Quantitative and Qualitative walk into a bar…


Last year, during the launch of our Analyst product, which measures the ROI of PR, I happened upon a turn of phrase that quickly became a regular soundbyte in the AirPR lexicon: quantitative front-end to the qualitative back-end.

This idea was coined during investor and author Geoffrey Moore’s (Crossing the Chasm, The Gorilla Game, Inside the Tornado) keynote on the future of PR. The full “tweetable” soundbyte was as follows:

“We have to have a quant front-end and a qual back-end. Because life is still about storytelling.”

Amen.

Are you nodding vigorously and tweeting with wild abandon yet? And how great is this balanced notion as applied to PR?

If quantitative data were the only kind in existence, the world would be a very flat, ultimately unfulfilling place. To be sure, we’d know the exact traffic patterns required to efficiently get us from point A to point B in record time (great, so we’re at the movie theatre 37.4 minutes early. Now what?), and perhaps the number of minimum licks it takes to get to the center of a lollipop (so we can lick vigorously as we wait for the movie to start)…but we’d be bored as hell.

B-O-R-E-D.

Qualitative data on the other hand, which can also be thought of as anecdotal or observed data, requires a level of creativity and inference that give “color” to the equation. Quant gives us the fundamental truths, but Qual brings those truths to life and makes the actions digestible.

To use the oldest joke paradigm in the proverbial book, if Quant walked into a bar he’d be asking how much for the best beer on tap…oh, and how many actual ounces will he get for his money?

Qual would be asking the bartender his opinion about the best beer on tap and how quickly will she get buzzed from said beer? Then, roughly two beers in, she’d probably get up on the bar and have herself a dance.

In all seriousness, this challenge — the “Quant/Qual conundrum” if you will — is possibly the most frustrating in terms of PR metrics and quantifiable success.

For example, it’s hard to measure (to the exact decimal point) the value of a relationship. If your PR pro introduces you to an investor, who in turn writes you a check for $1M, how does she win? You may pay her $5k/month but she certainly gets the raw end of this deal.

Or if your PR firm invests (yes, INVESTS) seven years cultivating a relationship with Walt Mossberg from the Wall Street Journal — and this can range into the thousands of dollars if you think about “time as money” — how much is it worth, quantitatively, if they secure a story for you? Really, how much?

Clients often derive or infer value only from hard data.

This is an unfortunate and narrow-minded way of thinking. But they haven’t got a clue about how to think any other way because PR simply has not been set up for success in this area.

The role of next gen PR technology solutions is take into account both the qualitative and quantitative data. A number or data set may be assigned to the outcome…but it is not simply based on a quantitative source. The qualitative source — influence, sentiment, strategy, creative content — is just as important as the outcomes we derive from quantitative data.

So here we stand at the great convergence point.

And at this point exists the best tasting, best bang for your buck, buzzworthy beer.

Cheers, y’all.