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Surveys and polls can help an organization listen and hear just what supporters or voters are feeling. But they can also help you speak. Wait. Scratch that. They can help you SHOUT and make the media and influencers really listen.
It’s not easy to turn a survey into a media moment. It takes solid planning, strategic outreach, and a little bit of luck to get the kind of coverage we all want for our research.
Two cases in point from M+R’s clients: First, The Democracy Project’s survey looking at Americans’ attitudes towards democracy. Second, a survey of girls and boys ages 10-19 on gender equality and sexism from Plan International USA, an international organization focused on advancing girls’ rights.
Here’s what we learned about being heard from these two rollouts:
1. Hard-to-find data is gold. Pretty simple: it’s not news if everybody already knows it. Your odds of getting traction increase dramatically if you’re covering a subject or asking questions that nobody has asked. Another way to make your survey sparkle is to break new ground by focusing on demographics that have been overlooked or are tough to sample.
That’s the approach we took with Plan International USA to identify gaps in survey data around topics related to sexual harassment, assault, and the #MeToo movement. We found very little information on the experiences and views of girls and boys under the age of 18—stunning, really. This demographic is rarely surveyed because respondents under the age of 18 require parental consent, making them much more expensive to cover. Fortunately, Plan was willing to make the investment, and the results were groundbreaking.
2. Unexpected allies sell. Friendships between an elephant and a dog—or a Republican and a Democrat—are irresistible. The Democracy Project survey is a perfect example. A joint effort between Freedom House, The George W. Bush Institute, and The Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement lent gravitas to the poll and the bipartisanship appealed to media outlets from FOX News to MSNBC.
3. Influencer engagement can be a game-changer. Some say influencers are over—but that’s mostly when it comes to white walls and pops of color. Engaging partners, peers and influencers in the Democracy Project survey made a big difference.
To complement our earned media strategy, we ran a multi-week plan that included strategic audience mapping, cultivating relationships with influencers through Twitter engagement and over email, making direct asks of them to help amplify the survey on release day, and creating sample content for them to use.
The result: HUGE BOOST, especially among democracy-oriented organizations, think-tanks, NGOs, and foundations, elite thought-leaders in the American political space and media influencers.
4. Consider going exclusive. Sometimes you get the kind of compelling data that is so hot, you can aim higher with by targeting a small group of issue-specific reporters, or even offering an exclusive to a reporter who can next level the data (think: graphics, visuals, the whole shebang).
In the case of Plan’s youth survey, offering an advance look at the findings to a small group of reporters resulted in dozens of stories from the get-go, including a full-page New York Times piece in the online and print edition, which helped spur other coverage weeks and months after its release.
5. Follow-up is key! If your survey findings are truly riveting, they might have a life beyond the day or week they’re released. Continue to monitor coverage of your issue in the months following that initial data release. You’ll find multiple opportunities to inject the results and your spokespeople into the news cycle with proactive pitching of statements, letters to the editor, or op-eds.
Need some inspiration? Because Plan’s survey covered so many different aspects of gender equality and sexism among adolescents, including niche issues like interest in STEM, gender-specific toys and how that can shape views on equality, and opportunities in sports, it continued to offer a wide array of opportunities to leverage the survey with earned media and social media. So during moments like the November election when record-breaking numbers of women were running for office and elected (woo!), Plan’s survey was included in the media coverage.
Similarly, the Democracy Project survey release fell during one of the most jam-packed news cycles we’ve seen in a long time: stories about the humanitarian crisis at the border were exploding, and the Supreme Court issued its ruling on the travel ban the SAME DAY. It was hard to be heard over the noise on the day of release. By continuing to monitor the news and look for opportunities to inject the survey findings into the media narrative (such as news around the “civility debate” and Congressional gridlock), we garnered dozens of additional media hits in the following weeks.
6. Go local. Local news outlets love it when national surveys or reports talk about their city (well, most of the time). If you have interesting local data, or if your survey included focus groups in different locations, consider drafting specialized pitches highlighting that info for local print and broadcast outlets (and don’t forget about NPR affiliates and AP bureaus!).
Local data wants a local voice if possible, or a national voice well-educated on the region. But, national data that you want heard in a regional market requires a local expert who can speak to the importance of the survey data to that particular community. Without that, local outlets will have difficulty seeing the connection and may not think the data is relevant to their readers/viewers/listeners. As part of this approach, also consider placing an op-ed by your surrogate making the connection between the survey data and what’s happening locally.
Did you release a survey out into the world recently? Have some insights to share about what went well (or not so well?) Tweet us at @MRCampaigns and let us know!