How you can use new research to generate PR

If you look through any newspaper or browse any education news platform, you’re likely to see stories linked to new research. In this article we look at how you can use research to secure valuable coverage.

Why research is important for PR

New findings from research can be a great way to create a news story that will attract media coverage. In the education sector, that could be brand new information that typically examines an education issue or concern- anything from the off-rolling of students, to the use of learning platforms in secondary schools, to the ways in which schools are using lunchtime supervisors, can warrant research. Types of research can include:

  • Large scale, long-term research studies
  • Small research studies
  • Individual surveys
  • Annual ‘state of the nation’ reports that compare year-on-year findings

How can you conduct useful research that doesn’t cost the earth?

Unless you’re a university or you have access to a large in-house research team, it is likely you will need to commission an organisation to undertake the research. This could be a university department, a market research company, a polling company, a think tank, or simply a freelance researcher.

If you’re a membership body, or you represent a particular audience, you may well be able to research your members and gather useful insight. Members can provide valuable information but be aware that journalists may be more sceptical about the findings if they feel they are self serving.

Another option is to mine the data that your organisation collects and look for findings which have wider implications. For instance, The Key publishes a useful annual report about the schools sector which is based on their own data.

A quick word on opinion polls

Opinion polls are a useful and cost effective way to gather information from a particular group of individuals, such as teachers. They can help to inform more detailed research but they are also used in PR as stand alone research. This is OK, but ensure you work with a Market Research Society accredited polling company and that the sample size is large enough to be able to extract useful information. A minimum sample should be 1001 respondents, but if you plan to cut the data at a regional level, the sample needs to be larger so that the data is still robust. More information about polling can be found here.

Creating a research-led story

Although there may be many findings that are interesting, it’s essential that you think about what is actually newsworthy. What is going to appeal to the journalists you plan to target? Is there more than one angle?

Draft the release and ensure you explain the research methodology, who undertook it and when it was undertaken. Be prepared to share the full report and possibly the underlying data that has informed the research.

As well as the right news line, make sure you can offer a range of spokespeople and case studies. These can include:

  • A representative of your organisation who can discuss the research findings and their implications
  • An external expert who can provide comment on the wider picture (sometimes one of the contributors to the research)
  • Individual ‘case studies’ who can talk about their own experience, for example if research was about workload in early career teachers, then a teacher who has been in the profession for a couple of years would be ideal.

Pitching your research story – what NOT to do  

Ed Dorrell, Head of Content at Tes has some useful pointers for education PRs pitching research stories:

  • Avoid overblown claims about the implications of research such as “a revolution in teaching methods”. Instead, let the research speak for itself
  • Avoid confusing correlation with causation – a common mistake. A correlation alone does not imply causation
  • Don’t ‘dress up’ small research studies to appear something more than they are. Be honest about the scope of your research
  • Don’t claim conclusions which seem too good to be true. Most journalists can smell an exaggeration a mile away!

Don’t let the tail wag the dog

Research should never be commissioned simply to generate headlines, that may be a consideration, but the value of research is much more than just coverage. It can help to push forward a debate, influence thinking and help an organisation to hold a more authoritative position. It also provides valuable material for talks, sales information, newsletters, social media and online.

What’s important is that you don’t miss opportunities for media coverage. Make sure you plan early on and ensure your research asks the right questions to provide useful insight and some valuable news angles.

So there you have it. Good luck pitching your education research. As usual, if you have any questions about how to use research in PR then do get in touch. We’d love to hear your ideas and discuss any ways that we could help.