Published on June 17, 2015
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.”
I can honestly say that there were many an afternoon where that exact thought went through my head. Which may explain why I chose a less numerically minded career path.
But 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. 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.” she asserts.
“And when measuring PR, even if your metrics are primarily output metrics, you’re doing Math. 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.
In order to boost your computational confidence, we tapped a few mathematically minded folks to help uncover 5 hidden ways PR pros are using math.
1. Probability Theory & 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 totally enacting the underlying principles of Probability Theory and Classification. Go you!
2. Multiplication & Arithmetic
Ever find yourself calculating the percentage change in a PR metric over time? What about looking at shifts in company share price? All of these activities require the application of basic arithmetic or multiplication.
Google Analytics Advocate, Adam Singer, rightly states: “Determining ROI of a campaign or understanding the statistical significance of a test are all 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 & Geometry
Visual content is EVERYWHERE and non-number minded folk are likely to point to imagery as more of their jam. It might come as a surprise to visually driven individuals that all visualizations (e.g. graphs, pie charts, etc.) are tapping calculus and geometry to tell their stories. Visualizations 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.
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.”
Furthermore: “When you look at a lot of articles, you can find labels and apply designations to subsets of placements, like this 20% of outlets are generating leads, that 80% are perpetuating a specific message, etc.”
Don’t freak out. Though complicated to pronounce, this one is actually incredibly easy to understand. Combinatorics is used to calculate degrees of separation and maximum reach within audiences according to how interconnected those groups are. Think: the network effect. Combinatorics gives you a sense of how information can be 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.
See? You’re a total math rockstar!
At the end of the day, “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 if only to embolden and empower the number-crunching prowess that lurks deep down in every PR pro.
Say it with me now: “I AM A PR PRO AND I CAN TOTALLY DO MATH!”