Pr advice articles: Using PR research to boost your profile?

Look through any newspaper, magazine or news web site and you are bound to find a sizable chunk of content that was generated by someone somewhere conducting some research.   Despite being a slightly overused PR tool, if you do it right, publicising research conducted by your organisation can be a great way of raising its profile.

Why use PR research?

If you a haven’t got a lot of hard news or customer success stories to get the media (and prospects) interested, then conducting or commissioning research is one way of ‘creating’ news.  As well as generating media coverage, the same research can be used as content for marketing materials such as white papers, reports and presentations.

And if your research unearths something new and exciting about your industry, then it can help position your organisation as a credible ‘thought leader’.

Specialist agency or in-house research?

The most commonly used research technique is the survey.  You can commission a specialist market research agency to do this.  Or if you have a limited budget, it is possible to conduct surveys in-house. 

If you are going the research agency route, a cost effective option is to buy a number of survey questions within a larger omnibus survey.  In the high tech sector, research agency, Vanson Bourne, is well known for running regular omnibus surveys of both UK and European IT executives. 

With omnibus research you are sharing the survey with other customers (who each buy a slice of the questions) so it usually works out costing less than a tailored, ad hoc survey.

If you decide to run your own survey in-house, you need to consider how you will generate the sample data.  Some organisations use their company sales database.  Otherwise you will have to buy a list of targets from a list broker. 

Either way, it is possible to use online survey software such as Survey Monkey to create your questionnaire and distribute it via email, twitter or other social networks.  Create a prize draw for all completed questionnaires to encourage take up.

It is important to bear in mind however that if you are conducting your survey in-house, some top tier media will have less confidence in your findings and may decide not to use them.  Some publications will only use research if it has been managed by an independent research company that doesn’t have ‘an axe to grind’. 

Sample size

Getting the sample size for your survey right is very important.  Generally the bigger the sample, the more faith journalists will have in the findings. 

If you are researching the opinions of a niche audience such as users of a particular type of technology or CIOs within retail banks or pharmaceutical companies, you can get away with a slightly smaller sample – say 100 respondents.  But for a representative consumer survey, you need to aim for a sample size of 1000 and if possible 2000.

Coming up with survey topics

If you are running a survey purely for generating PR and marketing content, then you obviously want to pick a theme that ties in to your corporate messages or specific issues you want to highlight.  It goes without saying that it has to be newsworthy.

If you don’t automatically have a big issue you want to highlight, try looking at what challenges your customers are facing. Or what  issues ares going to be up and coming in your sector.  What do analysts think are the major talking points in the market? Are there major changes in regulation or other big developments coming up?

In all of this, it’s important to get your PR person or agency involved early on.  They can work to ensure the chosen theme and survey questions will resonate with journalists. 

If you know a friendly journalist, it is a great idea to run some of the research ideas by them to see what they think.

Does it have to be a survey?

This article has focused mainly on surveys because they are probably the most commonly used research tool by PRs.   But you could consider other research methods such as qualitative focus group studies or benchmarking of competing products or services.  

It may even be possible to draw some interesting research conclusions by looking at existing industry data.  Are there, for example, some interesting facts and figures you can collate from freely available sources such as company annual reports? 

Or, to add credibility, you could commission a business school to conduct a study based on secondary research data.

Publicising the findings

Once you have your data, you should consider creating a report which presents the information and the conclusions in a professional, easy to digest manner (PDFs are a good idea).  Include charts and diagrams if possible.   

The key findings should be written up in a brief, punchy news release which is the prime tool for approaching the media.  Try to include the most exciting finding in the headline or sub head.  And be sure to state the size and make-up of the sample and how and when the research was conducted.  If you try to fudge or hide this (to cover up a small sample size) you’ll just infuriate journalists.  

Consider sharing the release and report on social media networks.  Perhaps use the report as a call-to-action to encourage visitors to your web site.   Maximise value by using the findings in email campaigns, company presentations etc. 

Useful web sites

http://www.surveymonkey.com/

http://www.ipsos-mori.com/

http://www.vansonbourne.com/

http://www.yougov.co.uk/