Research can be powerful for PR efforts because new data and analysis often help anchor a story with facts and figures that have a deep interest and appeal to readers. But if the research is not clearly designed to support key messages in your PR plan, you may find yourself apologizing to managers for a campaign that failed. Worse yet, you may find yourself apologizing to an audience who got exactly the wrong message.
Last week, Allstate found itself in this unhappy situation when it released findings from “research” showing accident rates based on drivers’ astrological signs. The findings were absurd, showing that Virgos were 700% more likely to get into car accidents than Scorpios. The worst part was that some consumers believed it meant Allstate was analyzing astrological signs as part of its insurance underwriting process. Allstate scored a big hit for media placement, but found itself retracting the research and apologizing soon afterwards.
Regrettably, there are a lot of silly surveys, presumably to support PR. The PR folks and the research agencies proffering this kind of “research” clearly miss the whole point of doing research for PR, which is to document problems and solutions.
Here’s our suggestion for how to do better. The key to great research for PR is to focus on your core message and then use data to support it. Forget about grabbing media headlines with sexy and attention-getting statistics. Honest and compelling information about issues that concern people will provide a story with authenticity you can leverage. Here are four steps we suggest:
- Articulate a clear message that supports your business objectives
- Brainstorm relevant and important problems and solutions that are related to that message
- Write “dream headlines” around those problems and solutions using hypothetical facts and figures to support the message
- Conduct real research to uncover and document those problems and solutions
Allstate didn’t do this, admitting that their effort was designed to be “entertaining” rather than substantive. Had they thought about their message first and how research can be used support it, we doubt they would have tried to grab attention in the way they did.
For additional tips, read our recent article in Public Relations Tactics entitled “How to Create Surveys for PR Stories.” If you are contemplating research for PR and want to ensure avoiding the pitfalls of silly surveys, feel free to give us a call. We can advise you and your team on an optimal approach for conducting rigorous, substantive, and media-worthy studies to support your PR efforts.
—Joe Hopper, Ph.D.