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Using Surveys to Drive Media Coverage


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If you pay attention to the news, you’ve no doubt come across headlines like these:

Gen-Z Survey Shows How to Get the Most from This New Workforce

Advisors Down on Crypto but Give Pot Stocks and Passive Investing a Thumbs Up: Survey

Chilling Survey Links Party Affiliation and Belief in “Handmaid’s Tale” Reality

What do they have in common? All three announce articles built around the findings from surveys. 

The first, in Forbes, cites a survey conducted by the Workforce Institute, which is apparently the research arm of HR software company Kronos.

The second, from CNBC, highlights research conducted by the Financial Planning Association in partnership with a couple of other industry groups. (Tip: partnering with other stakeholders in your industry is a great way to get more traction for your findings.)

The third, from Mashable, looks at a survey conducted by marketing research group Morning Consult in conjunction with The Hollywood Reporter.

These are, in my opinion, pretty bangin’ placements. Why did they happen? Because the research they cite is…

  • Original (which is why they’re news).
  • Timely (graduation season is new-hire season, the markets are a little iffy right now, and a new season of The Handmaid’s Tale just launched).
  • Useful or interesting to their audiences.

I’m here today with some excellent news: you, too, can get bangin’ placements by conducting original research (though of course results are not guaranteed).

Last week, Propllr welcomed to our office Kathy Steinberg of The Harris Poll, a leader in research for public release. She talked about how startups can tap into the power of the survey to achieve stellar marketing and PR results. 

Here, I’ll summarize the highlights of what she told us.

What Is a Survey for Public Release?

First, some quick background: the surveys I’m talking about in this piece are called “surveys for public release,” meaning they’re done with the intent of being shown to the public.

They’re different from market research surveys, which companies typically do to learn more about their market, customers, or brand. Market research might drive internal strategy and decision making, but it isn’t released to the public and therefore won’t drive media coverage.

What Can a Survey for Public Release Get You?

Why, media coverage, of course!

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. With original research, you can also…

  • Create a report or whitepaper to use as a lead-gen tool.
  • Create a report or infographic to strengthen your link-building strategy.
  • Present your findings at an industry conference.
  • Create materials to lobby elected officials for your cause.
  • Publish your findings to demonstrate thought leadership or get your stakeholders’ attention.

These are all possible because we’re living in the Age of Data. You’ve probably heard that data is the new oil or that data is power.

For better or worse, data is the new standard by which we measure truth.

Without data, your arguments are little more than opinions. With data, though, you have the power to get people’s attention

Sound like something you’d be into? Read on for how surveys can make you a source of data people care about.

How to Make a Survey Work for You

The key to getting survey results that will drive media coverage, according to Steinberg, is to begin with the end in mind: start by writing a few dream headlines that might be inspired by your survey findings (like the ones at the start of this piece).

Once you know what you want out of the survey, it’s much easier to determine…

  • What questions to ask.
  • How to ask these questions (through a custom survey? As part of an omnibus?).
  • Who to ask these questions (i.e., who should be in your sample).
  • When to ask these questions (e.g., if you want a benchmark report, you may have to ask the same questions every quarter or every year).

When you work with a third party like The Harris Poll, they’ll help you refine your goals, design and manage your survey, and make sure your findings adhere to industry standards.

Your job (once you’ve defined your goals) includes identifying media targets, signing off on any changes the polling company recommends, and getting the word out when it’s over (though your PR firm can help you with that last one).

According to Steinberg, there are a few best practices for conducting a survey for public release to maximize your odds of enticing reporters and others whose attention you’re hoping to attract. They include the following:

  1. Don’t be cheap and dirty. (Her words, I swear!) What she means is that you should use sound methodology and not try to game the results. Why? First, because it’s the right thing to do. And second because reporters are much savvier than they used to be about survey results. Now that surveys have become more popular, they know to ask relevant questions about sample size, sample definition, question wording, and more. In other words, if your findings don’t hold water, they won’t hold a reporter’s interest, either.
  2. Remember the goal of the research. It’s for the public. That means your questions should address topics that the public (or the segment of the public you want to talk to) cares about.
  3. Do your homework. There’s a lot of research out there already. When you’re planning your research, take time to see what we already know and how your survey can contribute to an ongoing conversation. One service that The Harris Poll offers is helping find a new angle on a topic if necessary.
  4. Consider the shelf life of your findings. Surveys about social media behavior will be outdated in six months. Surveys about holiday shopping will be outdated much sooner. Other research may be “fresh” for several years. Do you plan to conduct the same study every year as a benchmark? Do you want this to power your marketing for a couple quarters? Know what you’re hoping to get out of the research to make sure the questions you're asking have the appropriate endurance.
  5. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Sure, it would be great to find that 90 percent of Americans have the problem you’re trying to solve, but… what if only four percent do? Steinberg recommends asking questions in multiple ways and being prepared to parse your findings by subgroups to discover points of interest.
  6. Set objectives. This might include goals for where you’d like your findings covered and what kind of headlines you’d like to see. Once you understand what you’re hoping to get from the survey, it’s easier to design a survey that works for you.
  7. Identify your target audience. And remember that your target audience isn’t the same as your sample definition. If it’s too expensive to survey your customers, for example, could you survey their customers (in a B2B space)? This is somewhat nuanced, and it’s something The Harris Poll’s team can help you get right.

How Much Does it Cost?

The good news is that there are really affordable survey options available.

To do a full custom study, you’re looking at $35,000 or so. 

But to purchase a single question in a general population survey, your starting price is just $1,100. This is possible through the power of the omnibus survey, and it’s a big opportunity for startups with a lean marketing budget.

Here’s how omnibus surveys work:

  • They typically target a standardized sample of the general population: adults aged 18+, both in the US and globally.
  • They run regularly, meaning they have a quick turnaround.
  • They typically include 20 or fewer questions.
  • They’re typically priced per question, so any participant can buy as many or as few as they need.
  • Upon completion of the survey, participants get access to all data tables relevant to their questions, meaning they’re free to parse, publish, and pitch the findings as they see fit.

Tip: Steinberg mentioned that omnibus surveys are usually a good fit for anyone whose sample is a sizeable percentage of the general population (down to about 10 percent). She also noted that, if your sample is a smaller group of the general population, you could ask the same question in multiple omnibus surveys and merge the responses on the backend.

Why Not Just Use Survey Monkey?

This is a really important question: why not use a free (or cheaper) survey platform and go the DIY route?

The biggest reason to pay a group like The Harris Poll is that they lend credibility to your findings. They make sure you’re asking effective and fair questions, they poll a properly weighted group of people, and they ask enough people to get statistically significant results.

If your goal is media coverage or inbound links, that matters. It’s easier than ever to do surveys, and reporters know that.

As I mentioned above, they’re more skeptical of survey findings than they once were. They know which questions to ask whether your methodology was sound, whether your results can be trusted, and therefore whether those results are worth reporting on.

Interested in learning more? Get in touch! I’d be happy to connect you with Kathy!