Already failed your New Year’s Resolutions? Back to munching on the chocolate, crisps or having that cheeky 6pm G&T? Luckily (or unluckily) Lent poses another opportunity when we can all try to give something up.

So what bad marketing habit should we be trying to give up? I’m sure there are quite a few that spring to mind, but there is still one bad habit that many are still guilty of – guessing.

Marketing and comms can often get a bad reputation for being the ‘fluffy’ part of the business, too distanced from the financials or struggling to show a tangible ROI, and I’m sure we want to forget that Fournaise report revealing CEOs’ true feelings about marketers. We know it’s far from the truth, but it seems others need a little more convincing. So, this Lent, I’m proposing we give up the guesswork, and instead, take up something new – maths!

If this sounds like a horror story, don’t worry. I’m not suggesting you need to be an expert in linear algebra (though it’s a great asset for B2B marketers), nor do I want to conjure up your school nightmares about simultaneous equations (cost versus demand). But, for any modern marketer, PR or comms person, you don’t just need top marks in English, it’s now a requirement to have a firm grasp of maths.

So, for Lent, or just for fun for six weeks from mid-Feb to the end of March, let your mantra be “so what numbers prove this – let’s figure it out” and see what happens. It’s about time we finally kick the guessing habit.

Finding your inner data scientist

Data is today’s driving force of business, so we need to shift our mindsets from the qualitative to the quantitative. All marketers and comms professionals are trying to understand their audience and work out how best to reach them, and maths can help. You can record, analyse and reveal behavioural patterns and audience correlations to gain insights into the best way to convey your intended message. Before starting any campaign, you need to calculate those important numbers to determine what you need to do and ensure it will be successful.

Clearly, it’s important to gauge a ‘baseline’ of your campaign performance initially, but once you’ve got these numbers, you can experiment. Try creating predictive models. Test them out, assess the execution and results and move forward knowing you’re armed with the stats, figures and data to make an informed decision.

Marketing itself is becoming an increasingly complex equation. No longer do we have the luxury of reaching and targeting buyers across one channel – we have to manage campaigns across many! Similarly, marketers often have to figure out and evaluate their 10 priority channels, seven target personas, four different markets and three different product lines. There are an increasing number of variables, so how can you scale, engage and keep it altogether? And all without going over budget? The answer, you need to test, evaluate and refine. In Zuckerberg’s language – ‘fail fast’ (or better still, experiment wisely and succeed fast!)

I’m aware that this will all be easier for some than others, but marketers are now being trained up to be mathletes – it’s part of the curriculum. If you’re still in need of a kick start, why not test yourself with this A-Level revision quiz for marketing maths? You can start with the simple percentages first – working out market share, revenue and growth – before progressing to full on algebra.

Justifying marketing to the big dogs

Hazarding a guess no longer cuts it. Beyond using data and analytics to shape messaging and campaigns, showing we can speak the language of numbers and spreadsheets will also help to prove our worth and get buy-in from the top.

Even with your A-Level revision, you may feel overwhelmed by the influx of statistics and analytics, so be sure to just focus on those elements that relate to overall company goals and KPIs. Fundamentally, it’s a combination of helping get the right message to the right audience, knowing how much that will cost, and showing what return it will bring. And that means using the right metrics.

Metrics like the cost per page view or cost per follower are important to analyse for marketing decisions, helping identify issues or gaps in your process. But let’s be honest, in the wider business picture, they’re not so important. If you want senior management to invest in your plans, you need to justify the costs and show the returns.  If you might like a little shortcut to success, why not use the Hubspot Marketing Metrics?  These free Excel templates outline those essential C-Suite metrics and help make sure you’re focusing on what matters and what others in the business care about.

But keep a balance 

As the old saying goes, you can have too much of a good thing. Don’t let the numbers completely take over. In the long-term, neglecting creativity would also be a bad career move, and potentially just as disastrous for your business or clients. Marketing and comms is still a creative industry, and instinct still has its time and place. Inspire, don’t just calculate.

So, keep hosting brainstorms, let the crazy ideas flow, tap into emotions – you are still marketing to humans, not robots (just yet). Try out new means and platforms, pilot new methods. Then do the maths. Once you’ve let your imagination and thoughts run wild, bring them back down to reality and make sure you’ll actually get the results you want. It’s the modern-day equivalent of the Roman tradition of brainstorming whilst drunk and scrutinising the same plans while sober! Ask yourself, what will it really deliver? What impact will it have?

You should always grant yourself the opportunity to experiment. After all, chance encounters can be great, and no marketer should ever run the risk of always doing the same thing and letting campaigns go stale – but don’t let it be a ‘shot in the dark’.

Falling in love:

The first throes of a relationship are full of passionate, carefree playfulness. Everything is rosy with the world and the love will last forever.

Falling out of love:

Complacency and bitterness has set in. You can’t stand the way your partner snorts or holds their cup. Every little thing about them irritates you in some little way – you just don’t know why…

Relationships can be so bittersweet

PR agencies lose 80% of their clients because of complacency or PR relationship issues. The challenge is to nip problems in the bud and have ‘difficult conversations’ as early as possible. It helps to iron out issues before the creases are too deep.

We are all human and we all make mistakes (once) whilst learning. But, the difference is between complacency and ignorance. Whilst ignorance is no excuse in the eyes of the law, it does infer unfamiliarity, inexperience and even innocence. This can be forgiven, especially in the early stages of a relationship.

What is not so easy to forgive is complacency; this is a much uglier word. It infers smugness, self-satisfaction, self-regard and contentment.

We keep a close eye on the team’s performance and our client satisfaction levels. On the rare occasion we receive negative feedback, it is an immediate call to action; what can we do to address the issue? Where can we improve? How do we please the customer again? How do we show our love?

Sometimes it takes little more than a bunch of flowers to show that we care – but making the effort to ameliorate the problem is the first step to smoothing the relationship again.

Many of our clients have been with us for several years. One client of 12 years graciously accepted news of a departing Firefly and welcomed a new team member with thanks and enthusiasm. He thanked the departing team member for her support and dedication, and wished her well on her travels. On the new team member, he said he looked forward to “working together and clarifying any questions so we can all achieve objectives and deliver results”. The transparency, teamwork and shared appreciation between the client and the agency is the oil that keeps the machinery working at optimum speed and performance.

Many clients come back to us time and again, taking Firefly with them as they develop their careers. We’d like to think that our efforts have helped them along the way. If they are treated well, listened to, and enjoy a good and productive relationship, there is no reason why the union should not run and run.

So, what are the common relationship breakdowns and how can they be solved?

Dear Deidre: My relationship is going sour. How can I avoid the dreaded ‘C’ word (Complacency) setting in?

  1. Dear Deidre: My partner is getting sloppy and neglecting the small details

The problem: The agency is neglecting me. The team continually sends copy with errors and it means they have forgotten about the small details. They used to be so good at giving me that extra special attention in the first few months, but now I feel they have somebody else on their mind.

Deidre says: Oh dear, it does sound like complacency is setting in. I suggest that this relationship needs some time out. Not a separation, just a time to readjust. I suggest that the agency retrains some of the team and concentrates on improving the small things, like the writing standards. Introduce internal checks and balances or insist they hire a freelance journalist to proof-read the copy. If all else fails, give them the three-strikes-and-you’re-out ultimatum to see how that focuses their minds. After all, sometimes they need reminding that there are other fish in the sea!

  1. Dear Deidre: I think our relationship is getting stale

The problem: Our relationship is like a dreary date in a burger bar – there has been little or no thinking put into the planning recently. I need to be surprised, delighted, and swept off my feet occasionally. How do I get that special feeling back again, with new angles, insights or attention-grabbing opportunities?

Deidre says: Yes, it sounds like your relationship needs a dose of sparkle. Can I suggest getting a third-party involved? Ask your partner to get other team members to add creativity to your thinking or ask for somebody else to look at a plan before it comes across to you. Get somebody to provide a critical eye and ask ‘what can be improved?’ or see how ‘small ideas’ can be turned into ‘big ideas’. Cultivate nightmare scenarios – or the ‘what if?’ situations – to see if that sparks some ingenuity.

  1. Dear Deidre: We’re stuck in a rut. How do we get out of it?

The problem: The relationship is just not improving. It is as though “we do it this way because this is the way we always do it.” Does it have to be this way?

Deidre says: It sounds like you have reached the point where you have to grab your partner by the lapels and ask: “How could we do this ten times better?” Set your partner an outrageous goal or ask “how can we move this from good to amazing?”  It may take them out of their comfort zone, but sometimes we need to challenge people in order to make them better. If it ain’t broke, then consider breaking it, to gain a fresh perspective on how it should fit together.

  1. Dear Deidre: My partner lacks ambition.

The problem: The agency seems to have settled for what they have. They are not prepared to consider ideas that might be risky, but will ultimately reap rewards. I’m not ready for ‘good enough’ in this relationship.

Deidre says: If your partner thinks they have ticked all the boxes, they had better think again! Ask them: “What other boxes should you be ticking?” Investigate how new tactics or technology could “alter our situation for better or worse.” Benchmark against someone entirely different, especially if your present benchmark comparison merely reinforces your certainty.

The reality is that relationships will always hit a sticky spot; at that point, both sides need to decide if they want to just snog, marry or avoid. If the partnership is to last, it requires effort from both parties to turn the situation around. If there is no hope, then it’s time to move on. Hold your head up high, treat everyone with dignity and remember, it’s a small industry. What goes around may come around and you may meet your ex again one day – and you know how awkward that can get…


(Editor’s note: The author has no existing relationship grievances, all scenarios are purely hypothetical)


Of course we don’t condone cheating but this isn’t really cheating! The CMO’s guide to: the Social landscape, is an easily digestible summary of major social media, created by Drew McLellan

Good for collecting top line thoughts to jump start your thinking, this sheet serves as a comparison between various sites and the positive effects that the incorporation of these tactics could have on your overall strategy.

It comprises a dissection of ‘Customer comms’, ‘Brand exposure’, Traffic to site’, and ‘SEO’ and which of these sites are ‘good’, ‘ok’, or ‘bad’ for each of these disciplines.

Click here to view the Social media cheat sheet

The Social Media Landscape

Is it time to shape your reputation?

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