PR Studies: Advice for the Research Team
Research for PR is definitely not “research lite” as my former boss used to think. It is the opposite, and requires more attention to rigor than strategic research. Why? Because no other research gets such intense scrutiny from people outside our firm and from audiences beyond our clients. It can’t be “directional.” It has to be right. It has to withstand the glare of media attention and a skeptical public.
That’s a challenge we love, which I shared with a generous audience at LIMRA’s 2017 Marketing and Research Conference. Versta Research presented a session on Finding Stories: Building Better Research for PR Campaigns. We offered a “how to” on designing surveys that ensure compelling stories regardless of how the data fall out.
The presentation ended with five tips for the PR side and five tips for the research side of a campaign. Last week we provided a summary of advice for the PR team. Now it is the research team’s turn. If you are a research professional working with your PR team and hoping to turn data into stories, here are the most important things to keep front and center in your effort:
- Start with a story. Before you think about topics to explore and survey questions to ask, start at a broader level. Think through the story your research will ultimately tell—the messaging, the angle, and the rationale for sharing research data in the first place. This will be easy if you can shepherd your colleagues on the PR side to develop dream headlines.
- Work down to the details. Once you know the story, lay out the topic areas that will feed that story, and start writing survey questions to deliver data on those topics. You can’t guarantee the data will deliver the answers your PR team wants. But starting with the story and working down to the details ensures that your data will be relevant and tightly focused on a story that needs to be told.
- Imagine reporting the data. For every survey question and every possible answer, image reporting a data point in a press release. No matter which way the data falls, you should be able to see how it supports a relevant message. Plus, your answer scales need to be simple and easy to communicate. Do not use numeric scales, for example, as they cannot be reported easily.
- Work back up to a story. When you have your data, start from scratch. Do not “fill in the story” with numbers. Instead, wipe the dream headlines from your brain and work inductively back up from the numbers. We recommend finding one number on each page of your tabulations that is most compelling. Organize into themes, summarize in bullets, and start building a new story.
- Numbers are only evidence. The goal is to extract several new headlines from the data, each of which has supporting sub-headlines, backed by summary statements citing survey data as evidence. If you can, write your headlines without any statistics or numbers at all. Why? Because numbers and data are never the story. They merely provide the evidence that your story is true.
The benefit of this approach is that no matter what your PR team hopes you find (now you can go back and peek at those dream headlines again!) you will end up with an authentic story that is directly relevant to the messages they want to deliver. I promise you, they will be delighted beyond your wildest dreams.