply these principles as a global communications leader and consultant. Learn more about Kate at www.katenicholasconsulting.co.uk.
Bill Paarlberg, Editor, The Measurement Advisor: Hello Kate, welcome to The MeasHERment Interview.
Kate Nicholas: Hello, Bill, glad to be here.
TMA: Tell us something about you that helps to explain why you are interested in evaluation and research?
KN: In my work as a consultant developing strategy with senior leaders, it has become clear that in the twenty-first century, communications is much more than a function: it is a way of operating in a networked society. As such, strategic communications is key to an organization’s success—but professional communicators will only get a seat at the top table if they can demonstrate clear impact and outcomes based upon meaningful and measurable KPIs.
“Don’t touch AVEs with a barge pole if you want to be taken seriously.”
TMA: How long have you been involved in the comms industry and when did you begin?
KN: I went into PR straight out of university and have spent 30+ years working in agencies, in-house, or in the media. I started out in consumer PR but later moved on to work for charities, including UNICEF Australia and World Vision International as well as a decade spent running PRWeek magazine. For many years I was also a ‘talking head’ commentator on issues around reputation, PR, and government spin for various national newspapers and news channels. In fact, I did so much around the Hutton Inquiry that Alastair Campbell [Tony Blair’s spokesperson] once commented that I made a rather good living out of him!
TMA: Do you have any interesting hobbies, phobias, or pets? I have read that you enjoy horseback riding and paragliding.
KN: Yes, I have always been a bit of an adrenaline addict and love the great outdoors. I have done helicopter flying lessons. I still love hiking, but had to give up some of my more extreme hobbies after being diagnosed with advanced cancer in 2014.
However, since my remarkable recovery I have become a best-selling Christian author and broadcaster. My memoir Sea Changed, which tells the story of my unconventional journey of faith and amazing healing, was nominated Christian biography of the year in 2017. I am now writing my third book, Soul’s Scribe: Your Story and God’s Narrative. Which is—surprise, surprise—all about communications!
TMA: Let’s talk about your adventures in communication and measurement. You went to work for PRWeek in the late 1990s and eventually became editor-in-chief and associate publisher. What was the measurement industry like then?
KN: I was very privileged to run PRWeek at a interesting time for the industry. It was when—for good or for bad—communicators such as Alastair Campbell, Tim Bell, and Max Clifford were increasingly becoming the story. In this context, there was a real need to emphasize the strategic value of the profession and at PRWeek we knew that this would not happen without the proper insights.
At the time many PRs were only using evaluation for post-justification of budgets, but we wanted professionals to see it as a tool for strategy development. So, as editor of PRWeek, I ran the Proof Campaign, which was designed to get clients to allocate 10% of their comms budgets to research, measurement, and evaluation. We hosted forums which led to the development of the AMEC’s research and evaluation standards and toolkit.
Things have moved forward in the last decade but, as a consultant who undertakes communications reviews, I am still often surprised by how many communicators still don’t appreciate the value of research, measurement, and evaluation as a strategic tool.
“I was very lucky in that my mother, who was one of the very few woman to reach the top of Fleet Street in the 1960s, brought me up to believe that for a woman anything was possible.”
TMA: Got a quick measurement tip for our readers?
KN: These days corporate reputation and the license to operate is dependent upon trust in an organization, so it is never enough just to measure outputs. In order to develop effective communications strategies you need to be able to measure attitudinal shifts and to track these against message delivery. Oh, yes: and don’t touch AVEs with a barge pole if you want to be taken seriously.
TMA: Recently you have also been Chief Communications Officer at Christian humanitarian agency World Vision. A very big global job, right? Please tell us about it, and any particular aspects of it that have to do with measurement.
KN: Yes, I’ve been very blessed indeed to spend over ten years working with World Vision, and six of those leading a global network of over 600 communicators across 100 countries, including some of the most challenging contexts in the world. During my time in the aid sector, the NGO context became increasingly challenging. So we began to focus on measuring trust, with the aim of really getting to the bottom of what exactly drives trust in an organization like World Vision. We began tracking effective attitude shifts around these drivers and developed messaging and campaigns on this basis.
TMA: Tell us more about that trust measurement.
KN: One of my aims, when I took on the role of Chief Communication Officer, was to gain a global view of awareness and impact in terms of media and social media engagement. But as I settled into the role I began to realize that there was only so much value in gaining a global view. What really mattered to a majority of our operation was how they were engaging with local media and social media.
As World Vision is really a grassroots organisation, a majority of our research, measurement, and evaluation was carried out at a local level by national offices and their approaches were driven by local needs and infrastructure. My main take away has been that when committing to monitoring and evaluation, you first need to ask yourself “What question is this the answer to?”—and measure accordingly. [Transparency note: Katie Paine, publisher of The Measurement Advisor helped develop World Vision’s trust index.]
TMA: At the time you took these jobs, did you feel that you were doing any sort of great or unusual thing because of your gender? Was it unusual to be in these roles?
KN: I was very lucky in that my mother, who was one of the very few woman to reach the top of Fleet Street in the 1960s, brought me up to believe that for a woman anything was possible. However I did find while working in a very male media environment that I unconsciously developed a persona in order to assert authority, (which my husband jokingly called Kate Nicholas plc!). But as my faith deepened I became increasingly uncomfortable with that persona and felt a real sense of internal disconnect. One of the things that I love about my working life now is that I bring my whole self to work.
“…when committing to monitoring and evaluation, you first need to ask yourself “What question is this the answer to?”—and measure accordingly.”
TMA: You are a minister in the Church of England. (Is that the correct term: ‘minister’?) Is it unusual for women to be ministers in the Church of England? What led you in this direction?
KN: Yes, women are taking increasingly important roles, including being bishops, within the Church of England. I am an ‘authorized preacher,’ but am now training for full ordination in the church. For a long time I knew that God wanted me to use my experience in communication to help share his message of hope, but when I was ill I kept on being given a passage from Psalm 118:17, “I will not die but will live and declare the works of the Lord.”
Since my amazing recovery, I have had the chance to preach all over the country, and last year filmed a twelve-part TV series called “Living A Transformed Life.” As a consultant I have being doing some really interesting work with churches and Christian charities. I intend to continue to be a ‘working’ priest, but reckon that God has kept his side of the bargain, now it is time for me to step up to the plate—or altar!
TMA: How has your faith affected your work in communications or measurement? For instance, and pardon my bluntness, has morality often interfered with business? Or perhaps does morality do the opposite and enhance business relations?
KN: I think you have hit the nail on the head there. In today’s networked environment trust is a premium. If customers or stakeholders detect any divergence between what you say and what you do, then your reputation is in danger of falling into the gap. However, you don’t have to have faith to be ethical. What I do think is important though is for organizations to be very intentional about defining their values and then to consistently monitor and track how those values are being communicated and lived out. Communicators can play a critical role here.
TMA: It is clear that storytelling is a vital concept in your work. Tell us more.
KN: Storytelling is quite rightly being recognized as one of the most powerful ways to communicate. Human beings are actually hardwired to love stories; in fact the way our brains is structured means that we are 20 times more likely to remember a story than a fact. A lot of the work that I do is in helping organizations to understand and articulate their narrative. In the process of doing so they often find a more compelling strategic vision and roadmap.
TMA: What advice do you have for women on their way up in the measurement industry?
KN: Be yourself and focus on those things that really matter to you. If you put your energy where your passions lie, then you will succeed.
TMA: Thanks for doing our MeasHERment Interview, and all the best to you Kate.
KN: You are very welcome, Bill.
*We realize that there are some in the measurement industry who identify as neither male nor female, and we don’t wish to leave you out. We’d be delighted to hear from any non-binary persons who don’t feel adequately recognized or represented in leadership.