Stand By Your Numbers

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As public relations professionals, we help our clients distill large numbers down to easy-to-understand, digestible nuggets for the general public — and it’s imperative those numbers are based in fact. If not, all the passion for the cause is trumped by loss of credibility.

Pulitzer Prize winning author Nicholas Kristof asserts that advocates should never undermine the trustworthiness of their cause by cherry-picking evidence … or exaggerating numbers to make a more compelling case.

Throughout history, effective social change is made by acquiring evidence and meticulously showcasing facts. Once that’s accomplished, you harness your passion to tell the story in a tone and style that works best for your key audiences. (That’s where public relations can help.)

For example, look how Great Britain abolished slavery in 1833 (32 years before the U.S. ended it). Abolitionist Thomas Clarkson diagrammed a slave ship, the Brookes, and made posters detailing how it loaded 482 slaves. He painstakingly detailed how the vessel packed human beings into terribly inhumane confined spaces. The ship actually had carried 600 slaves, but Clarkson erred on the conservative side to ensure credibility. He also went to great measures to clearly explain to everyday people what the conditions were like on slave ships and plantations.

Says Kristof about this campaign:

“It’s a useful lesson that what ultimately mattered wasn’t just the abolitionists’ passion and moral conviction but also the meticulously amassed evidence of barbarity.”

Ultimately, in order to implement social change you must be relentless in standing by your numbers. Combining facts and research with passion for the cause and clear language is the key to making this happen.


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