Chart Porn and the PR Condition

chartsWhen you bring hundreds of communicators together over two days for a conference on PR Measurement in Philadelphia, it gets interesting in a way the founding fathers never anticipated. “It’s like one big therapy session here,” noted measurement expert Katie Paine, in reference to the discourse among PR News Measurement Conference attendees of the many challenges—new and old—facing practitioners every day.

The mountains of data at our fingertips is daunting. The expectations of the C-suite are higher than ever. And the changing nature of “Relations” in Public Relations puts communicators to the test every day.

Which brings me to porn.

I separated that sentence for effect, I admit. By porn, though, I am referring to what Johna Burke of BurrellesLuce referred to as “chart porn” during the aforementioned therapy session. Are we becoming so obsessed with dashboards, data sets, charts, graphs and the like that we are forgetting what we are here to do as communicators? Burke rightly asks whether the “graphic seduction of public relations” is getting in our way. It might be.

There is a growing tendency to overuse data and graphics to prove a point that might not even be worth proving, and to underuse good old-fashioned human thinking and storytelling. The data we get from myriad sources can give a false sense that getting from Point A to Point B is a straight line.

All too often, communicators in their reporting to senior management, clients and other stakeholders, will let the data speak for itself. Data doesn’t speak.

It’s time for communicators to dig into the key metrics that matter for their organization and to tell their story in a concise and captivating matter. To get in front of the data and not hide behind it.

Most importantly, there’s never a better time than now to demonstrate that you’re not so bad at math after all. At almost every conference I attend, someone invariably notes that “those who fail at math go into PR.” There’s a nervous laugh in the room, then people start recalling with scorn their fifth grade math teacher.

With data a bigger part of what we work with every day, becoming proficient in the numbers and analytics (the math) is undoubtedly imperative. As you sharpen your number-crunching, don’t forget how much you kick butt at storytelling and that you can recite all seven of the Barcelona Principles.

– Diane Schwartz

@dianeschwartz