Statistics lesson for Sheila’s Wheels

The latest release from Sheila’s wheels, that old favourite of dodgy extrapolation (and patronising women) is QUALITY TIME TO GO – and I’m afraid it’s time for another PR lesson in statistics.

To be interesting and relevant, it helps to have a majority of respondents supporting the point you are making.

In this case, research revealing “that almost half (45 per cent) of mums believe busy lifestyles are threatening the amount of time they can spend with their families” – means the majority (55 per cent) do not believe this – so there is no story here.

Likewise, “More than one in ten mums (11 per cent) offer their children lifts specifically so they can spend time talking to them” – so 89 per cent do not.

Surveys and statistics need to be used wisely by PR people if they are to have any value and not undermine the ability of the public, and journalists, to make decisions about important matters. 

Whether or not mothers are talking to their children in cars is frankly of little interest to anyone – but abusing statistics in an attempt to grab a bit of press coverage serves to belittle the value of real data for public relations practitioners who may genuinely need to convey numerical information.

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Heather Yaxley PhD

Dr. Heather Yaxley is passionate about sustainable careers, reflective practice and professional development. I am a rhizomatic educator, practitioner, consultant, academic and scholar. As a qualified academic, I teach the CIPR professional qualifications with PR Academy and have experience teaching at various Universities. I run the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA) and my own strategic consultancy. I was awarded by PhD researching Career Strategies in Public Relations by Bournemouth University in 2017. I'm a published author, with books, chapters and academic papers to my name.

6 thoughts on “Statistics lesson for Sheila’s Wheels”

  1. Well said Heather. Reminds me of the old saying – 60% of people are elliterate and the other 10% can’t count!!!

  2. Hi Heather, I agree with most of what you’ve said here. I think survey-led stories should be used more wisely and that stats used should be meaningful, or risk damage to perceptions of PR. However, I think some results that don’t represent the majority can still be news, provided they are interesting/unusual/relevant enough.

  3. Ella – you are quite right, and I was thinking this over the weekend when I heard that one third of hospices don’t have sufficient money to meet their needs at present.

    I was thinking more of these pseudo-surveys where regardless of the figures, they PR people are going to write a story.

    Although I suppose it also applies to more serious matters where statistics are used in a questionable manner to substantiate or disprove something. One of the articles that I’ve been using in the CIPR courses this year is from the Scotsman talking about the Kill Jill donor campaign and questioning why in such “social marketing” campaigns, the public is not given actual data on which to base decisions. There, it is much more powerful to imply action on a cause is essential rather than put it into the context of other “killers”.

    Mind you, when the “drug tzar” did that recently in saying that horse riding was more dangerous than taking ecstasy, he was pilloried. As they say, lies, damned lies and statistics.

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