Overtime statistics add up to a poor PR analysis

The real take away from the survey conducted by online food site, www.Just-Eat.co.uk, is yet another torturous misuse of statistical analysis. 

The claim of an average 4 hours extra unpaid work per week is not clearly explained.  Is it an arithmetic mean calculation, originating by adding up all the answers given and dividing by the 1,663 participants in the survey?  That seems odd presuming there wasn’t an option to record a minus figure for skiving off early.

The implication that the report tries to generate is that most people are working a considerable amount of time without being paid – actually calculated at £1.5bn unpaid labour per week (based on the average national salary of £23,450 – itself a pretty useless average mean).

Why not present a median average – identifying the mid-point showing that half the population work more than this and half clock in fewer overtime hours?  Or state the mode average which would indicate the figure that is most commonly worked in overtime.

Better still – I’d like to know how many people arrive at work and leave at their scheduled hours within this survey.  We are told that 71% of respondents “regularly work through lunch breaks” – but what does that mean?  Regularly is a subjective measure – and how do we know they don’t go home early instead?

Okay, so the truth is this survey is nothing more than the usual type of “PR survey” – more about generating some coverage than revealing anything that is statistically robust.

This is underlined by the further “analysis” into cities that are above average on their average overtime.  But how many people actually participated in these cities – compared to the population of those cities.

There is a very tenuous link to the company behind the survey promoting its “easy online takeaway ordering” and claiming it had spotted a trend for takeaway orders from offices and other places of work at lunchtime and post-5pm.  The statistical nature of this “trend” is not clarified, but of course, the marketing inspired research proved it.

I recently assessed a student dissertation for the CIPR Diploma which claimed that numeracy was not rated highly as a required skill by PR practitioners.  Leaving aside the statistical validity of that “fact”, the misuse of maths in surveys within the PR world does nothing to demonstrate any real grasp of statistics.

This is important when real understanding of figures is required to justify a place among senior management by PR practitioners and also when they are involved in explaining complex financial data or other statistical information.

Another critical area comes in budgeting and I’m often surprised by how few practitioners seem to have any experience of putting together financial calculations for campaigns.

We often read criticisms about the standard of English in press releases and other communications, so perhaps it is not surprising that practitioners’ arithmetical abilities don’t add up either.

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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 “Overtime statistics add up to a poor PR analysis”

  1. Hi Heather, Good post. I agree with the statistical points you make relative to the survey and to the broader notion that the PR profession needs to be more numbers-savvy. Closely related is a need to understand basic business practices and terminology, and the need to do a better job with metrics and accountability. Here is a link to one of my first blog posts in 2006 covering this same subject. http://tiny.cc/v5t6U You only need to read through some of the Twitter conversations on social media ROI to quickly conclude many people simply do not understand the basic concept of ROI. As a profession it’s not clear we’re making much progress, or even have a plan to address the issue. My personal view is it needs to start at the University level. -Don B @donbart

  2. Don – you are absolutely right and I agree entirely with your earlier post. I was marking a student assignment last week that wrote about the ROI of media relations coverage in terms of the “advertising value equivalent” calculation (which was multiplied by three, just because…)

    The student had even done calculations on this basis – without understanding that the “investment” wasn’t the amount that would have been spent on advertising (at rate card) but the cost that was spent by the organisation in achieving that coverage. Assessing a “return” as being a dodgy calculation on editorial coverage rather than a genuine outcome is another reason why PR practitioners aren’t taken seriously at the top table.

    But of course, the argument for undertaking AVE measurement etc is that it is what senior management want. Whereas of course what they want is a real reflection of why they should invest in PR over other strategies or tactics.

  3. On AVEs, I’m not sure senior management wants them per se. They want to see the business impact and ROI and many PR people use AVEs as the path of least resistance to monetization. Interesting that most PR agency people blame clients for requesting AVEs. IMO, we need to start showing the outcomes of PR, not trying to take short-cut and flawed methods for going from outputs to dollar value. -Don B

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