When I give lectures on Bad PR, I often highlight that the statistics shown in PR surveys are rarely if ever the point of the story, they’re merely the detail that serves as a delivery mechanism for the main commercial message.
One of the ways you can test whether that’s true of any given story is to ask whether, if the figures and findings in the story were entirely reversed, it would appreciably change the main thrust of the story. Take, for example:
More than half of men say they would rather spend time with their best friend than their wives or girlfriends
It is the flashpoint for countless domestic rows – and now a survey has shown just how many men would rather be with their pals than their partners.
Of 1,500 men, more than half – 54 per cent – said they would prefer to spend time with their friends than their wives or girlfriends.
And perhaps unsurprisingly, 44 per cent of men have argued with their other halves about the amount of time they spend with their mates.Source: Daily Mail, 8th June 2019
This story about friendships between men is brought to you by the DVD release of a film about two men who formed a close double-act:
The study was released to mark the DVD release of the Steve Coogan film Stan & Ollie, about the friendship between Laurel and Hardy.
It’s therefore not a surprise to see that the story supports the premise that men form close friendships. In this story, the claim is that 56% of men said they preferred to spend time with their friend rather than their partner (note: that’s just over half of men, in a question that was 50-50). But if the finding was that 2 in 3 men had that preference, would that change the reporting of the story?
In fact, what if the data had said the opposite – that men preferred the company of their partners to their friends – would this be an issue for this particular story? Or would the headline “1 in 3 men say they prefer their friends” or even “20% of men prefer their friends” just as easily support the narrative of the article?