5 tactics for successful survey research in times of uncertainty

With the shelf life for your research data getting shorter and shorter, here are some tactics to make sure your project shows results—even if journalists don’t jump at your pitch.


If you work in PR long enough, it will happen to you: Skimming the news one morning you see that the exciting finding from a research project you just wrapped up has been published by someone else first.

It’s a frustrating predicament, especially when you receive the Slack notification from your client asking what you’re going to do about all that wasted budget.

Even in the most predictable of times, it happens. But in 2020, when entire business models have become defunct overnight, PR pros are facing one of the most challenging media landscapes we’ve ever encountered. Data has a short lifespan, and no matter how solid your research strategy is, someone can always get to that newsy statistic before you.

This year we’ve seen massive swings in both consumer behavior and news cycles, but that doesn’t mean data is out and mediocre company milestones are in. The standards have just changed. Survey research can still be a solid way of getting ink—and if done right, will support multiple strategic areas of the business.

Following these five tips will help ensure your investment pays off, even if journalists don’t bite:

1. Move quickly.

This has always been a given but is now more critical than ever. Relevancy fades as quickly as it comes, and data that used to stay fresh for a year or more can now be outdated within days.

It’s crucial for your team to move fast, but don’t rush through the strategic planning stage or fail to be thoughtful in your approach. Instead, commit to decisive review cycles, and choose a partner that can execute the project quickly once the objectives are set.

2. Leave room for real insight, and think beyond behaviors.

Drafting your survey by starting with a dream headline is a great way to get clarity around your objectives. But don’t just confirm the hypotheses that feel like facts within your own echo chamber. Seek to actually learn something new about your audience.

It’s easy to ask surface level questions around behavior. It’s harder to uncover motivations, perceptions and rationale—the why behind consumer attitudes and actions. That’s where you’ll find real insights, and your data will become different from others’ even if the general topic is the same.

3. Share your data widely and immediately within your company. 

Nobody wants the product team ruining a good comms survey with bland questions, but including a few questions that relate directly to your company’s offering or support your unique value proposition can ensure that even if no journalists write an article about your survey, the data can still be used for messaging and marketing purposes.

The biggest mistake communications pros make when it comes to handling their survey data is mining it for media nuggets, then stowing the rest away in a local folder to be forgotten. More often than not, the findings can be leveraged by the product, marketing and sales teams, as long as the topic was closely tied to your business’ communication objectives in the first place.

4. Don’t forget you live in a bubble. 

Our bubbles may be different, but we all live in them. A good research strategist needs to intentionally look outside their own bubble when drafting a survey.

Find a subreddit related to your survey topic. Mine the comments section of similar articles for ideas. Do quick polls among your friends to see how they’d answer a certain question. Pay attention to anything you encounter that runs against your own experience. If you are positive you’ll reach a certain conclusion with your research, you’re probably wrong (or you’re doing something that’s been done dozens of times before and you should move on).

Time after time, the top answer selected on a given survey question has been the choice added at the last minute, as an afterthought, “just in case.”

5. Don’t stop short of the finish line.

If your data only lives in a press release, you’ve been short sighted.

Create beautiful content to give your data a home, such as a designed digital report or interactive landing page you can refer back to long after the initial launch. If budgets or timelines are too tight, at minimum, a permanent blog post on the company’s website is warranted.

Share stats from the survey on social media. Use data as speaking points for executives. Host a webinar using the survey findings as a platform to highlight your brand’s capabilities. I’ve even had clients include survey data as a proof point in an awards submission. Proprietary data you own will always hold value. Go back and scan the results every few months to see what might be newly relevant for a rapid response pitch or timely byline.

The goal is always great media placement, but survey research offers few guarantees. Risk is unavoidable when you’re out to discover the unknown. Don’t let that uncertainty paralyze you.

Dig in and commit to your investment. It will pay off.

Kelsey White is a market research manager at Method Communications.



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