Let the Numbers Talk: How to Use Data to Grab the Media’s Attention

10.28.2016  /  Jill Z. McBride

 

What do you have that nobody else has — that every reporter wants but rarely gets? The numbers. In today’s competitive media environment, the ability to provide the media with current, factual and objective data is a surefire way to position you (or your client) as a thought leader and generate press coverage.

The challenge is boiling down those vats of data into consumable bites. Hard numbers do sell, but the process of gleaning them from stacks of research can be overwhelming. 

Fortunately, there are tricks to distilling the essence of the data and transforming it into neat, easy-to-consume stories. Following are five tips to turn the figures into information that is easy to sell, easy to talk about and, for the reporter, easy to digest: 

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 questions have you heard but never seen quantified?

Recently, one of our restaurant clients updated their drive-through and launched a new line of portable breakfast burritos. Rather than pitch the media a self-serving story with little news value, we conducted research that assessed how consumers felt about using the drive-through. The resulting statistics were the perfect springboard to land national coverage in both trade and consumer media outlets.

2) Collect the data.

If budget is no object, a national survey with a margin of error of ±3 percent and a 95 percent confidence level is ideal. At that standard, it would be best to have at least 1,000 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 low-cost and easy to use);
  • Partner with a trade association to access their membership base;
  • Use social media platforms 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 sources, and follow professional standards in checking for permission.

 

3) Package the results.

Research results don’t arrive prepackaged 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 shortcut — 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 percent of consumers say that plan to buy an iPad, it’s a lot sexier to proclaim that 90 percent won’t. 

News is defined as “previously unknown information,” so zeroing in on new or previously unpublished information is the key to generating great press coverage. It also helps if the findings are contradictory or counterintuitive. For example, finding luxury brands that thrived during the recession, or that seniors, in some cases, are more environmentally conscientious than millennials. 

Don’t pull punches. It’s not 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 — and so will the media. 

On behalf of a healthcare client, we seized on a stunning bit of industry data to make a key point in a video that was part of a highly successful media campaign. The data point: As a direct result of participation in youth sporting events, American kids collectively lose 5 million teeth a year. The statistic was leveraged to drive home the message that the use of mouthguards is an important preventative step that protects children and saves on costly dental care. 

In a related note, keep in mind that 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 findings aren’t headline-worthy. You can still find a way to put a flavorful spin on them.

We once 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 that consumers 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 share relevant research findings:

  • 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 websites 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 findings.

 

And don’t forget to promote yourself. Post the research on your website. Schedule in-house training so 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 on 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 hand.