Charlene Blohm’s marketing company relies on math to tell the stories of company and client success.
As CEO of an education marketing agency, Charlene Blohm has a great way with words. After all, to engage in marketing, you have to tell stories about your clients to their customers and other audiences.
In business, though, success or failure isn’t measured in words; it’s measured by key performance indicators (KPIs) — “a quantifiable measure used to evaluate the success of an organization, employee, etc. in meeting objectives for performance.” For Blohm’s company, which looks at 46 different KPIs across her client family, that involves mathematical measurement.
Outputs and Outcomes
“We measure what our output is on behalf of a client,” Blohm said. “For example, how many story pitches did our team get out the door? If the number for that key performance indicator is 10, but the team actually got 12 out the door, then we have a 20 percent increase over our goal. You want to look for that differential.
“We also measure the outcome of our work. If an article we produced generates coverage in five different media outlets, we do the simple math and add up the total number of impressions of those five outlets to determine the total reach.
“We also look at Google Analytics for web traffic numbers and conversion rates. Then we ask, did we hit our goal? Did we exceed our goal? By what percentage?”
A Slow Start in Math
Despite the fact that it is so integral to her company’s and her clients’ success, Blohm struggled with math as a child.
“Once I understood the ‘why’ of it, then things made sense.”
“Multiplication I was really good at; the times table was my best friend. Then one day, in school, our teacher asked us to do division, and I just revolted! We had spent so much time learning how to do multiplication. Why in the world would we want to divide? I hit the wall, and I never, ever wanted to divide.
“That was back in the day when you would do long division, so I would divide by two, and divide by two, and divide by two. I would fill entire notebooks of ‘divide by two's,’ because I just didn't get that we were trying to get back to where we had started.”
Tutor in Math Makes the Difference
Finally, Blohm’s parents got her some tutoring for math.
“Her name was Mrs. Coonen. She gave me real world reasons why we might want to divide. I just needed somebody to pull me aside and say, ‘It's OK, really. Here's why you do it.’ Once I understood the ‘why’ of it, then things made sense.
“That same thing happened for me when I was a little bit older, and we were doing algebra for the first time: I remember asking my teacher, ‘Why are we doing what we're doing?’ It's the same thing for me today. This ‘inner analyst’ needs to understand the ‘why’ rationale.”
The Language of Mathematics
Blohm said her negative experiences with division and algebra “destroyed her confidence in math” and made her “math phobic.” Later, when she applied for master’s degree in business administration to help her run her public relations firm, she was still “incredibly terrified of math.” Fortunately, she again found that one special teacher in business school who changed her view.
“Numbers tell stories. You can look inside of the numbers and think of them as a foreign language with their own syntax.”
“I had a fantastic statistics professor. He talked to me as a writer about how to work with math. He said that numbers tell stories. That you can look inside of the numbers and think of them as a foreign language with their own syntax. He always was asking me questions, too, like, ‘Why were you so afraid of something that you're so good at?’ It was a surprise to me that I could actually do math and enjoy it!
The idea of math as a language clicked for Blohm, and she was able to apply that insight to some math-focused school assignments.
“One of the software applications we used back in the day was something called Quick Quant, and I loved it. There were these incredibly complicated formulas: You need a parenthesis here, a parenthesis there, and if you don't match them up, it doesn't work. I aced that stuff! Seriously. It was like a language: I need a comma, I need parenthesis, and off we go. I actually really enjoyed that, because it was much simpler than writing. You either nailed it, or you didn't.”
Math Tells Stories
“We talked at length about the parallel of we do for a living; that is, we're looking for stories to tell. For him, there were always stories to be told inside the math. Whenever he had a question, he would use numbers and data to find answers, which I think is really significant. That's still pretty much what we're looking for today: If the story's not working out quite right, go look at the numbers for a minute, and from there you can probably find the story that you want to tell.”
Helping Her Clients To Help Children
After 27 years in the marketing and public relations business, Blohm now uses her math skills as a coach and counselor for her clients.
“I think numbers can talk. I really believe that, because there's so much that you can see inside of them.”
“There’s lots of different ways that we end up talking about math in the business coaching side. I like to look at profit and loss (P&L) statements and balance sheets. I'm not afraid of them. What percentage of someone's P&L is being spent on product development versus service versus operations? You want to look at it and understand, and then you want to look at their P&L over time. What percentage of the budget has been spent year to date? Where did the numbers grow, where did they shrink?
“My goal is to help people succeed,” she said. “I think numbers can talk. I really believe that, because there's so much that you can see inside of them.”
As an education marketer, Blohm said, “My job when I wake up every single day is to change the life of a kid. If I can be who Mrs. Coonen was for me, if I can help somebody ‘crack the code’ and figure out the reasons why we do math, I've had a very good day at work. That's why I get up and come here every single day.”
Written by Joanne Helperin