Not everyone in PR is stupid, in the same way that not all journalists are lazy and not all estate agents would crap in a cup and attempt to pass it off as chocolate mousse. But occasionally there are examples of stupidity in PR so rank that I’m prepared to just accept the stereotype as fact.
A certain employee of Results PR, for instance, conformed to type when he sent out a press release on behalf of an online discount voucher company. The company had conducted a survey and discovered that nine out of ten online shoppers were planning to use discount vouchers. Alarm bells should start ringing in your head whenever a figure of 90 per cent appears, and sure enough the final paragraph of the report confessed to an elephantine sample bias. All of the people surveyed were registered members of the discount voucher company.
The surprise is not that 90 per cent of members of a discount voucher company were planning to use discount vouchers, but that the 10 per cent who had no intention of using them bothered to reply to the survey. (It reminds me of the Sky News poll – conducted using the interactive red button on the remote control – that declared that 98 per cent of respondents intended to vote in the forthcoming general election. Who, one wonders, were the 2 per cent who thought it worth their while to influence the outcome of a Sky News poll but not have a say in who levied their taxes, oversaw their children’s education, influenced their access to healthcare or sent them to war?)
It is possible that the PR man in question is not stupid. Perhaps he knew there was a sample bias but thought that journalists would be too lazy to spot it. Or perhaps he knew journalists would spot it, but hoped that his client would not. Perhaps he knew that his client would spot it, but also knew that junking the useless research would require him to do more work.
I only hope that no journalist does use the survey. If some do, then they get the PRs they deserve.