Think PR People Don’t Need Math? Think Again

Public relations folks aren’t generally very good at math, according to their reputation, anyway. They’re creative people, you see? They work magic with words; they build relationships with people; they persuade people. So what if they’re no good with numbers?

I argue: it matters. A lot.

Here are just a few of the tasks that you need basic math to accomplish:

  • Social media and traditional media audits
  • MRP analysis
  • Social/traditional media monitoring analysis
  • Situational analysis for plans
  • Any kind of statistical analysis for data-based news releases
  • Market research analysis/recommendations

Get my point? “I’m no good with numbers” just doesn’t cut it.

I’ll admit it – I’m a math nut. I’ve worked as a data analyst and I nearly took a math degree (deciding instead to shoot for business) so I have a bit of an affinity for this stuff. Regardless, if you work in communications and you break into a sweat at the first sight of a graph, you need to study-up FAST if you want to progress.

No, just being able to create a graph in Excel does not cut it. Data alone does nothing. You need to be able to analyze that data. It’s not rocket science, but at a minimum you really should be able to, for example:

  • Compare two sets of numbers and calculate the percentage difference between the two
  • Know that 100% growth is different to 100% of something
  • Conduct simple statistical analyses of data – is there a trend?

In reality, we as a profession need to raise our game beyond statistical basics. We can’t just think about the numbers after the fact – a results focus needs to feature in every aspect of our work; especially online where data is so readily available. It takes planning and forethought to cut through the mass of data and turn it into useful, actionable, relevant information.

For a great example of how we should be building analysis points into all of our campaigns, check out this excellent post on integrating and Google Analytics in a campaign. It shows a relatively simple process for integrating basic analytics into the links we publish on different social media platforms.

Results matter. That means numbers matter, and you need to know how to handle them.

Are you up-to-speed on these skills? How have you found ways to integrate analysis throughout your plans?

(Update: Radian6 just announced new features on their platform that may make this process easier – check out the Radian6 post on web analytics integration)

66 Responses toThink PR People Don’t Need Math? Think Again

  • Wendi Taylor Nations
    ago11 years

    Dave Fleet is absolutely right. It’s not about understanding a blended rate or building a budget [DF: comment edited to comply with comment policy].

    It’s about understanding strategy: HR strategy, legal strategy, finance strategy, etc. Financial Dynamics just did a study about how communications people are involved in business strategy. The discussion at last week’s PR Council/PRSA breakfast devolved a bit into whining about why we aren’t included. Someone from Northwestern’s undergrad biz school made the point that MBAs who understand the bigger business picture are absent from the discussion. He’s right. Our industry has abandoned, or never embraced, bigger picture business thinking. And that MUST change.

  • Great post.

    I have a related beef – which is that PR people too often draw conclusions based on inadequate sample sizes. Reading two stories about something does not equate to understanding a trend.

    Before numbers can be crunched and trends analyzed, the volume of data needs to be substantive and comprehensive. I think too many PR folks out there are making willy-nilly guesses based on very partial sample sizes (a story they read; what a single exec whispered in their ear was important).

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