Data. I’ve spent my career studying data. As a reporter I searched for the truth in statistics and as a communications strategist I found stories in numbers.
Over the years I’ve measured and quantified my tactics and presented them to senior team members and board members alike. An increase in positive press clippings meant more handshakes and back-slaps around the office. The higher our online engagement numbers climbed directly correlated to the frequency and size of my next pay-raise.
The more I studied the numbers the more my tactics shifted. I noticed that I was playing to the audience more often and being rewarded for it. I wasn’t straying from our mission; in fact I was constantly finding new ways to steer our messaging into each interaction more frequently.
It began to overtake every face-to-face conversation and online post. Pretty soon I was anticipating what people wanted to hear and hitting the bulls-eye with increasing regularity. It was a tremendous time in my career except for one problem: I wasn’t happy.
I realized a sad truth. My storytelling depended too much on what others wanted to hear and not on what should be said. Anticipating each success was stressful and my recurring migraines let me know what my mind was unwilling to accept. I hated what I was doing. The need to succeed with every blog post, tweet, or media release became crippling. I hit a stride that no longer allowed for the reality of striking out every once in awhile. On the rare occasions when a story wasn’t covered it felt like a strategical failure.
So I stopped. It wasn’t as easy as it sounds but I stopped. I made the decision to pull back from what was working and reevaluate my approach. It may sound like career suicide to abandon a formula that was reaping rewards however my old approach simply wasn’t making me feel good about what I was doing. I needed to recapture the spark of why I told stories.
My numbers shrunk over the next few years but the quality of my storytelling improved. Each time I uncovered a piece of news at work I no longer reached for my megaphone, instead I passed until I found the right story. My world revolved less around what would receive coverage and more around what should receive coverage.
I also started providing pro bono consultation to nonprofits. I found that by not receiving a paycheck, I was less inclined to give my “bosses” what they wanted to hear and began sharing what they should hear.
The numbers haven’t left me. I still measure each post and press release. The difference is that I don’t need them to tell me that I hit my target.