Why I wish I'd tried harder in maths

Alex is a consultant and founder of Whetstone Communications, which helps organisations use data to sharpen communications strategy and tactics. In a 20-year career he’s worked in PR, internal communications, marketing, policy and public affairs for mainly not-for-profit organisations. In 2021 he had a ‘data epiphany’ and started learning about data analysis and coding in his spare time. After failing lots at first, he’s now studying to become a certified Data Analyst.

Alex Waddington

Consultant and Founder

Podcast questions:

  1. You describe having a data epiphany about two years ago? Tell us more about that and your journey?
    2. What has having stronger data skills allowed you to do, that you couldn’t do before?
    3. Tell us about some of the comms projects you’ve worked on that have benefitted from utilising data?
    4. How has having enhanced data skills helped your career?
    6. You’ve talked about feeling an imposter syndrome in terms of speaking on this topic – say more about that?
    5. If you are listening to this and really you want to get started in data, what are your top tips?

Podcast transcript here:

Disclaimer: this is an automated transcript. Please don’t call the grammar police on us. You never know, we may have ChatGPT writing our next one…


Asif Choudry (00:06):

Hello, welcome to another episode in the you’re my CommsHero podcast. And I’m your host, Asif Choudry. Today my guest is Alex Waddington. Alex is a consultant and founder of Whetstone Communications, which helps organizations use data to sharpen communication strategy and tactics. In a 20 year career, he’s worked in pr, internal communications, marketing policy, and public affairs for mainly not-for-profit organizations. And in 2021, he had a data epiphany and we’ll find out more about that, and started learning about data analysis and coding. In his spare time after failing lots at first, he’s now studying to become a certified data analyst. So thanks for joining me, Alex, and it’s great to welcome you as a guest on the podcast.

Alex Waddington (00:53):

Thanks, Asif. , pleasure to be here.

Asif Choudry (00:56):

Okay, so let’s do some quick fire stuff, Alex. I’m gonna, we’ve known each other for so on social for ages, but there’s some stuff in here that I’m gonna find out about you and so are the listeners. So, , let’s go with, , are you an early riser or do you love a lion?

Alex Waddington (01:10):

Early riser. Ever since I had my kids, they forced me to be an early riser. So that’s continued.

Asif Choudry (01:15):

<laugh>, lots of listeners, , who will be nodding in agreement and, , okay. So, , apple or Android,

Alex Waddington (01:24):

Apple, apple, all the way

Asif Choudry (01:26):

That you’re breaking the cycle there. Well, I have a couple of androids in most of my, my most recent recordings. So we’re back onto Apple, which is normal services resed, no offense to any Android users out there. , let’s ask you, are you, , TV box at b or do you prefer to color it with a good book or a data set of a spreadsheet or something? Probably <laugh>.

Alex Waddington (01:48):

<laugh>. , I, I must admit, I struggle to watch, sit down and, and watch tv. Occasionally if I get, you know, something that I get hooked to, I will binge it. But I’m, I’m more of a podcast person, actually. Yeah. Which is probably appropriate. Yeah. Yeah.

Asif Choudry (02:02):

So which podcast are on your, , , on your listen list then?

Alex Waddington (02:07):

, I do, I do tend to be, , quite predictable in many ways. And, you know, listen to podcasts related to, related to work and anything to do with comms or data science or, you know, in Interesting, you know, kind of anything, , you know, sort of behavioral economics, things that just kind of peak a bit of interest. But I do, I do quite like, , some of the political podcasts as well. There’s some really good ones. Yeah. Around. And for me it’s just a bit of, a bit of downtime, so, so yeah, not really a, not really a binge TV watcher, but I can be persuaded. A

Asif Choudry (02:38):

Binge podcaster. A binge podcaster. Nothing wrong with that. Yeah. , do you prefer you were a phone call person or a texter?

Alex Waddington (02:48):

Oh, it’s

Asif Choudry (02:49):

A good, it’s a tough question in today’s environment. That

Alex Waddington (02:51):

Isn’t it, that is that, that is, that is quite, quite hard. Do, do you know what, I had a phone call with somebody this morning because the, the, the connection dropped and it was great. It was really nice. You can sort of sit with your feet up and, you know, just, you know, I think sometimes it all comes a bit well, naturally. So let’s, let’s go for phone call. Let’s

Asif Choudry (03:07):

Go phone call. Let’s bring back the phone calls. What we used to do before phones became smart, , <laugh>. So now I appreciate that, Alex. It’s really nice to get to know a little bit about you. And we’ve got a, let’s clear up for the audience. Any relation to CommsHero legend? Stephen Waddington?

Alex Waddington (03:22):

No, no relation. We always have, we always have to say that times time we’re in the, we’re in the same for. We always have to state that, not that we know of anyway. My, I’m, I don’t know too much about my family history cuz it’s quite complicated. So, you know, unless there’s some connection way back and very distant, but not that I know of. But obviously he’s a, he’s a, he’s a really good person to be connected with, so, , so yeah,

Asif Choudry (03:44):

Absolutely. So we’re gonna cover, so a, a a, a keynote at A P R C A conference in 2021. , the most senior government communicator in the land call for a new breed of superhero communicators, able to combine hard data analysis with brilliant storytelling and artistry. I love that. That expression is great. And data’s playing so much more of a, a bigger part in communications. It’s not the, it’s not just a geek a thing for geeks anymore. It’s an in a skill that’s been encouraged and rightly so, you know, but research itself suggests that a large portion of professionals don’t yet feel comfortable using data in their roles. And you, Alex you started reskilling yourself in data two years ago, which led to a dramatic change of career direction. And you are gonna talk us through, , with some questions that I’m gonna ask you about the ups and downs of this journey and why, , you are now wishing you paid more attention to math lessons at school. Don’t we all? I think we all wish that, we all wish that, so let’s get straight. So it’s gonna be a fascinating one cause I don’t think we’ve covered anything like this before. So, , you describe having a data epiphany about two years ago, then tell us more about that and, and your journey, Alex.

Alex Waddington (05:01):

Yeah. , so, so y you know, I think, yeah, it definitely goes back to school days. My, you know, sort of aversion to maths. I found it really, really hard maths and science really difficult, which is, you know, not so good now when I’ve got kids at school and, you know, trying to help them with, with that. But basically, you know, kind of majored on the creative side, you know, I was always good at, good at English, , and, and pursued a career. , started as a journalist, , you know, and had a pretty successful cons pr , , career, you know, engaging audiences, you know, moved up the ranks. , all good. , you know, and I think, you know, I’ve added a lot of value over the years. I’ve, you know, did a lot of good work for the organizations I’ve worked for.

Alex Waddington (05:44):

But I was working for a charity. , I moved, I was in higher education for a long time and, and then I moved to, , a charity just actually three years ago when the pandemic started. And they were really interesting because they had a data insights team. They used to do a lot of evaluation of their programs. You know, they ran, it was dig digital inclusion was their, , their area. So it’s good things foundation for anybody who’s heard of them. And they had a, had a sort of evaluation team that was the traditional kind of qualitative research, but they also had a data insights team there. And, and I just got talking to a few of their, , few of my colleagues about what they did and some of the tools they used. And y you know, I just suddenly don’t have this moment of, of applying this kind of idea of using data to some of the conversations we’ve been having about how we connect with audiences.

Alex Waddington (06:34):

So, you know, we were looking at influencing government around that time, around making more provision for digital inclusion. And we were think, we were doing the planning of how do we, you know, how do we connect with the language the government’s using? And, and we were discussing what we thought the main, you know, the dominant phrases and language was a and we were all given our opinion. And I, I just had this moment of thinking, well, hang on a minute. If we could capture the last, you know, a hundred outputs of the government or last, you know, a hundred things that ministers said, we’d find a pattern there. I think in ts of those kind of, what are the key phrases and what, what are they focusing on? , and, and thought, well, yeah, you could do that manually, but that’s a lot of work.

Alex Waddington (07:17):

But hang on a minute, in ts of the data, capturing data, working with data, data mining, I think there’s opportunities to do this. , and to basically to inform more, , robust conclusions to, to base your tactics and your strategy on. And, and that’s just kicked off a whole, basically a, a a whole stream of, , you know, events and, and a a, a kind of journey for me, which, which led me to, to where I am now. So, so my starting point really was how did I get started with it? , I essentially started listening to podcasts about data journalism. So, you know, data journalists are really interesting for me because if you think about us as comms paper, were kind of often described as like on the other side of the fence from, from journalists, data journalists are doing such interesting things to find stories and to find insights out of data.

Alex Waddington (08:08):

I thought, well, couldn’t we flip that round and, and, and create almost like, you know, a kind of, , , a mirror image of that in ts of using that within, , our own organizations, , and our own roles. So I started listening to lots as much as I couldn’t read as much as I could on how data journalists actually went about doing their job, and I taught myself, I started to teach myself to code basically. So to be able to, , mind data, to be able to scrape it from public sources, you know, to where it’s not, where it’s not easy to get how, and I want to get that data and I want to, to start to analyze it and find, you know, interesting insights from it. And, and I had a project, I basically wanted to collect all the government covid briefings, , , that, that was my project.

Alex Waddington (08:51):

So I think my big piece of advice is have a project, have something you want to do with data, and then like basically work towards doing it. Don’t just learn how to code for coding’s sake. Don’t just learn how to use excel for using excel’s sake. Have something you want to do. And that really went from, you know, me kind of messing around with bits of code and, and, and you know, bar, you know, trying to learn things off YouTube that was, you know me up at, I was getting up at five o’clock in the morning, , like that’s the early riser bit coming in useful. Yeah. , to, but to basically before I started work to try and upskill myself and actually understand, you know, , yes, the coding, but actually get a bit of a data mindset to ba and, and, and from there really, it was a, you know, I didn’t really know quite what I was gonna do with it and how I would apply it exactly, but I, I knew it, I knew it must be useful.

Alex Waddington (09:43):

, so, so that was, that was my wake up call. That was my, I think this is what I want to do. I’m really excited by it. And I want to put almost like, so, so there’s a really, there’s a guy called Sam Knowles who’s a data storyteller, and he talks about the sort of, , he talks about fire and ice. So he talks about the fire of creativity, , and, and, and you know, the sort of the, the artistic bit, , that a lot of communicators have and, you know, are rightly proud of. And then he talks about that the, the ice is like the hard data, the, like the, the, the sort of, you know, the kind of analysis, the nbers. And he talks about these two things coming to, you know, putting those things together, which is quite explosive. And I just, you know, that was, when I read that, I was like, that is really powerful. I think there’s a massive opportunity. So that was my moment. That was about, yeah, two or two or three years ago really, , that that kind of kicked off. And, and so, you know, it’s gone gone from there, really.

Asif Choudry (10:43):

Yeah, it’s quite interesting that going from, I, I don’t think I’ve met anyone who’s been on the creative, the art side, , the ideation element of comms into data. I mean, at resource we’ve got a team of data dev guys who do amazing stuff with, , hyper personalized, whether it be a piece of direct mail, for example, and the stuff they can do with, you know, we’re telling customers that things that are, you know, through SQL queries and workflow bills and all the stuff that I’m sure you, you’ll appreciate that that language there that they can do with data and that that ultimately does influence your creative direction in ts of the messaging you can give to people. Cause it’s so, it’s so precise. So that’s fascinating. You’ve gone from the creative side into the data side. Cause the two are very distinct, but there probably aren’t many people or the have made that leap either the direction, , or there may be, maybe there are, maybe there are others in this exclusive club with you, Alex, but so what, what do you think, what has having strong data skills allowed you to do that you couldn’t do before?

Alex Waddington (11:49):

, so I, there’s, there’s a, there’s another quote that I like that, that goes without data. You just another person with an opinion. , which I, which I really like, , a, a a and it, what, it’s, what I believe it’s allowing, allowing me to do and has allowed me to do it. It is make better decisions and, and, , make more, you know, basically more informed tactical decisions, , on how to communicate. So, so, and how best to do that, to connect with audiences, how to improve the outputs, you know, for the people I I work with. How they can make their, their outputs more effective using, using kind of hard, hard evidence. So it’s not to say that, you know, I do think, , opinion has a, , has a role like, you know, so me, someone like me 20 years experienced the industry, my own, my opinion is not worthless because, you know, I, I’ve got a lot of case studies I’ve seen, I’ve, you know, I’ve, I’ve made a lot of mistakes as most people haven’t.

Alex Waddington (12:50):

You learn from that. You learn on the job, you learn from seeing what other people do. That’s, that’s got validity. But in ts of, you know, testing that out, using data, actually going, that’s what we think. But actually, you know, what would the data say if we looked at it? So, you know, like a, a case in point would be some work I’m doing with a, with a council or a local authority at the moment to look at their basic, do a, an audit on their social media. , now that’s, it’s quantitative to an extent, but what we’re doing is we’re bringing, we’re mining all the data from a year, all the, all the content data from a year and putting that together with the nbers. So you are not just looking at nbers and sort of make, trying to, you know, kind of make connections.

Alex Waddington (13:33):

You’re actually looking at the whole thing together going, okay, what, what are we sort of seeing thematically in ts of the best performing content? , you know, is it that, , you know, a theory might be for example, that, that vi you know, often here, this video is video performs best. Well, does it actually, if you were to look at your best forming content, is it, is it the, it’s a video or is it actually the, you know, a kind of, , , other, some like, you know, images perform just as well, you know, when you look at the data and therefore, you know, could you be more efficient by actually making sure you’ve got an engaging image, which is, you know, if the message is right, it’s just as likely to be as effective as a video. And that’s more efficient because you don’t necessarily need to, you know, there may be a school of thought that, you know, we, yes, we need to make video because that’s, that’s always gonna be engaging.

Alex Waddington (14:24):

That may not be the case. So, so it’s that ability to test out these things that you think are true. And, and you know, we’re all subject to kind of, I’m not a expert in behavioral science, major economics, but, but the bit I do know is, you know, we’re subject to, we can subject to biases like recency bias, availability bias, yeah. What’s the last, you know, piece of great content I saw that will influence me in ts of what I would might recommend to say. Yeah, that type of content works really well. , so it’s allowed me to do that. I think it’s allowed me, you know, in my previous role, , you know, to take a bit more of a kind of an informed view on, you know, audience research. So, so again, being able to, you know, think about the internet is a massive data set.

Alex Waddington (15:09):

It’s, it’s the biggest data set there is. And it’s, it’s all there. And, and we, we all, you know, communicators, people like myself, colleagues out there will be using data, you know, but it every day definitely. But, but in a kind of surface way. And actually, if you think about your audience will be out there talking in an organic way in all sorts of places. And if you are, if you are, you know, wanting to do some work out, you know, what language they’re using, how to connect with them, what matters to them, you can do traditional market research, you know, surveys good, off fashioned, qualitative, you know, it’s all, it’s all, it’s all valid. But there’s a massive opportunity to listen to that audience to go out there. You yourself could do this to what got me excited. I can go out there, I can get that data.

Alex Waddington (15:54):

It’s in the public domain sometimes, you know, you can get it through things like freedom information, you can get nice data sets from government, loads of opportunity. And I can, I can mine that and I can get insight from it that I wouldn’t have been able to see otherwise. Cuz I’m just looking at a, a massive swarm of data. But, but I can, I can marshal it and, and, and it’s, it’s, it’s, it’s things like that. And then another example would be, , I do a lot of work with universities cuz that’s my kind of background, so, so kind of net, what I call network mapping. So, so working out who you are as an organization, you are quite well connected to through, , you know, through things like collaboration. So in, in academia, , the partnership and collaboration really matters. And, and that’s how most academics work and universities are sort of trying to work out, you know, for rep to build reputation and to build partnerships who they’re most connected to globally.

Alex Waddington (16:54):

, and, and it’s not always obvious because univers is so big on sprawling. So some of the work I do with them is helping them see, okay, like if we were to look at the, like look at the, for the trends in collaboration, what would, which universities would it point to? Which countries would it point to? So you, again, your tactics if you are, if you are running paid campaigns that are targeting, you know, kind of some of your content out and you’re going, okay, where, where might land best? Where are the existing links? Who’s already warm towards us? You, you, you can know that by, by using, you know, this is data that’s just available. So it, there’s, you know, variety of ways that it’s helping me and it’s making me feel, I think more informed. I think it feels like some of the things I’m recommending are more robust. That’s what it feels like. It feels like it’s got a bit more substance

Asif Choudry (17:41):

To it. Yeah. Yeah. No, I think that that is bridging that, , insight’s always a key part of any creative campaign, but I think where you are going here is the, , insight is formed on much opinion does come into creative. It’s, it’s, , h, <affirmative>, it’s a subjective, , thing, isn’t it? Creative because everyone’s got a different opinion on it from the, the person who’s receiving it, to the person who’s creating it. But here that insight is far more in depth that certainly that I’ve come across on the traditional desk-based or field-based research tactics that go on with focus groups, et cetera, which are all good. But I think yours is, yes, probably more of a scientific level there. So you’ve, you’ve already touched on Alex, there’s some, some of the comps projects with higher education that have benefited, obviously benefited from utilizing data. So what would you say that, moving on to, , having en enhanced data skills, then how has this actually helped your career then from in that two years? , that yeah, from that data epiphany?

Alex Waddington (18:49):

, I think, I mean, I think the way I look at it, Asif, is , it, it, you know, I’m absolutely loving the work that I’m doing, and it’s not that I didn’t, you know, love it before, but I, you know, it’s that, it’s that curiosity that I, I’ve got, you know, which is a really, as you know, you know, it’s like, I’m sure you hear this from other people, that when you’ve got that like fire and that curiosity and that, that, you know, you, you almost feel like you’ve got unlimited opportunity to, to explore something. It’s just really motivating. And I think what that does is it makes me, you know, you can probably hopefully hear it in the enthusiasm I’ve got for this topic, but it makes me, you know, it, that translates into the work I do for, for the clients I work with, you know, so, so it, it’s, it makes me really driven and enthusiastic and, you know, I’m, I’m kind of dis I’m still learning.

Alex Waddington (19:39):

I’m still discovering, , , whi which is great as well for me because I’m on, you know, I’m able to deliver, , you know, high quality work that that helps people, you know, organizations helps comms teams and the, the organization achieve their objectives. But, but, but I’m learning, I’m having a great time as well. I’m doing it and I’m, you know, as I say, it feels like this huge untapped area. So I think it’s, you know, helped, it’s helped me raise my profile because I’ve, you know, I’ve, I’ve guess I’m kind of out there speaking about this subject and, and, and one really good piece of advice I got from, , , from, from someone who, who actually I spoke to earlier in my career was I was talking about this, you know, you’ve alluded to this being a field that’s quite niche, I thinking a bit of an e I don’t exclusive, I wouldn’t like to think it’s exclusive in the way that we exclude people, but maybe there’s not, not many of us doing this.

Alex Waddington (20:30):

But I was talking about being part of a movement of data comms people. So that’s kind of the best t I can come up with this. Digital PR is another t you’ll hear used. Doesn’t quite describe, I don’t think what I’m doing. It’s not really, I do bits of pr, but it’s not really my, my field. But anyhow, what ever you want to call it, he was saying, I was saying I’d like to be part of, you know, a movement. And he said, why don’t you be the movement? Why don’t you, if it’s not there you, why don’t you be it? Why don’t you make it? And it was, it was a real turning point. That was a real kind of key moment cuz I, I, I think I said, you know, I thought he’s right. , I I need to push myself a bit here and, and, and, you know, start talking about this and, and, and this is where, you know, maybe my imposter syndrome comes in, sta came in and does does still come in.

Alex Waddington (21:18):

And that there’s people out there like Stephen Waddington, Andrew Bruce Smith, and other people who really know, you know, I really know the stuff, really knowledgeable. There’s Sam Knowles who’s brilliant on data storytelling, you know, and, and, and you know, you, you look, I think everybody does this, but you look at people like that and go, I, I’ll never know as much as them. I’ll never be as knowledgeable. And so that’s where the imposter syndrome kicks in. But I have kind of started to overcome that a bit. , but because I suppose I feel a bit more like I, you know, I’ve got a bit of more experience now and I’ve had positive feedback. So I ran a session at, , , something called Comms Unplugged, which is a really great event for comms people. , and it’s got this wellbeing and kind of mental health aspect to it.

Alex Waddington (22:03):

It’s held in, , dorse it every September. , and it’s, it’s a, it’s a non kind of digital event. , so it’s basically, there’s no, there’s nothing, there’s no PowerPoints. It’s basically, there’s a lot of wellbeing activities, but it’s also, you know, there’s, there’s some good sessions for mainly public sector, but not exclusively kind of not-for-profit comms people. And I went to that and I ran a session, I did it all analog or on a session on using data. And basically we had these big spreadsheets printed out, you know, these big A three spreadsheets and had them with marker pens and doing data analysis using, using highlighters. And it was really good fun. And I got really good f I was in, I was so nervous about it, you know, like the night before, if you’ve ever, you’ll know this yourself, you know, you’re preparing for something really important and you’re, everybody’s kind of socializing and you are off somewhere talking, you know, basically running it through just wanting to get it right.

Alex Waddington (22:56):

And I’m so nervous about it, and I ran it and I’ve had such great feedback from it that, that, you know, it, it gave me that confidence to, to, to, to kind of push forward. So it’s, it’s, you know, it’s put me, I’m, I feel like I’ve, I’m kind of in a really positive place with my career and, and like I’m really happy in what I do and I really love coming to work, you know, which is, which is, which is great. Yeah. And it’s helped raise my profile and it’s helped me connect with so many new people as well. That’s

Asif Choudry (23:25):

Definitely, that’s great. And, and it, it definitely comes across in and bucket loads, Alex, to be honest with you, because you are, , , the enthusiasm when you’ve got that, you’ve got to kind of make sure you just keep running with it. And the com zero you talk about movements, that’s exactly what, nine years on with Com zero. If you don’t, if you don’t have a passion for it, it won’t last long. Yeah. , and the acid test of that is, are you still doing it two years, three years, four years later? And are you still as passionate about it? So it’s definitely a, a vocation that you’ve hit on in the right. It sounds certainly from, , from what you’re saying and the way you are very passionate, it comes across in bucket load. So you talked about imposter syndrome, something we all mm-hmm. <affirmative>. , it’s got a, it’s got a label now, more or less, but I think it’s those nerves, those feelings of, I’m not good enough. Am I good enough? Who knows. But the feedback that you’ve got, , at Comms Unplugged help to all those instances there just, you know, let’s, , imposter syndrome, something all of us feel at some point in our careers, some more than others, you know, you mentioned it there. Is there any advice on how to overcome that or just deal with it in effect?

Alex Waddington (24:36):

Yeah, yeah, it’s a really, , it is really interesting that question. , and, and you know, I sort of think about how, how, how have I, you know, over, over overcome that. And I, you know, I go right back to when I was, you know, when I was a teenager, I was so shy, like, you know, I was, and that’s not uncommon to, you know, for people to be, you know, shy and retiring, perhaps a teenager. And then, you know, you come out your shell as as light as you grow, turn into an adult, you go out into the world. But, you know, I kind of, , I suppose there’s one turning point I could point to probably in my life, which was my tea. One of my teachers at the school almost in a kind way forced me to be, , in a school play to take quite a lead in role.

Alex Waddington (25:26):

And the st you know, the, the position I was at at that time was she could clearly see within me that I had the ability to do it. You know, she could clearly see something in me that I couldn’t myself. And, and it was just at that really awkward stage of being like, you know, I don’t even know if there’s a teenager. Maybe. I was like, just preteens. And it just was so embarrassed by, you know, by myself and just didn’t have any confidence and just all those things that, you know, be familiar to lots of people, that kind of identity thing going on. And, and she, and she basically, you know, almost in a quite a kind way forced me to do it. And, and, and, and it was the best, probably the one of the best things that ever like that could have happened to me at that time because I, I just got masters of confidence from it.

Alex Waddington (26:08):

I went on to do, you know, not in a professional way, but I did, I did more acting, you know, it gave me some confidence to get involved in like, you know, performing arts and, and if I was gonna give one piece of advice on that, you know, and this is more about maybe standing up in a room and talking in front of people, , is sometimes I’ve imagined I’m playing a part in a play or that it’s not actually me, you know? So I’ve always found that easier for it, for me, for, you know, Alex Waddington to be playing Alex Waddington, if you like. Yeah. And imagining he’s taking a part. So it isn’t me, people are saying it’s this, it’s some character than me. Think me just going, oh, oh, blind me, I’m, you know, I’m, I’m stood here talking to all these people and what do they think of me?

Alex Waddington (26:54):

And, and that’s probably the best piece of advice and given it worked for me. So, you know, other than get out there and and do it, which is easier said than done, and it does help the more you do it, you know, but, but it’s probably quite a common bit of advice. But I think, yeah, just almost going, I’m gonna pretend I’m playing a role here and, and it never quite felt as bad. And for me prep, you know, prep, prep, prep, prep and more prep, unless it’s, if it’s something that I just, I want to feel like I, you know, I don’t, I, I can’t really wing it, you know, I’m not that type of person that feels comfortable winging it. Yeah. So I’ve all, you know, kind of those hard yards and then it’s worth it. And then, you know, next time if you’ve gotta present on the same topic, it’s all, you’ve gotta talk about it, you don’t feel as bad. So, yeah. Yeah, that would be, that’d be my wisdom. For

Asif Choudry (27:42):

What it’s worth, knowing none, your subject definitely helps because you can accidentally just relax into the role as you quite rightly put it. I, I love that analogy. It’s a really nice way to, to put it. And I hope that the listeners will benefit from that. You don’t have to be in performing arts to be able to play this role, but it’s a really nice way of looking at it. And I hope if, if there’s anyone listening who tries that and it’s worked for them, you know, drop, drop me a note and let’s get you, get you on the podcast and tell us about that experience. So, to, to wrap up these questions then, Alex, to, for the listeners that are wanting to get started in data and join your movement, then what are your top tips for them?

Alex Waddington (28:19):

Yeah. , so I would recommend looking at the best of what’s happening in data journalism to, to start getting you thinking about how you might beuse data in your, in your role. Cause it, it’s not always obvious, you know, it, it can be, you know, we hear a lot about data literacy and data skills being essential. And I think for those coming into the profession, it, I think the, you know, some of the, the training courses, the degrees, et cetera, you know, as they still exist, will, will we’ll start to reflect that. Cause it’s what employers want, you know, it’s be, become, it’s gonna become a key thing. , but I think in ts of, you know, looking at the opportunity, for me anyway, start with data journals and look at what’s going on there and think about how you might apply it. Have a look at some of the people out there who were also applying it to, to comms, to the comms world. So, , there’s, , somebody particularly recommend called Sophie Smith. I’ll put an agency called North in Newcastle, who would be a great person to have on, by the way, in future,

Asif Choudry (29:22):

Sophie’s, actually Sophie’s been on, you know, quite a while ago actually talking about being new into the, , PR and coms profession. I know Sophie, yeah.

Alex Waddington (29:31):

Brilliant. Well, she, , Sophie’s one of the people I look to for inspiration. She’s got a maths and science c like data kind of background. She’s got a sci, I think she’s got a maths background, actually. So she’s really interested and she’s coming at it from the, the Other Direction book. Yeah. But, so yeah, Sophie’s really the work they do there. , you know, so, so there’s a few people. There’s a, an agency called Hard Nbers. , there’s an agency called Rise at seven. So there’s a few doing, you know, starting to look at this. So have a look at what’s out there. Data journalism is my tip. , have a project. So that’s, that’s my, that’s one of my things is like if you, you know, it’s, I think it’s really hard to sit and learn Excel or learn, you know, statistical analysis packages or learn Python, you know, just for the sake of learning it when you’ve not really got a reason to learn.

Alex Waddington (30:20):

It’s really, especially if you’ve, you know, you’re like me and, and you’ve not really got that kind of lo background in logic, you know? Cause a lot of coding is logic, you know, a lot of stuff is kind of logic and debugging things. , but having a project is a real driver because it’s like, I’d really like to, this is what the outcome I want to achieve. , and, and therefore, you know, everything is, everything you do is basically working towards that. And you learn, you know, you’ll learn data skills, you’ll learn things along, along the way as you try and, you know, do this data-driven project. So have a project, don’t be scared of, you know, embrace failure, because I did, you know, I was sat there with my head in my hands trying to code at first, and it was just, it was felt futile, but I got there.

Alex Waddington (31:03):

Most of, most of your, the things you need are out there on the internet. So, I mean, one of the beautiful things about chat, g p t, this you amazing tool that we’re all aware of, , which is gonna really shake things up. Is it, it can, I’ve not actually tried it myself, but essentially it can write code for you, you know, it can, it basically could produce usable code. So basically, you know, you sort, if you can tell it kind of in enough data to what you’re after, it’ll write some code for you. And essentially, you might need to tweak it a bit, but a lot of this, you know, a lot of, or if it’s an Excel formula that you need to do to transform some data, to do something slightly wizzy with it to give you the insight you need, it’ll be out there.

Alex Waddington (31:42):

So, so just, you know, borrow it, you know, get sort of, you know, it’ll, most of the answers will be out there. , but yeah, have, you know, having a project and having something, you know, that, you know, you can get your teeth into and actually you’ll feel some satisfaction in achieving. , I think that’s a good, mot good motivator. And I think, you know, connect, connect, connect up with me. If this is an area you’re really interesting because I’m trying to form a bit of a community of practice. You know, we’ve got, , I’ve tried, I’ve trialed doing like a comms data hack where we get a data set and we all then p you know, there’s, there’s no right or wrong, there’s no kind of success or failure really. It’s just people getting together who are interested in this to play with data, to start to explore what stories we might find in it in a kind of, you know, supportive environment of fellow professionals. So that’s something that I’m interested in doing more of. So if, if this sounds like something that, you know, you’re already playing with this, this, you’re already experimenting or you want to do it, , let’s connect up and, you know, it’d be great to hear through Comms Hero as well. You know, it’d be great to think there might be more people you’ll have on in the future who, who, who are kind of doing this and talking about this. Yeah. Cause , yeah, it’d be really great to see that.

Asif Choudry (32:54):

Yeah. We might get you on to a Comms zero week session for our, , virtual event later in the year, a session dedicated to a comms hero data hackathon type thing. So let’s see if we can, so speaking of Comm Zero, that’s why we’re here. , you know, why is Comms Hero as a community important to you? And would you recommend people working in comms and marketing to be part of Alex?

Alex Waddington (33:19):

Well, I was, you know, kind of, , looking through the, through the archives before I came on and just, you know, the, the, the sheer depth of expertise and knowledge and experience that you’ve cur curated that we have is, is, I mean, it’s so powerful and it’s, it’s pretty unique as well. I think, you know, I think, I think you’d, you’d acknowledge that. So I think, , that the opportunity to get inspiration and, and hear different perspectives and, and, you know, the, the just, you know, be inspired is, is is why it is great for me. And, , you know, the, that the, having that, having that resource, , you know, available at your fingertips, , whatever stage of career you are at, because I think, you know, I think clearly you’ve, you’ve, as you’ve said, you’ve had, you’ve had people on of all different experiences and levels, and I think, you know, you can learn a lot from people who are, you know, just coming into the profession or at different stages as well. So I think that diversity of voice and experience that you have is I, is great. So I’d recommend, , I’d absolutely recommend it to anybody, whatever, whatever stage of, , you know, their, their career they’re at, , you know, dip in. And I think one of the things I enjoy doing is just, just, you know, picking, looking at something that particular podcast, you know, and going, okay, that sounds really interesting. I wouldn’t necessarily have normally listen to that, but I’m gonna give it a go. Yeah. And you’d learn loads. So, yeah. Brilliant.

Asif Choudry (34:42):

Thank you. Appreciate that, Alex. And it’s important you said, you know, you want people to connect to with you, and that’s something I urge all the listeners to do. So what your social handles, where are people gonna find you?

Alex Waddington (34:52):

Yeah, I’m, , I, I’m on Mend on LinkedIn. That’s, that’s mainly where I am these days. , so Alex, , Alex Waddington, , just looked me up. And, , you’ll see, , if, if it says I help people use data and data analysis to, , to connect with audiences, , that’s me. You’ll see my picture. It should be fairly obvious. So drop me a, drop me a line. , I am on, I’m on Twitter a little bit, not, not as frequent as I should be, and it’s a bit of a mix of my, some of my non-work stuff. But, , it’s the Alex, w d u b y a, so, so you can give that a go as well. But yeah, LinkedIn is, is really where, where you’ll mainly find me, , post quite a lot on there, try and give interesting kind of case studies as well of how people can, how people in comms and PR can use data. So give me a follow, drop me a line,

Asif Choudry (35:44):

Brilliant. And you’ll find this podcast on Spotify, apple, or your chosen platform. And, , on our website com zero.com. You can follow us on twitter.com zero. If you do listen on Apple or Spotify, please do leave a rating and review. That’s really important. And hit the follow and subscribe button as well, so you get the new episodes that come out every two weeks. So Alex, it’s been an absolute pleasure educational for me as well. And, , , I’m sure many people will connect to you and thanks for coming on.

Alex Waddington (36:11):

Thanks. It’s been a pleasure.