Public Relations Tactics

A Quant and a Creative Go Fishing

May 30, 2014

You know what’s really on my mind this time of the year?  Not measurement. Not analytics. Not research.

Fishing. The weather’s good. My boat is in its slip on the Chesapeake Bay.  And, the stripers and sea trout are running.

But this is a measurement column. So, this month, I am asking for your indulgence as I share a fishing story that has some measurement baked in. (Next month, we’ll return to business as usual with a report from the International Measurement Summit, which is taking place as this issue of Tactics comes out).

Usually, the creative and measurement (or  “quant”) types in PR have little in common. They’re cool and artsy. We have pocket protectors and calculators.  It’s a recurring theme.

But a few years ago, Hal Walker, former creative director for Ketchum in New York and a good friend, asked for help.

He had been diagnosed with an incurable terminal lung disease and wanted my help coming up with a bucket list before things got rough. (Hal is doing well to this day).

One of the things on the list was a car — he’d never bought a car before. And another was to go fishing.

So, in May of 2011, he picked me up from New York City in his new car and we drove down to Maryland to go fishing. (One word of advice: Never let someone drive who has never bought a car before and has lived close to six decades, no matter what the situation.) 

We had a rather harrowing time getting out of New York, beginning with a minor accident when Hal got out of his car to greet me, didn’t put it in park, and it kept going down the street by itself.

But we eventually found ourselves out on the boat. It was a perfect fishing day: slightly overcast, barometer dropping, little wind. And the fish were biting.

I even managed to remain calm as Hal repeatedly banged a lead sinker off the sides of my boat each time he tried to cast the line, taking with it a piece of paint each time.

We were catching fish: stripers, sea trout, flounder, white perch, croakers and a few bluefish. 

Then the biggest striper I had ever hooked struck my line.

Immediately, I began shouting instructions at Hal: “Reel the other rods in!”  “Get the heck out of the way!” “Start the engine!” “Unhook the anchor, we have to chase the fish!”  “Stop being a creative and do something useful!”

As the fish got close to the boat, I started yelling at Hal to get the net. This began a rather long discourse as to what is the net, how to use it, etc. I really don’t think these creative types get the idea of a net.

Once we got the net figured out, we realized that the fish was too big for it. I screamed at Hal to get the gaff — trust me, if he didn’t understand the net situation, then the gaff deal was way out of reach.  Another five minutes of me hollering bad words ensued, with me telling him to hurry and grab the thing with the long handle and a huge hook on the end.

Then, the fish was alongside the boat, the gaff sunk in and the fish was on board. Hal and I were exhausted.

Suddenly, I realized I had just been a complete jerk. Here was a guy facing a very grave and sad situation, who just wanted to go fishing before his disease progressed. And, there I was having just spent a good half hour screaming at him.

“Hal,” I said, “I am so sorry. I got so caught up in the fish I completely forgot about your sickness and why we are really here.”

“David,” he replied, “So did I. And, for that I thank you so much.”

This column is usually about the importance of measurement. But maybe there are some things that you don’t have to measure to know how important they are.

Next month, we return to regular measurement material. If you have measurement questions (or even fishing ones), email me. However, I am not telling you where we were actually fishing.

David B. Rockland, Ph.D.

David Rockland, Ph.D., retired as CEO of KGRA on July 31, 2017, but continues as part-time chairman. He and his wife, Sarah Dutton, who recently retired from CBS News, have also started their own research and consulting firm to work with Ketchum and other clients at


Kathleen A. Bommarito, APR says:

What a great story. Thanks for sharing it. Glad to know Hal is doing well.

June 8, 2014

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