Information: Pain or Power?

We’ve all heard the famous quote, “Information is power.”

Commonly attributed to Sir Francis Bacon, it appears the expression derived from “ipsa scientia potestas est” (‘knowledge itself is power’) from his work, Meditationes Sacrae (1597). As school public relations practitioners, we are no strangers to information or knowledge. As educators, knowledge is the goal. As communicators, information is our backbone.

Day in and day out, we commune with information. We research it, receive it, interpret it, translate it, craft it, preview it, edit it, review it again, edit it some more, test it, finalize it, package it, distribute it, repackage it, reduce it to 140 characters, “infographisize” it, and distribute it some more. Sometimes, we track it.

In the many sessions I’ve led on evaluating communications, colleagues have shared countless reasons why we avoid tracking. While the scenarios are as varied as the work week is long, they basically fall into three main categories.

It is difficult: Not knowing what to measure or how to measure it
“I know the overall goal is to build trust, but how do I determine that?”

It is challenging: Not having the time, budget or other resources
“I barely have enough time to implement all of the strategies in my plan, let alone measure them.”

It might be painful: Fear that the results will fall short of expectations or perceptions
“We’ve never correlated enrollment in the program to my PR work. What if we find it’s not making any difference. Right now, they think everything I’m doing is terrific.”

As the King of Siam in The King and I would say, “Tis a condundrum.” People who eat, drink and breathe information avoid the pieces most critical to our success. Imagine these scenarios:

  • Your doctor conducts your annual physical without taking your blood pressure, pulse, or weight.
  • The teacher completes the lesson, determining it was successful because the students appeared to enjoy it.
  • The Fortune 500 company releases a slick, glossy annual report with no earnings reported.

Looking at the number on the scale, the percentage of students who mastered the content, or the almighty “bottom line” can be extremely painful. But without it, we are shooting in the dark.  Learning how and finding the means to measure the effectiveness of your communications are surmountable challenges. Getting past the fear of pain is more personal.

The good news – overcoming fear takes no additional time or money – just a change in mindset. Wanting to know how you are doing so you can make meaningful change to your program is a sign of strength. Just like the doctor who takes the vitals, the teacher who determines whether students learned, and the investment that comes clean with their earnings, accountability for results is integral to success. It is integral to leadership.

Who do you respect more – those who track and report progress (along with a plan for how they will get to the next level) or those who tacitly avoid it?


Sandy Cokeley, APR, is a past president of NSPRA and CEO of SCoPE School Surveys, a standardized quantitative assessment program focused solely on school communications.  SCoPE, an exclusive NSPRA partner, is aligned to the NSPRA Benchmarking Project’s Rubrics of Practice and Suggested Measures.