Interview with Jessica Jones: Her Superpower is Measurement

Jessica Jones is Manager of Public Affairs Coordination and Planning at the Department of National Defence, Ottawa, Ontario. Shortly after taking this job, she began a months-long process of developing an integrated communications dashboard for the organization. That’s public affairs activities across the entire Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces. Adding to the excitement was that she had to bootstrap her way into strategy, get buy-in across a very large organization, and take a class so she could model the data herself. Not bad for an English major. The Measurement Advisor sat down to talk with her after she spoke at the recent 2018 Summit on the Future of Communications Measurement.

The Measurement Advisor: Hi Jessica, very nice to meet you at the Summit. Thanks for agreeing to an interview for The Measurement Advisor.

Jessica Jones: Hi Bill, nice to be here. I really enjoyed the Summit.

“The initial dashboard I had was too complicated. It’s hard to get the balance between having enough information, but not having so much that it is meaningless. If management can’t look at it and get it in 20 seconds, you’ve lost your chance.”

TMA: Yes, it was great, partly because of your presentation. We are going to talk about that, and your great achievements in integrated communications measurement, but first tell us something interesting about yourself.

JJ: I have two small boys who keep me busy. I like to design cakes for family and friends, and am pretty handy with a table saw and a mitre saw. They have been getting a lot of use as my husband and I have been installing hardwood flooring and new baseboards in the house over the past year.

TMA: Wow, you are versatile. OK, I have to bring this up… People must ask you about Jessica Jones the Marvel superhero and Netflix show, right?

JJ: Yes—thankfully, it’s a good show! At least people now tend to get my name right, instead of calling me Jennifer Jones (a famous Canadian curler).

TMA: Do you watch the show? Do you like it? I saw the first season, and I liked the tough female detective. But after a few episodes it started to feel like the writers just dragged out one situation after another and she wasn’t making any progress.

JJ: Ha! I like the show. But if you felt that way about the first season, then you’ll really feel that way about the second—at least the first half of it.

TMA: Tell us something about where you work, what it’s like.

JJ: I work in Public Affairs for the Department of National Defence in Canada, which has approximately 95,000 military personnel and 24,000 civilian employees. I’m a civilian. It offers opportunities to do interesting work in all aspects of communications.

TMA: OK, back to your dashboard… Katie says you did an amazing thing: push an integrated communications measurement dashboard through from conception to data, really fast.

JJ: From start to first completed quarterly report and dashboard was 15 months. Which is pretty good, but I have a short attention span and usually work on items with shorter turnaround times, so it felt like forever. This is the longest and most involved project I’ve ever worked on.

“We knew we needed to change because all we could show was that we were busy. If we can’t show the effects of what we are doing, then why are we here?”

TMA: What made you want to do this dashboard?

This is Marvel’s Jessica Jones played by Krysten Ritter on Netflix.

JJ: We knew we needed to change because all we could show was that we were busy. If we can’t show the effects of what we are doing, then why are we here? There were disagreements on how to measure and what to measure, so it was an opportunity for a change.

TMA: So you were new to measurement?

JJ: I studied English Literature and I had never thought about doing measurement before. I knew it was going to be part of the job, but no one foresaw it being at this level. When I first came on, I was told to look at measurement, but then I went on maternity leave shortly afterwards. When I got back, we were coming up to the time to start drafting a new public affairs strategy, so it was the right time to do it.

“A colleague and I had gone to a conference on communications measurement and ended up mapping out the first cut at the KPIs on the back of her business card over dinner.”

TMA: Were you planning the whole process right from the start?

JJ: No, it grew while we were working on it. It would have been daunting if we hadn’t attacked this problem in an iterative way. The cornerstone was the new strategy, which was nothing like previous strategies we had done. It was risky to do something new and I felt quite nervous doing the initial presentations to senior management, but they were very receptive. Once we had the strategy, we worked on key performance indicators.

A colleague and I had gone to a conference on communications measurement and ended up mapping out the first cut at the KPIs on the back of her business card over dinner. Then it was a matter of finding what data we had and building a few new tools, like the relationship questionnaire for our internal stakeholder audience. The final step was modelling the data and developing the report and dashboard.

TMA: Wait. You included a Grunig relationship survey? We are always excited about those around here. What prompted you to do that?

JJ: Yes, we used it for two reasons: One, because I read Katie’s book about the importance of relationship measurement (Measuring Public Relationships: The Data-Driven Communicator’s Guide to Success, KDPaine & Partners, 2007), and two, I went to a session by Caroline Kealey, a communications expert in Canada, who also talked about the importance of looking at relationships. Katie’s book referenced a paper that was a tool for measuring relationships (Grunig and Hon, Guidelines for Measuring Relationships in Public Relations, Institute for Public Relations, 2011). I looked up the paper, which is a IPR Gold Standard paper, and it was available online, so we adapted it with Katie’s help, and just started using it. I like the approach, as it treats communications as a service delivery partner.

TMA: How did the military environment help or hurt your efforts? Which aspects made it easier, and which made it harder?

JJ: Within public affairs, military and civilian personnel are well-integrated. One thing I have always appreciated about the military environment is the focus on getting things done.

TMA: So what did you learn? What advice do you have for other people starting out with an integrated communications dashboard?

JJ: Here are three important points:

  1. The initial dashboard I had was too complicated. It’s hard to get the balance between having enough information, but not having so much that it is meaningless. If management can’t look at it and get it in 20 seconds, you’ve lost your chance.
  2. Make a recommendation based on available data, because otherwise you could be in an indefinite holding pattern waiting for more and better information.
  3. Some people were worried about baselines. But I took Katie’s advice: I said, “Give it a few quarters and we’ll know where we are, which is a whole lot more than we know now.”

TMA: Was this really your first measurement project? Do you think that helped or hurt you? What would you do differently next time?

JJ: I had done small one- to two-hour projects, looking at things like whether media lines were used in answering media calls. But nothing on this kind of scale or across multiple business lines. I think it helped to have a completely clean slate and to look at things in a new way, starting from the research.

TMA: What were your biggest challenges?

JJ: On the whole it actually went pretty smoothly. It was a happy coincidence of willingness to do it from the organization and support from the top.

Jessica Jones presents at the 2018 Summit on the Future of Communications Measurement.

It might have been overkill, but it would have been really helpful to have had access to a statistician and a data engineer. I had an Excel and Access whiz on my team, who tried to build a couple of different databases to track all of the data we were collecting, but we couldn’t quite get it to work for us. Then I was fortunate enough to go on a course on data modelling, which got us back on track. The next challenge I’d like to see us overcome is data automation, rather than manual collection.

Getting buy-in was a huge undertaking because of the size and complexity of our organization. I often say that if we can do the consultations and get the buy-in across an organization like this, anybody can. Consultations on the strategy alone probably took three or four months.

As far as I know, after talking to most of the other departments out there, we are the only department in the Government of Canada to have implemented integrated communications measurement.

TMA: Any final words to our readers?

JJ: Distill the data into something meaningful and actionable because that is where your value is and what management really cares about.

There has been a lot of interest in my department in relying more on data to make decisions. We in public affairs still have room to grow in that area, particularly when it comes to finding efficiencies, but this is a start.

We have a very small team of three working on this, and none of us are full-time. So if we can do it, you can too.

TMA: What a great story, Jessica. Thank you! ∞

About Author

Bill Paarlberg

Bill Paarlberg is the Editor of The Measurement Advisor. He has been editing and writing about measurement for over 20 years. He was the development and copy editor for "Measuring the Networked Nonprofit" by Beth Kanter and Katie Paine, winner of the 2013 Terry McAdam Book Award.