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In Defense of Data

I am not what you’d call a “numbers person.” The stress of calculating a waiter’s tip in my head is enough to make me stop eating out altogether. And even though I don’t even really know what Sudoku is—having to actually play it is my worst nightmare. (That statement is closer to reality than hyperbole.)
I am a word girl, through and through—which is why I do what I do. Every day on the job is filled with wordsmithing challenges, carefully crafted prose and lots and lots of reading.
But the ironic reality is that much of what I spend my days reading and writing about is numbers—data, percentages, statistics, survey results, increases, decreases, growth, cost, etc. Numbers are the backbone of the news, so as much as I’d like to avoid them altogether, the truth is I need them and I’ve learned to appreciate and value them.
In my opinion, when well-known investor Ann Winblad uttered the now famous words, “Data is the new oil,” during an interview on CNBC, she was right. Data is an invaluable tool for higher ed media relations and communications folks—and here are some ways we can all invest more to increase our chances of positive new coverage.

  • In every pitch you write, ask yourself if it could benefit from a data point or two. Maybe it’s internal data that would strengthen your case, or maybe you’ll need to look to external resources like studies by national organizations for the numbers you need. The extra research will be worth it if you can clearly provide context for why your story is important.

  • Make friends with your institutional research team, and make sure they understand the value data brings to media relations efforts. They often have the data you need and can control how quickly you are able to share it with reporters. Many of the incoming inquiries I receive from reporters are requests for institutional data points, and they usually require a quick turnaround. Being able to respond quickly and accurately is key to inclusion in a story; and can go a long way toward demonstrating you’re a solid source that can be counted on in deadline situations.

  • Use the data you see reported in news stories to shine a spotlight on your campus. For example, if you can identify a human story behind a particular data point at your institution, share it widely with reporters. If you have a faculty expert who can provide insight into what a new survey result reveals, capitalize on it.

Don’t get me wrong, you will never see me willingly play Sudoku. But I do have a deep appreciation for data and the power it holds in the media. And I bring numbers into every pitch possible—and more often than not, it’s the data-driven pitches that strike oil.