Learning to speak the C-Suite’s language

August 1, 2013

If you follow the world of PR research and measurement and don’t know the names Chris Foster and Adam Saffer yet, then you will soon. They are from completely different spheres of the profession, but both are doing cool, cutting-edge work. 

This month, we’ll start with Foster, a vice president at Booz Allen Hamilton who is responsible for brand management and communications measurement for the company.

During the International Association for the Measurement and Evaluation of Communications (AMEC) 5th European Summit in Madrid this past June, he reported on the findings he uncovered through in-depth discussions with members of the C-suite. The study included more than 500 quantitative survey responses and almost 40 qualitative interviews, conducted over several years.

The research highlighted a disconnect between the communications industry and executive leadership regarding the evaluation of communications effectiveness: We don’t speak the same language.

Closing the gap

The global research sounded an alarm.

C-suite executives spanning several industries — health, petrochemical, retail, financial services, mining, hospitality and consulting — confirmed that their communications measurement priorities are different from what communicators see as important. Business leaders want quantitative measurement that directly links to the bottom line, and we’re not always giving it to them.

However, there’s also another gap worth noting. As Foster spoke with people at the AMEC conference, it became clear that measurement companies aren’t always giving PR practitioners what we need to successfully report on communication effectiveness. It took some guts for him to tell a room primarily full of measurement companies that they need to learn a new language to be relevant.

“As communication professionals, we need to think, speak and behave as a businessperson first and communicator second,” Foster said. “Measuring ROI of communications cannot just be about the number of media hits, or Likes on Facebook.”

He added that measurement needs to be about linking the impact of communications programs to overall business objectives, and having a full understanding of the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) valued by the executive suite, such as revenue, profit, investment and volume indicators; financial market measures; non-financial internal measures; and competitive market metrics.

One way to fill the gaps is to commit to continuing education.

“We have to educate ourselves, our colleagues, our membership and anyone else willing to listen,” he said. “A key part of turning the conversation around is learning how to speak the language of the C-suite.”

At the AMEC conference, attendees made a commitment to incorporate the findings from the research into a Global Education Initiative. As part of this initiative, Booz Allen Hamilton plans to support webinars and identify global platforms where AMEC can work with other organizations to investigate the possibility of developing a certification program.

“Through this, we will better equip communications practitioners to wear their business hats first and their communications ones second,” Foster said.

You have to like a professional who sees a problem and applies resources to solve it.

Next month, we’ll discuss Adam Saffer. He’s a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Oklahoma and has just finished some research that may have a big impact on the practice of media relations. His focus is how to pitch social media. Saffer has found new approaches on how to be most effective in this kind of work — not based on gut feelings, but based on sound academic research.


David B. Rockland, Ph.D.

David B. Rockland, Ph.D., retired as CEO of KGRA in 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 rocklanddutton.com.


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