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

  • Score. I’m some what neutered in math due to my trying to take Calculus my Freshman year in college (it didn’t end well).

    However, I do understand the necessary math to break down marketing charts, ROI, and trending news/information. Without that base line knowledge I could NOT do my job. Math is essential…we in PR just like to call it something else though usually 😉

  • I remember taking PR in college and hearing the outrage and protest when math was part of an assignment (NB: Everyone actually had to *pass* a math test to get into the Algonquin PR program)

    I think it’s a mental block with PR people more so than not having the skills. I always think I’m bad at math, but really when I understand the value and reason behind it, I *like* calculating statistics or doing analysis. I guess it’s fitting that I ended up at a PR measurement firm (MediaMiser)!

    But great point Dave, and note to PR people everywhere, math is fun (and easy) when you understand the purpose of it!

  • Good post, however it does bring back trauma from my Grade 13 Calculus class which like Stuart above, did not end well (dropped the course and took American History instead).

    I am fortunate to come from a family of chartered accountants, I can do the math needed for PR, understand a balance sheet and put together a budget.

  • Excellent post, Dave. You’re so right. PR people and journalists alike really need to be comfortable with numbers. I cringe every time I see someone use the word “rate” mistakenly, for example.

    I was not thrilled with a statistics class in grad school, but I’m glad it was required.

  • I’ve written about PR and maths several times myself – but note that you miss one of the most important reason for understanding numbers:

    Budgeting and accounting – this is a real strategic stumbling block for PR practitioners if they cannot understand let alone discuss the financials with their senior colleagues. At the more tactical level, we need to put together budgets and manage the money for campaigns and departments to be taken seriously.

  • Heather – you’re absolutely, 100% right about that. What’s more, we need to go beyond our own departments and campaigns and be able to understand business financials if we want PR to have a seat at the senior management table.

  • Right on Dave. I’m thinking that the PR Pocket protector might be a good giveaway at the next tradeshow 😉

    Thanks for mentioning the webtrends integration. Most folks are used to tracking specific links coming back to their website but where this gets cool is that you can now track how the greater conversation in the social web is driving visits (visits by topic in a way.) Of course you can reverse this too and figure out which words or phrases drive the most interest to your site as well (a great mix of numbers and words 🙂

    The other cool aspect of measuring the numbers also lies in the Salesforce integration we also announced at the same time. But I won’t spill the guts on that one here (needless to say lots more cool ways to measure the numbers related to social media efforts.)



  • Heather beat me to the punch. Understanding a balance sheet, a P&L statement, that’s the math that really matters. Not to minimize your examples, Dave, because they are good ones, but you really can’t emphasize enough how important it is to be able to talk intelligently about financials and business with senior management.


  • You bring up many excellent points in this post, Dave. Applicants for PR positions are often given writing tests. I wonder how many include math/analysis tests as well?

  • I, generally a math-hater (although I took and did quite well in a graduate-level quantitative analysis class that include statistical analysis via SPSS), somewhat begrudgingly agree with you, Dave. The good news is, though, that many of the most essential math tasks that a PR pro may face are achievable so long as one can balance his/her checkbook (something I’ve got down to a science at this point). And no matter what profession you’re in, you should be able to balance your checkbook anyway. 😉

  • We’re doing PR students a disservice by not including analytics, research and analysis in coursework. I suffered from that same deficiency until I worked for a marketing firm, where we lived and died by the numbers. It was a very valuable work that showed, yet again, that we can’t divide the work between these silos of PR, marketing, advertising, sales and (oh my!) social media.

    It’s not cross-training, it’s seeing the whole picture.

  • Wow, did you ever miss the most important reasons why PR people need math .. so you can calculate weighted blended rates when asked, designing event budgets that come in under 10 percent of estimates, looking at agency capacity vs. actual client work, calculating growth on accounts year after year, comparing salaries against billable time, reading P&L statements, reading a clients annual report numbers, creating realistic budget retainers for clients … the list goes on and on and on ……. the more senior a PR person gets in an organization (especially agency side) the more math becomes your friend! Nice post dave …

  • Right on Dave! Measurement Matters! A lot!


    So there. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.) 😉

    I suspect those of us who got into the black arts of business (marketing, PR, community building, etc.) via less formal channels are at an even greater disadvantage.

    I didn’t get much practical business learnin’ in school, and while I’ve learned plenty since on the job, you tend to learn what people need you to learn/do, not what would probably prove handy long-term (unless they know they’re going to need you to do that stuff, too).

    Additionally, at bigger companies, more analytical tasks are likely done by others (mid-level management, in my experience), or, in small companies, possibly not at all, depending on how early-stage they are.

    Don’t know what’s to be done for those already out in the workforce, aside from taking the bull by the horns yourself. Certainly something for companies to keep in mind for their leaders of tomorrow, though — co-ops, new grads, etc., if there are useful skills missing from their quivers to make them more effective and valuable employees.

  • As a student nearly 25 years ago, I never realized the value of the statistics class the communications department at Illinois State required. In my 20+ years working in PR I appreciate it. One other big math need in PR – how to build an accurate budget. I’m amazed at how challenging this is for many.

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