Unlock the Power of the Data: Grabbing Media Attention With Research

Updated: December 17, 2010

1) Exploit the media's insatiable appetite for hard-to-find data

Whenever a new topic starts getting media coverage, companies are quick to jump on the bandwagon and stake their claim as an expert. The problem is that they tend to all ask the same questions and end up with similar responses. Read the current coverage and look for a gap. What are the statistics you've wondered about but never seen published? What are the questions that you've heard asked but never seen quantified?

Coupons are an excellent example. The Great Recession was bad for business, except in the coupon sector - and we were fotunate to have a client with coupon expertise. Timing being everything in the news, we were able to add a few key questions onto an existing survey and get results within just a few weeks. Just a few statistics allowed us to own the numbers identifying and quantifying the American shopper's resurgent interest in coupons. Consumer reporters from the New York Times down to niche retail publications sought our data, and our client expert who fielded the interviews became the North American coupon king.

2) Collect the data

If budget is no object, a national survey with a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percent and a 95 percent confidence level is the ideal way to go. At that standard, it would be best to have at least 1,067 completed surveys. But, if you can't afford national market research, there are other options:

  • Survey your customers (web-based tools such as SurveyMonkey are free and easy to use);
  • Partner with a trade association to access their membership base;
  • Use social media tools such as Twitter or Facebook to encourage feedback on specific questions; and
  • Pull together third-party data that sheds new light on an issue or identifies a previously undetected trend. Pay careful attention to citing and crediting your information sources, and follow professional standards in checking for permission.

3) Package the results

Research results don't arrive pre-packaged for the media. In fact, they usually arrive as a gigantic report full of data tables, cross tabs and long columns of numbers. Ferreting out the real "news" and making it palatable for a reporter is as much an art as a science. Unfortunately, there's no short cut - you have to dig into the data. It helps if you have a market research partner who can assist you, but if you don't, your goal is to find the juiciest facts and figures, keeping in mind that sometimes it's more provocative to flip the numbers. For example if only 10% of consumers say that they plan to buy an iPad, it's a lot sexier to proclaim that 90% won't.

News is defined as "a report of previously unknown information," so zeroing in on new, previously unknown or unpublished information is the key to generating great press coverage. It also helps if the findings are contradictory or counter-intuitive. A good example of this would be luxury brands that thrived during the recession, or that seniors, in some cases, are more environmentally conscientious than young people.

Don't pull punches. It's not that uncommon for companies to spend a significant sum on research that uncovers revealing, yet uncomfortable truths about their industry, and then bury the results out of concern they'll offend colleagues, stakeholders or even competitors. Be confident that smart chief executives, who are the ultimate target audience, will value the unvarnished truth over a sugar-coated version - so will the media.

Keep in mind, the press release is not the story; don't feel compelled to bog down your news release with statistic after statistic. It's better to focus on the highlights and offer to provide reporters with an executive summary or the full report, depending on their level of interest. Remember, your ultimate objective is to get your research included in the reporter's story, so give them a reason to talk to you and ask additional questions.

4) Learn to Salvage Uncooperative Data

Sometimes the data just doesn't want to cooperate and your research findings aren't headline making. You can still find a way to put a very flavorful spin on them.

We recently worked with a client to promote a retail study that showed Walmart was leading in the area of customer loyalty during the recession. This finding initially seemed like a no-brainer - the media was already widely reporting on consumers' who were shopping at discount stores. So we capitalized on the media's interest in Walmart, rather than on the specific study, and positioned our client as an expert to explain what Walmart was doing right (and wrong) to earn its ranking. This translated to national coverage.

5) Start spreading the word

Never forget the opportunities to repurpose your research data. Don't limit yourself to just a press release. In fact, the press release should provide just enough information to interest a reporter and lead him or her to ask more questions and write a broader story.

At a minimum, evaluate the following additional opportunities to position a client as an industry thought leader using the data:

  • Create a research report or white paper with graphic representations of the key findings, analysis and most important, implications for the marketplace or your audience;
  • Turn the content into a speech;
  • Use the research as the focus of an online seminar or webinar;
  • Post the content on the many web sites that cater to business audiences;
  • Pitch a bylined feature or "how to" article to a relevant magazine by focusing on a few of the key research findings.

And don't forget to promote yourself. Post the research on your web site. Schedule in-house training so that you can share it with your sales, customer service, and front-line employees. Promote the key findings through social media channels such as LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. And don't forget to include them in your blog.

Remember, converting raw data into appealing news is not simply about cooking the numbers. It takes patience, skill and attention to detail. But when done right, you should have the media eating out of your hands.

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