Random number syndrome is amazingly frustrating. It’s the ability to present information without any real frame of reference so it sounds impressive even when it isn’t.
It’s used a lot in PR and marketing to make something sound impressive but in actual fact is a bit pointless. We’ve all seen adverts for face cream that assert 90pc of (just 80) respondents agreed that it softens the appearance of wrinkles but you don’t know how they phrased the question and what the average is for marketing surveys, which ask the question in the best way to get the desired result.
And it’s used in PR reporting too. I’ve worked in rather too many agencies, both big and small, and they all have tended to say what they’ve done (releases / articles / interviews etc) and how many clips they’ve generated. There’s no frame of reference to say if that number of clips is good and there certainly isn’t any attempt to say if this had a good effect on the business. This is starting to change and many agencies have become more focused on creating campaigns that have objectives, with measurable outcomes. There’s even an industry body, AMEC, that promotes this and it’s one I’m proud to say I’m a member of.