The PR Pro’s Guide to Successful Surveys — a Checklist

Melissa Hurley

Whether it’s a PR initiative from start to finish, or a way to get more bang for your marketing- research dollar, a thoughtful, well-engineered survey can be an excellent vehicle for generating media opportunities and gathering data to support your organization’s key messages.

In order to produce the results you want, however, planning is key. Below is a checklist of best practices for creating and promoting a survey for your PR or marketing program.

Phase One – Plan 

  • Determine the Goals: Start by developing a theme or story you’d like to tell. Make sure every survey question is designed to help you tell that overall story, regardless of whether the results come back in your favor or not. 

  • Define Success: What are the results you hope to see? Discuss the data that you want to gather and draft anticipated proof points. Brainstorm ways you can package the information you gather to share with the media.

  • Identify the Audience: Decide who will help you reach your survey goals. Customers or unbiased individuals? Consumers or professionals? This will ensure that your survey reaches the right people, as well as help clarify your results.

  • Select the Platform: The best thing about running a survey? It doesn’t have to be expensive. Many low-cost or free options exist, such as SurveyMonkey. Depending on your target audience, consider national survey vendors like Harris Interactive or omnibus options that can help you reach niche or wide audiences. 

Phase Two – Develop 

  • Construct the Questions: Craft the survey to ensure that questions are phrased to yield interesting data without leaning towards bias (in terms of industry, profession, location or age). If you’re using a survey vendor, a representative can also take a look at your survey and provide advice on phrasing.

  • Build the Answers: Instead of allowing respondents to select “all that apply” or the “top” priorities, ask them to rank items in order of importance. Ranking items will help you gain more interesting data and valuable insight into what your respondents care about the most.

  • Consider the Structure: When developing the content, take into account the flow and order of the questions and ultimately how you’d like to open and close the survey. Be mindful of your audience’s time; you don’t want to receive incomplete surveys at the expense of the survey length.

  • Cover Demographics: Everything from a respondent’s professional title to his location can help uncover additional demographic-based trends when you do your final analysis. Don’t neglect these questions when developing the survey.


Phase Three – Launch and Publicize 

  • Run a Beta Test: In order to weed out design flaws or tricky questions, have an internal team take the survey. You’ll quickly notice if there is any confusion with terms, and be able to poke holes in questions that won’t yield significant or compelling data (e.g. “all of the above” responses from every respondent won’t provide compelling data). 

  • Leverage Analysis: Many survey platforms offer additional analysis tools, including the option to use “cross tabs” that let you compare a question against demographics. Leveraging these tools can yield a whole new perspective that may offer reporters unique perspectives and trends. You can also work with a vendor to provide a comprehensive analysis.

  • Package the Results: Depending on the data your survey yields, you may be able to choose from a wide variety of internal and external formats for the content. Options could include a company white paper, formal report, webinar or infographic. Additionally, consider who will tell your survey’s story—if you’re polling Moms but your CEO is a lifelong bachelor, you may want to tap someone else as a spokesperson.

  • Deliver the Data: Consider the most impactful way to release the survey results. Should you provide them as an exclusive to a top-tier reporter, announce them via a press release or blog post, or time them with a particular event or news item? Work to evaluate the biggest PR opportunity. Keep in mind that certain outlets (the Associated Press and The New York Times, for example) have strict policies on what kind of surveys they’ll accept for publication.

Developing, distributing and analyzing a survey can yield new opportunities to provide reporters with important statistics and proof points. Reporters love data, but the key to getting coverage of a survey lies in effective execution—and promotion.


Melissa Hurley is senior director of Affect, a public relations and social media firm located in New York. For more information, web:; blog:; twitter: @teamaffect. She can be reached at [email protected].





2 responses to “The PR Pro’s Guide to Successful Surveys — a Checklist

  1. I would like to see more emphasis in these survey articles about deciding to use a statistically random sample versus a self-select sample. As we saw during polling in the last presidential election, good methodology makes a world of difference in how reliable the results will be for any survey. Perhaps a self-select sample is fine for some purposes, but those of us conducting the research should know and explain the difference when presenting our results.

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