I counsel my clients not to use data that is older than about six months, since the world is moving so quickly that a snapshot of opinion then can look entirely different today. But let's face it -- the misuse of data is a cornerstone of PR. Clients want earth-moving conclusions from a sample base of 35 respondents who were self-selecting and not in any way representative of, well, anything. Sadly, most publications don't bother to carefully examine survey methodology, which can often pretty clearly show that the findings in the headline are nonsense.
I recently released findings from a questionnaire answered by almost 6,000 people -- and only one retail trade and one major news service dug into the methodology to establish for themselves the credibility of the findings. It was a pain in the ass for me, but I was pleased that they wanted to make certain THEIR readers were well-informed. A few dozen other pubs ran it verbatim, no questions asked. (As an aside, this was one of those happy times where the findings were indeed valid, projectable and reliable).
But a day does not go by that I don't see survey "results" that somehow mysteriously reflect well on the company that ran and published the survey results. At best they are misleading, at worst utterly laughable, but it is incumbent on the reader to comb through the finer points of how the survey was conducted, since "journalists" by and large don't bother any more.
It will be real news the day that someone runs a legitimate survey that finds people don't really mind advertising, or actually find it helpful. Or one that ranks advertising in trustworthiness well above where it usually lands -- among car dealers, cable companies and Congressmen. It is kind of predictable, like asking people if they enjoy going to the dentist.
I have a friend who goes back and forth all the time about whether to stay in advertising. On good days (when his clients love his work and his boss says "You are KILLING it"), he is content enough to cash his paychecks. Then there are those days -- we all have them -- when he falls into the trap of seeing advertising as an unnecessary evil using deception and voodoo psychology to trick people into buying things they don't really need or want. Then I remind him that unless he is making things with his hands like cookies or houses, almost every job in the world involves some sort of selling of ideas or objects. Teachers sell their notions of history, doctors sell their involvement in future care, the police are selling the state's idea of right and wrong. The tools they use may not involve storyboards or PowerPoints, but they are selling nonetheless.
This makes him feel good until the client hates his next presentation, and then we are back in the soup. But I understand that. It is hard to be in an industry that everyone hates and produces as much embarrassment as delight. But as I have said to him time and again, every company has a right to present its goods and services in a positive light, highlighting why customers might like them.
But I don't expect the public to agree, and I don't ever expect to see a poll or survey that celebrates mad men. Don Draper was as close as we will ever get.