Katie Paine’s Three Decades of Communication Measurement History

This article traces the modern history of measurement as reflected in Katie Paine’s own career. It is a companion to “Significant Measurement Industry Milestones of the Last 30 Years,” which discusses the development of five major trends in the communication measurement industry.

It’s now a new decade, and everyone else is looking back at the events of the one just past. In contrast, we here at The Measurement Advisor are in the unique position of being able to look back at not just one decade, or two, but three decades of communication measurement history. (Yes, that is me up above, going over a report that my team at The Delahaye Group prepared for President Bill Clinton. Spoiler alert: the #1 social media story of the day was Hillary’s latest hairdo.)

I am lucky to have had a career in measurement that paralleled the development the measurement industry. I’ve lived through—and directly contributed to—some of the major developments of what we now think of as everyday communication measurement. (By the way, this past year I received the Jack Felton Lifetime Achievement Gold Medal from the IPR.)

Here are the highlights of my career, as they mirror the development of the communication measurement industry:

1. The journalist and the database

It was back in the 1980s when I first left journalism and started my corporate career. Needless to say, in those days Silicon Valley was teeming with professional marketers. The ad that I responded to said “Marketing Assistant wanted, knowledge of the English language helpful.” 

My boss, Nancy Newcomer, was a fabulous marketer who gave me some data from our in-house customer lists at Harris/Farinon. So I started analyzing it to figure out what tactics were generating the newest additions to the list. This is when I first realized that data was the key to insight. (For a glimpse into how far we’ve come, check out this NY Times article on how they trained their reporters to be data aficionados. The tip sheets and examples they link to are just gold.)

2. Numbers, the language of decision making

A few years later I moved on to Fujitsu, where I had a sizable marketing and advertising budget, but the only input on where to allocate it came from numerous vendors taking me to lunch. My agency partner, Mike Austin, was brilliantly creative, and taught me most of what I know about marketing, but he couldn’t fathom my fascination with data. Fortunately those vendors and ad sales guys left behind detailed reports on who actually read their magazines.

So, I analyzed media demographics and lead sources and even did a survey to determine what a reasonable budget allocation was given our size and position in the market. When I presented my findings, I used too many words but just enough numbers for my engineer-bosses to buy into my recommendations. Not only did I get my budget increase, but I also got confirmation that data analysis was the key to communication with the boss.

3. Say it with pictures and they’ll listen

Next it was on to Hewlett Packard, where I had access to computer-generated charts and graphs. And a laser printer. I could now actually express all my various research insights in a visual language my bosses could understand. This came in especially handy at one point when we analyzed sales data and showed that: “Okay, we went over budget by about $10k, but we generated $1.4 million in incremental revenue from people who had never bought from HP before!” Amazing how those pretty charts sum up the data and convince people that you’re right.

4. “Anyone who isn’t using this by the year 2000 doesn’t deserve to be in this business.”

From there I went to Lotus, which of course had Lotus 1-2-3. The data geek in me went wild and I analyzed everything. Including every article we had generated to see if it contained one of our key messages and/or influenced one of our key influencers.

I presented my findings to my boss and the agency. The head of the agency, Bob Strayton, said “Anyone who isn’t using this by the year 2000 doesn’t deserve to be in this business.”

My boss, however, didn’t share that enthusiasm, and instead offered me an exit strategy, which I jumped on. It so happened that the leading business reporter had just told me he was about to do the consummate “J. M. (the CEO at the time) Is an Asshole” story. Now, J.M. definitely was an asshole, and I knew I wouldn’t survive the fallout from that story, so I took the opportunity to jump ship.

Bob Strayton became my first client, and my boss was nice enough to send me off with a complete suite of Lotus software and a laser printer. And that’s how I founded The Delahaye Group.

5. New media means measuring the conversation—and the Internet

Around the turn of the century, The Delahaye Group was asked by a client to monitor what was being said about them in a new form of media known as “newsgroups,” which were the precursor to chat rooms and social media.

“We can do that!” the team said, and then we spent a month trying to figure out how we were going to do it. It was tricky. Not only were we used to having physical pieces of paper to analyze, but we quickly discovered that the huge volume of posts made all our prior work seem like a tiny trickle.

It took a bit of creative juggling, but soon we were incorporating all kinds of chatter into our normal media analysis reports. And so entirely new part of the business was born: measuring the new thing called “the Internet.” I gave a speech on the topic and declared that “HITS” stood for “How Idiots Track Success”—which since seems to have been adopted as an official defintion.

6. Going global, going big

Among the implications of incorporating the Internet into our standard toolbox was that the media analysis business became by default an international one. Initially we tackled the need for foreign language analysis by calling in our friends: including the guys at the Chinese restaurant up the street, and the relatives and roommates of our Norwegian-born CFO and our French-born IT manager—whomever we could find.

But the international work continued to expand and we had to set up a formal network of partners around the world. We brought our unique approach to PR measurement to the UK, France, Japan, New Zealand, South Africa, Germany, and Turkey. Some of those partners are still working for me to this day!

That international network and our pioneering work in social media got the attention of a number of other companies. In 1999 The Delahaye Group was purchased by Medialink, which was then purchased by Bacons, which got renamed Cision.

7. Humans vs. robots and the rise of AI

Mike Austin once characterized my enterprising-yet-unmanageable working disposition as “Genetically unemployable.” Under The Delahaye Group’s new ownership it quickly became apparent that, indeed, I was not the ideal employee.

So I left in 2002 and started KDPaine & Partners. KDP&P was designed to be a publishing company, but our subscription-based newsletter idea just didn’t fly back then. (Our present newsletter, which you are reading right now, is doing quite well, thank you: please subscribe.) So once again we slowly morphed into a measurement company.

About this time we began to get competition from automated analysis, that is, computer-aided analysis that attempted to determine the sentiment of articles. It didn’t take long for clients to learn that computers weren’t nearly as accurate as human beings, especially when it came to complex concepts like the success of their positioning or levels of trust. But for larger clients, it wasn’t economically viable to read everything—especially when the assignment included social media.

So we developed some machine intelligence of our own, using our years of experience and some technological know-how of our own. As a result, we expanded out of our own little niche into work for some very large clients. (One of which actually used our knowledge and technology to perfect its own machine learning system for its own clients.)

8. Back to basics

Suddenly we were doing big business, but a very long way away from the little publishing company I had envisioned. So in 2013 I sold KDPaine & Partners to what is now Carma. And then started Paine Publishing, the company I really wanted to run all along. Very small, very nimble, doing the writing and measurement consulting jobs that I truly enjoy. Not so far, in a way, from the journalist I started out as, but with decades more experience, heaps more data, and a lot more insight. 🙂 ∞

About Author

Katie Paine

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