Leah Wilson photo
Leah Wilson Product Analyst
Posted on Feb 10, 2022

Analytics Bad News: The 😬 Emoji In Real Life


Once, after what felt like five full minutes of uncomfortable silence in a small conference room, I offered a beleaguered colleague a french fry and made this face 😬. It was awkward, it makes me cringe to think about, and it was ultimately the result of a culture that didn't understand how to use data; it was the result of a culture that didn't talk about expectations.

Let me explain...

Before Go Ahead Tours, I worked in publishing--my company owned newspapers, TV stations and radio stations. It was great, and there was always a lot going on, and always a lot of folks interested in numbers. In the publishing world, numbers are everything: subscriptions, readers, ratings, viewers, impressions...and commissions. Those ads that so many people use blockers to not see? Those are what keep the lights on at every newspaper in the country, and those are what paid not just my and my teams' salaries, but the salaries of the people selling them. Enter one of the most industrious category of people in the media landscape: the regional newspaper sales rep.

Newspaper sales reps are people cut from a different cloth. It's dyed-in-the-wool selling. 'Glengarry Glenn Ross' style selling (a rep I loved working with once laughed and told me "coffee's for closers, Leah" when I walked in with Starbucks for everyone). Newspaper sales used to be incredibly lucrative...back when people got home delivery of their newspapers, that is. Over the last 40 years, newspaper rep salaries dropped right alongside newspaper subscriptions, and people that relied on handshakes, cigars and whisky suddenly had to venture into a scary new world to find money: digital advertising.

It wasn't just that a transition to digital advertising proved difficult from a technology standpoint for old-school sellers, it was that digital advertising came with something that newspaper advertising never really used to have: measurement. Back in the day, if I sold a full page ad to Bob's Donuts, Bob could be fairly confident that at least as many people as subscribe to the paper would see his ad, but he wouldn't ever know. All Bob would know is what I told him and who came in with the coupon he printed. But nowadays, if I sell Bob 150,000 impressions on the Boston Globe's sports page and it only gets 100 clicks, Bob could know that for certain.


Early on in digital advertising, the blind were leading the blind. The reality was that Bob didn't have a clue about how his ads were performing.

You wanna buy some internet? Buy some internet. It'll only be $500 this month and we get a lot of people on there

That's probably an actual quote from like, 2005 or so. That is really what those conversations used to be like! Sellers who embraced early internet advertising made a killing, because the internet was new and cool and fun. But the business owners weren't savvy yet.

Until they were. Until business owners learned about the vocabulary and the numbers. Until business owners started learning that they had the ability--through numbers--to hold salespeople responsible. Suddenly, accountability was important, and it was a whole new ballgame. Salespeople now had to know the numbers too: how were the ads performing? How is creative A performing compared to creative B? What's the CTR for that ad?

And that change is what brought me to that conference room and the french fry.

I entered the publishing company in a position where I trained salespeople on what digital advertising was and how to sell it. I moved up until I was managing advertising operations for the company. Every digital ad placement came through my team, and I was traveling a lot because I was the one giving salespeople deep dives into how their campaigns were performing. And oftentimes, it was bad news.

Bad digital ad performance means bad relationships with clients, bad relationships with clients mean fewer sales, fewer sales means a smaller commission check, smaller commission checks means less money in the bank account, etc, etc.

And in this conference room I had just finished telling this salesperson--in depth--how much their campaign had failed. And he knew it was going to be tough to break that news to the advertiser; it would affect their relationship, he feared.

The thing is though, that it needn't have.

I realized after that awkward french fry offer, that these sad conference room conversations were because of mismanaged expectations. There should never even have been concept of "bad news" in the data landscape of these ads in the first place! The 😬 face came from the feeling of knowing that the salesperson was going to be sad, because the client was going to be mad at them. But the client was only going to be mad because the salesperson hadn't educated them about what the numbers really mean.

A good example of that lack of education is regarding clicks. Almost no one clicks on display ads. The industry average rate is well below 1%. But just because no one clicks on an ad doesn't mean that it's not being effective; viewers absorb messages, laugh at creatives or are reminded of other ads from that business they've seen. But if a salesperson focused on clicks and there weren't clicks, the campaign "failed", and I had to offer someone a french fry.

I found that the best way to avoid the 😬 face was to help salespeople teach their clients about goal setting and expectations.

I've obviously since moved on from the publishing world, and into the engineering and development one. In my three years with Go Ahead Tours I've worked to help departments from sales to marketing to product, and I made it my mission to always help stakeholders understand that expectations and understanding are central to avoiding disappointment.

It's our job as analysts to not just deliver numbers, but to help educate our colleagues on how to use them and how to teach others about them. If you see someone setting an outrageous goal, teach them about historical trends that might make that goal too out-of-reach. If you see someone using data in a way that doesn't reflect reality, let them know.

If you find yourself looking at a spreadsheet as part of a data pull, scanning your eyes over the numbers, calculating that rate and then making the face, stop and think about that stakeholder. Don't offer them a french fry, like I did. Instead, offer them some perspective and education, so next time you don't have to deliver "bad" news. Next time just deliver news.

© EF Education First