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10 tips to secure headlines with your PR survey

New research shows that 98 per cent of all emails pitching a PR survey get deleted by journalists without even reading them.

I totally made that up, but I suspect it’s about right. When I was a journalist on Fleet Street, a job I did for over 20 years, I was always irritated by lazy brand survey stories which stood no chance of being published.

The PR surveys which annoyed me the most were those with a tenuous link to some kind of ‘day’ or spurious anniversary. The day itself had usually been made up for a previous PR initiative anyway.

It is very hard to achieve effective cut through with a PR survey. Doing it properly takes a lot of creativity, news judgement and careful planning.

However, effective insight, which throws up genuinely interesting or humorous facts, can still be a useful tactic in any communications campaign.

It’s always impressive when organisations do get it right and manage to achieve a significant news story which gets picked up by the national media.

So what are the secrets to survey success? How can you ensure that your PR survey achieves great headlines?

Here are ten top tips from The PHA Group:

Decide what message you want to land

Start by thinking what your ideal headline would be and work back from there. Some surveys are pure branding exercises to raise visibility for a company, organisation or individual. Others are more focussed around landing a specific message. Whatever the nature of the project, it’s always good practise to envisage your ideal story first and plan all the questions around that.

Conduct digital analysis and research previous stories

A sophisticated survey strategy should start with detailed media mapping, competitor analysis and SEO research. This will identify exactly which media to target and learn from previous stories which have worked. This is when you should double check what you want to say is new. Research key SEO terms to incorporate into your copy which will help drive referral traffic. Developing specific landing pages on your site can also drive backlinks from key media.

Identify your ideal media target

This decision will be informed by the digital research and backed up by experience and knowledge of the media landscape. The perfect news outlet will depend on your needs. Some brands are looking for maximum exposure through a popular tabloid site. Others might want to be more selective and hit a target broadsheet audience. A well-connected PR will use their media network to offer the survey results to a trusted contact.

Make sure your desired headlines are newsworthy

This is where it helps to have some journalistic experience on the team. There’s no point investing in a research project unless the final headline is going to excite editors and readers. Work hard to ensure that your key statistics are genuinely interesting.

Be counter intuitive and bold

The best survey results are surprising. Don’t tell people what they already instinctively know. Research stories need to throw up a revelation or fascinating fact. Insight into human behaviour is good, perhaps pegged to a new trend or big event (not a ‘day’). Statistics also work well but they need to be big numbers. It’s not that interesting if only ‘half of Brits’ think something. It’s better when it’s a large majority or minority.

Pick a great research partner

A good research company will help you to shape the questions to get the right statistics. There are loads of research firms out there now. But use someone who pays great attention to detail who also has experience of generating stories for the media. They’ll know how to shape questions to get the nuances right and the narrative you have in mind.

Don’t make it too complicated

The average research project asks about ten questions. But by the time those answers have been segmented by gender, age, location and other demographics you can end up with a lot of data. The best stories will cherry pick just a few key statistics. You don’t need to tell the whole story and make it comprehensive. This is not a marketing project or an academic paper. The best PR survey stories have just a handful of great insights.

Exclusive or ‘all round’?

The perennial debate with any PR survey. Should you take it out widely to numerous media outlets on the same day or cherry-pick an exclusive contact to place it with? From my experience the more targeted you can be the better. If you send your results to numerous titles on a selected day you risk ending up with patchy coverage – or worst of all, no coverage. It is usually more effective to pick an exclusive partner and give them time to run it. A hybrid approach is to place an initial exclusive with one outlet and then send a second batch of findings more widely.

Press release or pitch?

Journalists appreciate it when you can present your research in a format which is as close to a finished story as possible. This makes their lives easier. Many PR firms now offer to write a survey up as a story which is ready to go, in the style of the target outlet. However, if you are going for the all-round approach, then a press release is still a good option.

Local stats are good, but you need to be city specific

Regional and local press should be an important component of any good media strategy. The big regional titles get large audiences and local papers can hit very specific demographics. Journalists at these titles appreciate it when you make the effort to give them a story tailored to their area. However, regional data is not usually enough. It costs more to commission, but data which is specific to a city or town is what these titles want.

If you’d like to discuss how to leverage an effective PR survey for your organisation get in touch today.

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