I may have made a mistake.
At the mid-point of 2017, I decided to try something different at our agency, No Limit Agency. I decided to stop dialing into the results as the only measurement of whether a team member was doing well or not and start placing a KPI against effort. My rationale was that effort was the easiest part of what we were trying to accomplish on the public relations side of our business. If we pitched the media with enough good stories, then we would book enough interviews that would turn into enough secured media placements for our clients.
For the previous nine years, I hadn’t measured the effort as a critical component of the KPIs of our media relations team. To get to this point has taken many creative steps.
In 2010, I was having a conversation with a very good friend about my frustration with our results as an agency. Sure, we didn’t have that many clients, but I desired maximized results and effort from the team we had. Ultimately, I was searching for a model that would create the highest level of satisfaction and happiness for our clients.
On a call with this friend in early 2010, I said the following:
“I am frustrated. I keep asking our team to book 30 interviews per month and they keep booking 25, on average.”
He replied, “And how do they feel at the end of the month?”
“Frustrated and disappointed because they didn’t hit the KPI benchmark I am asking for,” I said.
“Do me a favor,” he said. “Try asking for 25 next month.”
That following month, the ask was 25. Do you know how many interviews we booked per person, on average? 20.
This was tough for me. When I was at my last agency, I set out to book 100 interviews in a month. I had a sheet of paper I labeled “Nick’s Hit Parade” where I listed them out, one by one. At that point, the average per-person result rate was between 10 and 15 per month. I succeed in hitting my goal by hunting for great stories, pitching those stories to enough reporters and putting the effort into follow-up and coordinate the set interviews.
I called my friend and told him about the results.
“Now, ask for 40 interviews this month. Tell them this is to make up for last month.”
That next month, I asked for 40 interviews per person. We booked 30.
He said that no matter what the goal is, the majority of people will accomplish right under it, so, ask for higher results.
The challenge, though, is that when we asked for 40 and people booked 30, our culture was still deflated. With our small staff, I am sure some of this was because they didn’t want to disappoint me and part of it was because no one likes losing.
Flash forward to a few years ago. In order to pull our average up, I started asking for 50 calls to reporters every day, figuring this would help us build more relationships. Some of the calls would be for new stories and some would be for following up on previous relationships.
When asking for 50 calls, we started booking 50 interviews per person for many months. Our results rocketed. However, I noticed another gap. Not enough of the interviews were turning to secured media placements. For some reason, the translation of the story didn’t carry to the interview and to the placement. And, when we would track the calls against what was being reported, there were discrepancies – person X would say they made 50 calls, but the system would report that everyone on average was making 30.
We created pitch hours to rally everyone. We started tracking the secured. We created a fantasy secured competition (like fantasy football, but with the individuals on our media relations team creating a team). We bought a cowbell from Toppers Pizza (they have a celebration bell in their conference room) to shake for every pending interview, interview and secured – so that everyone in the office could celebrate. We put bonuses in place. We tried tracking our hours to clearly determine how much time toward pitching does it take for us to book an interview (an hour).
We tried everything.
What we wanted was two things: maximization of time dedicated to the sale of the story by our team, meaning, our team was maximizing their efforts to secure media placements. This even included asking them to watch TV for 30 minutes every day so that they know what is on the news programs we are trying to book. The second thing was maximizing the results for the client. We already had a ban-the-brief mentality, meaning we wanted to secure great features for our clients. We wanted great results.
The next logical progression seemed like the measurement of effort. The thought process was if they put in the right effort, we will book enough interviews. If we educate around the value of the secured, we will book more placements.
This is where my mistake may have come into play.
Effort seems like such an easy thing to win at. In fact, when creating the KPI numbers, we solicited feedback from our top performers to ensure we had the right model.
“You will never be in trouble if you simply put in the asked effort,” I would say, providing some clarity to the process.
The problem, however, is that this created a few issues within our media relations team.
- Many would still say they made 50 calls or 25 on slower days – but when we would look at the tracking, it would be much less.
- Many argued that we were micromanaging the team when we monitored effort.
- Results compared to the increased number of staff did not improve.
- Even though we awarded bonuses based on effort, very few people hit the marks.
So, what’s the mistake? It’s a combination of few things:
- A micromanaged staff is not a happy staff.
- Above everything else, especially in a sales atmosphere (we are selling the media great stories), you need adults to make it work.
I don’t know what we will end up doing with the monitoring of effort. We are going to have to make adjustments to it. What I do know is that we need to continue to educate our team, continue to reward performers who hit the marks and continue to work toward recruiting a great team that doesn’t need to be measured by effort because we know they are there to kick butt – and want to kick butt.
At the end of the day, while I may have made a mistake on the effort KPI, I am comfortable with my reasons behind it. I want to continue to search for a way to truly motivate our team to love what they do and love when they win.