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Launching a Public Relations Campaign for Statistics: What Better Time Than the ASA’s 175th Anniversary?

1 June 2014 One Comment
Nathaniel Schenker

Nathaniel Schenker

Mary Kwasny

Mary Kwasny

In this, the ASA’s 175th year, your association will launch a campaign to elevate public and media awareness of statistical science and change the public’s perception of statisticians by educating them about the many ways we help solve policy, research, business, and other problems.

This public relations campaign is managed by a work group comprised of several members of the ASA Board of Directors. Mary Kwasny, the board’s second-year Council of Chapters representative, is the group’s chair. Other members are Janet Buckingham, Dick De Veaux, Nick Horton, and Jeri Mulrow.

I recently sat down with Mary to get an update on this exciting campaign, which ties into the anniversary theme: “Celebrate Our Past, Energize Our Future.” Our conversation follows.

Schenker: What is the purpose of the ASA’s new public relations campaign?

Kwasny: The primary objective of the campaign, the association’s first of this type, is to encourage high-school and undergraduate students to study statistics, or even major in it, in college. Its secondary objectives are to promote the importance of statistical literacy and to raise the media’s awareness of the importance of statistics and statisticians and the role of the ASA.

Not coincidentally, each of these objectives corresponds with key components of the ASA’s strategic plan (see “Increasing the Visibility of the Profession”).

Schenker: How was this strategy determined?

Kwasny: The selection of the campaign theme was made by the ASA Board of Directors. Key staff—Executive Director Ron Wasserstein, Director of Science Policy Steve Pierson and Public Relations Coordinator Jeff Myers—presented several potential themes to the board at its summer meeting last year. Following a great discussion, board members decided a campaign focused primarily on students and career opportunities in statistics was perfectly timed. Our public relations consultancy has reaffirmed the viability of this student-focused theme.

Schenker: Why the focus on students? Who else will the campaign reach?

Kwasny: We all know demand for statisticians has grown and continues to grow. Currently, we are not training enough new statisticians to meet this demand. Sadly, most students don’t think about statistics as a career choice. I didn’t at that age, and now when I speak at career days, most students are surprised statistics offers so much opportunity. To make matters worse, many parents and other influencers hold misperceptions of the statistical profession, and such bias can affect a student’s college decision. We will change this dynamic by communicating that careers in statistics are interesting, rewarding, and fun. We will communicate directly with students and those who influence their college major decisions, including their parents, high-school and college statistics instructors, high-school counselors, and college career-counselors.

Even among students who decide to major in another subject, our campaign will impress upon them the importance of statistical literacy, especially since nearly every discipline is using data to solve problems.

Last, the media will carry our campaign’s messages to our audiences and simultaneously learn about statisticians and the ASA. It is critical for reporters to understand how to identify good data, interpret statistical results, and accurately report statistical information. We want journalists to know it is easy to incorrectly report statistical information or receive biased statistics. We also want them to know how to find ASA experts who are available to provide impartial guidance on a wide range of topics.

Schenker: Why now?

Kwasny: Why not! It is either purely coincidental or predestined that the year of the ASA’s 175th anniversary is ripe for educating students about the plentiful, well-paying, and personally rewarding careers available in statistical science. This campaign will energize our future. After all, students and their parents are anxious about making the right choice for a college major and career. By trumpeting the fact that there is huge demand for statisticians in the job market, we can help statistical science become a more attractive career choice for students. In essence, we’re striking while the proverbial iron is hot!

Schenker: Is the ASA developing and managing this campaign on its own?

Kwasny: No. We distributed a request for proposals to numerous DC-area public relations firms and ultimately selected Stanton Communications, an award-winning firm, to help us develop and implement this campaign. We are excited about this relationship because Stanton has considerable experience in education and nonprofits—both of which are important to the success of the ASA campaign. And, their representatives’ expertise in these areas came to the fore as we developed the overarching campaign plan.

Schenker: What primary messages will be communicated to the audiences?

Kwasny: Stanton and the ASA have developed four core messages for the campaign that will drive messaging in all communications resources developed for the campaign. Those are:

1. “Statistics is not what you think it is,” which challenges the misperceptions our audiences have about statistics.

2. “The field of statistics is broader and deeper than you imagine,” which introduces the diversity of our profession.

3. “Few career paths are as promising as those in the field of statistics,” which testifies to the rising demand for statisticians.

4. “Statistical literacy is critical to everyday life,” which relates the rising importance of being statistically savvy in one’s personal and professional life.

Each of the core messages is complemented by sub-messages that will appeal to each audience segment.

Schenker: Who will be the face of the campaign?

Kwasny: Just like statistics, the campaign will have multiple faces. We are developing profiles of young statisticians in “cool” positions with whom our primary audience—high-school and undergraduate students—can better relate. Their stories, enthusiasm, and excitement for our profession will have a positive impact on students and persuade many to explore the exciting career opportunities that await them in statistics.

Schenker: When will we launch the campaign?

Kwasny: In early August, so we can tap into the back-to-school focus.

Schenker: How will the campaign connect with its intended audiences?

Kwasny: The campaign’s communications centerpiece will be a website that will serve as an informational clearinghouse. All communications materials will link readers to this website, where they will find in-depth information about statistics career options as well as videos, the earlier-mentioned statistician profiles, and more. We will use a range of communications tools to connect our audiences with our messages and the website. Since our primary audience is students, we will use social media to convey the benefits of a career in statistics. We also will pitch statistics career stories to main-stream media outlets, partner with relevant organizations such as associations for high-school guidance counselors, and even advertise in select publications that cater to our audiences.

Schenker: Is this a single-year undertaking?

Kwasny: In a word, no. To be successful in attaining our goals, it will be an ongoing, sustainable campaign supported by the ASA. It likely will take several years to reverse the public image of statistics and statisticians. So, this campaign is a long-term investment in raising the visibility of our profession with students, the public, and the media. Our preliminary plan for next year is to develop an implementation kit for ASA chapters that want to promote statistics and their members in their local areas. That’s a point when direct member involvement in the campaign will be required.

    As your president, I am excited about the direction the association is taking with this campaign, especially as we celebrate the ASA’s 175th anniversary. The ASA Board of Directors’ decision a couple of years back to improve the association’s public profile is starting to take root. This campaign will help enhance our profession’s image and make statistics an appealing career choice. I encourage all ASA members to check out the campaign by visiting its website when it is launched in August. The launch and other campaign updates will be announced on the ASA website.

    We welcome your comments and suggestions. Please share your feedback by emailing Jeff Myers at jeffrey@amstat.org.

    Editor’s Note: Jeff Myers contributed to this column.

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