Is Your Study Too Self Serving?

Show me someone pushing a study and I will show you a salesman. We’ve all done it and will continue to do it since studies help position our organizations as thought leaders. They justify our mission while highlighting the importance of our products and the expertise that we offer. Studies set us apart from competitors however they can also harm our brand if we do not present them carefully.

Take for instance the PR Newswire study making the rounds among publicists this week. The study shows that multimedia press releases are viewed up to 9.7 times more often than text-only versions of the same information. This appears to be a solid study at first blush since PR Newswire has a vast pool of press releases to sample (100,000 in this case). However, how useful is this information to its intended audience?

The importance of content creation in public relations is an established practice. PR professionals should, at the very least, know the basics when it comes to photography, shooting and editing video, and posting downloadable documents. They should also be well versed in the multitude of sites for sharing this content with supporters, the media, investors, and internal staff members.

So why is PR Newswire releasing a study, for the second year in a row, reinforcing a practice that has been accepted for years? The answer lies in the quick link to the company’s sales team, centered on the bottom third of the landing page featuring the study. Its purpose appears to be to snatch up any and all PR types who have yet to realize the importance of sharing multimedia content. This lack of knowledge will cost them and PR Newswire is happy to accommodate the transaction.

Don’t get me wrong. I have no quarrel with PR Newswire using a study as a sales tactic. In the past I have created and publicized dozens of studies from the playful (most popular pet names) to the more thought provoking (impact of returning soldiers on the regional economy) to increase donations and mission support. My opposition to this study is in its execution. For one, the study does not teach its audience something new other than attaching figures to firmly held beliefs. Secondly, as a tool for the sales team it is incredibly transparent.

So how could PR Newswire have done better? I usually suggest studying a trend several steps removed from the sale of their product. I think that in this case they were only one step away. As an example, this could be the thought process:

How do we sell more multimedia press releases?
How popular are multimedia press releases?
Which media sells best to our clients’ audiences?
Within the most popular releases, which subject sells best and why?

By following this thought process, PR Newswire could have scrapped the study of a widely accepted premise and drilled down a bit more. Maybe they could have discovered that among shared videos those showing the CEO behind a desk did far worse than other settings or highlight the specific subjects within photos that are viewed most.

Regardless of what could have been, the hard sell may work in an industry where quick fixes can be more popular than sustained results. After all, they did produce a pretty nifty infographic.

Further reading on reasons why nonprofits may want to consider ditching newswires.

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