Fastest-growing” this,
“Biggest-dropping” that
Always be wary
Of any hyphenated stat

Of all the numeracy tips that I’ve shared with reporters and publicists, in training sessions and columns, this one about “fastest-growing” claims is certainly in the Top 5.

In the PR world, abusing and misusing the phrase leaves the user open to attack as either sloppy, deceitful, or both.

So in April, I couldn’t help but notice this assertion on the home page of 5W, a PR agency based in the Big Apple.

“Headquartered in New York, with an office in Los Angeles, 5W Public Relations has been named the fastest growing PR firm in the US for the past three years.”

I e-mailed the firm’s president and CEO, Ronn Torrosian, complimenting him on a piece he wrote on Bulldog Reporter’s Daily Dog, which is what had brought me to his website in the first place.

I then cited the fastest-growing passage on the home page, adding:

“It’s not clear who has named your firm fastest growing, since it’s in passive voice. Also, it’s pretty hard to maintain such a title more than once, let alone three times. Is there a missing prepositional phrase, such as “among the fastest growing….”?

Torrosian thanked me for the note, then addressed my question with sentences so brief they’d make Ernest Hemingway blush:

“Check Odwyers. 3 years in a row. Not among. Fastest. 3 years in a row. “

Of course, being a longtime reporter, I couldn’t resist checking with O’Dwyer’s, which covers the public relations industry. Greg Hazley, a senior editor at O’Dwyer’s, promptly furnished me with figures noting that 5WPR had, indeed, been #1 in growth for three years running.

[Communication tip: this is where it pays to be mindful of the potential flaws in your suspicions. In my initial note to Ronn, I’d hedged my skepticism, stating that it may well be that the firm had indeed earned the Hallowed Hyphenate three times running (“Triple-kudos in that case!” I told him.]

A post-script: in April, in providing me with data showing 5WPR’s three-peat, O’Dwyer’s also noted this detail: the firm had been toppled the previous month from its fastest-growing perch. Hardly any shame in that, given the increasing difficulty to keep growing at such a torrid pace and from an ever-rising base figure.

Here it is June 20. Another two months have come and gone. And a review of the firm’s site shows that it has not yet changed the wording from “past three years” to something like “for three straight years, from 2005 through 2007,” so a visitor might be left with the impression that the company remains the reigning “fastest-growing” PR champ.

Really, though, I don’t blame Ronn for letting the murky phrase linger a wee bit longer. One can grow mightily attached to glowing characterizations about one’s self and/or firm.

Now, about the prolonged, abbreviated sentence structure he employs in e-mails to pesky numeracy trainers/journalists-turned-upstart publicists: Those. Simply. Have. To go.

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