Yes, PR pros, you DO use math—and more so than you realize

Sure, you focus on quality, but quantity matters, too. Think about reach, placements, ROI and more metrics than you can count on one sliderule. And then there’s geometry…


Who remembers sitting in your [insert preferred mathematics class here] thinking, “When in the name of Merlin’s beard am I ever going to use this absurd theorem in real life? This feels like a gigantic waste of time.

There was many an afternoon when that thought went through my head, which may explain why I chose a less numerically minded career path.

Here’s the rub:

The closer I look at everything we do here at AirPR (and everything PR pros do in general), the more I realize just how intertwined math is in our day-to-day work. From time management to data visualizations that allow audiences to extract meaning from numbers, math is everywhere.

PR measurement guru Shonali Burke sums it up nicely: “If you’re managing a client’s budget, you’re doing math. If you’re using data points to pitch a story, you’re doing math. If you’re managing a research project which comprises surveys, you’re doing math. If you’re running your own PR business, you’re absolutely doing math.

“When measuring PR, even if your metrics are primarily output metrics, you’re doing math,” she adds. “What else would you call counting all those impressions, hits, and followers? I think many [PR] pros think ‘differential calculus’ or other complicated functions when they hear ‘math.’ However, regular math? Everyone does it without even knowing it, so it’s time to stop being frightened of it!”

We couldn’t have said it better ourselves, Shonali.

To boost your computational confidence, we tapped a few mathematically minded folks to help uncover five hidden ways PR pros are using math.

1. Probability theory and classification

To see these two principles in action, look at the intrinsic ranking methods used to identify priorities and hierarchies before, during and after PR campaigns. Not every PR activity gets the same amount of attention or time dedicated to it.

By weighting outputs, ranking outlets and making explicit choices to use some words or messages more than others, you’re enacting the underlying principles of probability theory and classification.

2. Multiplication and other arithmetical functions

Ever find yourself calculating the percentage change in a PR metric over time? What about looking at shifts in company share price? All these activities require the application of basic arithmetic.

Google Analytics advocate Adam Singer says: “Determining ROI of a campaign or understanding the statistical significance of a test are table stakes skills for communications pros. Even if your area of focus doesn’t involve these things today, it likely will in the near future. This is a good thing, as the more we can hone our craft to be as much science as art, the larger our budgets will get.”

3. Calculus and geometry

Visual content is everywhere, and non-number-minded folks are likely to point to imagery as more of their jam. It might come as a surprise to visually driven individuals that all visuals (e.g., graphs and pie charts) are tapping calculus and geometry to tell their stories.

Visuals make it easier to extract meaning from numbers while providing indicators of rates of change, growth in profit, etc. Don’t ever say geometry never did anything for you.

4. Statistics

AirPR Software Engineer and self-proclaimed math enthusiast Ryan Rapp astutely pointed out the applications of statistics in PR. “Statistics answers the question of how many of X do we need before results are reliable and perhaps repeatable.”

He goes on to say, “When you look at a lot of articles, you can find labels and apply designations to subsets of placements, like this 20 percent of outlets are generating leads, that 80 percent are perpetuating a specific message, etc.”

5. Combinatorics

Though complicated to pronounce, this one is easy to understand. Combinatorics is used to calculate degrees of separation and maximum reach within audiences according to how interconnected those groups are.

Think about the network effect. Combinatorics gives you a sense of how information can theoretically spread across different groups. When you engage influencers or target specific journalists, you’re calling on the power of combinatorics to help you realize the greatest reach and impact of your work.

“Doing math” doesn’t necessarily mean busting out a protractor, figuring out the statistical significance of a subset of data points, or living in Excel-land. It simply means acknowledging the quantitative underpinnings of PR’s often-qualitative work.

Everyone does math, so let’s embrace the power of the discipline-even if only to embolden and empower the number-crunching prowess that lurks deep down within every PR pro.

Say it with me now: “I am a PR pro, and I can do math.”

A version of this article first appeared on the AirPR blog.

Topics: PR

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