The Keys To Mastering A Data-Driven Pitch

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Experienced PR professionals understand that having trusted data is often a good way to give your story credibility with the media. On the other hand, media are often skeptical of surveys and market research funded by corporations.

Just yesterday, The New York Times ran what it called “an unscientific study” by public relations firm Euro RSCG Worldwide. Social offerings and free services like Survey Monkey have made it easier than ever for one to conduct and release market research.

However, many large brands and agencies also opt to go with more established research companies, to give added credibility. Regardless of the method one takes, what are the best ways to slice and dice data to make it appealing to the media?

PRNewser recently spoke with Nathan Richter, Director, Polling for Public Relations at research consultancy Wakefield.

The company works with PR agencies Edelman, Ruder Finn, Golin Harris and Weber Shandwick, in addition to brand clients Qualcomm, Nintendo and Mastercard.

PRNewser: What are the key needs for a data-driven pitch?

Richter: There’s a couple things that have significantly effected all types of data-driven pitches. First, is the general retraction of the media landscape.

There are fewer editors to write stories. Second, is that we’re living in serious times. The tone and tenor of news has changed and part of that of course is the recession, but there are a lot of negative, big stories out there: two wars, a bad economy, bank failures, swine flu, the health-care debate. In looking at the top news stories from 2000 to 2009, there is a big shift to serious news stories.

You can’t just be quirky, light and silly. You have fewer people writing fewer stories, literally sucking a lot of air out of the media environment. What that meant for us is that survey data has to be both creative and credible.

Most people come to us with the “quirky” survey in mind. That stuff is great, but it’s not enough. It used to be single statistic could drive a feature, but now you need to back up creativity with credibility. A single statistic usually gives you nothing more than a brand mention.

PRNewser: Are media more skeptical of paid research?

Richter: Media are skeptical by nature. You’re always pitching into that environment. Are they more skeptical? No. Some of the novelty of quirky survey questions have worn off.

I think that as more PR folks use this tactic, and as products like the Omnibus have become more affordable, you’re pitching into a more saturated environment.

Good ideas will always get coverage, but good ideas that are made credible with survey data is a much stronger pitch.

[Editor’s note: An Omnibus is where several different companies come together on research, and share the costs.]

PRNewser: The media is awash in data and polling. How do you get through the noise?

Richter: That’s why transparency is so important. Work with experts who aren’t going to clean up your questions, but will think, ‘How will this question fare when tested by a fact checker?’ You can’t hide questions, you can’t hide demographic breakouts. You can’t hide the data from a reporter.

In regards to using a company like Survey Monkey, I say any animal who throws poop shouldn’t be doing polling.

PRNewser: What kinds of multimedia work best to supplement data pitches?

Richter: The best stuff that I’ve seen from our clients are ones that use tiered approach. Through the virtues of 140 characters [on Twitter] there is a wonderful way to tease out data, include a link to a press page that blows out data in greater detail.

We just did something for Qualcomm and they had a bunch of really dry market data and what we did for them was to think about it creatively first.

We found, for example, there are enough cell phones in use to build The Great Wall of China out of cell phones. So they were able to have these kind of fun takes on data that allow people to relate to it in human way.

Then they made a video, tweeted some of the stats, linked to a page with the data. People can look at the video, and Qualcomm used this against a number of formats. They used the data in a keynote address by their CEO. They used it in shareholder meetings. By virtue of putting it on these platforms, it allows people to ‘carry their water for them.’ You have an opportunity to see the pitch unfold.