OPINION: Our survey says... do proper research

‘New research shows that PR surveys are once again proving their value as one of the most effective ways of achieving high-visibility editorial coverage. When questioned by researchers, more than 80 per cent of PROs said survey-based ideas featured in new business pitches.’

Monk: 'the PR survey is back with a bang'
Monk: 'the PR survey is back with a bang'

The above paragraph is, of course, entirely fictitious. No such (narcissistic) PR research exists at the moment. But my point is a serious one.

After a dip in popularity due to media cynicism –induced by overuse – the PR survey is back with a bang. In the past few days alone, a bank whose PR operation effectively surveyed the gap year habits of students and a new satellite TV channel that produced the list of ‘favourite wits in the English language’ both achieved massive media coverage.

Tabloids and broadsheets carried page leads, while the findings spilled out across radio talk and drivetime shows. In both cases the subject matter was clearly def­ined. And the questions were sufficiently sharp to evince meaningful answers and definable trends.

Media colleagues tell me that both the press releases and the ‘sell-in’ were exemplary.

Additionally, the research in both cases was validated by independent third-party endorsement.

I would argue that recent media fatigue with the survey has been largely the result of lazy PR practice. The golden goose of survey coverage was killed by sloppy research, poor presentation and an insouciant lack of any sort of validation. Crucial to the success of a survey is a plausibly large and representative cross-sample of interviewees and a reputable polling organisation.

A warning: ‘online polls’ of untargeted groups of questionable demographic don’t wash with the media. Nor do surveys that too obviously carry their vested interests. For example: ‘Britons eating more bananas, says Fyfes’ probably won’t grab the headlines. And if using a spokesperson to amplify the messages of the survey, then avoid the Ronnie Rent-a-Quotes who charge £5,000 for mouthing platitudes.

Also, try to make sure the research subject ties back in to the consumer offering of the brand it is publicising. Research that produces a compelling list, a lifestyle or consumer trend or a new and resonant acronym should produce results.

In summary: surveys are back in the news bec­ause editors know they make headlines, particularly at a time when fewer journalists are expected to fill more space.

And, ‘when questioned, eight out of ten consumer correspondents said they hoped PROs would keep coming up with the goods….’

Ian Monk is founder of Ian Monk Associates and was formerly a senior newspaper executive at the Daily Mail and The Sun.

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