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Work & Wellbeing Business Leadership The Future of Work

Maths skills are still being overlooked in the advertising world – and it’s a problem

May 16, 2023 | 7 min read

Mark Lindsay, director at Experian Marketing Services and Member of the National Numeracy Leadership Council highlights the importance of maths in the creative industries.



It won’t surprise you to hear me say that great marketing and advertising needs great creative and great insight, but there is an extra component required that I don’t think gets enough recognition in the UK. It may surprise you that that extra element is maths!

Whether you are looking for a career in marketing or advertising or maybe you already work in the industry and want to develop your career; how do you feel about maths?

As we approach National Numeracy Day, I want to highlight the importance of numeracy for everyone – but in particular for people in creative industries. Some two million people work in creative jobs in the UK – with over 10% of these working in marketing and advertising.

Numeracy in the UK is a significant issue. Half of all adults in the UK have the numeracy level of a primary school child. The estimate is that poor numeracy is costing our economy in the region of £25bn a year. That is the cost of more than 86,000 houses every year.

Working with numbers is an important skill for marketers and advertising practitioners even though only 20% of adults believe that maths is important for creative jobs such as marketing and advertising.

Numeracy skills are essential in the world of marketing and advertising. Marketers and advertisers must review data, create budgets, and track their campaigns. All of these tasks require a solid understanding of mathematical concepts.

Data is now a crucial aspect of marketing and advertising. A marketing professional must be able to use numerical data to determine what is working and what is not. They must be able to identify trends, correlations and other valuable insights that can inform their campaigns. Numeracy skills allow them to accurately interpret data, identify patterns, and make data-driven decisions that can lead to better outcomes.

Creating budgets also requires strong numeracy skills. A marketer must be able to determine how much money is needed for a particular campaign and where that money should be allocated. They must be able to calculate the return on investment of their advertising spend.

Tracking campaigns is another area where numeracy skills are essential. A marketer must be able to monitor key performance metrics such as click-through rates, conversion rates, and customer engagement rates. They must be able to use these metrics to adjust the campaign in real-time or to report on the success of the campaign to their superiors.

If all these maths requirements seem daunting, you are not alone – huge numbers of people in the UK lack number confidence. Frustratingly, and seemingly unique to the UK, there is a perception that being “not good with numbers” is ok – and we hear people (and people of influence) make that claim all the time.

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Unfortunately, many have negative math experiences as a child – and this can lead to low levels of number confidence.

This lack of number confidence means that lots of people avoid jobs they perceive to depend on maths – indeed over half of young adults say they have avoided a job, interview or qualification because it may have involved maths.

Ironically, these views lead to people heading for ‘creative’ jobs thinking they can avoid maths but as I pointed out above, a good understanding of numbers is important to progress a career in marketing and advertising.

Additionally, there is a gender bias at play with women being twice as anxious as men about using maths.

This exasperates the issue in creative industries which often have a higher percentage of women than men. Indeed in 2021, the IPA said 63% of all employees in marketing and advertising agencies were female.

So to improve the numeracy skills among our creative industries we need to address a number of factors …

  • Bust the myth that maths ability is fixed – everyone can improve their numeracy skills

  • Recognize that career development within creative roles benefits from improving numeracy skills

  • Encourage everyone to have the confidence to take the first step

  • Ban the phrase “I am just not good at maths”!

By the way, if you are wondering, this all links to Experian’s own purpose: to improve financial health. Financial health is directly related to career prospects and as you can see above, in the creative world, career prospects can be limited without number confidence and numeracy skills. It is all connected.

National Numeracy Day (May 17) is a fantastic event that focuses the whole nation on the numeracy crisis. So this week is a perfect week to make a call to arms …

Marketing and advertising industry – let’s not shy away from maths and numbers - the personal development of employees depends on your support. Why not promote the National Numeracy Challenge to your staff and networks this week?

For everyone who works in the industry already or has ambitions to do so …

No matter your gender, age or history, you can improve your maths skills. Start this week, find a little spare time and do the National Numeracy Number Challenge.

When you have done that, congratulations – your journey to improved numeracy skills, a successful career in marketing and advertising and better financial health will have begun.

Work & Wellbeing Business Leadership The Future of Work

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