Deploying Online Market Research To Spark Better Media Relations

Ned Barnett
Ned Barnett

Ongoing media relations success depends not only on having something new to say, but, also, something that will get the media’s attention. By nature, this often tends to make media relations efforts reactive, dependent upon others to create the news hooks. However, there is a simple and direct way of creating news, at the time when you need to get a message out. This involves using online market research tools to create studies, then selectively releasing the findings to the news media. 

Because the media have a voracious appetite for the “new,” market research findings can usually find a welcome home with targeted media outlets.  If the survey is properly constructed, the “news” its findings create can be so compelling that major news outlets end up covering businesses that might otherwise fall under the radar.

For example, for a client with $1 million dollars in annual sales we conducted an online survey of the 13,000 small-and-mid-sized business CEOs who are listed in the company’s database. 

We generated a 1.3% response rate, enough to interest the media. By starting the survey with five questions about trends in the business economy, followed by another five questions about trends facing each CEO’s own business we created a pool of data likely to hold significant interest for the business media. One major business publication—which only covers companies generating $50 million dollars or more in annual sales—agreed to publish the data. 

To do that, the publication agreed to interview my client’s CEO. That interview ran 90 minutes and generated significant press coverage, stemming from a business-news channel that might otherwise have been difficult to reach.

The media like quantifiable news. As long as you spell out the survey methodology, self-selected-participation surveys that are not necessarily “scientifically valid” should not deter the media from covering the results.  It also helps if there is a third-party that conducts the survey.

To succeed in using online market research to generate press coverage, you need to include these key elements in the survey process:

  • A newsworthy topic to research, one that relates to the client and holds interest for business or trade media.
  • An email contact list that reaches 25,000 or more targeted individuals and the ability to send out that email blast without it being deemed spam.
  • A “sizzling” invitation email that is provocative, reassuring and motivating.
  • Access to an online survey tool (such as Zoomerang or Survey Monkey).
  • A series of five to 20 questions, each of which is written in such a way that the results are newsworthy regardless of how the target audience answers. The questions should include an opening set of questions that deals with trends in the overall economy, followed by a set of questions about trends in the industry itself and conclude with questions focused on the client.

Let’s deconstruct each of these areas:

Topic: First, have a newsworthy topic that is closely related to your client.  The topic is what will ultimately catch the media’s attention, so it needs to be tied to current news interest or business/market trends.  

Target audience: Next, you need an email list of roughly 25,000 focused names, such as CEOs of SMBs, because return rates on this kind of pitch tend to run at one-half of one percent. Typically, you need more than 100 responses to persuade the media that this is a valid group worth looking into.  To be effective, the target audience must also relate in some way to the client and its business model, products or services.

Email invite: This brief email must be provocative and motivate the recipient to act.  If you can give them a stake in the process—anything from “let your voice be heard” to “you could win an iPhone”— so much the better. If you can avoid making offers and still succeed in attracting participants, this will simplify your efforts, but under the inexorable law of “WIIFM—What’s In It For Me” —you need to find some way of motivating participation.

Survey tools: Any reputable online survey tool will work; Zoomerang and Survey Monkey are well-known and well-established survey tools.

Questions: The most important factor in writing the questions is this: the answers need to be newsworthy, regardless of what the answers reveal.  This means the questions—while they cannot be “leading” questions—must nonetheless be provocative, as well as professional.

Begin with a series of five warm-up questions that focus on general business topics or trends.  

For instance, near the transition of any calendar year—from about November 15 to January 31—ask questions about prospects for the coming year and how the business climate (both nationally and for the respondent’s business personally) will compare with the previous year.

Alternatively, ask about the respondent’s reactions to an upcoming business transition, such as the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, which goes into effect in early 2014.

This serves two purposes. First, it gets the respondents focused on answering questions that are so generic in nature that their guard will go down.  Next, and equally important, it provides business-media reps with information that they will find newsworthy.  

That becomes your lever in pitching the media to cover the results of the rest of the survey, as well.

Following these steps, you will generate useful results that will catch the media’s attention and provide you with leverage for generating favorable press coverage for your client.

You can do this on a slow news day just to keep your client in mind or immediately before a major media tour, to give you something new and valuable to discuss with reporters and editors. 

Floor Plan: Taking Surveys at Trade Shows 

If you have a booth, tradeshows are a great place to conduct a very focused survey, one whose results can be announced before the end of the event. Invite people into the booth to take the survey, and offer them an incentive to participate (a drawing can be very effective if the gift justifies the time and effort).  

In addition to at-the-booth participation, using other promotion tools available at the trade show (posters, a daily newsletter, etc.), invite people to participate from their own laptops or smart phones; be sure to offer them an incentive, too, perhaps one that can be picked up at the booth to increase booth traffic even further.

Start the survey with three to five general questions about trends in the economy follow this up by asking five trending questions about the industry itself—also useful for generating trade press coverage—then wrap it up with another three to five questions directly related to your own product or service.   

As the results begin to come in, trends will begin to emerge, allowing you to draft a press release early in the process – then refine it each night after that day’s results come in.  If there is a press room at the trade show, announce in advance that you will be issuing a last-day press release with important findings about the industry and the economy.  

Finally, on the last day, finalize the release, circulate it (in both print and digital format) at the trade show press room and distribute on the newswire.  

In this way, you can generate more favorable press coverage tied to your trade show participation, in addition to using the survey to attract more people to your booth.



Ned Barnett is founder of Barnett Marketing Communications. He can be reached at [email protected].