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online survey tips for public relations PR

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The results of well-planned survey often generate stunning media placements. Many news outlets eagerly publish B2B or B2C survey results. Controversial survey results often garner even greater media coverage.

Some survey reports, however, gain little or no publicity. Reporters and editors simply ignore them and delete the media pitches. Even if organizations produce surveys loaded with information, they can fail to win media attention if survey sponsors fail to frame and present results properly.

PR experts offer these tips to help ensure that surveys win widespread publicity for your organization.

Creating Surveys for PR

Devise the best questions. It’s important to create questions that produce meaningful answers. Review the questionnaires of many surveys and take clues from their questions. In addition to creating good questions, focus on designing multiple choice answers that are substantive and well-differentiated. Avoid “none of the above” answers. Instead, ask survey participants to pick the best option.” Consider Yes/No questions, which produce higher and more compelling percentages. Don’t use fill-in-the-blank questions. Aggregating and reporting those answers is extremely difficult. Focus more on the answers than the questions. “It’s futile to ask a great question but offer a poor choice of answers,” says Tim Furdui, senior research analyst at 4media Group.

Seek contrarian results. It’s essential to pick a topic that interests your target audience and is compelling enough to generate media coverage. Avoid subjects already covered by other surveys as media outlets will ignore findings that repeat what everyone already knows. Journalists pay attention to research that reveals unexpected answers or something people don’t know, advises Brian Lustig, a partner at Bluetext.

Promote the survey. If you do an online survey, promote it through direct mail, PR and online advertising to attract appropriate respondents. Advertise the survey questionnaire in online websites that you hope will publish the survey results.

Be statistically significant. Surveys need a sufficient number of respondents to be considered valid, or statistically significant. Many media outlets consider a 1,000 or 2,000 respondent sample to be most reliable, Furdui says. There’s no upper limit. More respondents create more credibility.

Treat the survey results honestly. Analyze your responses and make sure you don’t exaggerate or misuse the findings. Survey publicity only works when it reveals legitimate survey results, not when it’s based on a biased interpretation of the results.

Start backwards. Start by envisioning your ideal survey results first, suggests Jennifer Moritz at marketing and communications firm Zer0 to 5ive. Ask what types of findings support your campaign and will fascinate journalists and the target audience. Think about pitch angles and headlines. Then write the survey with those headlines in mind.

Check for duplicative surveys. Search competitor news sections for surveys they have released. If a survey resembles yours, conduct either a different survey or one that is more in-depth. Being aware of annual surveys will help avoid conflicts.

Support your products. Develop survey questions that are likely to produce results that support the organization or brand goals and messages. C-level executives won’t approve the release of survey results that show market preference for features not available in their product or service, although such results can be valuable for internal market research.

Dig deep into results. You may need to dig deep into survey results to find interesting or captivating insights. Compare responses by age groups, gender, geography, education and income. “We once found, for example, that families in the Midwest spent more on Halloween decorations than any other region, or that women were far more likely to turn down their adult children’s request for a loan,” says Marijane Funess at Crenshaw Communications.

Pitching Survey Results to the Media

Contact the media. Contacting reporters and providing a quick introduction to the survey can prompt them to open your email pitch. Ask if they are interested in surveys, if they prefer the raw results, or simply lack time to review them. That information will help improve your media list.

Highlight the main points. Summarizing the main findings and focusing on a few survey findings related to a specific business issue increases the chances for media coverage. Overwhelming reporters with the raw findings only encourages them to ignore or delete the results. Be aware, however, that some publications may require submission of complete survey data before publishing results.

Avoid pats on the back. Clients often want to stress self-promotional survey findings that validate what they already know, but such “pat-on-the-back” pitches are unlikely to interest journalists, Funess says. Instead, lead the story with the most unexpected statistic, even if it doesn’t support the sponsor’s key message. Then reveal promotional points later in the news release.

Create visuals content. Journalists — and most people for that matter — love visual content. People understand survey results more quickly when the data is converted into charts, graphs, infographics and other types of data visualizations.

It’s all in the timing. Time the release of the findings with a key event, such as a conference or tradeshow, or a relevant awareness day to maximize its news value, suggests Moritz. Also, a survey conducted annually can provide year-over-year updates and comparisons on trends in your industry.

Bottom Line: Surveys can generate outsized publicity results, especially if they reveal unexpected findings that contradict a conventional view. To create a successful survey, organizations must be meticulous when creating survey questions, packaging the data, and pitching survey results to the media.

William J. Comcowich founded and served as CEO of CyberAlert LLC, the predecessor of Glean.info. He is currently serving as Interim CEO and member of the Board of Directors. Glean.info provides customized media monitoring, measurement and analytics solutions across all types of traditional and social media.