Nov 16

The Data Science Behind the Dating Scene

Today’s guest blog was authored by Jason Baik, Senior Manager on the Analytics team at Peppercomm…

Most people associate “analytics” with simple tables and graphs without really understanding the true power of data. I’m here to break that stereotype.

Before I get into the details, a bit of background is required. My name is Jason, a professional analyst and a true data advocate; I analyze everything from conducting non-hierarchical clustering for my fantasy football drafting to predictive price modeling for my bitcoin gambling. You name it and I probably have a personal spreadsheet of it.

When I was freshly single in the summer of 2016, I decided to follow in the footsteps of journalist Amy Webb and put my love of analytics behind my pursuit of love: data behind my dating life. I started by crafting profiles across various dating apps and meticulously tracked everything, from opening lines and response times to respondent ethnicities and hobbies. I was ready to prove that love was a quantifiable game…

By the twelfth day, I was frustrated by my lack of progress. My response rates were improving but my problem lied in the candidates themselves… the first few dates had been entertaining but no one stood out enough for a second meet. Even worse, there was no apparent correlation between any of my variables and my enjoyment of an experience. As day fifteen rolled around, I decided to add a qualitative layer to the mix. I calculated personality scores based on profile keywords and developed an attraction index. My daily response rate stayed about the same but my enjoyment of the dates soared!

I wanted more. During month two, I decided to increase the stakes by adding what I’ll coin as my radical honesty test. I would ask a series of ‘controversial’ questions throughout the course of conversation and gauge response lag, initial eye movements, and facial reactions. Some of my questions included: 1) number of ex-boyfriends, 2) reasons for termination of latest relationship, 3) current salary level, 4) political views, and 5) criminal history. I hardly cared about the answers as I only met the women who passed my screening process – I already knew they were decent human beings. I was more intrigued by how each would respond in an unorthodox situation.

On the one hand, I got to meet some genuinely amazing women. I soon discovered, though, that regardless of most people’s claims to appreciate ‘honesty’ not many people truly did… or at least not in the way I defined it. Even these highly curated individuals became awkward or disinterested as I asked my questions and some of them blatantly lied. To my dismay, my radical honesty test remained pass-proof…

Lucky for me, my story doesn’t end there. Six months into my amorous adventure, as I was on the cusp of giving up on ‘happily ever after’, I met the most wonderful woman… ironically, outside of online dating. I was at a board game night with high school buddies when a friend of a friend appeared on a whim based on a last-minute invite. To disillusion the romantics, this woman and I barely spoke during game night… but coincidental parking led to the exchanging of numbers and an eventual first date.

During my first meeting with – from here on out, I’ll call her Grace… and I say that facetiously because that’s her actual name – I decided to enact my honesty test but with a twist. Instead of asking my typical questions, I decided to up the ante and start with my own confessions. Unfortunately for me, what started as an attempt to spice up my experiment ended with me telling Grace literally every secret that I housed: every library book I had failed to return on time, every plastic can I had failed to recycle… it was all laid out for her on our (I will stress again) first date.

She, in turn, laughed at most of what I said… and calmly elaborated on her own shameful history. That was ten blissful months ago.

I understand, first hand, that in a world where the client deadlines get cut as often as the budgets, analytics will forever be seen as a mere dashboard or an Excel template. With that said, my best contribution to this wonderful field comes in the form of a friendly reminder: some of life’s greatest answers are derived using analyses. The next time you’re going about your daily routine, even if you aren’t an “analyst”, try putting some data behind a situation. While I can’t promise you a Nobel Prize-winning revelation every time… once in a while you may, like me, make a life-changing discovery.

***

More about Jason:

Jason is a Senior Manager on the Analytics team where he leverages data to solve client problems. Prior to joining Peppercomm, Jason worked at several digital advertising agencies and crafted measurement strategies spanning social, programmatic, search, email, and mobile campaigns. Jason is originally from Princeton, New Jersey and earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Economics from Northwestern University.

Find Jason on LinkedIn here.

Nov 07

The clock is ticking

Check out this fascinating Advertising Age interview of Facebook marketing guru Andrew Keller. While Keller expounds on any number of topics in the piece, he hones in specifically on the rise of the term “six seconds” in advertising.

While the Facebook executive, and his fellow advertisers, are fixated on six seconds, research shows the average human actually has an attention span of eight whole seconds. That’s one second less than a goldfish.

But, the six (or eight) second discussion should extend far beyond Keller’s focus on digital advertising and videos.

Split second responses are table stakes in ALL forms of communications today.

In the new normal of Trump Tweets, fake news and Kevin Spacey/Harvey Weinstein-type transgressions, individuals and organizations have about eight seconds to gather their thoughts and determine:

  • What will they say?
  • Will they say anything at all?
  • What criteria determine whether a response is warranted?
  • Who should make the statement?
  • What channel would make the most sense?

Here are two very quick cases in point. One is a worst practice; the other a best:

  • UnderArmour completely blew the NFL player-kneeling controversy by first Tweeting the firm’s commitment to diversity & inclusiveness. Then, when right-wing customers expressed their disapproval, UnderArmour Tweeted a revised comment that included “..and show respect for our flag.” In doing so, UnderArmour created a whole new news cycle that, ironically, unified outraged right and left-wing followers who agreed on one thing: the brand was speaking out of both sides of its mouth.
  • @POTUS recently attacked General Motors in one of his 3am Tweets. Rather than respond with a Tweet correcting the president’s erroneous charges, Ray Dey, GM’s CCO decided, instead, to share the facts with trusted beat reporters who routinely covered the car company. Once their articles were published, Trump didn’t have a leg to stand on and quickly moved on to attack someone else.

The point is this: While no brand should be expected to respond in eight seconds or less, every organization should prepare now for what cannot be anticipated, and create new protocols for the new normal.

Getting back to digital advertising and marketing content of all types and forms, I completely agree with Keller. Organizations have six (or eight, depending upon the target audience’s attention span) seconds to engage, connect and begin the process of consideration. The day of long-form storytelling is dead.

Split second communications is the currency of the realm, now and for the future.

Oct 26

Talk about a wunderkind

Note to readers: This is the second, and final, blog reviewing Harold Burson’s new book, “The Business of Persuasion” (available through Rosetta Books)….

But, after reading what Burson-Marsteller Founder Harold Burson had achieved at the same age, I must say I was beyond humbled (a unique experience to be sure).

Consider the following (taken directly from his autobiography):

  •  He became a stringer for the Memphis Commercial Appeal as a sophomore in high school.
  •  He filed reports on University of Mississippi football for the Commercial Appeal while a college sophomore.
  •  While still in college, he provided public relations counsel to D.H. Ferguson, which was helping to build the atomic bomb.
  •  After WW II began, he filed nightly written reports for all U.S. officers serving in Europe.
  •  At the age of 24, he covered the Nuremberg trials for the American News Network.

His accomplishments are mind-numbing to say the least, but Burson provides key advice for any high school or college student hoping to achieve at least a modicum of his success:

First, he proffers these tips for succeeding in PR:

  •  Content is still king. Train yourself to be a good writer, avail yourself of writing labs and tutors, seek feedback on your writing and your future will be assured.
  • As the volume of texting grows, the quality of writing declines. Do yourself a favor and take as many writing courses as you can cram into your schedule.

He next provides advice for succeeding early in life:

  • Volunteer to do the jobs no one else wants to, and to the extent possible, inform people of the importance of your service to the company.
  • Take calculated risks early in your career, risks that will hasten your trek to the objective you have set for yourself.
  • Suggest new ways of approaching problems as ideas come to you. Just because more experienced people reject them outright does not mean they are bad ideas. They may be ahead of their time or lead to alternative and timelier ideas.

Finally, Burson’s takeaways from his career in the military include:

  •  Those who have the willingness and the discipline to do the grunt work will work their way up in business.
  •  Prepare yourself to adapt to ever-changing situations such as different bosses, unusual assignments or difficult colleagues.
  •  Some assignments call for a high degree of integrity. What you say and do will either earn you the trust of others or lose it.

Stay tuned for part three tomorrow and, oh, btw Mr. Burson: Where were you when I was 24?

Oct 17

Rudderless in a perfect storm

Much has already been written about Harvey Weinstein’s decision to retain the service of Sitrick and Company, one of the best-known crisis firms in the country.

Most of the rhetoric has either excoriated Sitrick for defending such a heinous client who continues to see one starlet after another come forward with new accusations of rape. Others defend Sitrick arguing that, as is the case in our jurisprudence system, any defendant is innocent until proven guilty and deserving of counsel.

Few, if any, have weighed in on what I have to believe are the toxic effects of Sitrick’s decision on the average Sitrick employee.

It’s one thing to advocate on behalf of such controversial clients as Big Tobacco and quasi-dictatorships, but the Weinstein crisis strikes at the very root of our nation’s latest flashpoint: sexual harassment. I wonder how female employees of Sitrick explain to their family and friends how they can work for an organization that is defending such an alleged serial predator. That can’t be a fun discussion.

And while Sitrick has a long-standing record of defending controversial clients, this could prove to be their Waterloo. Just look at what happened to Bell Pottinger, a leading U.K. public relations consultancy. They found out the hard way that defending the wrong client at the wrong time can not only destroy employee morale, but actually put the firm out of business.

I believe Sitrick chose to defend Weinstein because the firm lacks a clear purpose (Note: a purpose may be defined as why an organization exists, why its employees show up to work every day and what higher purpose does the company serve). In other words, the firm is rudderless.

I recently co-authored a blog with Roger Bolton, president of the Arthur W. Page Society in which we said: “An overwhelming number of employed adults expect their organizations to speak up in times of crisis. But doing so should be guided by the corporate character (or purpose, if you will). A purpose should serve as a company’s ethical and moral company, and guide a CEO’s decisions and actions.”

Lacking purpose, Sitrick chose profits over people (and principles) and, I believe, will pay a very heavy price.

After word: I did some quick sleuthing to see if some of the best PR firms in the business do, in fact, have a clear purpose. They do. Two of the best came from:

  • Edelman: “….We drive powerful connections between companies and the greater good. In other words, we help marry profits and purpose…”
  • Weber-Shandwick: “….We’re energized by the ways our diverse global network of employees apply their passion and ideas in partnership with clients around the world to contribute to a brighter future.”

I’d like to believe that neither Richard Edelman nor Andy Polansky, CEOs of Edelman and Weber, respectively, would even entertain the notion of representing Harvey Weinstein since their purpose would guide them to do the exact opposite.

Oct 10

Have lecture, will travel

I’ve had the unique privilege to address two classes of public relations students/executives in the past week. The initial victims attend George Washington University. The second group participates in a master’s program in communications management at the University of Toronto.

In each instance, I found the students/executives hungry for information about CEO advocacy in particular, and best practices for dealing with an unexpected attack from the West Wing.

Happily, and courtesy of The Institute for Public Relations and the Arthur W. Page Society, I was well-equipped to field each, and every question, and cite both proprietary primary research as well as highly relevant secondary research to support my arguments.

I suggested that public relations in general, and the CCO in particular, has never been better positioned to provide counsel to the CEO in the new normal of fake news, hate-mongering and personal attacks. Indeed. I firmly believe the CCO should be carefully advising her CEO in terms of when to advocate and how best to communicate it.  As my colleague, Roger Bolton, president of the Page Society mentioned in our recent PRSA-sponsored webinar, an organization should follow its corporate purpose, mission and values statement in positing  a POV on everything from Charlottesville and DACA to climate change and women’s rights. And the CCO should always be serving as his organization’s ethical and moral compass.

I recently interviewed Colleen Penhall of Lowes, who  provided a best practices roadmap for the path her organization took in determining a corporate purpose that has profoundly impacted every aspect of her organization and equipped the CEO with guidelines should he choose to speak out on an issue of the day. Other CCO’s who have yet to determine their organization’s purpose would be well-advised to follow Colleen’s lead.

CEO advocacy will only become more important in the days, weeks and months to come. The wisest orgazanitons are those who have already taken time to anticipate what cannot be anticipated, and created various responses that have been approved, in advance, by the entire C-Suite.

We live in interesting times. And, neither digital gurus nor advertising copywriters have a clue as to how best to navigate TrumpWorld. These are heady times for the public relations profession, and I’m more convinced than ever that we will rise in stature as employees and stakeholder audiences look for a CEO to provide a voice of reason in a time of turbulence.

Dec 01

A squeezed middle in the midst of a widening waistline

Fat-man-boatThe Oxford University Press just anointed the phrase ‘squeezed middle’ as its ‘word of the year’. The phrase, of course, refers to the financial pinch being felt by the American middle class in the midst of a never-ending recession.

I find it ironic, though, that the Oxford word wizards would choose ones that illustrate the exact opposite of what’s happening to the population’s collective waistlines. Two recent cases in point illustrate the dichotomy. The first appeared in The New York Times and told the sad story of America’s truckers. According to Abby Ellin’s article, an astounding 86 percent of the country’s 3.2 million truck drivers are overweight or obese! And, check out this tidbit provided by Brett Blower, director of marketing and development for the Healthy Trucking Association of America. A few years back, Blower’s group conducted a blood screening of more than 2,000 truckers at an annual truck show. “We sent 21 directly to the emergency room, and one of them had a heart attack on the way there,” he recalled. Talk about road kill. Wow!

At the same time truckers are dropping like flies (note: Ellin’s article blames the truckers’ sedentary lifestyle and the calorie-rich gruel served at truck stops as the chief cause of their obesity), Congress is fighting hard to undermine the Obama Administration’s efforts to take unhealthy foods out of our nation’s schools. I guess knowing that most Americans today are overweight isn’t good enough for Congress; they’re thinking long-term.

In fact, if Republicans get their way, the tomato paste used on pizza would be counted as a vegetable and they’d overturn efforts to limit the use of potatoes on the lunch line, put new restrictions on the use of sodium and boost the use of whole grains. It’ll be a huge win for potato-growers, frozen pizza makers and the salt industry, respectively; and a huge loss for the health and well-being of our kids.

So, while I wouldn’t quibble with the Oxford University Press opting for squeezed middle as the word of the year (after all, it’s the economy, stupid!), I would nominate a co-winner for the 2011 word or phrase of the year: ‘self-inflicted wound’. I cannot think of any other nation at any other point in history that has done more harm to itself than modern-day America. Of course, I missed Rome circa 476 A.D. and Athens about 800 years prior to that, but I can’t believe either society could compete with ours for sheer stupidity.

Nov 22

The Distrust Barometer

TrustI’ve just returned from visiting my alma mater, Northeastern University, where I’m honored to say I’m a member of The Northeastern Corporation, a body constituted to provide counsel on a variety of strategic issues. (And, in the interests of transparency, I should also note that I’m helping the school communicate its amazing value proposition).

During my full day on campus, I had the opportunity to lunch with five or six of the most impressive undergraduates I’ve encountered at any college or university (and, I’ve literally met thousands). Each shared his or her personal Northeastern journey with me, and some of my fellow ‘corporators’ and, I must say, each story was more compelling than the last. These ‘kids’ were not only committed to finding new ways to help make the world a better place, they were also racking up some amazing international work experience courtesy of Northeastern’s unrivaled cooperative education experience (a.k.a. co-op).

After listening to their tales, we were invited to ask questions of the students. I wanted to know their feelings about the society in which they’d grown up. After all, as I said to them, the one fundamental difference from the world I knew at the Northeastern University of the late 1970s and the world of today could best be summed up by the word ‘trust’. While The Vietnam War and Watergate may have eroded my generation’s trust in certain political leaders, we still believed in The American Dream. Today, though, every single pillar of society is either immersed in a major scandal or recovering from one. Be it religion, sports, politics, entertainment or business, kids today are growing up in a world without trust.

So I asked the undergrads if they trusted anyone and, if so, who. They all said the same thing: they trusted their friends and family first. Then, as we’ve seen in some of our audience research on clients’ behalf, the students said they trusted objective sources such as Consumer Reports. From there, they turned to bloggers and what we PR types call influencers. Next came local and regional news, followed by national news and, finally, advertising. To a person, the students said they no longer trust leaders. One volunteered that she’d actually quit her co-op job in state government because of the sleaze factor. She’s now considering an alternative career path as a result. (Note: that’s one of co-op’s many strengths; it can not only provide deep, practical experience in one’s chosen career path. It can also red flag a professional pursuit that doesn’t make sense).

After word: The world’s largest independent public relations firm has gained notoriety for its annual Trust Barometer, which measures peoples’ trust in various sectors. Based upon what I just heard at Northeastern, though (and, what has been echoed by many other students with whom I’ve spoken), the time is right for someone to create a Distrust Barometer. We need an index that will regularly take the pulse of pre-Millennials; the kids who’ve grown up in an era marked by a complete erosion of trust in everyone and everything. If Peppercom represented brands seeking to reach that demographic and how to re-build trust with it, I’d fund the study immediately. As far as I’m concerned a Trust Barometer can no longer be trusted; at least not by anyone under the age of 21.

 

Nov 14

Sandusky, Ohio’s PR challenge

1849658501pLet’s suppose for a moment that your name is Daniel J. Kaman. For the past seven years, you’ve been president of the city commission of Sandusky, Ohio. During that time, you’ve no doubt had to deal with all the things city commissions deal with: taxes, infrastructure, tourism and attracting business to the city. Then, in the waning months of your seven-year term, boom! The earth, the moon and the sky itself suddenly fall on your shoulders. Your city’s name is front and center, day-in and day-out, right smack in the middle of the year’s uber crisis: The Penn State University scandal.

Can you imagine a worse image and reputation challenge? How do you deal with the fact that your city’s name is now synonymous with one of the worst alleged pedophiles in American history? What do you do?

I’d suggest several options for Mr. Kaman and the city commission’s consideration:
-    Ignore the crisis completely. Your terms end on 12/31/11. Let the incoming commission deal with the image and reputation fallout.
-    Call together the best image and branding minds in the city, county and state and brainstorm new and different ways to position the city’s outbound marketing.
-    Change the city’s name. This is a big deal though since, in 2018, Sandusky, Ohio, will mark its 200th anniversary.

I’d opt for the third choice if I were in Mr. Kaman’s shoes. Like it or not, his city’s name creates insurmountable business challenges. To wit:
-    Can you imagine some Mid-West husband shouting upstairs to his wife, “Hey honey, let’s bring the kids to Sandusky this summer!” Just placing the words Sandusky and kids in the same sentence sends shivers up and down this blogger’s spine.
-    Or, how about a CFO and risk manager making this recommendation to their CEO: “Sir, we’ve conducted our due diligence and made our choice. We believe it’s in the best interests of Moed, Moed & Birkhahn to move our corporate offices to Sandusky, Ohio. Yes sir, we’re aware that Jerry Sandusky is the Jack the Ripper of modern times, but we believe the tax breaks and local community environment outweigh the fallout we’d receive from every one of our constituent audiences.”

The city has to change its name. But, they can do so in a smart and strategic way.

I’d counsel Commissioner Kaman to involve Sandusky’s citizens in the name change exercise. Create a microsite that is linked to the city’s website and invite local kids, parents and seniors to contribute names. Or, maybe Kamen is a revenue-driven guy and decides, instead, to approach a technology or Web 2.0 company and offer his city’s naming rights for, say $1 million? Maybe Sandusky, Ohio, becomes Godaddy.com, Ohio? I have to believe those Godaddy types would love this sort of negative buzz.

Whatever he does, I do hope Mr. Kaman does something. The name Sandusky will be forever linked in the minds of Americans to pedophilia, cover-up and disgrace. And, what city wants to have to deal with that albatross when trying to market itself?

Nov 07

What did JoPa know and when did he know it?

No one's smiling in Penn State University's Happy Valley today. Long-time assistant coach Jerry Joe-PaternoSandusky has been accused of 40 counts of inappropriate contact with eight young boys, ranging from touching to statutory rape.

If he's found guilty, the Nittany Lions coach may spend the rest of his life in jail. And, two other PSU officials have resigned in the shocking scandal's aftermath.

The really big questions, though, are swirling around legendary PSU coach Joe Paterno (or, JoPa, as he's affectionately known). The winningest football coach in Division One history says he was told about the allegations in 2002 and passed them up the food chain, but that's it. Pretty weak, no?

I think JoPa's in denial. I think the head coach knew about Sandusky's hijinks all along. And, worse, I think he helped cover it up in a Nixonian bid to maintain his power base (clearly, the guy has no interest in ever retiring).

Paterno certainly had the power and motivation to cover-up the scandal if he chose to do so. After all, Sandusky was his top lieutenant for decades.

Regardless of what he did or didn't know, JoPa's legacy will be forever tainted by the Happy Valley scandal.

And, depending upon how aggressive top school officials are in admitting fault and implementing change, the university itself may be likened to a collegiate version of The Vatican. Maybe the school will even take a page out of the Church's play book and blame others for its own sins (i.e. “Sadly, Assistant Coach Sandusky is yet another victim of the sexual liberation that pervaded the 1960s.”).

For the sake of the school's image, if not his own, Coach Paterno needs to come clean and answer two basic, Watergate-inspired questions:

– What did JoPa know?
– And, when did he know it?

His answers will determine whether the sex scandal is an unfortunate footnote to JoPa's legendary career or college coaching's version of Watergate. If the latter proves to be the case, I wonder if David Frost might be interested in a sequel? Nah. 'Frost: Paterno' doesn't have the same panache.

Oct 26

One is the loneliest number

One of the immediate outcomes of the just published IBM Institute for Business Value's study of 1,734 chief marketing officers is a collective sigh of relief among CMOs who have reviewed it, says Carolyn Heller Baird, director, Global CRM Research Leader at the Institute.

GBS_IBVhero_930x300“The CMOs with whom we've shared the results tell us they're relieved to know they're not alone in helping their organizations cope with the fundamental shifts we're seeing in business,” observed Baird. “While we're still sifting through the data on an industry-by-industry basis, the CMOs are remarkably similar in terms of how they manage data, deliver value, foster lasting connections and measure results. In reviewing what their peers say, the CMOs feel validated and inspired.”

I can relate to that. As the CEO of an independent, midsized communications firm, I often feel alone in making decisions. So, I can empathize with the pressures that must weigh on the CMO of a Fortune 500 company.

And, while Baird says there are no dramatic differences between CMOs in the business-to-consumer and business-to-business spaces, she does see distinctions between chief marketing officers in emerging markets (i.e. Kenya, Croatia and Peru) vs. those in mature ones (i.e. The U.S., Germany and Japan).

“CMOs in emerging markets have fewer legacy issues and more flexibility. In many ways, they're starting from scratch,” Baird says. As a result, they can wear multiple hats and make multiple decisions. And, that has to be liberating.

Regardless of whether they find themselves in the Czech Republic or the United Kingdom, though, I have to believe every CMO wants to avoid the gaffe just made by their peer at Netflix. In fact, The New York Times says the corporation “…made a classic business mistake. In its reliance on data and long-term strategy, the company underestimated the unquantifiable emotions of subscribers who still want those little red envelopes, even if they forget to ever watch the DVD's inside.”

IBM confirmed that managing what they call 'the data explosion' was the top concern of CMOs and that many “struggle to develop customer insights because they primarily focus on understanding markets rather than individuals.”  I believe far too many marketing and corporate communications executives depend solely on data to drive their decisions. The smartest ones know a mix of gut instinct and intuition are just as important in deciding their marketing mix; as is the elementary, but often overlooked, solution of simply putting oneself in a customer's shows and experience the brand from the outside in.

I don't know if the Netflix CMO felt alone when he made a huge decision relying solely on data and yesterday's strategy, but he'll most certainly be alone in resurrecting his career. Before he starts the journey, though, he might want to read the IBM report. It may prevent a similar mistake down the road.