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SeeDepth Masters In Marketing Interview: Sandra Fathi, Affect

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Sandra Fathi 150px 3x3Sandra Fathi (@sandrafathi) has spent the last 20 years helping technology, healthcare and professional services companies achieve their communications goals. As President and Founder of Affect, a public relations, marketing and social media agency, Sandra has successfully led the company with consistent growth since the agency’s inception in 2002. She has long been a thought leader in advancing measurement in the PR industry, often speaking on the subject at conferences such as PRNews Measurement Conference, the PR Daily World ConferenceRagan’s PR Measurement Summit and more.

Sandra is very active in the communications industry and professional community, having served as the past Chair of PRSA’s Tri-State District, former President of PRSA-NY, and as an active member of the PR Council. Her expert commentary has appeared in business and industry publications such as Forbes, Entrepreneur, Inc., Huffington Post and U.S. News & World Report.  Adding to her accolades, Sandra is recognized as one of PRNews’ Top Women in PR, a PRNews PR Professional of the Year finalist, and a Bulldog PR Agency Professional of the Year.

We sat down and had the chance to ask Sandra a few questions, including of course, what challenges she sees with PR measurement.

Can you tell us a little about your role with PRSA NY?
I have been a member of PRSA since 1998 and I am currently an active board member of PRSA NY. In the past, I served as President of the PRSA NY Chapter, Chair of PRSA NY’s Technology & New Media Committee and President of the PRSA Technology Section.  My involvement in PRSA has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my professional career. I have met so many incredibly talented, creative and generous PR professionals who have inspired me over the years.

You are a huge supporter of truly utilizing social media such as LinkedIn, Twitter and Ning. Which one has helped you the most? Can you provide an example?
Almost every social media platform that I use has provided me with both personal and professional benefits. LinkedIn, in particular, has helped me grow and maintain my network, as well as reconnect with former colleagues from the days before social media! Groups are very helpful to connect with like-minded or like-interest individuals. In addition, it has been a platform for our company to showcase our work, share best practices and recruit new employees.

Twitter, on the other hand, is much more transient in nature. In the early days, I recall going to conferences and literally grabbing someone on the show floor and introducing myself because I recognized them from Twitter. Today, that’s a little harder. Tweets are coming fast and furious, and it is hard to keep up with the barrage of information. I find Twitter today to be most useful as an adjunct to live interactions. For example, at events or conferences, or during breaking news/world events. It is a great tool to be able to get feedback in real-time or exchange ideas with fellow attendees at an event. It’s also a key channel for sharing content and driving traffic to our website. The immediacy of Twitter can also provide instant gratification.

As for Ning, we’ve built quite a few special-interest social networks on the platform for our clients. It’s a fantastic, low-cost alternative to building a social network from the ground up. For non-profits in particular, Ning, and tools like Ning, have been transformational.

You use a lot of the latest PR technologies at Affect, such as Vocus and Harvest. What are you currently using and why?
We are still using Vocus, or now Cision, for our media database. It’s an essential tool that we use every day, but we still believe in the one-on-one relationship with journalists. We use it as a tool to identify appropriate media, but still conduct the majority of our research independently.

We also use ClickTime to track hours, plan resources and analyze our workforce efficiency.

You speak a lot about PR measurement. What is the biggest challenge in measuring results for your clients?
The biggest challenge in measurement overall is the allure of measuring what’s easy. On the PR side, that might be number of hits or press release pick -ups. Although these numbers are readily accessible, they don’t correlate to business objectives. On the social media side, ‘tweets’, ‘posts’, ‘likes’ etc. are part of the platform’s vernacular, but again, have no meaning in the C-suite. The correct approach to measurement starts from the end game - what are we trying to achieve? Once we know the outcome we are striving for, we work backwards to measure the things that contribute to that goal.

You have a busy role at Affect and spend a great deal of time speaking on trending topics, writing and blogging. How do you find the time, and what do you enjoy the most?
The two parts of my job that I enjoy the most are new business development and speaking. I have an insatiable curiosity about businesses, and in particular, technology companies. I always enjoy meeting and speaking with entrepreneurs as well as established brands, understanding their business models, their challenges and figuring out how we can help them get to the next level.  In terms of speaking at events, I enjoy sharing my knowledge and experiences while exchanging ideas with others. In many ways, it’s like teaching, and I find that very gratifying.

What are you passionate about outside of your career?
My family, travel and charity work are three of my passions. My husband and I have two children, and spending quality time with them is a top priority. Fortunately, they share my passion for travel and we’ve been able to visit some amazing places together. My daughter and I made a list a few years ago of the 80+ countries we want to visit and we are trying to tick off 2-3 a year. I’ll never make the whole list, but I will have a great time trying.

Volunteering, fundraising and lending my skills to worthy causes have also always been passions of mine. I’ve been able to foster that at work as well through our Affective Giving program, which helps our team support charities by providing opportunities to volunteer as part of our team, take time off to volunteer at a charity of their choice, and provide a company match to their donations. For the past three years, we’ve also hosted a birthday party for homeless children at a shelter in Harlem. It’s one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve shared with my colleagues.

What is next for you in 2015?
We’ve dubbed 2015 as the “Year of Creativity” at Affect. I’m incredibly proud of the smart, dedicated and talented team members at Affect, and we are working on developing truly innovative programs for our company and our clients. We’ve already launched a video series entitled “90 Seconds to Success” that has garnered a strong following. We’ll be launching many more initiatives this year.  You’ll just have to keep watching!

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