This was originally Published November 2011
There are certain things that any PR professional should never resort to and certain things that journalists should never report... but they do.
Whether it's dressed up to be 'encouraging discussion' of 'sparking a lively debate' we all know what you really want to do. You want to start a great big row and place your clients PR right in the middle of it.
DON'T I beg you, don't just stop it. It's shallow, it's easy and for any newsroom (that can call itself a newsroom) yet another survey goes in the bin marked Lands End To John O'Groats.
Most of the 'surveys' that are produced for PR purposes carry the weight of argument with them. They are the like crack to the sort of journalists who just can't be bothered to find some news. Try this one for example, The Sun has got together with Migration Watch an Anti-Immigration organisation and they have produced a survey that says 80% of people questioned think that England is too crowded.
Soooo, the anti-immigration group have found that England is too crowded. Funny that...
The YouGov survey questioned 1,561 adults who are part of a self selected group who are happy to do surveys The YouGov Panel.
So what do we actually have? A right wing newspaper gets together with an Anti-Immigration (though self proclaimed 'non political') organisation. They get a little over 1,500 people (who are self selecting and the sort of people who want to fill in surveys) to see if they think that England is over crowded. Plus, It looks like 144 of those questioned were in Scotland (some others were in Wales).
Right, this will have been done to spark a great big argument.
Not a debate.
Not a conversation.
A great big stinking, running for ever and ever, argument that puts The Sun right in the middle of it... this is how it will play out...
"The survey produced by The Sun and Migration Watch found that.... to discuss the findings here's Lefty McLeaner Leader of the Open Door Party and Shouty Redface-Toff representing the Send 'Em All Back Coalition..."
And BANG all hell breaks loose.
In the mean time the PR people have dropped that campaign because it's now got it's own legs and they're looking for the next way to start a big argument; The Lazy Journalists will love it because the message boards and twitter and facebook will be full of people arguing about it and they'll feel listened to.
I'm not angry, I'm disappointed.
Disappointed in the PR industry, disappointed in Journalists, disappointed in the world for not asking 'Who are the people who get surveyed, because I'm not one of them'.
What's the answer? I don't know. As long as we have lazy PR spinning a survey for their clients needs, Clients who are happy to put their names to it, and credulous and complicit journalists happy to report any old survey because it makes good copy then we'll never get to the point that we can believe any of them.