Have we reached Peak Survey? No – but the bad ones abound.

By Meghan Warren, Senior Vice President

Here are a few tips for making sure yours is one of the good ones.

It’s just a fact that the media landscape over the past year has become tougher than ever for PR pros. A trend that many of us have observed taking shape over the past two decades or so – faster news cycles, shrinking newsrooms, and escalating pressure for journalists to pump out more content – has only accelerated in the wake of the pandemic. While having strong media relationships is critical, the challenge remains especially acute in the specialized universe of B2B PR; the ideas and work we’re promoting on our clients’ behalf are technical and, without a little creativity on our part, dry.

When I first started in PR, I never thought I’d end up competing against doom-scrolling, but here we are.

In parallel with the evolving newsroom, we’ve also seen a corresponding explosion in proprietary surveys – the PR pro’s tool of choice for cutting through the noise and asserting their client’s relevance in a crowded marketplace. But what was once a very reliable tool for capturing media attention is becoming less so as reporters struggle to wade through countless pitches purporting to offer never-before-seen data insights. (Spoiler alert: Most of them have been seen before. Many times.)

None of this is to say, however, that we’ve reached Peak Survey. Quite the contrary: Surveys aren’t dead, but the good ones are starting to get lost among the not-so-good. The onus is on us to make our surveys better.

So, how can businesses do a PR survey campaign right? Here are a few ways we help our clients create surveys that hit the mark for journalists:

  1. Think like an academic. One of the core tenets of academic research is trying to answer a question or explore a topic no one else has before. That’s certainly a tall order in the PR setting, but the starting point for any survey initiative should be finding a way to discuss your business, industry, or customers in a way that differentiates you. Before you even put pen to paper on a survey concept, you should conduct a thorough audit of the research that already exists on the topics you’re considering – and then work to make sure your own research cuts a new path.
  2. Visualize the headlines. Once you’ve landed on the survey topic and are ready to start developing the questionnaire, think about the headlines you want to generate – and then draft your questions accordingly. Focus on the tension that drives an interesting headline and try to build that into your questionnaire. For example, let’s say you’re an insurtech conducting a survey examining the reasons young adults aren’t buying life insurance. Your home run headline might be, “75% of adults under the age of 40 say they’d rather have a root canal than meet with an insurance agent.” From there, it’s simply a matter of wording the questionnaire to (hopefully!) get you there.
  3. Keep it simple. The questions, that is. Try not to cram too many ideas, variables, or factors into a single question, and try to keep the total questionnaire to 10-15 minutes in length. Ironically enough, the more nuanced and detailed you try to make your survey, the harder it is to make inferences about why respondents answered as they did and to develop a strong, declarative narrative about your data. Simplicity is also good for the survey respondent. Whether it’s the day-to-day consumer or a finance director, whoever is taking your survey is short on time and unlikely to provide high-quality responses if they have to expend too much effort deciphering the meaning of a question or answering an overly lengthy questionnaire.
  4. It’s all about the cross-tabs. As you’re developing your survey – or looking at the results once they come in – don’t forget to think about how different survey populations respond. Some of the most compelling media narratives emerge from the cross-tabulations. How do women respond versus men? Younger generations versus older? C-Suite versus mid-level? It’s these deeper layers of insight that are most likely to drive strong headlines and capture media interest.
  5. Slice and dice. Make no mistake: Conducting a survey – even a brief one! – can be a resource intensive process. Get the most out of your investment by finding ways to return to the well of proprietary data month after month. Try to find new narratives or unearth fresh data points to fuel a newsjacking campaign. Use the data in marketing and social media campaigns. No matter the application, finding ways to replay your data over time is a clear demonstration that your research is relevant and that you have your finger on the pulse of your market.

I leave you with one other thought the chew on: If all of this seems like it requires a lot of work and brainpower, well, that’s because it does. But the payoff is having a survey – and an accompanying PR campaign – that stands head and shoulders above the others currently permeating the market. In other words, a survey shouldn’t be a method of last resort for generating media coverage; in order to succeed, it must be treated as a central pillar of your strategy.

Interested in seeing what our approach to surveys looks like in practice? Take a look at our work on the Global Energy Talent Index.

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