Last week an email arrived from claus.org, inviting me to interview their Chief Yuletide Officer about his PR measurement techniques. So I eagerly packed my notebook and earmuffs. At the appointed time, a bright red limo arrived to pick me up, and in the wink of an eye I was in a windowless Lear jet, speeding north to an undisclosed location...
I got off the plane in the mid-day darkness, the wind howling and ice and snow all around. A little bunker-like building had some twinkly lights on it so I stumbled over. Just inside, a burly older guy in a nice suit held an elevator door open for me.
Santa's Workshop Revealed
As the glass-walled elevator sped downward, we past floor after floor of offices and cubicle farms swarming with busy executive types in dark suits. The big guy announced, "Welcome to the North Pole!" and handed me his card: Kris Kringle, CYO, Santa Claus, Inc.
"Whoa, let me guess, Mr. Kringle," I said, rolling my eyes, "There is no Santa Claus and this is where I learn the true meaning of Christmas."
"Well, you're half right, kid," he said, with a twinkle in his eye. "And you can call me Kris."
The elevator came to a stop and opened into a large room filled with people and workstations. Charts and infographics covered the walls. A couple of clean-cut, earnest young men approached us and handed Mr. Kringle a clipboard with some papers on it. He studied them for a moment: "This one is good, this one just doesn't have a big enough sample, and these knuckleheads—he slashed a line through something, "know better than to send me Klout scores and AVEs. Flag them for the Naughty list." The two guys hustled off to a busy conference table.
"All right, then, Kris," I said in my best wise-guy reporter voice, "I get it. This is Santa's workshop. Yeah, right. So when are we gonna see all the little elves at work?"
He turned to me with a smile: "You just did, kid!"
Santa Brings Me Up To Speed
"Look, let me fill you in fast, here, and you just try to hang on. I know what you're thinking: Reindeer, sleigh, fat jolly guy, right? Wrong. This is big business—really big business—and Santa—" he smiled proudly, "is just the front man.
"Look at what we've got here," said Kringle, as he waved at the blinking lights of a huge spreadsheet on a monitor. "R&D, Production, Media Analysis, Social Media Monitoring... This is an empire, and you're talking to the guy on the throne.
"Yeah, OK, once in a while I put on the fat suit and make a few appearances down at the mall. But most of the time I'm taking meetings with the Head of Toy Production or trying to think up new ideas for viral videos."
I staggered backwards into a handy chair.
"I hate to break it to you like this, kid, but there really is a Santa Claus, and he's a $120 billion industry. How do you like those sugarplums? And like any giant organization, we've got an image to promote and a reputation to keep up. Hell, buddy, you're in PR, you know how much work all this takes."
"Now, according to my watch," he consulted a gold Rolex on a surprisingly thick and hairy wrist, "you've only got 37 minutes left in this interview. You want to just sit there with your mouth hanging open, or you want to see some kick-ass PR measurement in action?"
"Uh, yeah, you're the boss, Mr. Kringle."
The PR Measurement Behind Santa Claus
"Right, then," he said, rubbing his hands together. "Now follow me and listen up. I don't have to tell you how much of what Santa Claus does is based on our image. I don't even want to think about how much we spend on PR.
"For instance, holiday airtime is a huge part of our communications mix. So we've got a whole floor full of Juilliard graduates that sit just there and make up new holiday carols that mention Santa. Hey, no joke. They're a long shot, I admit, but some of them pay off big. Take that 'Here comes Santa Claus, right down Santa Claus Lane' ditty. You just can't get exposure like that anymore."
He laid a finger alongside his nose and gave me a wink: "Let's just say Gene Autry didn't think that one up all by himself."
"Now, our Naughty and Nice team takes up the whole 13th floor. Talk about your difficult measurement problem! That 'checking it twice' stipulation requires a huge investment on our part. 'Course we've got our legion of Santas doing survey interviews at malls. But what's really important, as you well know, is the outcome—how they actually behaved—rather than what they report to Santa. Just might be some bias there on Santa's lap, don't you think?"
"The whole social media thing has really let us upgrade our N&N measurement. Between Twitter and Facebook we got most of those kids pretty well pegged. We combine the social media data with a behavioral scale that rates the kids' relationships with their parents, teachers, and neighbors. Then there's a slew of correction factors for things like honesty, cleanliness, and 'plays well with others.' It means a hell of a lot of snooping around by the elves. But we've planted a few helper apps and so nowadays we've got real time data on most everyone."
"Which reminds me." He consulted his iPhone for a moment, then gave me an impish grin and a slap on the back. "All right kid! That was a nice little thing you did for your wife last week! You, my man, are well into the Nice range this year."
I blushed. "Y-you mean you really know--"
"Relax, bub, it's my job: 'He sees you when you're sleeping,' and all that."
"Yeah, OK, well, I must say I'm surprised to see you so current on the latest in PR measurement and evaluation."
"Well, kid, what do you expect? I read your newsletter every month. Ho, ho, ho!
"But seriously, way back when I was still a startup as Father Christmas, me and the Mrs. used to do all this ourselves. I had to be good at measurement 'cause there was no one else to do it. But times change, you know, and sooner or later I had to enter the 18th Century. That's when I brought on the elves and went through the whole rebranding to Santa Claus. Now that was a measurement nightmare.
"You know, kid, Santa Claus is a very private company, so we can't just go out and hire someone to do media analysis for us. We gotta do most of this stuff in house. Until just recently we had a whole army of readers, but now we've got some new software that really helps out there."
"How about the competition, Mr. Claus?"
"Now, you wouldn't think competition is something we worry too much about. And it's true; Santa is the undisputed king of the gift-giving holidays. But this racket is a tough one. You got to know when to fight 'em and when to join 'em. Our merger with the Christ child's birthday was a real smart move. Well, in your little neck of the woods, anyway.
"We do have to keep close tabs on the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy. But I tell you what. I'm more than a bit worried about Halloween. No joke, it's coming on strong. We've had to do some pretty fancy work to protect our territory. That Tim Burton did a bang-up job with 'Nightmare Before Christmas,' don't you think?" He gave me another wink.
"And, measurement-wise, Halloween is one of our toughest challenges. Take the Easter Bunny. Now, there I can do a nice clean comparison of coverage. But how are we supposed to measure that damn Halloween? What do I benchmark against? The Great Pumpkin? Elvira? You and your buddy Katie got any ideas on that, I'd sure love to hear them.
"Well, it's been nice talking to you, kid, but I gotta go. It's that time of year, you know."
"Thanks for talking to The Measurement Standard, Santa. Maybe we'll catch you again next year? And, hey, before I go, can I just mention that awesome new 42" Sony HDTV—"
"Relax, kid," he said with a wink, "You write up a decent interview and we'll see what we can do."
(A version of this article previously appeared in the The Measurement Standard. That's one of Haddon Sundblom's illustrations of Santa Claus for Coca-Cola®.)
Bill Paarlberg is editor of The Measurement Standard blog and newsletter. He is also editor of the books “Measuring the Networked
Nonprofit,” by Beth Kanter and Katie Paine, and “Measure What Matters” by Katie Paine.
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The Measurement Standard is a publication of Salience/KDPaine & Partners, a company that delivers custom research to measure brand image, public relationships, and engagement. Chairman and Founder Katie Paine will be glad to talk with you about measurement for your organization.