Making Polls Interesting to the ‘Media’

I saw an ECF post about this and asked the author Eben Marks (News and Media Relations Officer at Action for Children, @ebenmarks) to write something. Here it is:

‘If you are planning on using polling to support your campaign, think ahead to the type of headlines you want your poll results to create. Like with any message these should be things people can grasp very quickly. One way of doing this is by stating the results in absolute terms, rather than the specifics of the numbers.

“For example, say you ask a sample of parents what their biggest worry for children is, and the results are:
42% say health
33% say education
18% say safety
6% say loneliness
1% don’t know/don’t want to answer”

Rather than making your headline “42% of parents are worried about children’s health”, say “Children’s health is parent’s biggest worry”. You can always go into the actual figures in the body of your press release or article, but by writing the headline this way it is put into context so that anyone looking at glance will understand the importance of it. This will help catch the attention of journalists who are scanning through subject lines in their inbox, and will do the same for their audience who are flicking through a paper or half-listening to the radio. This style won’t always be the best way of doing polling stories, but should always go into the mix when you are planning.’

This is good advice from Eben.

The reason it is likely to work is that it appeals to the widespread human desire to simplify life and make it manageable.

We usually approach any one opportunity to think about, read about, ask about or hear about ‘information’ with a prior judgement about how much of this particular thing we want to process right now.  Setting aside ‘none’ (which is challenged with the ‘must-read’ attempted in Upworthy ‘curiosity-gap’ formats – or see this video briefly featuring Duane Raymond), these appetites range from ‘just give me the one most important thing’ through to ‘give me everything and more’.

Third-party-media journalists generally have to work on the basis that the appetite for that their piece is the former, ie the Lowest Common Denominator.  If they are to produce a story, their editor will usually want it to work for the maximum number of people.  So the single most compelling fact, discovery or insight, is the one to put upfront.

A professional audience of course, is supposedly going to want you to be more ‘objective’.  The extreme case is in the scientific ideal, not actually lived up to by many Science Journals, which is that you report “no effect found”. (Although, for those in despair at this departure from the scientific ideal, see this list).

thanks to Eben

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