Nick Gourevitch, partner at Global Strategy Group, says you can’t rely on your gut instinct when it comes to delivering impactful communication. You need the research to back it up.
In this interview, Nick discusses why you should never assume you have all the answers, how bringing in an outside perspective can reveal new insights on a topic and how social media has transformed political and public affairs research.
What are you most excited for in your new role as partner at Global Strategy Group?
I am most excited about continuing to grow our company into new areas, services and verticals amidst a very interesting time to be involved in data-driven communications. There is a lot of talk about the challenges facing the research and polling community, but where others may see challenges I see a ton of opportunity.
We have access to technology and data sources that we couldn’t even dream of when I started working in this business. I look forward to building out a next generation research practice that combines the best of traditional survey research with cutting edge techniques in data science and social media analytics.
But it’s also incredibly important that we do so in a way that stays true to who we are as researchers – combining communication savvy with methodological rigor so our clients can trust the insights produced by research.
What has been the most important lesson you’ve learned throughout your career?
The best researchers bring their own set of experiences and expertise while not assuming they know the answer to every question. As soon as you start presuming you know the answers, you start failing your clients.
But you do have to bring a point of view – you have to figure out the right questions to ask and the best way to interpret the results. So a key lesson for me has been about how to find that balance to best serve my clients.
Clients look to researchers for guidance and counsel but it’s also critically important to let the research guide you to conclusions and not the other way around. Those who find that sweet spot are doing the best work.
2016 is shaping up to be an important election year. How do you adapt to meet clients’ needs during an election? What are some of your responsibilities?
We have a diverse set of clientele that cross electoral politics, business and advocacy groups. For our electoral clients – the responsibilities are obvious. We are more than just pollsters for our clients; we are consultants who are key members of their consultant teams every step of the way.
Outside of electoral politics, our clients look to us to understand how the elections intersect with their business or public affairs challenges. This election is already turning out to be different than almost any one before it, with unexpected turns each step of the way. We have our pulse on the country’s political views, and all of our clients will look to us for guidance on how different groups are reacting to the election.
One particular area of interest for us has been in the intersection of business and politics, with more companies speaking up on political issues than ever before. That dynamic led us to release our Third Annual Business and Politics study earlier this year.
How do you approach strategic communication for a Fortune 500 company versus a small nonprofit organization? What do you do differently and what do you do the same?
Clients – whether they are big companies or small non-profits – are usually experts in what they do and know their challenges inside and out. So I enjoy diving deep into different topic areas and learning from clients no matter who they are.
But one of the things I love about my job is that I get to conduct research and uncover insights about new topics and issues almost every day – and often that means bringing in an outside perspective and teaching clients something new about a topic they know a lot about.
In terms of the differences between bigger clients and smaller clients – there are certainly some stereotypes. Bigger clients often want you to do the in-depth leg work and then translate that into a short summary of key insights. Smaller clients may want you to take them through a more in-depth journey through the data.
But regardless, we like to pride ourselves on our ability to distil large and complex projects into a series of actionable recommendations.
How does research inform communication?
Research is the foundation for any strong communication strategy. In my experience, far too many campaigns – whether in the corporate or political world – are just based off instinct, but you can’t solely come in with gut feelings.
You don’t run a message without tests to see if they resonate. This approach makes all the difference.
What role does social media play in your job? How has social media transformed strategic communication?
Social media has changed my job in a few ways. First, there’s a very active political and public affairs research community on Twitter who comment on the latest political polling, methodology, etc. So I’ve actually been able to meet and talk with smart people in the field in a way that may not have been possible in the pre-Twitter days.
Second, it’s just an incredible custom-tailored news source that is invaluable for keeping up with the latest topics of the day.
Finally, social media analytics and research have started to become a great compliment to traditional quantitative and qualitative research, allowing researchers to analyze trends in conversations in real time.
What advice do you have for those looking to begin a career in communication?
Try to learn as much as you can from your colleagues and clients, even if that goes beyond the core job description of your entry-level position. If you try to learn something new each step of the way, you’ll gather up plenty of knowledge that will be useful no matter where you end up.
Some of the most important experiences that shaped me as a consultant happened in my earliest years on the job when I had the most time to sink into any given problem.
Rapid Fire Round
1. I always thought I’d be…a baseball statistician.
2. My daily news source is…Twitter.
3. If I was stuck on a desert island, I’d…try and enjoy not having to respond to emails for a week (before attempting – and probably failing – to build a boat).
4. My biggest pet peeve is…the depiction of political pollsters and consultants in television and film.
5. My hobbies outside of work include…my family (three young kids) and work don’t allow for many hobbies! But I try to enjoy being a kid again with them – sometimes I end up playing with Legos more than they do.
6. One thing most people don’t know about me is…my first job was as a gas station attendant, and I had no idea what I was doing. Fake it until you make it.
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