Thursday, May 21, 2015

When research isn't

I have a weekly Google Alert on the term "Digital Economy"to keep track of what is happening in the policy space.

This week I got VERY EXCITED (yes I want that emphasis) when I saw two stories (Computer Business Review and  Information Age) that said over half of all UK businesses don't understand the digital economy.

You can understand my excitement, because getting business to understand the implications of the economic transformation we are in is a critical part of reaping the benefit.

One of the two handily linked to the media release issued by the company that commissioned the research. The release started:

A study released today has found over half (57%) of business leaders do not understand the Digital Economy, highlighting that organisations are not yet fully prepared to deliver the digital experiences and access buyers desire and require.

Reading the release I realised that both stories were simple cases of "churnalism" - faithful reproduction of the release as if it is an actual story. More importantly the release contained no link to the "study."

So I went to the website of the company that conducted the research, OnePoll, hoping to find it there. I was immediately concerned once I read the description of the company that came up on the Google search for OnePoll.


And down at the bottom of the homepage I found this delightful piece of text.

pr surveys for brand exposure
Generate content and news angles with a OnePoll PR survey, and secure exposure for your brand.
Our PR survey team can help draft questions, find news angles, design infographics, write & distribute your story.

The "study" was the creation of an agency that specialises in the creation of surveys that have only the purpose of securing brand exposure. I have emailed the contact on the press release and asked if there is a study that has actually been released, or whether the word "release" was a circular reference to the media release itself. (I recently had this conversation with an Australian PR firm over a similar claim of the release of a study).

These kinds of surveys are not new. As Kristen Drysdale explained in a recent episode (Serises 3, Episode 1) of ABC TV's The Checkout they are the source of most of the "clinical studies" claims made by the beauty industry.

My view is that in a data saturated world the last thing we need is bogus data that we need to wade through.

Joe Hockey got into a blather having used the term "disintermediation" to describe the disruption in the economy, but it has been around a long time and refers to the removal of the "middle men" in transactions. Shopping and the media are great examples.

If journalism is to have a future in mediating the information flow, it needs to understand that its job is to validate the claims made in a media release. It isn't hard to do. Simply Googling the name of the firm that conducted the research revealed that there should be concerns.

If a company claims research has been "released" but the details of the research haven't been released, then simply don't report the survey. Or even better write the real story that starts "today firm X tried to con the public and gain brand exposure by claiming to have released a study that wasn't released."

If the worst that happens to the commissioning firm is that they spend money and get no coverage, then one employee might not get their bonus. If the firm gets negative coverage as a consequence then management might care what marketing gets up to.




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