Self-funded research – know your PR target

One of the biggest challenges we have as an insights and data communications agency is clients coming to us at the beginning of a retainer with a piece of self-funded research that they conducted prior to the Mustard team coming on board.

But why is this a challenge? Surely it’s great to have some data ready to pitch out to media, journalists must be craving those sweet, sweet, data sets, no? Unfortunately for us and our clients, that is generally not the case. If I can be bold enough to make a very tenuous link between consumer tech giant Apple, and the world of PR; like consumers who didn’t know they wanted the iPod before Apple created it through sheer vision, will and innovation, most journalists and editors don’t know they want a story until the data has been pulled together and packaged in an appealing and, more importantly, relevant way.

PR is meta-marketing at its most niche, and relevance is key. We’re promoting our clients by marketing their data to media channels, and like modern granular and personalised marketing campaigns, each of the media typologies we need to target (mainstream and broadcast media, marketing media, research trade, and vertical trade press) require different considerations in order to create something that will resonate with them. This is why using these pre-Mustard surveys can be challenging; although they are conducted in good faith and often with a good idea behind then, very often they are missing key components that will allow us to secure media coverage.

These are some of the things you should be thinking about with your self-funded research:

  1. Methodology
    Qualitative research studies are almost impossible to pitch to the marketing, mainstream, and many vertical media outlets. This is usually because of a lack of general research knowledge with these journalists. They just don’t understand how a small group of respondents could possibly create newsworthy data. So in most cases your self-funded research study will need to be quant to get traction with these channels. For the market research trade media, and some vertical press, qualitative studies are seen as acceptable. However, for the vertical media you will need to align the study with a named client company as a case study.
  2. Sample size
    Sample size is key. Marketing media outlets will rarely accept a quant sample of less than 1,000, and it usually will have to be nationally representative. Some mainstream media channels will need a lot more. While pitching a recent study to The Telegraph in the UK, I was told that a nationally representative sample of 2,000 was simply not enough for the journalist to even consider using the data. Depending on specific vertical publications, sample size can drop to as little as 500, usually due to smaller, more niche industry publications just being a little less fussy than a lot of bigger publications.
  3. Topic
    It can be tempting to create a study with a topical note. Many research and insight agencies will imagine that a huge world event is an easy way to create some compelling data to accompany the global narrative and get high-level exposure in mainstream media. We lost count of the number of US election related studies our clients came to us with last year. If you do this you need to have an established presence within the related area – so it’s fine for IPSOS Mori to do a politically themed study but not for a general run of the mill agency or supplier who have never dabbled in the dangerous waters of political polling. Then you are simply just another person jumping on a very crowded bandwagon.On the other hand, a big brand affinity or valuation study can seem like a bit of a shoe-in with the marketing media. However as with the example above, unless you are BrandZ or some other really well-established branding expert, you will be trying to make your voice heard amongst a lot of other “noise”, and your media targeting activities will end up seeming a bit “me-too”.It can be far more effective to take a step back, look at the issues facing your key client markets and work a study through that way. A lot of that comes down to your overall content strategy, and that is another blog post entirely. But whatever you do, desk research is key. You need to understand your target publications and scrupulously pore over their content to find the gaps in topics that are both relevant to you and to the publications.
  1. Use of brands
    When conducting a self-funded research study in a particular market, agencies will quite often create a survey that reviews the offering or attitudes around a number of brands or clients working in that market. When designing the study some agencies have the tendency to focus on brands that they wish to work with, so the data can then be used by their business development team to start conversations with those brands. This can be a real problem when justifying the list of brands to the media who like a logical rationale behind a study (as in FTSE 100, or Fortune 500 or BrandZ leading brands or some such). When picking a list of brands to research, make sure there is a reasonable motive behind the choice. If you run a study in a particular category and you miss out on a couple of key brands because you don’t feel you have any chance of working with them, or are already working with them so don’t need the story to approach them with, it will end up as a very hard pitch.

These are just four of the key tactical considerations when pulling together a self-funded research study for PR purposes, but there are of course many other elements you will need to think about. It’s also worth pointing out that without a solid content strategy sitting behind your PR activities you may just be shouting into the wind. But content strategy will have to wait for another time.

Of course, if you need help with your PR focused self-funded research project feel free to give us a call.