If you polled PR pros across the U.S. about the impact our hyper-partisan political climate has had on their job, an overwhelming majority would tell you that it’s made things much more difficult—and take it from a pollster who looks at voter data all day long—it’s not getting better anytime soon.
It’s also a safe assumption that public relations experts of every kind are being challenged by the volatility of politics at an increasingly alarming frequency. Whether it’s the beer we drink, the ice cream we eat, or the big box retailer we shop at, no one is safe from the unpredictable tentacles of political backlashes.
The politicization of everything is exhausting for consumers and brands alike.
In communications shops of all sizes this gives additional meaning to the maxim of preparedness. Whether it’s in the throes of a crisis, message planning, or managing internal communications, you need to be prepared.
Everything about how communicators do their jobs has become about measurement frequency.
The endless bombardment of new platforms, suite integrations, and the emergence of AI-powered tools is overwhelming for every industry. While there is a very healthy element to that market competition, it is time PR pros relearn and benefit from the power of polling.
This begins with acknowledging that it’s no longer just political operatives and campaigns using polling; it’s increasingly leveraged by most trade associations, successful corporations, and even forward-thinking small-to-medium-sized businesses.
Polling can inform your external messaging to consumers and stakeholders and your internal communications to employees.
As a firm on the cutting edge of a very old and entrenched subsect of the esoteric political world, we’re seeing more public relations experts leveraging polling to prepare for new initiatives, mitigate potential brand damage from the fallout of culture wars, or even rebuild brand and/or executive images in the wake of crises.
Those pros are doing it right, and it’s making political pitfalls easier to navigate and their jobs significantly smoother in the process.
But what about the people not deploying polling in their comms strategies? We often hear about concerns over costs and the sustainability (and therefore, utility) of the data and insights you obtain from polling.
First, polling is more affordable than you might expect, and new technology has increased pricing flexibility so organizations can work with polling firms to field surveys that fit the budget.
Be wary of pollsters that try to sell you on the old polling approach of only using live phone calls and play up their media credentials. While those things are not to be dismissed outright, assessing which pollsters to help your organization means looking at how they conduct their polls and the technology used to gather survey responses.
Second, hesitation about the accuracy and ROI of polls is understandable (especially from your C-suite and senior leadership), but like the PR industry, it’s about the cumulative effect.
Polls capture a snapshot in time, and just like any political race, consistency and frequency in measurement will serve your efforts far better, especially as you develop messaging or narratives.
How old is too old when it comes to leveraging polling data? That will depend on your desired outcomes and the makeup of your comms strategy. If you’re in full-blown crisis mode, it generally makes more sense to poll your recovery efforts more frequently than if you’re on a fact-finding mission to build out a pending PR campaign.
As is the case with most PR campaigns, waiting until there’s a problem or a blind spot identified puts you at a disadvantage and distracts from the mission, just ask Bud Light…or Target…or Ben & Jerry’s. In other words, don’t increase the size of your echo chamber when the mission is to define and understand it better.
More importantly, ask questions about the deliverables and insights from the polling you deploy. Massive datasets and crosstabs are great, but if you can’t read and translate them clearly to your team, the pollster you hired didn’t do their job properly.
Make sure the insights you’re given are valuable and help drive both internal and external tactical executions for your campaign discussion.
Approach the infusion of polling data into your PR operations like you’d approach using a new tool implementation.
Strategize how you will use the data and how often your team and/or campaign(s) will leverage it, then approach a firm on the cutting edge of the industry to get your polling operations off the ground and join the ranks of modern PR pros leveraging this often forgotten (but powerful) tool.
The job is already tough; don’t make it tougher than it has to be.
Mitchell Brown is Director of Political Strategy for Cygnal Polling & Analytics.