The result is irrelevant. After all, we all know that 78% of all statistics are made up. But the paradox is staggering, and all the more so given how it was completely missed by the author of the release. Above all, it’s embarrassing for the PR profession.
PR’s propensity for a choice poll or survey is well known. A keen-eyed PR pro will spot the average PR-commissioned poll in a news story from a hundred paces, and the bad ones are even more painfully transparent. Look no further than the bathroom retailer whose survey suggests that couples who spend more time in the bathroom together have healthier relationships. What a coincidence.
Done well though, PR-commissioned surveys can be effective – both for the client and the reader. For example, a recent survey conducted jointly by The Times and Boots Opticians included a number of interesting statistics breaking down eye health and habits by factors such as age and region. Not only did this mean coverage in one of the UK’s broadsheets for Boots, it is of interest to the reader and could even have a positive societal effect as it encourages more people to book in regular eye examinations – some of which will undoubtedly be at Boots. Kerching!
Success boils down to rigorous commitment to best practice. Anything less and the survey rings hollow and could end up on a blog such as BadPR. So here are some top tips to get high quality coverage from surveys – both for the client and reader:
- Be totally honest: The campaign and the client may expect a certain set of results to come out of their polling. If the answers are something different, either tell a different story or focus on other results. Don’t lie and twist the statistics as you won’t get away with it. You might even be surprised where honesty gets you. With one of our clients, an impromptu event poll revealed some interesting results but on a very low sample size. We subsequently chatted with some journalists about it as background information, and this led to coverage in the Wall Street Journal.
- Don’t be too self-serving: There’s a balance to strike as PR must support business goals. Of course, it’s legitimate for your client to be commenting on their area of expertise, but it’s transparently self-serving and reader-repellant to nakedly engineer a result that calls for the immediate purchase of the product.
- Get good stats: PR isn’t out to replace the Office for National Statistics, but there are a few basic rules practitioners should adhere to. Good sample sizes and avoidance of inappropriate selection bias, for example.
- Get help: Most PR surveys can be conducted and analysed in-house. However, if the size and scope of the research becomes substantial, there are dedicated companies who specialise in designing and conducting polls and surveys for PR purposes, many of which belong to independent industry bodies and subscribe to their quality standards. Enlisting such help where appropriate should ensure a good survey – and a good story!
Other approaches can also deliver good results. Focus groups can bring together a small number of interested, relevant people to discuss pertinent issues. They don’t pretend to have statistically significant sample sizes and are taken at face value. Yet they can still yield interesting results that make great headlines for clients.
So what do you think? Is there still a place for a poll in PR? Or are you tired of self-serving surveys?
*Most likely not.