Sam Ruchlewicz Interview: “Progress isn’t made by sitting around and waiting for it to happen.”

Sam Ruchlewicz, Director of Digital Strategy and Data Analytics, Warschawski, gave a dynamic and inspirational presentation at the recent Summit on the Future of Communications Measurement. His feisty attitude on the importance of data-informed decisions was both fun and infectious. So we asked him a few questions…

— The Measurement Advisor:  How long have you been at Warschawski? Tell us about what it’s been like to help your agency use analytics. Agencies are traditionally very resistant to change. How did you manage that?

Sam Ruchlewicz: I’ve been at Warschawski for a little over two years. I joined the agency knowing that there was a huge opportunity to transform the way we used analytics from a reporting mechanism (which is what most agencies do) to a strategic resource that measures what matters and delivers actionable insights to help clients achieve real, bottom-line business results.

One of the great things about Warschawski is that everyone is open to having a conversation about how we can improve, whether that be changing how we do something, investing in new technologies, or rethinking how we approach certain challenges. That openness is a major reason I’ve been able to do so much. Obviously, I needed to show the value of analytics and make the business case for why it’s something worth doing (and worth doing incredibly well). But, like you said above, at many agencies that conversation never takes place.

— The Measurement Advisor: At the Summit you showed a very up-front and even confrontational attitude about the advantage of using data to make comms decisions. How does this help you in your work? How does it hinder you? Does it inspire those you work with? Your clients? Does it ever get you in trouble?

Sam Ruchlewicz: I do what I do because I believe that marketing and communications done well can be a force for good—and more than a line item on a budget statement (though it seems that fewer and fewer companies do it well). A well-designed, data-driven structure and a robust analytics program can be a game-changer, not just for companies, but for customers and clients as well.

Unfortunately, the industry is stuck in an antiquated way of thinking that simply isn’t tenable in a mobile-first, always-on world. The only way we as an industry are going to get from where we are today to where we need to be to remain relevant is by being up-front and honest about the reality of our situation. Data is here to stay. More companies are using more data to make more decisions more quickly. All the time. That puts the marketing and communications industry in a “fall behind, get left behind” situation.

The reason I’m direct is because I’m passionate about what I do. I believe we can be better marketers if we embrace data and start using it to our advantage. I hope I inspire others (both colleagues and clients) to leave their comfort zones, to think differently about how they approach problems, and to ask tough, challenging questions. The problems we face aren’t easy, but one of the advantages of having unfathomable amounts of data at your fingertips is that your solutions are only limited by your imagination.

Progress isn’t made by sitting around and waiting for it to happen. As Ghandi said, you need to be the change you want to see. I want to see marketing and communications people use data in a meaningful way to deliver real, tangible value. So I’m direct and I tell them that, even if it does occasionally get me in trouble.

There is nothing more thrilling than being able to use data to show a client an aspect of their business or an opportunity they never knew existed—and then use that nugget of insight to help them grow their business and their bottom line.

— The Measurement Advisor: How do you deal with clients who don’t get what you are doing? We tend to think of the three levels of clients, below. If these seem familiar to you, how do you deal with them?:

  1. Those that don’t get it.
  2. Those that do get it, but they don’t want to get it. They are threatened and are likely to sabotage a project.
  3. Those that do get it, but they don’t know how to do it.

Sam Ruchlewicz: For the people who don’t get it, I’ve found that showing them the possibilities, whether that’s through an exploratory analysis or a sample dashboard, can be an eye-opening experience—and seeing is believing. There’s a great deal of confusion in our industry about what data is, what it can do, and how it can help organizations to do things more efficiently and more effectively. So taking the time to educate pays dividends.

For the people that get it but don’t want to get it, these are the people that frustrate me the most. To use a sports metaphor, these are the GMs that refuse to use advanced stats, then complain when their team doesn’t meet expectations. The willfully negligent are usually the ones I’m most direct and confrontational with, simply because they are doing a disservice to their organization and their profession. No one would stand for a lawyer refusing to use a computer or a doctor using an inferior procedure. So why do we accept that behavior from marketing or communications professionals?

I approach these individuals in a similar way to those who just don’t get it at all. I show them the possibilities and how they will help them be more effective and efficient. At the end of the day, every client relationship is a partnership. If the other party refuses to recognize the value provided and is actively trying to sabotage the project, it isn’t a healthy partnership and it isn’t a relationship I’m interested in having.

There are plenty of organizations who understand and appreciate the value of a data-informed approach to measurement and decision making. I’ll work with them instead.

I personally love to work with those that get it, but don’t know how to do it. I’ve found that these individuals are true partners. They’re excited to work with you and genuinely want to learn more and do their job better. These are the people I’m happy to spend hours with, showing them how I do what I do, so they can do it as well.

— The Measurement Advisor: You’re Google Analytics Certified, right? Tell us what you had to do get that way, and what good it has done you. How do you encourage your staff to educate themselves?

Sam Ruchlewicz: Yes, I am Google Analytics Certified. The certification itself hasn’t really helped me personally, but some of the content provided by Google as part of the course has been helpful. I do think it’s valuable as a minimum qualification that provides some insight on whether an individual knows his/her way around the platform.

To be completely honest, I’ve learned far, far more about web analytics from Web Analytics 2.0 and Occam’s Razor (the blog), both by Avinash Kaushik. I own several copies of the book and have that blog bookmarked on every device I own. I’ve found both resources to be infinitely more insightful and helpful than the video tutorials included with Google’s analytics certification.

In terms of certifications, I put substantially more stock in a Facebook Blueprint Certification – those are relatively difficult, proctored exams, and the certification itself costs about $300 to obtain.

Finally, regarding continuing education: we all share articles/posts/guides close to daily, attend webinars regularly, and hold weekly meetings where we learn from each other.

The Measurement Advisor: Thanks Sam! ∞

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.