Research-based PR stories – fact or fiction?

Research-based PR stories – fact or fiction?

He might have been referring to many of the poorer research-based PR stories that crop up in the media. A headline such as “Over half of British men think their mums are better cooks than their partners”, may grab the attention, but, if the research behind the headline is of dubious quality, then so is the story.

What makes some research statistics – and their resultant headlines – ‘dubious’? I believe there are a number of contributory factors. These include:

  • PR agencies selecting research providers solely on the basis of price
  • Clients and their PR agencies demanding ever faster turnarounds on research, to the detriment of good questionnaire design
  • Research agencies not being involved in checking research-based PR releases before they go out

For me, the real culprit, however, is poor questionnaire design, and here the research agency really needs to man-up and work with you to make sure it is MRS compliant!

Put yourself in the position of a panellist taking part in an omnibus survey. You’ll be expected to answer questions on a wide variety of topics. If you don’t know an answer, chances are you’ll take a guess, as opposed to ticking a ‘don’t know’ box.

This is a particular problem in financial research, where most questions revolve around how much people earn, borrow, save, invest and spend. I don’t know about you but, off the top of my head, I couldn’t tell you what interest rate I’m paying currently on my mortgage or what my annual car insurance premium is. And I might not want to admit my ignorance, so would probably take an educated guess. If I’m not alone in doing this, then the survey findings – and resultant statistics – are going to be completely skewed.

So how do you avoid this happening?

  • Ensure that you or your PR agency uses a bona fide research agency which includes questionnaire design assistance in its omnibus/research charges
  • Discuss with your research agency the themes and angles you’re hoping to generate from the research
  • Involve your research agency in interpreting the research findings – get them to check your press releases before they go out
  • Ensure that all press releases include a statement of how and when the research was conducted
  • And finally, if you unable to answer a research question yourself, don’t ask it

Market research is great at producing headline-grabbing news stories, but ‘damned lies’, as Disraeli put it, are not worth the paper they’re written on.

Opinium is a full service research agency, a member of the British Polling Council and an MRS Company Partner.