A tried, tested and proven means of generating compelling content, securing consistent quality media coverage and enhancing organisational reputation is creating a research-based index – featuring headline grabbing statistics and insights – then providing expert insight on the findings.

PR using data to create big media impact

The research can be market research, where a specific group of people are questioned on an aspect of their knowledge, opinions or behaviour, or it can investigate phenomena which already has underpinning data in existence. The latter might include the behaviour of mining shares from Australian-based companies over a period of time, factors which are impacting on home lending or the population movements and trends within a specific country.

For the best possible credibility, an organisation would commission a 3rd party to undertake the research (the 3rd party can be paid, but it must be a reputable 3rd party), so as to make it known the findings were generated without bias or to meet the commissioning organisation’s preferences.

The findings themselves would then be analysed, perhaps by another credible 3rd party, but certainly by the commissioning organisation itself as well:

  • the final result could be captured in a white paper which contains all the data and insights
  • this, in turn, forms the basis of a media release and opinion pieces for the media, as well as other forms of content for organisational websites
  • a further media tactic is to offer the white paper/index content as a media exclusive
  • the content can also be shared with relevant bloggers to write about the research and insights.

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When making an investment such as this, however, because doing this properly is not cheap, the ideal is to ensure a wide array of media coverage and stakeholder interest. Further applications and benefits of this content include:

  • Being used in direct sales mail or email to target audiences as a value-adding, thought leadership approach
  • Conference and client presentations
  • Organisational website/blog to enhance SEO.

Steps to creating an index for public relations results

When using market research to create an index, following are steps to potentially be undertaken:

  • A topic is chosen on which market research is undertaken. The topic will be very relevant to an organisation’s reason-for-being and, especially, be relevant to what keeps its target audiences up at night
  • The market research will of course be independently undertaken (e.g. Galaxy, Newspoll etc) so it has 3rd party credibility with media and other stakeholders. Another option is having an academic undertake the research
  • Questions in regard to the research do not need to be extensive and it is possible they can be part of an omnibus survey, thereby reducing costs
  • The initial tranche of market research should be quantitative and use a sample that serves your purposes, even if that sample is not your target audience (e.g. you might survey business people in general, or even the general community, on a relevant issue)
  • Using quantitative research is very important (and, by extension, having a statistically meaningful sample) as the numbers give the process credibility and the media loves seeing how numbers change each year (or on an ongoing basis at least)
  • It is then optional to undertake a secondary tranche of market research, this being qualitative in nature and the sample for this almost certainly being an organisational target audience or those who are influential on a target audience (e.g. business leaders, business association heads, academics). The sample for this only need be small – six to ten being sufficient. The nature of the qual will be quite in-depth and exploratory
  • Whether the secondary tranche (qual) of market research is undertaken or not, the commissioning organisation will look at all the content and provide in-depth analysis and thought leadership commentary on it
  • The index will be branded as ‘X organisation’s 2013 Index on XYZ topic’
  • The research and the index can be repeated annually (which helps build the brand of the index itself and the commissioning organisation, as well as the connection between the index topic and the organisation). Often it’s fine for the index to be researched and appear every two years
  • Whilst the core aspects of the index topic and content should remain consistent, there can be elements of the index which change each time it is undertaken. For instance, whilst the index could have a general business focus, in one implementation it could have a section relevant specifically to industry X, in the next it could be specific to industry Y, in the next it could be specific to industry W etc. Taking this approach delivers core content for business media, as well as content that can be pitched for specific industry vertical media. Of course, it also provides content that gives presentations to specific industry audiences more resonance
  • After each implementation, there would always be a review to assess how the index content and its marketing could be enhanced to help achieve better content results and marketing outcomes.

Yes, it is possible an organisation with an internal market research team, or even a sufficient number of marketing and/or PR employees, could undertake the research themselves, without using a 3rd party market researcher. And yes, it is equally possible this research could be undertaken using an online surveying tool like SurveyMonkey which costs almost nothing.

This approach has the potential to deliver data just as accurate and, in many ways, as meaningful as a 3rd party market researcher would have come up with.

The problem with this approach, however, is media and other stakeholders may well shoot holes in it because the methodology is not as rigourous as a recognised market research company might apply and, more importantly, your organisation might have an excellent reputation in producing widgets, but it sure as hell doesn’t have any sort of reputation in market research.

Your choice…but if at all possible use the external party for the research, otherwise your media and target audience impact might prove very disappointing to you.

Using existing data for public relations-driven indexes

Depending on the organisation, the topic and the budget, using existing data (from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, for instance) and having this investigated and analysed by a think tank, academic or other reputable stakeholder, can also be an excellent way to generate content for an index.

Finding the right data will be the most difficult element of this process. Whilst we are a world drowning in data, due to privacy and other issues, it is not easy to find the right data. Let’s not forget, we are talking about content very relevant to the commissioning organisation AND its target audiences, so this is a very specific remit.

Let’s also not forget the content we are looking for needs to be compelling. So it doesn’t necessarily always need to be the most useful data or commentary, but it absolutely must generate interest and enhance the organisation’s reputation. You would think these three elements – usefulness, interesting, reputation-enhancing – would all go hand-in-hand.

It’s not an illogical analysis. At the end of the day, it’s your call. To make the right call, as with any effective public relations strategy, you’ll of course refer to the evidence-based market research you have undertaken with your target audiences that underpins your communication strategy.

Because, um, you have undertaken this even more important market research. Haven’t you?

Have you been involved in an organisation which has implemented an index-based research and communication program? What did you learn from the process? How was the content shared? What impact did it have? If you haven’t been involved in implementing such a program, what are your thoughts on ideas articulated in this post?

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