Sometimes You Just Know. Or Do You?

July 9, 2015 by Mark Eyerly

Back in my newspaper reporting days, I wrote a lengthy, detail-packed Page One piece exploring the adequacy of changes in the nuclear power industry to mark the fifth anniversary of the Three Mile Island accident. The newspaper’s 30-person editorial staff did not include a fact-checker. So the next day when my editor received complimentary telephone calls from anti-nuclear activists and members of TMI’s public relations team, he told me: “You got it right!”

Because his intuition, informed by decades of experience with reader feedback, suggested:

  1. When both sides complained, his reporter probably got something – or many things – wrong.
  2. When only one side complained, it was 50-50: Did his reporter get something wrong or hit so close to home as to anger people on one side of the dispute?
  3. But when both sides were happy, that meant his reporter wrote a full and fair analysis.

Studies suggest that intuition alone – without supporting research – can produce accurate assessments, but only if the intuition is based on experiences that are representative of the current situation. My friends at The Melior Group and I encountered just that scenario during recent work with a mutual client. I was hired to analyze the client’s marketing communications; Melior, to do a demographic assessment and survey of target audiences.

Melior’s work began first but time and other constraints forced us to work more-or-less concurrently and independently. My analyses and recommendations were at least 90 percent cooked – I was well into my second draft – by the time Melior completed its work.

I opened Melior’s report with anticipation, not trepidation, because I expected what I found: The research findings supported my analyses on everything from brand promise and messaging to advertising strategy and PR tactics. Not because I’m some sort of boy genius (far too old and dimwitted for that) but because enough experience (30-plus years) and a modicum of intelligence can make one highly intuitive about certain things.

But here’s the kicker: Just like my editor, who thought the story he was printing was accurate but who still breathed a sigh of relief the next day, our client still needed Melior’s research findings. Heck, I needed them, too.

One, my recommendations carried a lot more weight when I could cite Melior’s findings to back them up. Research moved the conversation from “trust me” to “it’s just like I said.”

And two, well, at the risk of sounding all Donald Rumsfeldian: How do you know what you know intuitively is true?

You know?


Guest Writer Mark Eyerly is principal of Remarkable Communications LLC.

About the Author:
Mark is an exceptional strategist, problem solver, team builder and story teller who has led groups from three to 40 members in raising visibility and strengthening brand reputation for institutions in the corporate, higher education and philanthropic worlds.

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