11 Feb 2015

Never produce another boring PR survey again

Joanna Cannon – Account Director at Spreckley

Every morning, without fail, most of the Spreckley team sits down at their desks to give the daily newspapers a good perusal, before briefly updating everyone else on the key stories in each one. More than just keeping ahead of current affairs – and of course spotting potential news-jacking ideas for our clients – it gives us some valuable insight into how companies are creatively using fresh, new, often-shocking statistics to get them coverage.

Surveys are an effective tool in the shed for any PR campaign, but only if they’re a) relevant to the audience you’re surveying, b) asking the right questions, and c) performed at the right place and time. If they’re credible enough, they can even back up your client’s thought leadership, the brand’s messaging, and they can also be re-purposed for countless other channels, from infographics and videos, to sales presentations and social media. An experienced PR agency will know how to make use of such a terrific instrument.

But how can you create that Sunspot-grabbing story from a few stats? In my experience, this isn’t an exact science; but there are a few tactics you can use to make it a little bit easier:

  1. Come at the story from another angle. A few years ago, Spreckley ran a survey for our long-standing client, the Federation Against Software Theft (FAST). We asked several hundred working people (with an incentive to take part, naturally!) less than 10 questions about their working habits. The clever question asked if they’d ever stolen anything from a workplace before, with an exhaustive list of possible answers. The winning result was toilet paper – so we ran with it. Software did place on the list, but that wasn’t exactly going to set the wider world alight. We secured multiple national mentions and NIBs, not to mention a morning TV spot talking about disgruntled employees taking advantage of corporate lavatory supplies. The subtle message however, was right there – people did steal software from work, and admitted it, albeit anonymously. This was extremely useful for FAST’s own marketing materials and if it were performed today (because these were the years before social media was so widespread), a whole series of social media tactics such as infographics and Twitter debates.
  2. Reverse-engineer your story. Another classic trick I like to teach my teams is to do with “survey block” – when you know what you want to say, but you don’t know what questions to ask. Try writing a headline, subhead and first paragraph of a press release you would use to report the results. Then figure out what questions you need to ask to get those results, or a close approximation.
  3. Less is almost always more. Unless you’re going for a full, integrated project with your research, you’re more than likely going to be using a free or low cost online polling service to collect results. In this instance, and especially if you cannot offer an incentive, you’ll not want to include any more than five questions, not including qualifying questions such as age and gender. It’s incredibly difficult these days to get anyone to interrupt their day, even if it’s to help out a contact. Make it easy, engaging and quick to do. And if you have the budget to offer those Amazon vouchers, do it.
  4. Don’t just go for the obvious. Sure, 80 per cent of people said “yes, I do wash my hands before eating”, but it’s the crucial 20 per cent that say they do not. Obviously, this particular example has many health implications, but there’s also something in it for hand soap or cream manufacturers, pharmaceutical companies, and even cleaning product manufacturers! If a survey feels too easy to spot the headline, you’re not challenging it enough. Your headline could be buried in combining two smaller, yet similar statistics (for example, being “very unsatisfied” and “somewhat unsatisfied” with your mobile provider, which may make up half of your statistics), but it’s important to never dismiss a piece of research for looking too balanced, or flat. Your headline gold is hidden in there somewhere, you just have to exercise those grey cells to find it.
  5. Make sure you can back up what you say. You’ve got your killer story after hours of pouring over bar charts and line graphs, you’re going to pitch it to a national red top, but then the journalist asks for the raw results, or report. The problem is, make sure you have the raw results to back up everything you say. Journalists are totally within their rights to ask for them, and not providing them not only pulls into question the reliability of the story, but also could potentially taint any future contact with that person – just ensure you can back up what you’re saying.