How to Commission a Successful PR Survey

You need to get some positive media coverage for your client and you've decided a survey will fulfill your goals … but how do you ensure that your "wish-list" translates into acres of column inches and great headlines? The team at Consumer Analysis works regularly with many of the leading consumer PR agencies and is highly regarded for the reliability of their research as well as their journalistic insight. Here they give you their own views on getting the best from a PR survey ….

Commissioning a PR survey on behalf of a client can be daunting. The client is paying a lot and will often have unreasonable expectations of results and you are very aware that there are never any guarantees when it comes to getting stories and features into the media. But we feel there are ways to give yourself the best possible chance of achieving plenty of good coverage … it just takes planning and know-how.

How to start

• It's best to find a research firm to work with before you write the questions. If you want to produce a robust survey with interesting results, you'll need to work with the research firm when considering the ideas and particularly when devising the questions … a good firm will be able to suggest the technical ways to word the questions which Will give your resulting statistics more impact.

• Look for an established research firm which has worked with other PR companies and has a good reputation. You want your research to be respected, and finding a research company that fits in with your image, and that of your client's, is an important part of that.

• Ask to see results. A good array of cuttings and an impressive list of radio features achieved for other clients will give you the confidence to trust the research firm with your client's money.

• Make sure that you have an objective. If you keep the research focused you are more likely to get useable results. It's a good idea to write some "dream" headlines so that you, your client and the research company know what you want to get out of this survey.

• Decide which type of survey best suits you. The main ways to interview responses are online, hybrid, street and telephone interviewing. The following is our own assessment of the differences, based on our own experiences …

Different types of survey

Telephone surveys
This is the traditional method of conducting surveys, highly regarded by the media, and gives PR's the opportunity of reaching a wide selection of the population. More than nine out of ten households in the UK have a landline, and a similar number now has a mobile phone, so it's potentially impossible to miss any section of the population when interviewing. That's why surveys done this way are considered as solid and reliable, and why PR's can find that some clients with blue-chip reputations prefer them.

They stand up to scrutiny and it is easier to verify that the respondents' demographics are correct – such as age, gender, region of the country etc. If you go for a firm with well trained interviewers who can strike up a rapport with the respondent, you can also get interesting comments to add flavor to your press release … and possibly to translate into "case histories" which can be used for Features material.

Face to face surveys
Respondents may be approached on the street and asked to complete a survey. Clever extrovert interviewers are able to engage with people and persuade them to take part. Advantages are similar to those of telephone interviewing, but also include being able to target certain groups quickly. It's easy to speak to mothers of toddlers, for instance, or pensioners, since the interviewer can visually assess who they need to speak to. This is also the way to go if you need the opinions of people in a particular locality, since door to door interviewing can be very focused.

Many firms will mix street and telephone interviewing, giving you the absolute ideal in terms of reaching the full population. The results of this type of survey will typically provide the greatest credential and are generally treated with respect by the media.

Online surveys
Many PR firms are now choosing online surveys, where a link to the survey is distributed via the Internet and is completed on a computer. These are generally the cheapest option and often produce quick results, but although we offer online surveys we feel there are some disadvantages. Firstly, you may be narrowing your sample by only reaching those with a computer and Internet access – believe it or not there is still a significant proportion of the population which does not use the internet. This means your survey base is likely to have a higher-than-normal number of younger people with time on their hands.

And the chances are it's likely to have a lower-than-normal number of really busy people, such as professionals or working mums for instance. Some firms will adjust the results for this, but it's important that PR's understand how online surveys work. Also, because there is usually an incentive for the respondent to fill out the survey (like vouchers or money) it's possible that some kindly give incorrect details -for example a teenage student can gain more by pretending to be a CEO of a company than he Can by telling the truth about himself!

With no human being asking the questions, answers given by responders can sometimes be inconsistent and this explains why online polls may produce results which simply are not credible. PR's should always ask for "speeders" (who finish a survey too quickly) and "straightliners" (who just click on the nearest / easiest option every time) to be eliminated. However, even with their limitations, online surveys have provided PR's with a swift inexpensive way to give the media some good material.

Hybrid surveys
This is the latest concept in consumer media surveys, and is becoming popular with some PR agencies who deal with high-reputation clients, where a substantial survey is important. The hybrid survey is a mix of telephone, street and online interviewing. As the name recommends, you get the benefit of using all types. This is a very good method to use if your client is claiming large numbers, eg 2000 interviews upwards. The telephone and / or street interviewing can be used as a reliable base, and the results gained can be compared with the online results, which will provide the extra numbers. In this way you can be sure that your client is getting reliable, believable results (vital for the media) but is not having to spend a fortune.

Omnibus surveys
Any of the above methods could have been connected as an "omnibus", but there's a lot of confusion about this type of survey. Some PR's will ask for an "omnibus" when they simply mean that they want a cheap survey, without realizing that an "omnibus" is a very specific way of carrying out a survey. It's based on the idea that just as passengers hop on and off a bus with other passengers, so clients can join a big survey with other clients. They can ask as many questions as they like. But because they are "sharing" the survey with others, the interviewees will almost always be the general population, so you can not target certain types of people or certain age groups unless you are prepared to interview fewer people.

We've heard of PR's who thought they were getting a survey of 1000, but only got results for fewer than 200 people! The other common limitation is time. You'll usually have to devise the questions on your own, have them ready for a certain deadline, and if you miss it you'll have to wait for the next survey. But the great advantage of an omnibus survey is the price, which is usually very low because you are splitting the cost with other clients.

Tailored surveys
These are really the opposite of an omnibus. The survey will be tailor to your client's needs, reach the target group required, and the interviewing will be carried out just for you. Like an omnibus, they may be carried out using telephone, street, online or hybrid methods. With a tailor survey you should expect to get help in writing the questions and a lot more attention to analyzing the data and providing the results. You should get plenty of comments from interviewees, and it may be possible to convert these into "case histories". If you need to reach a small target group, say mums with children at home, and you need reasonable numbers of interviews in order to appeal to the media, then you'd be well advised to compare prices from tailor-made firms ..

Tracking surveys
This type of survey will allow you to follow, or "track," responds' opinions and views over a period of time. Certain questions are asked on a regular basis (usually six monthly or yearly). You must make sure that the questions you want to track and the sample type are kept exactly the same.

Things to consider before research starts

• The sample size. 1,000 is generally considered to be the "magic number" as it is large enough to be split locally and still produce useable results. If you are interviewing a more targeted sample (in just one region or just farmers for example) a smaller sample is still considered sound. Interviewing 500 is a good compromise if the budget is tight, and with some strong story lines the lower number will often have little effect on the media uptake
• Who you interview. It's tempting to insist on interviewing the target audience of your client's product in order to concentrate on their views and opinions, but you're in danger of shooting yourself in the foot by doing this. Newspapers and radio are attracted to wide samples, so they can appeal to as many of their readers or listeners as possible. It can also reduce the general cost, as it will be harder for the research firm (and there before more expensive) to reach a narrower target.
• Make sure that your survey is representative of the population. If you interview in all twelve official regions of the UK, to the correct proportions, you maximize the likelihood of regional press coverage and you gain an accurate result for the national population. A good split of regions, ages and gender makes your survey more reliable.
• The number of questions. An ideal PR survey will have between 10-20 questions. We feel the ideal is 12-15 as this should give 4-5 strong news angles. Beware of going over 20 questions because interviewees get bored and tired at this point, and so can give erratic answers. Some firms may charge for demographic questions like "How old are you?" Egypt "Do you have any children?" So be wary of this. We feel they should be free.

How to use the results

To create interesting and unique headlines, what you do with the statistics is just as important as the figures themselves. You often get the best results by comparing differences between certain types of people. Most research companies will give you data splits – tables showing the results divided by factors like gender, age and region – the most common splits. But you can also think outside the box and split by something unexpected – coffee drinkers versus tea drinkers …. those who buy your client's product regularly compared with those who do not …. blondes versus redheads versus brunettes versus those with black hair …!

Another device you can use is case studies, and these are particularly appealing to features pages. If some interviewees are especially interesting and give permission to speak to a PR, the survey can be an invaluable tool in providing useful case histories. These can add some human interest to cold hard statistics.

You'll get the best coverage if you take the trouble to provide a re-worked press release for each region, with their own stats compared to the national stats. It's also a good idea to provide releases that have been tweaked differently for the national heavies and the national tabloids. It's all work for the PR, but we know that the glory of getting blanket coverage for a client across the nationals, the regionals, the trade press, and the TV / radio makes every PR feel it was all worthwhile.

Consumer Analysis is happy to give individual help to any company considering using a survey for PR … with no obligation! Their MD was an award-winning national newspaper journalist so their service includes journalistic advice and brainstorming of ideas. For more information their website is: and they can be reached on 020 7258 9686.

Source by Melanie Stead

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