The Power of Surveys – a newsmaking tool

There’s an expression in public relations that makes sense: If you want to make news, do a survey. Americans are fascinated with surveys, and they believe them for the most part. Sure, we know that some surveys can be less-than-factual or use faulty methodologies. However, well-conducted canvassing can generate a lot of interest.

Surveys and polling are powerful tools. The quantitative data and the qualitative answers can greatly enlighten you and may, just maybe, sway your opinion about something.

A few years ago, our company conducted a survey of residents in a mid-sized Midwestern town. The idea was to better understand what parents of school-aged children thought about the educational system in the town. In addition, we wanted to know what voters who didn’t have children thought about education and its importance.

You see, there were a couple of grumpy town councilors who wanted to restrict school budgets. I don’t know if these elected officials had kids in school or not. My belief is they did not even have youngsters in the house. So, a few corporate citizens decided to fund a study and “test the waters” to see how residents felt about keeping education funding at current levels. After all, the corporations in this town were huge economic forces, and their collective belief was that to attract top talent, they needed excellent schools. I could not argue with that.

We conducted the survey and the results showed overwhelming support for education, not only for keeping school budgets intact but also for increased school funding, even if it involved a tax levy. Wow, now that was news.

With the survey firmly in our hands, we developed a strong public relations program that would kick off with a news conference announcing the astounding results to the media and public. Parents and teachers united, holding a demonstration adjunct to our news conference. Bam. The detractors (i.e. the grumpy officeholders) were caught flat-footed with no empirical data to back up their positions.

Needless to say, our “team” won the battle.

Surveys can be a powerful newsmaking tool in the hands of public relations practitioners. They are not panaceas for all situations, but they often can be pulled out, sharpened and used effectively.

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