The results of a 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 extensive publicity for your organization.
Creating Surveys for PR
Find a topic or issue that needs answers. As in scientific research, the primary key to survey success is asking the right question at the outset. Asking the right question in survey research means establishing what topic the survey investigates. Only topics important to the public or a whole industry produce data and insights that attract widespread media coverage. Surveys with parochial topics or that attempt to produce self-promotional results usually flop.
Devise the best questions. It’s important to create questions that produce meaningful answers. Review the questionnaires of many professionally developed 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.
Choose a survey methodology and instrument. Today, online surveys are the most cost-efficient method for developing and implementing business surveys. Online survey services such as SurveyMonkey and Zoho eliminate the need for programming or coding. They make it quick and easy to create questions and tabulate results. Assess a few different services before selecting your instrument. You might also benefit from a review of your questionnaire by a survey professional before you proceed.
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.
Consider rewards. Providing free merchandise can motivate people to complete surveys, even if they don’t really need the rewards, advises marketing writer Erica Sunarjo. If the reward and the survey are relevant to the user’s circle of friends and family members, you can try a referral program, which allows you to access more data from a larger number of people.
Social media. Social media offers another option for conducting surveys. Collect information in a low-key manner on social media sites like Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and others, Sunarjo advises. This strategy requires less time from users, and responses may evolve into meaningful conversations about your product or organization.
Be statistically significant. Surveys need a sufficient number of respondents to be considered valid, or statistically significant. Most media outlets won’t consider publishing survey results unless it has a sample of 1,000 or 2,000 respondents, Furdui says. There’s no upper limit. More participants 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 data and insights, not when it’s based on a biased interpretation of 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 overt product promotion. 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.
Other Promotion Strategies
Write blog posts. Publish a blog post about survey findings on the company’s blog. “By doing this, you’re creating a source page that all other marketing efforts can ultimately link back to, which will funnel as much attention as possible back to your own website,” says Richard Lorenzen, CEO of Fifth Avenue Brands. You can then republish the post on LinkedIn Pulse, Medium and other sites, and write original guest posts based on survey findings to submit to sites that consider only unpublished content.
Write an op-ed. In many instances, journalists may not wish to interview your spokesperson but will happily accept a contributor piece that dives deeper into your findings and connects takeaways for the readers in your vertical, Lorenzen says. Op-eds offer a valuable PR tool for swaying public opinion. Research proves that the contributed opinion pieces convince readers to shift their viewpoints, regardless of their political leanings. In addition, PR teams now have new online media channels for distributing op-eds. In some cases, video op-eds are an option.
Social media. Pitch the survey results to social media influencers in the topic area. Post links to the survey results on social media networks, such as Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook, to boost publicity. Also consider posting announcements in Facebook and LinkedIn groups.
Measure earned media results. Use a media monitoring and PR measurement service to aggregate and measure all media mentions about the survey. An interactive media analytics dashboard will provide valuable insights into the impact of the survey, including reactions on social media.
Bottom Line: Organizations often conduct surveys to obtain media coverage and support their brand’s goals. Successful surveys require careful attention to selecting an attention-grabbing topic, creating valid questions and answer choices, using standardized survey techniques, organizing results into a compelling presentation, following through on media relations, and measuring the impact of media placements to assess success.
This post was first published on Aug. 2, 2018, and updated on June 26, 2020.
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, media measurement and analytics solutions across all types of traditional and social media.