13 tips for creating an enlightening survey and pitching your findings

Gathering prevailing thoughts and insights requires crafting incisive queries in specific formats. How, then, do you get coverage for what they reveal? It takes more than a data dump.

The results of a well-executed 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 ignore them and delete the pitches. Even if organizations produce surveys loaded with information, they can fail to win coverage if the survey sponsors fail to frame and present results in a compelling way.

PR experts offer these tips—segmented here into specific phases of the process—to help ensure that surveys win widespread publicity for your organization.

Creating surveys with an eye to PR:

  • Devise probing questions. To elicit meaningful answers, review the questionnaires of many surveys and take clues from their questions. Offer multiple-choice answers that are substantive and well-differentiated. Avoid offering “none of the above” as an easy out; instead, ask survey participants to pick the best option. Consider yes/no questions, which produce higher and more compelling percentages. Avoid 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. Pick a compelling topic that will interest your target audience and generate media coverage. Avoid subjects covering familiar topics; journalists pay attention to research that reveals unexpected answers or new insights, advises Brian Lustig, a partner at Bluetext.
  • Promote the survey. If you conduct 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 enough respondents to be statistically significant. Many media outlets consider a respondent sample of 1,000 to 2,000 to be most reliable, Furdui says. There’s no upper limit; having more respondents heightens credibility.
  • Treat the survey results honestly. Analyze your responses; never exaggerate nor misuse the findings. Survey publicity works only when it reveals legitimate survey results, not biased interpretations.
  • Start backward. Begin 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 accordingly. (Keep in mind the previous point about honesty and objectivity, though.)
  • Support your products. Using the approach detailed above, develop survey questions that are likely to produce results that support the organization or brand goals and messages. Top executives won’t approve the public 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 might have to mine for 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 news outlets:

  • Contact journalists in advance. Reaching out to reporters and providing a quick introduction to the survey can prompt them to open your email pitch. Ask whether they are interested in surveys, as well as whether they prefer raw results or lack the time to review them. That information will help you fine-tune your contacts list.
  • Highlight the main points. Summarizing key findings related to a specific business issue increases the chances for media coverage. Overwhelming reporters with raw data could prompt them to ignore or delete the results. Be aware, however, that some publications require submission of complete survey data before they will publish your findings.
  • Avoid pats on the back. Clients often want to stress self-promotional findings that validate what they already know, but such “pat-on-the-back” pitches are unlikely to interest journalists, Funess says. Instead, lead with the most surprising statistic, even if it doesn’t support the sponsor’s key message. You can reveal promotional points later in the news release.
  • Create visuals content. Like most people, journalists love visual content. People understand survey results more quickly when data are conveyed in charts, graphs, infographics and other visualizations.
  • Consider the timing. Sync the release of the findings with a key event, such as a conference or trade show, or a relevant awareness day to maximize its news value, Moritz suggests. Also, a survey conducted annually can provide year-over-year updates and comparisons concerning trends in your industry.

Surveys can generate exceptional publicity results, especially if they reveal unexpected findings that contradict a conventional view. To create a successful survey, organizations must be meticulous in creating survey questions, packaging the data and pitching results to journalists.

A version of this post first appeared on the Glean.info blog.

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