9 tips for effective PR surveys

Questionnaires can bring rich data to PR and marketing pros, but only if they’re well-written and to the point. 


A PR survey could explore key audience messages, support the promotion of a brand, or create new content for an ebook or infographic. Or it may be a flash poll, designed to pick up on a very current story in the news, or a survey to set an agenda with new insights. Whatever the purpose, an effective PR survey gets to the point quickly and asks clear questions.

Here are nine tips to help create an effective poll:

1. Keep the questions short.

It’s generally best to keep both the individual questions and the full questionnaire as short as possible, always concentrating on the key objectives of the survey and the potential headlines you want to generate.

2. Use closed questions.

For most surveys, closed-ended questions will generate the results you need. Open-ended questions can generate some credible quotes, but in general, are of limited use for media content.

If you need to report percentage and mean scores, there is little point in asking open questions.

3. Use credible stories.

Quirky or fun stories make good headlines, but unrealistic surveys do not. Whatever the angle, the survey must be seen to deliver something objective and credible.

4. Don’t force answers.

Too many PR surveys are still based on leading questions and limited answer choices.

While this approach will increase your chances of getting the “right” answer, it also risks being found out by more inquisitive journalists or delivering skewed answers.

5. Beware of sample size.

Nationwide surveys (nationally or generally representative) typically should be 1,000 interviews.

The sample size for niche groups, such as young moms or business decision makers, can be as few as several hundred to be credible. Larger surveys are best, though, if the budget is available.

6. Think internationally.

Conducting international surveys is more affordable online than it used to be. Consider surveys with a mix of countries to represent different regions.

7. Consider location and sample size.

National surveys are popular, but regional or even city-based surveys can be used to focus on the regional press.

Be careful not to combine national and regional surveys without a sufficient sample size. For example, 1,000 interviews provide enough scope to compare London with the North East, but often not enough interviews to compare London with Birmingham.

8. Reconsider ranking questions.

Ranking a question in order can sound like a good idea, but sometimes PR execs struggle with how to report the results.

Are you interested in the rank order, or do you just want to know what percentage mentioned x, y, and z? If it’s the latter, reconsider ranking.

9. Be realistic with business-to-business surveys.

You are not going to reach executive respondents in large companies via an online panel. Consider whether you need to reach the most senior job titles or whether other decision makers will suffice.

Often, decision makers that aren’t executives are not only more realistic to reachl, but actually may know more about the subject. For example, Internet security is something an IT network manager will know more about than the chief information officer.

Data quality

One of the most important issues of being effective, in terms of outcome, is data quality. It doesn’t make the list because it’s not an easy tip to explain, but it is important. Data quality is often not seen as important until the data is shown to be wanting.

There are many new ways to gather straw poll data, including online services that intercept respondents via websites. You should take concern with this type of service and data; there are questions to be asked about whom the respondents are and the quality of response.

Polling companies are concerned with issues like having a robust sample, representativeness, and removing poor quality data. If they do their job properly, data quality doesn’t raise its head above the parapet. It may be unseen, but it’s still important.

Neil Cary is an experienced market research consultant and founder of both Surveygoo and Asia Opinions. A version of this story originally appeared on PR in Your Pajamas.

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