“I can predict the news ahead of time!” says your humble Bad PR author

June 20th, 2012

People who follow me on twitter – otherwise known as ‘correct people’ – may have spotted this bold tweet last week:

Predicted ‪#badnews‬ in the papers around Sunday: modern men are useless at DIY/car maintenance, rely on their dads for help. Maybe from B&Q.

Imagine my surprise and delight, then, when the following appeared on the FemaleFirst.co.uk news site today:

Dad knows best when it comes to DIY

Who needs the internet or modern technology when you have the hands and knowledge of your own father?

A new study found that 63 per cent of youn(sic) people are still turning to their dad first on all matters of DIY.

Whilst youngsters make up the largest group needing fatherly assistance, a third of those in their thirties and forties also show how important the traditional fatherly role still is in this aspect of our modern lives.

The research carried out by leading decoration preparation brand Polycell, also revealed that Fathers play a massive role in terms of practical knowledge and also giving recognition, with 1 in 5 DIYers needing a fatherly pat on the back to feel proud when they’ve done a DIY job properly.

I realise it’s not exactly a leading story in the Daily Mail, but I’ll chalk this up as a win. Plus, don’t be surprised if this does in fact appear in the Mail in the morning, as the two publications often publish very close to one another.

Given that I know my readership is smart (albeit small in number), I know that you know that I didn’t guess this story purely by chance, or indeed by psychic skills (which don’t actually exist, by the way). No, instead, I spotted the following questions in a poll from my favourite polling company OnePoll.com:

Do you agree that modern men aren’t quite as good at tasks such as DIY, decorating, car maintenance etc as the previous generation of men?

And this one:

If jobs needed doing around the house, what would you be most likely to do?

– Attack them yourself, even if you didn’t really know what you were doing
– Call your dad for help
– Phone a professional for hired help
– Leave the jobs undone
– None of the above

And it’s fair to say there were others too – variants along a theme.

The interesting thing to note in the latter question there, of course, is the false positive in the responses: the first answer is the closest thing to a ‘I can change a plug myself, actually’, so those who were competent may select this… so to avoid having too many people state their competence, the question is appended with a ‘I’m clueless though’ clause. Thus, the competent could well be put off from selecting this option lest they be bundled into the DIY-bunglers category.

Similarly, all those who confidently state their DIY skills can be spun in the results as being likely to throw themselves into a job they can’t do, which in itself feeds back into the main narrative of the article. 

Given the clear steer the questions were giving respondents, the timing of the questions so close to Fathers Day, and the DIY theme to the whole survey, it became relatively easy to see what article we were looking to create. The only thing left to do was to take an educated guess as to the company behind the poll – I stabbed at B&Q, when in reality it was Polycell. Close enough, I think.

The underlying point here is useful, I think: if it’s possible to piece together the desired results of a survey by looking over the questions asked in a poll and the range (and biasing) of answers to choose from, the poll isn’t genuine research.