A survey which examined the habits of Somerfield trolley drivers
revealed facts whose only apparent raison d’etre was to get the
Somerfield name in print, says Alan Preece, general manager PR, Asda.
Surveys, surveys everywhere, but none that make you think. That’s the
way it often seems when you open up the paper to find the latest bit of
nonsense based on the views of a carefully selected panel of what seem
to be total idiots.
We’ve all seen them and most of us have used them. They form a decent
filler for page 16 of a pitch document and their true beauty is that
they can be applied to virtually every single business. They should have
their own protection league - the Society for the Appreciation of
Surveys and a motto ‘who pays wins’.
Surely, however, if papers want to write about surveys and readers want
to see them the subject matter should be treated like any other news
source. The journalist should be asking why the survey was commissioned
and, more importantly, what is the surveying company going to do about
the results. Perhaps, in this case, we can look forward to Somerfield
shoppers being handed L-plates on their first shopping trip and
collecting three points for each speeding offence in a main aisle. Maybe
the link between car driving and shopping trolley habits will lead to a
new line of police investigation where serial chocolate digestive eaters
are taken in for questioning whenever a red traffic light is jumped.
It would be interesting to know if there is any real end product because
this looks like a survey that was dreamed up solely for PR purposes. In
some ways it is symptomatic of the way our industry is seen with means
justifying ends, style succeeding over substance and frippery over
functionality. For the PR team it’s another day at the office and
another piece of national news coverage to be pleased about. There’s no
harm done, it makes good copy and we’ve all been there before but
perhaps we should all be looking for something closer to the true heart
of the business rather than fiddling at the fringes.
A good starting point is usually the market research material gathered
or generated for business development purposes. It is central to the
decision making process and material customer benefits usually flow from
research findings. A focus on this area places the PR team at the centre
of business thinking and makes any subsequent press article totally
relevant material - that’s where the real skill of PR should be.