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PR Masterclass

Every month, public relations expert Amanda Barry-Hirst will be explaining how to use PR tools to promote your business.

The PR Survey
In the world of Presidential elections, opinion polls and surveys have become a vital tool. Just ask Barack Obama or John McCain. Although not always reliable when it comes to voting habits (people say one thing, but do another), we are still fascinated by them. The media are too.  That's why surveys are one of the most popular tools in the PR box.

It's said that next to hard news, surveys gain the most editorial coverage. If you doubt this is the case, just take a look at this week's newspapers and online sites. It's a safe bet that there will be at least one news story based on survey findings.

Why use a survey?
A well-thought out and relevant survey can provide three essential ingredients of a good news story -  1) a new insight 2) topicality, and 3) relevance to readership. For the business or organisation commissioning the survey, it may also enhance 'expert' status in a particular area too.

For example, Envirowise's recent survey into the economic benefits of going green (MRW 29.8.08), asked businesses what three changes would be the best environmental measures to make their businesses more profitable. The results scored a hit on the criteria above and underlined Envirowise's credentials as sustainable business advisors.

Some businesses use surveys as a method of tracking changes in opinion and behaviour over a period of time. The Energy Saving Trust's (EST) Green Barometer is a good example of this, where changes in attitudes and behaviours are monitored every three months. The results provide the EST with an ongoing source of interesting and relevant news stories on emerging trends to offer journalists and builds EST's profile as a leading authority for energy saving issues.

Call in the experts
However, a word of warning with using surveys. If not undertaken wisely, they can be prove a costly waste of time and money. Careful planning and clear objectives are a must - as is the choice of survey method, the number of those questioned (sample size) and the construction of the questionnaire. Creating well-designed questionnaires is a specialist skill, so do get expert support. See my quick guide on How to Commission a PR Survey to get started.

 5 PR Survey tips:

* Keep the topic relevant to your business and target audience. Journalists will quickly spot a flaky PR puff survey and dump it.

* Use a robust sample size. Typically you need to question a minimum of 1,000 + people in order to get useable data. Too low and the margin for error makes the results unreliable.

* Consider 'piggybacking' onto an existing survey. Major opinion pollsters such as YouGov or Ipsos-MORI run what are known as Omibus surveys. These offer a more limited, but lower-cost route.

* Make the survey work hard for you by using the results as widely as possible eg: on your website, in presentations, new business approaches.

* Because surveys are still a PR tool, there's no guarantee the results will be used, or the source credited (your business). Offering exclusivity to one publication or online site before wider distribution is one way of increasing the odds of coverage.

Amanda Barry-Hirst is a freelance PR consultant, trainer and writer with specialist expertise in the waste and recycling sector.

If you have a comment about his column or have a PR issue youd like her to cover, email or go to

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