PR pros see the value polling adds to their campaigns

With the race for the Democratic Party's nomination for President still up in the air, residents of many different states are hearing from pollsters. Yet as politicos map where they can increase voter turnout, PR firms are also relying on pollsters to help develop campaigns.

With the race for the Democratic Party's nomination for President still up in the air, residents of many different states are hearing from pollsters. Yet as politicos map where they can increase voter turnout, PR firms are also relying on pollsters to help develop campaigns.

Polling helps PR pros apply quantitative data to targeted demographics during the course of a campaign. However, it's more difficult for communications pros to determine the accuracy of a marketing poll than a political one, says Doug Usher, SVP and director of research and polling at Widmeyer Communications.

"With a political campaign, you can check very directly to see if the poll was right or wrong on election day," he says. "By contrast, in lead PR efforts there can be a greater room for error."

Commonly used sampling methods vary according to the scope of a campaign and a firm's resources. Don Miller, VP of PR at Harrison Leifer DiMarco PR, says he found phone surveys the most effective method while conducting research for development projects.

"Because of the sampling we're using in small communities, we try to get up to 300 completes. That gives us an indication as to what the community thinks," he says.

"Traditionally, what you get, especially in terms of school districts supporting bonds and budgets, is a vocal minority that goes about [its] business and is concerned about the community enough to go out and vote."

Dan Beltramo, CEO of Vizu.com, an online polling company with clients including Atomic PR, Global Fluency, and SFPR, notes that a quarter of his business comes from small PR firms interested in supplementing press releases with data.

Many large firms have internal research departments, while small to midsize ones mostly rely on outside agencies - making polling a tough expenditure for firms without a market-research budget. According to Usher, most polls account for 5% to 10% of a campaign budget, but make for an efficient use of resources.

Key points:
Marketing polls are often more inaccurate than political surveys, but they can still be a barometer of consumer opinion

Polls are expensive and often eat up as much as 10% of a campaign budget

Accurate sampling can be done over the phone, in person, or via the Web

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