Blue Monday – research and formulae in PR
Posted by Paul Allen on 20th January 2014 / 0 comments
Today is Blue Monday, the most depressing day of the year. Anyone feeling particularly depressed? Nope, because the most depressing day stuff is a fabrication - a ‘science’-endorsed but PR-created formula to promote a travel firm.
I’m not knocking that especially, although many are, including this funny and fascinating take down in The Guardian today. But why do PRs keep rolling out research and formulae on behalf of clients when they attract such derision? Is there really value to a client in totting up the media ‘hits’ based on these tactics?
PR research works…or does it?
The simple answer is, such tactics work. Consumer research can be used highlight to a business or technological need and can also serve as a useful brand awareness exercise for consumer-focused firms, particularly when used in conjunction with social media. As can the formula-based approach.
Journalists keep writing ‘em up, so PRs and clients keep churning ‘em out. For every article that calls out the research as lacking substance and depth, there will be many more that just report the findings straight up. Easy copy that can be turned round in next to no time, it isn’t hard to understand why that might appeal to a time-strapped journalist.
Yet I would question the value to a client of 30 / 40 brief mentions as sponsors of a survey. Even if those mentions appear in national media, is the small lift in brand awareness enough ROI? Is the damage caused when a brand is criticised in a Bad Science-type article offset by lots of smaller press mentions?
Get the measurement right
If research and formulae are used purely for press coverage, then perhaps not. My main experience in using research has been for clients in the tech PR and consumer PR sectors and more often than not the PR is part of a broader marketing push.
A recent effort on behalf of Rise PR’s not-for-profit software & services client Blackbaud looked at the Psychology of Online Giving, focusing on people’s motivations for donating to charity online. Despite the title of the research, I wouldn’t claim any enormous scientific rationale behind it. But as a platform to generate press coverage, to use on social platforms and as the basis for a series of webinars (that attracted record numbers for the client), it worked incredibly well. If success of such tactics was measured purely on press coverage then it might not hold up, but add in the wider marketing impact then it works really well.
PR research = content marketing
All of the above sounds like very much content marketing, which doesn’t generally attract negative press articles in itself. Yet the PR element of such content continues to do so. It can certainly appear trite and lacking in substance, but I think there remains a place for it. Some key points to remember if you’re embarking on a research or formula-based campaign:
- Fluffy *can* work, but only if your brand is fun and irreverent. If it isn’t, leave the fluffy stuff alone
- Don’t make any overly grandiose claims based on your research or formula as you’ll get found out, even if you’ve paid a scientist to endorse your findings
- Utilise the content across the marketing department and social platforms
- Make sure your measurement is a little more sophisticated than simply totting up the hits
Anything I’ve missed?