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We surveyed 1,000 people and the journalists said….’STOP’

When I started in PR almost 15 years ago ‘big numbers make good headlines’ was a mainstay of any PR 101 course. It is as true now as it was then.  In the creation of a news agenda, a big numbers-driven headline can work wonders. But over the last decade and a half I’ve seen a big shift in how those attention-grabbing numbers are produced, and rightly so.

 

For several years the common way to get to a big number headline was to run a consumer survey – a ‘1,000 people said’ quick-fire online questionnaire, and then multiply up the results to create an ‘interesting’ headline. And voila! In the blink of an eye, and for a small fee, 1,000 independent people had just demonstrated the size of a problem that your company’s product or service was ready to solve.  Easy PR?

 

Journalists were bombarded with these types of releases. And well thought-out consumer surveys that genuinely highlighted a mass customer problem worked for a short time. They won headlines and column inches for brands, and gave businesses a fast win to ‘make’ news, hooked onto anything from Mothers Day to Halloween, the World Cup to the Great British Bake Off.

 

But fast forward to 2018 and the media appetite has moved on: any PR trying to ‘sell-in’ a story based purely on market research of 1,000 people will quickly find it harder than ever to gain coverage.

 

Here’s why:

 

  • It’s been done. To death. The chances of you stumbling on something new, that hasn’t been done many times before but is also interesting and credible are slim to non-existent.
  • Journalists want unique, credible, stories: churning out ‘quick and dirty’ research that’s been created with very carefully crafted questions and answers is as bad for their credibility as it is yours (at best you might sneak an occasional exclusive through).
  • You could be accused of producing fake news.
  • A survey of just 1,000 people really is just a snap-shot, and dissecting it by age of respondent, UK region (or any other split) leaves sample sizes so small that drawing comparisons is futile – and that’s often where the interesting nuggets of gold in such stories would lie.
  • In an age where widespread legitimate data from business, government and other non-biased sources is readily available there is quite simply no need – there’s more credible data and your competitors who seek it out and present it in a digestible format will appeal more strongly to the press.
  • And finally, to be honest, it’s just a bit lazy. PR is so much more valuable as a strategic marketing tool than churning out campaigns this way: quick-fix market research just can’t beat good creative campaigns, and, for the most part, there’s no need to rely on it this way.

 

I say for the most part because, there’s no denying that in some scenarios (which are few and far between) there really is no other way of gaining a ‘whole of market’ view of the size of a problem – there simply is no existing data from a more credible source. But ‘a survey said’ consumer polls should now be absolutely the exception not the rule when it comes to number-driven headlines.  And if they really do have to be used, something should be added to them to enhance the credibility, whether it’s a company’s own data, a case study or parallels to similar international studies, for example.

 

So how else do you create credible headlines from numbers in 2018? Big Data is all around – online, in the companies we represent; in the everyday decisions and purchases we make as consumers. Our job as PR professionals is to harness and translate it into real news.  It might mean more leg-work but the results are undeniably better.

 

Our tips? Start simply. Look at what data you have in the business you represent. Befriend the in-house analyst. Look at what the industry body has available, the government department for the industry, the census, the internet! The possibilities are endless. All it takes is creativity, patience, a good analytical mind and a bit of number crunching know-how!

 

Intrigued to know more? Check out how we used big data to jump on the media conversation about President Donald Trump, and to lead debate on school holiday package prices.

 

Zoe is Senior Account Manager in BrandContent’s PR team. You can learn more about her here.

Zoe Paines

Hi, I’m Zoe, Senior Account Manager on the PR side at Brand Content. I’ve spent 15 years in communications having worked in-house for PR departments including Nationwide, Confused.com, Friends Life and Aviva (a bit of a financial services geek I suppose). From broadcast PR on house prices, consumer coverage for pensions, crisis communications and managing changes of listed company brand name I’ve covered most products and services in financial services. Having spent a year in the accountancy team at WHSmith as part of my degree I’m (perhaps unusually for a PR) a lover of spreadsheets and numbers so happy to hunt out the news behind the numbers. Outside of work I’m a mummy of two and I love to run (when I have time). My husband is a personal trainer and runs a gym so life is fun-filled but hectic. A glass of wine and a movie at the end of the week helps me relax but for a real recharge of batteries there’s nothing I like better than a family beach holiday somewhere hot and sunny!

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