1 PR takeaway from election

Regardless of how things turn out, the polls were wrong – again.

[I’m trying to make this note as timely yet apolitical as possible, so if you’re looking for a fight, this message will leave you disappointed.]

If you’re stressed about the uncertainty and catch yourself hitting refresh on the same news sites over and over, this post I wrote four years ago this week is for you. 🙂

New learnings this time:

Politics is quite different from traditional public relations, but “Survey Fail: The Sequel” shows us that in most situations, “everyone” does NOT think the same.

When sensitive issues erupt into crises, it can be tempting to glance at Twitter or your customer service email inboxes and pound the conference room table while asserting “Everyone thinks we should backtrack and apologize” or “Everyone thinks we should speak out.” Almost always that’s not the case. Different stakeholders feel differently, and some will be more vocal than others. Your counsel will be more credible – and accurate – when you dig deeper for what’s not obvious.

The way to do that is to watch what people do, not what they say.

Of course people say they will eat only healthy foods, or watch socially redeeming movies, or donate to good causes. What possible incentive do they have to say differently? Whenever you can, conduct a small experiment so you can gauge what people will actually do when given the opportunity, as opposed to what they merely say. [This, btw, is part of why these political polls are wrong. You can’t actually simulate a consequential vote – you can only ask about intent.]

When I was a reporter, I covered a fast food chain’s foray into “healthy options.” This was a while ago, before that trend had taken hold. They had all kinds of survey data showing that their customers wanted “low fat” menu items. They rolled it out with a big marketing blitz, and it bombed. People voted with their taste buds, not their cholesterol tests. If they had tested this in one or two markets first, they could have saved a lot of money.

Product marketers do this all the time. Instead of relying simply on surveys, they actually mock up an ecommerce page for a new product, at various prices, and watch how many people click “buy.”

As Steve Jobs famously said, “People don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”

BTW, “watch what they do, not what they say” totally applies to what journalists say about PR people. Almost every outreach method that journalists complain about actually works when you do it right.

Here’s to a peaceful and constructive resolution to this election, and here’s to your PR success.

This article was originally published on November 4, 2020

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