Using Demographic Data and Surveys to Generate (Geospatial) Press Buzz

By Adena Schutzberg

I used to work in marketing and continue to have an interest in clever ways to attract attention to geospatial products and services. There's a tried and true press relations methodology that's gaining traction in our marketplace. It involves crunching some existing numbers or sponsoring a survey, then sharing the results. A great campaign involves a compelling statistic or two to drive pickup of the story; the company behind it plays the role of "news enabler." Let's look at a few examples.

MapInfo was at one time the master of this type of release, though the company, now part of Pitney Bowes, seems to be using it less in recent years. Here's a press release from 2006: MapInfo Uncovers Where High Gas Prices are Driving Americans Into the Red. The press release includes lists of the top ten cities (1) with the highest likelihood of car owners driving large SUVs, trucks and sports cars, (2) "most number [sic] of fuel economy cars" and (3) top (and bottom) 10 U.S. cities by gasoline expenditure as a percent of income. Such lists make for interesting news, especially for a local paper if the host city or a neighboring one is on any of the lists. MapInfo rounded out the release with a bit about its offerings from Sebastien Rancourt, PSYTE(R) Advantage product manager for MapInfo, and how they are useful to businesses: "Our data and research capabilities enable us to dig deeply into consumer and marketing trends and uncover compelling insight. While this research is interesting to the average individual, MapInfo's geodemographic services also provide organizations with insight into customer lifestyles, habits and consumer trends that enable them to make more intelligent business decisions." That quote positions the release as the foundation of both a consumer story and a business story.

MapQuest uses surveys, often around holiday/high travel times of year, to generate buzz for the company. July, typically a busy travel month, was plagued by high gas prices in 2008. MapQuest shared that High Gas Prices Have Caused 94% of Consumers to Make Lifestyle Changes. Among the findings: "Historically high gas prices have caused 94% of consumers to make lifestyle changes to keep costs down, according to a survey sponsored by MapQuest, Among the changes: they're planning routes more carefully (57%), walking or biking more (24%), partially filling their gas tanks (31%), and making a conscious effort to drive less (82%)." MapQuest also provided a link to the full study and the methodology. These are just the type of stats that papers love to put in the lifestyle section and TV and radio stations use as little snippets or "stats of the day."

Great Britain's national mapping agency, the Ordnance Survey, used a recent survey to highlight the quality of its data over other sources. The press release Transport study proves quality matters when it comes to road routing revealed that "using data from the national mapping agency saw up to a 28% improvement in productivity and a 5% increase in profitability - a marked improvement over mapping from alternative sources." I contacted the OS and a press person confirmed that the agency had commissioned the survey; that information was not in the release.

Graphic: GfK GeoMarketing

GfK GeoMarketing, a geomarketing firm in Europe, regularly sends out maps to highlight its offerings. A 2007 press release/map combination titled Purchasing Power for Books and Stationary Products highlighted that "inhabitants of the areas around Munich and Frankfurt have more money available for books and stationary products than any other segment of the German population." The release also pointed to a high resolution version of the map and noted that images could be freely distributed with attribution. Providing detailed blanket permission makes using such maps simpler and quicker for those under deadline.

ESRI UK recently commissioned a survey titled "London Matters" to determine differences in opinion between those in London and those in the rest of the country. I learned from ESRI UK's PR/communications executive that the company "wanted to generate news content that would give us an opportunity to talk about the EMEA [Europe, Middle East and Africa] conference [held the third week of October]." The BBC summarized the results in an article, but did not mention the event. Some results were quoted in the opening session of the conference. The release appeared on the ESRI UK website on November 5.

How might your organization leverage this type of campaign? Do you already have some interesting statistics? An interesting map? Or, might you have the funds to commission a formal study? Or even an informal one? I offer the following suggestions when developing this type of marketing piece:
  • pick an interesting topic for the audience you hope to reach
  • be sure to document who did the survey, how and when, who paid for it, along with the number of respondents
  • provide maps and graphics (with permission to reprint them) and as much data as possible to journalists and bloggers
  • get the release into the hands of publications/bloggers/influencers that serve your target audience
  • post the release on your website so others can link to it
  • include an "about" paragraph describing your company in the release
  • choose an "engaging" press release headline, one that challenges assumptions or entices the reader to learn more
Studies and surveys are a great way to put a different spin on your products or services and many can be done with limited or no funds. Since geospatial firms are in the data and graphics business, why not use those very datasets and maps to spread the word about your business?

Published Friday, November 14th, 2008

Written by Adena Schutzberg

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