As a member of 72Point’s market-leading team, it’s not surprising that I am keen to extol the virtues of the much talked about news generation tool – surveys. We have been the main innovators in this market so it’s hardly surprising that we like to talk about it, but let me explain why we love it so much.

As part of one of the world’s largest independent news agencies, established for close to 40 years, we feel that we know a thing or two about news. With over 150 editorial staff in our 6 offices in the UK and US, an award winning picture desk and a history of supplying news everyday to media outlets around the world we know what works and what does not.

Our newsroom receives hundreds (literally) of press releases every day and 99.9% of them end up on the spike (the pile of unusable material). It’s a shame, because believe it or not we want to use them, after all we are under pressure to distribute content, that’s how we make our living.

The problem is the news vs. PR balance is nearly always way out of kilter. Forget what you have been told about media relations being all about relationships, it is not. News people don’t want relationships, they want news – lots of it.

The reality is that nearly all press releases contain between zero and 10% news value and 100% to 90% PR value.

News people do not care for PR, just news.

Unless you can find a way of getting the balance in your story closer to 90% news and 10% PR then you are always going to be spending those terrifying release days hoping that you get some pick up so you don’t have to face a disappointed client, or boss.

Building News Content

Some of the best PR stories are ‘straight’ stories. We once found out that one of our clients who owned a chain of hotels had an elderly couple that had lived in the hotel for years. They just found it more convenient than living in a house. Bang! Easy news, great story and very easy to weave in some PR messages for the hotel group.

The challenge is that straight stories are often hard to find or limited at best. A new product launch, website redesign or new office opening is not news to anyone except those close to it and it is not going to fly.

We are often asked to write straight stories for start-ups. Amazing stories about college kids turning hobbies into great businesses. The problem is with this is that:

a) There are hundreds of these

b) If we really want to write about a great start-up we are going to go with the guys who started Uber or Airbnb…it’s easier!

Unless you have some great appealing straight news in your business (and you probably don’t – sorry) then you need to create some if you want coverage.

The lowest cost & most effective way of doing this is research. We land over 90% of what we put out. We give newsrooms great content and generate great coverage for our PR clients with this strategy.

How to use PR surveys

1) Start with the end in mind.

I have often seen PR professionals spend huge sums on research only to find that at the end of it they are left holding a pile of dull data. The best approach is to have the story idea before conducting the poll that will enable you to direct the survey questions towards the story and will always deliver stronger results

2) Ask enough questions.

A survey of five questions is normally going to struggle to give you enough for a story. We typically ask 19 questions. If you use a sensible survey provider (like our partner OnePoll) it doesn’t have to cost much and there is nothing worse than having to spin out a small amount of data. Sometimes you can even get two stories out of one survey as a bonus.

3) Demographics & number of respondents

With online polling it is possible to survey almost any demographic that you need, we recently did one aimed at just pediatricians, but for news it is normally fine to go for ‘general population’ – and the simpler the demo the lower the cost. Here in the US we find news editors will accept 1,000 respondents as substantial enough, we normally recommend 2,000 to be sure. We can get 2,000 responses ‘Gen Pop’ in just 24 hours. Media outlets are concerned about where data comes from; it should be ESOMAR & MRS compliant.

Once you have some data analyze it for compelling news hooks and single out those stats that make for good news content. News outlets want to know who commissioned the survey & why, this is the PR opportunity e.g: “In a study released today by XYZ brand it was revealed that…” this then creates a perfect segue into why the survey was commissioned in the form of a quote and creates an opportunity to add PR messages that chime for the brand and add value to the story.

By Tim Haslam