FOCUS: MARKET RESEARCH - Turning answers into news columns/A proliferation of survey results being offered to the media means that PR agencies need to think more carefully about the positioning of information to ensure the best coverage. Mary Cowlett repo

There is no doubt that conducting a survey is an excellent way to generate publicity for a client. Although some PR practitioners may dismiss the technique as a soft option, a quick scan through any publication shows that journalists like statistics. Whether to create an eye-catching headline or add weight to a debate, reliable facts and figures are a media winner.

There is no doubt that conducting a survey is an excellent way to

generate publicity for a client. Although some PR practitioners may

dismiss the technique as a soft option, a quick scan through any

publication shows that journalists like statistics. Whether to create an

eye-catching headline or add weight to a debate, reliable facts and

figures are a media winner.



However, abuse of this tool is a real concern, not least within the

market research industry itself. The European market research

professional body ESOMAR, has recently up-dated its Guide to Opinion

Polls in an attempt to crack down on the sleazier end of the market. It

identifies unscientific techniques, such as push polling, televoting and

certain internet polls as examples of the misuse of the term ’opinion

poll’.



To be fair, generating publicity from these types of activity is unusual

within PR circles, but it does underline the importance of producing

robust, credible research. Naturally, this is of increased significance

when using the internet. The difficulties of identifying underage

respondents, using acceptable sampling methods and spamming - sending

unsolicited ’junk’ e-mail - when using the medium, is well

documented.



But, the Market Research Society’s professional standards committee, and

new special interest group org.org, which focuses on on-line activities,

are currently discussing possible rules or guidelines for validating

internet research. These look set to be published early next year and

may include some sort of ’seal of approval’ for projects that meet

ESOMAR standards.



Another consideration for market research professionals, particularly in

smaller agencies, is the need to protect the integrity of their survey

findings. NOP consumer omnibus director Tony Lees says: ’Our terms and

conditions very clearly state that we must see a press report before it

is released.’



But with PR people looking for an attention-seeking story and market

research practitioners sticking rigidly to the facts, finding a middle

ground can be hard. As NOP has over 200 PR agencies as regular

customers, Lees is used to balancing these demands. ’We are realistic’

he says, ’But, the danger with creating exciting headlines, is that the

truth is always the first casualty.’



NOP is not adverse to turning down research it feels is

inappropriate.



Lees recalls that a few months ago, he turned down a customer who

insisted on using what he saw as potentially offensive wording for parts

of the female anatomy. Three hours later, unable to find another agency

to accept the job, the customer returned and accepted Lees’ advice on

alternative phrasing to get the coverage she wanted.



’The golden rule is the mother test,’ he says. ’No subject is taboo as

long as you are creative, but you have to be aware of people’s

sensitivities. When you ask a question, especially about sex, you have

to think ’Would my mother be offended?’’



While most PR practitioners would balk at the idea of actually

manipulating data, there is always the temptation to give an edited

picture by omitting certain facts. Negative findings may get swept under

the carpet in an attempt to produce a snappy press release.



’It’s wrong to give figures that are negated in other parts of the

survey, but I think it’s OK to concentrate on one aspect,’ clarifies

Harvard PR director Gareth Zundel. ’After all it’s our job to be

creative and many other areas may be outside the public interest.’



Simon Quarendon, chairman of The Words Group, whose subsidiaries include

research agency IQ Information, agrees. ’You have to be accurate,’ he

says, ’but it’s a question of brevity versus clarity’. He feels that

market research for publicity purposes has led to a general lowering of

standards.



’Over the past 15 years, the media love affair with statistics has

continually loosened the conditions and quality of the research

produced,’ he says.



Some would disagree, but there is certainly a need to get away from the

quick fix approach to surveys and publicity. Adrian Brady, managing

partner of Eulogy PR, says: ’It’s too easy to think of a survey as

something that purely affects coverage. You also need to think about how

it adds value to the bottom line.’



Now that good quality market research has proven its worth to PR people,

more is being released into the media. Linking research with a topical

industry issue is one way of stealing a march on the competition. It

also secures serious coverage and positioning for the client as an

authoritative voice.



Last month, network equipment specialists Cisco Systems, published the

results of a MORI telephone survey on internet use. Conducted among 900

company directors across six European countries, this revealed that over

half of those interviewed with internet access, were moving from simple

provision of public information to running business applications in

areas such as recruitment and selling goods.



MORI marketing manager, Jane Robinson says: ’This research was unique

and important to all business sectors, so Cisco’s report is still

achieving good publicity from the likes of the Financial Times.’



But while there is no doubt that the technical details of market

research are important in validating a study, exclusivity is emerging as

an increasingly important factor. Paul Stelmaszczyk senior consultant at

Camargue explains: ’The increasing number of lifestyle supplements means

there is real pressure on publications to create a unique selling

point.’



As an agency which uses surveys to create publicity for a number of

market research organisations, Stelmaszczyk reveals that Camargue may

even sound out the journalist before initiating the research. ’You are

doing some of the leg work for the writer,’ he says ’But those on the

weekend nationals in particular, want information they know will not be

run by other titles first.’



The carefully targeted approach to promoting survey findings, seems to

be an ongoing trend within the PR industry. John Martin, former chairman

and chief executive of Shandwick Welbeck, has been working as a

consultant on the Nestle Family Monitor. Launched in February last year,

this study looks at attitudes to the family in the run up to Millennium.

Published once a year with additional interim reports on specific

issues, the research is primarily used by Nestle to understand its

market place.



This summer, to back up the company’s community activities, such as its

sponsorship of the out-of-school childcare organisation, Kids’ Club

Network, Nestle released details to the press on issues, including

caring for children in the school holidays. Among the main findings, the

study showed that nine per cent of working parents take ’sick leave’ in

order to care for their children over the summer school break.



Rather than issue a blanket launch of this information, Martin

negotiated coverage on specific aspects with different media. This has

resulted in extensive broadcast interest and double page spreads in the

Express, Mail on Sunday and the Daily Telegraph, among others. Martin

says he has taken this approach to prevent the coverage from

stalling.



’As the interest has snowballed, so I have attempted to offer people

different interesting angles.’ he says.



Not surprisingly, creativity is a prerequisite when looking to achieve

the best publicity from properly planned and substantiated research. In

many cases, the amount of coverage gained, is a direct result of how

well the whole process has been handled. The next challenge is to ensure

that the coverage achieved has been accurately tracked.



TestResearch is one of the growing number of companies offering media

tracking services. In September, TestResearch, part of the MORI group,

launched PRTrack to help companies measure the media impact of their

surveys.



Tim Burns, TestResearch managing director says that by talking to

respondents on a weekly basis, this tracking service will identify the

public’s recall and interpretation of PR activity as separate from any

advertising or other communications activities.



’We believe the service we offer is invaluable - it is extending the

market to offer a sophisticated and valuable resource beyond simple

media evaluation,’ claims Burns.



INDUSTRY AID: PROVIDING ADVICE FOR RESEARCH BUYERS



In April this year, the two trade bodies for the market research

industry, AMSO and ABMRC merged to form the British Market Research

Association (BMRA). As a single voice, this new organisation plans to

make industry relations with Government departments and other bodies,

such as the Advertising Association, more direct.



However its main thrust, is ’to represent and promote the best in

British Market Research’. The goal of raising industry standards and

providing customers with quality assurance is at the forefront of its

aims. All BMRA members are now obliged to sign the association’s Quality

Charter and those with a turnover above pounds 50,000 must agree to meet

the requirements of the Market Research Quality Standards

Association.



Over the last five years, the industry has grown on average, by 11 per

cent and BMRA members now represent nearly pounds 700 million, 85 per

cent of the industry’s turnover. This expansion has placed importance on

creating a wider understanding of the tool and the contribution it can

make towards business success.



As part of its initiative to provide market research buyers with

objective advice, BMRA has relaunched its freephone advice service

SelectLine. This assists enquirers in finding the right research company

to meet their project requirements. Originally set up by ABMRC in 1994,

a recent investment in technology means the database service can now

cater to a wide range of criteria, producing more accurately targeted

searches.



’When a company wants to identify specialists by industry sector,

research techniques, size or even geographical location they can call

SelectLine,’ says Jill Lonsdale, the BMRA Council member responsible for

the service.



Sarah Heath, BMRA marketing assistant and SelectLine operator says:

’After discussing their needs key words on which to base the search are

agreed. I then provide a list of up to six suitable research

companies.’



After establishing what the results are to be used for, Heath can offer

advice to the inexperienced. She says: ’For instance, depending on what

materials might be used during the interview, I can decide if

face-to-face, telephone or postal research is most suitable. I then find

the most qualified or experienced practitioners for the job.’ Research

indicates that users are more than satisfied with the service.



A recent survey of the 474 callers to SelectLine in 1997, shows that

over 90 per cent of enquirers would use the service again, with 93 per

cent recommending it to others. In addition, the system is regarded as a

prime source of project income by SelectLine members. Last year the

initiative provided over pounds 1.5 million of business to the 200 plus

BMRA companies who currently subscribe to the service.



CASE STUDY: ADDRESSING ROUND-THE-CLOCK DEMANDS



Last year, Band and Brown commissioned a research project, The 24 Hour

Society, for two of its clients, BT and First Direct bank. Over a three

month period, think-tank and research agency, the Future Foundation,

conducted over 700 interviews with business people and consumers on

issues such as around-the-clock living. This was then backed up by

qualitative research, with groups ranging from shift workers to

housewives.



The thinking behind the study for BT, was to highlight how new

technology in its key product areas such as the internet, telemarketing,

networks and ISDN, could facilitate both individual change and companies

embracing change.



For First Direct, as the UK’s first 24-hour banking service the emphasis

was not on the benefits of it being open all hours, but rather the

breaking down of business barriers.



In September, an interim report of findings was published, showing that

globalisation and other competitive factors such as emerging

technologies, were influencing the way people work. With a trend away

from the traditional nine-to-five work day, consumers increasingly

expected to be able to buy goods and services at times determined by

themselves and their lifestyle.



However, perhaps the most significant finding for UK business, was that

nearly three-quarters of consumers believed companies should provide

customer care over the telephone out-of-hours. On the back of these

findings, Band and Brown released different elements of the report to

different media.



This resulted in radio interviews and widespread press interest,

including the Guardian.



In February this year, to generate futher discussion of the issues, Band

and Brown organised a 24 Hour Society conference in association with the

CBI, The Future Foundation, BT and First Direct. Held at the Millennium

Conference Centre in London, key speakers included Colin Browne, BBC

corporate affairs director and Josephine Arendt, professor of

endochrinology at the University of Surrey. This one-day event included

a live video-conference with the US and was attended by 190 delegates

from the UK’s top 1,000 companies. A futher 150 delegates unable to

attend in person, listened in via a live audioconference link. The event

generated further media interest from the likes of Channel 5.



Such is the interest in the topic that currently BT is using the 24 Hour

Society as the cornerstone of its communications with business

customers, and Leon Kreitzman one of the authors of the report, has been

commissioned to write a book on the subject.



As Peter Simpson, First Direct commercial director, says: ’The point

about 24 Hour Society is not that we will be shopping round-the-clock,

but that we will no longer have to think about the constraints that have

been set for us.’



IN-HOUSE: TECHNOLOGY TO SPEED UP THE PROCESS



In an age where the robustness of a survey is increasingly under

scrutiny, how can in-house research projects ensure they meet the

required standard? With the emphasis on sample size and validity of the

analysis, if you choose to do the job yourself, how do you position

yourself as an authoritative voice?



Innovation is key among service providers. This August, Bristol-based

Mercator Computer Systems, launched a new software product Snap, to help

companies conduct their research in-house. This Windows-based package is

designed to simplify and speed-up the market research process, while

ensuring the results are ’extensive and effective’. Mercator claims to

achieve this through the use of its SurveyPaks on different topics,

which contain hundreds of questions phrased by experts in the research

field.



Using a keyword search, users are able to browse various libraries to

select the most appropriate questions for their survey. Questions can be

modified and extra specialist questions incorporated into the

questionnaire.



Snap formats the layout and automatically adds relevant response boxes

where required. Snap also allows amendments to fonts and layout to match

users’ house-style.



Other useful modules include ’scanning’, which automates the data entry

process for responses and Snap ’internet’ for collecting and analysing

data using e-mail or the world wide web.



Mercator marketing manager David Horton, says the package is equally

applicable to the expert and the novice. ’Snap gives you a framework of

tools such as tables and filters, so it’s very user friendly,’ he

says.



’But ultimately the results are down to the user.’



In order to ensure an adequate sample base, many companies outsource at

least part of the research process to the experts.



Ten years ago, when marketing communications company Banner wanted to

identify media consumption trends for its IT clients, it realised there

was no central source of information. So, in 1988, to measure the

readership of specialist computer publications among IT decision-makers

in business and the Public Sector, it decided to conduct its own

research.



Over the years, the Banner Survey has developed to encompass brand and

marketing information, to provide a targeting tool for IT marketers.

Published annually, this year’s findings are based on a sample of 3,900

phone interviews and postal questionnaires, undertaken by the Opinion

Research Corporation.



Joanna Bryant, research director at Banner says now that the field

research is year round, the company is looking to produce more frequent

reports and is in discussions with its premier subscribers about

extending the survey to Europe.



Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Register
Already registered?
Sign in

Would you like to post a comment?

Please Sign in or register.