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Where are the PR Numerati? (Is Stephen Baker reading this?)

Have just finished reading senior Business Week writer Stephen Baker’s book, The Numerati. A great read – and worthy of several blog posts rather than just one. However, this quick precis (and experiment) will have to suffice for the moment.

The underlying premise of the book is that a combination of maths, monumental data gathering, smarter algorithms and human brains are taking an ever more powerful and influential role in modern society. At first glance, many might dismiss this as a familiar “geeks are going to rule the world” kind of argument. However, Baker is more specific – it’s the mathematicians and statisticians that are wielding the power – and the people who adopt their mindset.

The book goes into detail as to how technology, data and mathematics are having (and will have) an immense impact in various aspects of life such as shopping, politics, blogging, terrorism, healthcare, even romance. In short, the mathematical modelling of humanity.

However, in relation to the field of PR, it did remind me of something that I’ve been banging on about for some time – namely, where are PR’s algorithms? Where are PR’s mathematicians? What PR campaigns are being driven by the kind of data gathering, maths and analysis that is clearly being deployed in other areas of business?

Steve Rubel at Edelman talks about “ a dearth of geek marketers – those who use and understand online sharing tools but also know how to sell a brand”. I agree that this is part of the equation, but there is also a need for the mathematical and analytical mindset in PR that Stephen Baker talks about.

Interestingly, Baker was recently asked in a Bad Pitch Blog interview if there was something he wished all PR people would do (besides leave the face of the earth)?

He replied: “In my dreams, they’d all have read everything I’ve written and understand in great detail the demands of each one of my channels. In other words, they’d quietly tee up just the kind of stories I want to write.”

Of course, even the most diligent PR these days is going to find it nigh on impossible to read everything about every relevant journalist on every relevant channel (the inability of human beings to even come close to digesting the data out there is a constant refrain in his book). Perhaps Baker was hinting that PR ought to be deploying the tools of the Numerati to analyse his output and to help shape the kind targetted PR he seeks? ie generating the kind of very specific and relevant subject lines he craves in PR e-mails.

On a slight tangent, the following is a little experiment.

I’m willing to bet that Stephen Baker has set up a Google alert for the term “The Numerati” – in which case, this blog post should be showing up in his Google Reader shortly. I’m also going to Tweet him directly to see if he responds (Hello Stephen – great book!). And by using the URL shortener, I’ll know how many people have been directed to this post via Twitter – and any ensuing conversation around it.

FYI, as I have a track record in building out journalist profiles via Twitter, I’m just wondering what some savvy mathematician would make of the following that might help better inform a PR approach to him?

Number of pages referencing Stephen Baker at Business = 4.010
Reference to the term Numerati over the last 12 months (allowing for the fact that is is a common Italian word)

Twitter profile

BusinessWeek writer, author of The Numerati (2008)
Location: Montclair, NJ
Time Zone: Eastern Time (US & Canada)
Joined: Tue 08 Jan 2008 20:31
Following: 195
Followers: 2276
Updates: 927
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3 replies on “Where are the PR Numerati? (Is Stephen Baker reading this?)”

Andrew Smith tickled my fractal with his post yesterday “Where are the PR Numerati?” (and here on MarCom Professional). Why? Because he’s right and I’m numerate and I’m in PR. His post was prompted by the August 2008 book “The Numerati” by senior Business Week writer Stephen Baker.

Public relations had been boiled down to a very simple process by the end of the 1990s. Journalists write the papers and magazines the public reads. The PRs know the journalists. The clients retain the PR professionals.

That simple world is no more. I don’t mean that traditional media relations no longer exists, only that it is now just a sub-set of a far more complex map of exerting influence.


Glad I tickled your fractal 😉

Another recently published book I’d recommend is Performance Leadership by Oracle’s Frank Buytendijk – lots of excellent material on measurement and behaviour. As Frank says, measurement drives behaviour regardless of what is being measured. Stephen Baker’s book also spends a lot of time looking at how maths and analysis is being used to model behaviour – if PR is about influencing behaviour, then it ill behooves anyone in PR to turn a blind eye to the work that is being done in the realm of maths/analytics.

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