PR Fish Bowl

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July 16, 2017

How To Make Surveys Work For PR

A brand-sponsored survey is a time-honored tool for public relations. But how do you ensure the success of a given survey? After all, if the questions are too obvious, it’s likely to be boring, but if the outcomes are unpredictable, could it backfire?
Like any PR vehicle designed to generate positive press response, the success of even an inexpensive omnibus survey begins with careful design and a strong media strategy. Here’s how to accomplish just that.

Craft surveys that will work hard for you.

Always begin at the end. 

Before you compose your questionnaire, determine what you want the survey to accomplish, what data is most meaningful to your brand, and what would interest relevant media. Some even go so far as to write an “ideal” press release in order to back into the right questions and methodology. For retail app client Retale, we look at the different ways shoppers connect with stores to find trends. As the company was preparing to launch its own Chat Bot, we undertook a study focusing on the popularity of Chat Bots, which set the brand up nicely with data points that made the launch announcement all the more interesting for press.

Don’t confuse PR and market research.

Sometimes a client will want to craft a survey to do double duty as a piece of customer research, or to involve the market research team in the survey design. We say, don’t try to combine the two. You’re more likely to end up with a muddle, or, in the best case, a piece of research that’s moderately informative about consumer attitudes but deathly boring to editorial media.

Get professional help.

A survey doesn’t have to be a $100,000 study by Gallup to be legitimate, but it should be designed and conducted by a reputable research company. Smart omnibus research providers like Toluna or SSI can take your survey from good to great, and they scream “legitimacy” where media are concerned. A professional provider conducting a nationally projectable survey (typically 1000 respondents) produces the kind of results reporters need for news. Additionally, with simple re-ordering of questions or answers and intuitive word tweaks, the pros can improve any questionnaire.  Professionals will also work with you to create the most economic survey, and importantly, help you understand the data once it’s been collected. Beware of the client who wants to survey his own customers or conduct a website poll. Those self-selected samples are rarely mediaworthy.

Avoid leading questions. 

In other wordsquestions that steer the respondent to a particular answer.  For example, when constructing a question for a survey for a property developer, resist phrasing a question with subjective language like “Most renters are willing to pay extra for onsite amenities; how do you feel?” Instead, construct a question that asks how a respondent feels about something and provide a range of answers. This mechanism allows participants to zero in on the response that most closely resonates with their opinion or feeling and gives the survey sponsor much more precise data to work with.

Newsjack where possible.

Of course, the driving factor for an organization to conduct research should be something like getting to know their customers better, or using data to improve a product or service. But, we in PR know that much of the time, surveys are viewed as a cost-effective way to earn recognition as the owners of some smart data. To that end, one of the best ways to hit a survey home run is to link the topic to something newsworthy. A case in point is a survey we conducted for ChargeitSpot, the leading provider of secure cell phone charging stations for retail stores across the U.S.  The company queried shoppers on their opinions about Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods. Although ChargeitSpot has no relation to either entity, the responses – which were largely from Millennial shoppers – leveraged a buzzy topic, made great copy and were picked up by several national outlets. 

Look for the most startling or contrarian stat to lead a press release.

Many clients want to conduct a survey simply to validate what they think they already know. This model will not make news. No reporter is interested in a “bias confirmation”  or “pat on the back” survey. We advise parsing the results for the least expected data point to hook readers in a press release, even if it doesn’t directly support a client key message.  In subsequent copy, explain and unpack other points, choosing those which best help tell the story of the findings. For example, Trulia interviewed homeowners on “home ownership regrets” and found, somewhat unexpectedly in the era of the “tiny home trend,” that over 33% of homeowners wish they had gone with a bigger purchase. None of those queried mentioned “not consulting Trulia” on their regrets list. But, the company was able to impart many useful tips and advice about homebuying –  which will presumably come in handy for purchasers the next time around.

Understand the numbers.

Often times survey “virgins” look for sweeping percentages as the ones that will make the most news. In our experience, it is much more common to find a population evenly divided or with some subtleties that can be meaningful once you understand survey science. For example, in this LinkedIn survey of financial professionals, it is cited that “25% of those queried worry their job could be jeopardized by automation.” Twenty-five percent may seem like a small number, but in this context, it’s significant. And, when referring to it another way –  one-quarter – the number seems even more meaningful. Take the time to dig deeply into numbers to find the most meaningful figures.

Examine the data sets against all demographic info.  As all PR people know, sometimes survey data is just “meh” at first glance. The spreadsheet may contain nothing startling or terribly counter-intuitive. This is where the real fun begins. Take the time to compare data sets. Take your statistic and see how it fares when you compare it against different age groups, gender, geography, education, and income. We once found, for example, that families in the midwest spent more on Halloween decorations than any other region, or that women were far more likely to turn down their adult children’s request for a loan. When you unearth data like this, feel free to go down the particular rabbit hole to draw interesting fact-based conclusions that you might be able to support with the appropriate third-party quotes.

Pepper in third-party quotes.  Ideally, your research is robust enough to interest authorities and category experts beyond company executives. The best research news features quotes from respected sources to bolster and support your findings. In the case of Wearsafe, the wearable “panic button” for women, we established a relationship with a security expert and former Secret Service agent. His additions to our media efforts added an extra layer of expertise to create compelling coverage like this Shape Magazine article on Wearsafe’s runners’ survey.

Finally, as we’ve written before on this subject , don’t stop with a press release. Seek other creative outlets for the data such as bylined articles, infographics, newsletter and blog post topics or to provide the basis of a panel discussion or executive talk. Also important? Try to conduct annual surveys on the same topic to garner important year-over-year data that reporters can use for trend pieces. Good data deserves to be shared and sound statistics have a good, long shelf life.

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