Introducing the Measurement Sherpa: Data Wrangling Superpowers Required

Sherpa with charts level 1

This article is part of The Measurement Advisor’s Special Issue on the Measurement Sherpa, an in-house data wrangler and measurement resource who organizes, queries, and gains insight from data. Our coverage follows the development of a Sherpa’s skill and experience, from newbie to pro, and is organized in three levels:

sherpa badge level 1

Sherpa Level One: Getting Out of Base Camp

sherpa badge level 2Sherpa Level Two: Climbing the Mountain

sherpa badge level 3Sherpa Level Three: Peak Operations

Help Wanted: Measurement Sherpa

Requirements: No prior experience necessary, but PR experience is helpful, also an aptitude for statistics, and a fondness for puzzles and solving problems. Must have:

  • The data-whispering dexterity of  Nate Silver, because that’s where the insight comes from;
  • The patience of Job, to deal with all the measurement naysayers;
  • The negotiating skills of Madeleine Albright and Henry Kissinger, to get everyone to agree on what success looks like;
  • The business acumen of Warren Buffett, to manage all the RFPs;
  • The tough skin of a rhinoceros, because if you’re herding cats you’re bound to get scratched; and
  • The strength of a tank, to break down all the silos.

Why Your Organization Needs a Measurement Sherpa

Every organization needs a Measurement Sherpa to help navigate the maze that is today’s world of measurement. Let’s face it, most people go into communications not because they love numbers but because they love words. Sure, you may also have a business degree and some familiarity with Excel. But today’s professional communicators are faced with hundreds of measurement companies, dozens of dashboards, and zettabytes worth of data.

Comms people have enough trouble juggling the programs, budgets, and staff that take up 200% of their day. Just when they think it might be wine-o-clock and they can go home, the “measurement” issue will surface. Maybe the new CEO is obsessed with dashboards and wants to see yours. Or perhaps it’s the new client, demanding monthly ROI figures. Or maybe you just want to make your department is more efficient and accountable. Whatever the reason, in today’s business environment measurement is inescapable.

But let’s be honest: Most of you hate it. Math was not your best subject, you haven’t kept up with all the latest standards, and you’re overwhelmed with all those damn people from Meltwater/Vocus/Radian6/Adobe who keep trying to get in to see you.

Measurement Sherpa to the Rescue

Cue Queen’s “Flash.” This is when you call in your Measurement Sherpa. Someone who can pick up your measurement burden, carry you and it to the top of the organizational mountain, and make you look like a hero.

What a Measurement Sherpa Does

A Measurement Sherpa:

  • Knows what all the latest measurement standards are and stays on top of new developments.
  • Deals with all those measurement vendors knocking at your door, and knows the difference between their BS and their real value.
  • Patiently explains the difference between causation and causality to whoever asks.
  • Doesn’t let anyone use the term ROI unless they have all the requisite data. Instead, helps them calculate cost-effectiveness and cost-benefit ratios.
  • Understands the difference between valid and invalid metrics.
  • Plays the hard-nosed skeptic with vendors, but has a velvet touch when it comes to other departments.
  • Knows how to get answers when no one else does.
  • Knows that perfection is not possible, and when good enough will do.
  • Knows when a full-blown research project is needed, but can also take a fast dive into an Excel spreadsheet to find enough data to shut people up.
  • Knows the difference between the right answer and a fast answer.
  • Can step out of his or her comfort zone to research something that they’ve never seen before.

What a Measurement Sherpa Does Not Do

A Measurement Sherpa does not:

  • Throw data over the cubicle wall.
  • Spend all his/her time playing with new tools.
  • Base decisions on data alone.

Where to Find a Measurement Sherpa

Potential Measurement Sherpas are everywhere within organizations; you probably just don’t recognize them. Maybe it’s the new kid in market research who is dying to test some theories she learned in school. Or the accountant who is bored but is a whiz with Excel. Or the IT guy who is tired of just looking at Google Analytics. Or the data analyst who thinks that PR might be a more interesting discipline to analyze.

Don’t go looking for Measurement Sherpas in the math department of your local university. The best have a mix of liberal arts and business in their background. They may be art majors who can see patterns in the numbers. Or history majors who can look at the big picture and then prove the point with data.

The most important skills for a Measurement Sherpa to have are the ability to understand the vagaries of PR and social media, and the discipline to make sure everything done in PR and social media has measurable outcomes. ∞  

Thanks to DIYdilettante for the image.

About Author

Katie Paine

I've been called The Queen Of Measurement, but I prefer Seshat, the Goddess.