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Using Statistics in PR: New Guide Available, Dealing with Stilted Language

By on Thursday, September 15, 2011

Statistics can be critically important to constructing a story pitch, writing a news release, or explaining an issue to the public. Statistics can convey the importance of a story by reaching beyond the anecdotal and describing a trend or new research. But if those numbers don’t hold muster and aren’t valid, they can damage both the story and an organization’s reputation with the media and the public.

A new best practices guide on using statistics in public relations is now available online for free from the Public Relations Society of America and the American Statistical Association. It’s blissfully brief, at only 3 pages, but loaded with good advice on how to best use numbers to share your story.

A couple of key points that jumped out to me when I read the guide were:

  • Using graphics to communicate results often helps make them easier to understand. It is best, however, to make sure they are clear in terms of the main points you are making about the statistics. Remember, it is less about the numbers, and more about what they mean to the audience.
  • Run your insights from the data by the person who actually did the research to be sure the data support its interpretation and use.

I’ve been in situations where researchers, at times, hindered the effectiveness of a news release by insisting on using very stilted and academic language. The resulting news release draft was so loaded with gobbledy-gook, no one could understand what it said. And I’ve also seen situations where PR staff valued a particular finding in a statistical report, that the researcher felt was not nearly as signficant as something else.

A press release and other media materials can accurately use statistics, and be written in a way that the general public understands – but getting there can be tough.

It’s important that communication/PR staff collaborate with researchers or statisticians on how numbers are presented in a story.  For nonprofit communicators, it helps to build positive relationships with the research staff in your organization. Often, I think researchers and PR staffs get into conflicts over language for news releases simply because they don’t understand the perspective each brings to the table.

It will also help if you can provide media training for research staff so they understand the perspective that the media bring to crafting stories and how to talk about their work with the press. Media training will help the researchers feel more confident about participating in media interviews and build their trust in the communications staff too.

Talk to Us: How have you used statistics used in your organization’s PR efforts? Do you have an example to share? Post your comments below.

Everyone wants to know what you think.

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