Safety in Numbers: According to New Research

Flick through any newspaper and you’ll find that research is the backbone of many news stories. Safety in Numbers looks at why it is so effective – and why it cannot be taken for granted…

According to new research” is a phrase commonly found in the opening paragraphs of news articles (about 194,000 of them, according to Google News). In the last few weeks alone, new research has taught us that:

Each of these topics will affect different people in different ways – and their headlines are likely to attract the attentions of a vast swathe of the British public. As well as being quite interesting, the other thing all of these stories have in common is the fact that they were generated by commercial businesses.

From a PR perspective, the onus is inescapably and ultimately on the company to sell its product to its target audience, as much as the onus for a publisher is to sell papers on the strength of its headlines.

As Safety In Numbers has touched on before, research helps people work out what is going on in the world around them – but it also (ultimately) how it will impact them.

If you saw a headline that said “Victory for Saint Lucia in Guadeloupe!”, it is unlikely that this would capture your imagination unless you were a) Saint Lucian, b) Guadeloupean or c) a keen follower of the Trophée Monique Ribeaut women’s rugby sevens tournament.

Similarly, research can help make a subject speak directly to an individual. Undoubtedly, if you were a keen drinker, single parent or living in Britain any of the aforementioned headlines would very possibly capture your interest.

This is where a company can step in and offer a unique solution to the issue at hand. It may be simple (“drink less alcohol”) or more complex (lobbying travel companies to revise their pricing structures) or it may not even be directly related to the issue (it would take a very brave company to claim that it could create a post-Brexit Britain that pleased everyone).

The importance, then, of a striking headline is paramount for the rest of the story to work. As with many people, post-truth is a subject that often keeps Safety In Numbers awake at night, with the relationship between politicians, the media and the public at an all time low (according to new research published in January 2017). It is therefore the responsibility of papers and companies alike to ensure that the truth is allowed to get in the way of a good headline.

On the subject of accuracy, another article published recently debunked an often-cited 1960s psychological study into impulse control in children. The study, conducted by academics from New York University and the University of California-Irvine, failed to replicate the results that suggested that children that show greater restraint are likely to grow into successful adults.

The article ended with the following quote from Robert Coe, a professor of education at Durham University: “It will never die, despite being debunked, that’s the problem. Parenting books 10 or 20 years from now will still be quoting it, and not the evidence against it.”

It would appear that with great research comes great responsibility.

Written by Chris Jarvis, Head of Research


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