6 Keys to Creating an Award-Winning Article Using Original Research

By Danica Tormohlen, contributing editor, Trade Show Executive
In July, Tormohlen presented a session on this topic at the Azbee Awards Luncheon in Kansas City. She and the Trade Show Executive team won a Gold Azbee Award for Original Research in the Western Region. Here’s an excerpt from her presentation:

  1. Get the right information. When it comes to creating original research, take your time on the front end. We spent two months developing the survey and drafting the questions and answers. Our goal: Publish a compensation survey with trend data on compensation packages, benefits, insurance costs, motivating and rewarding employees, and staffing and hiring trends. We wanted to not only provide historical information on salaries, but also forecast data to assist readers with planning and budgeting. With this goal in mind, we were able create a comprehensive survey to garner the data published in the article.
  2. Work with a third-party research company. While there are many less-expensive options for conducting original research, we felt it was important to work with an independent research company to add credibility to the data, as well as increase the response rate for this type of survey. We were concerned about getting high-level executives to provide sensitive data on salaries and benefits, and we decided that working with a third-party company would ensure respondents’ anonymity. To reduce costs, consider working with a research company in your industry. We were able to pay for part of the survey in trade through advertising and sponsorships by working with an independent researcher in the trade show industry.
  3. Analyze the data to identify major trends. The key: Sorting the data. We sorted the data by a number of cross-tabulations, including: by revenue, by attendance, by net square footage, by type of organizers (independent vs. association), by gender, by industry served, by geography, by number of employees, and by age. We analyzed data from hundreds of pages of tables to develop the charts and graphs you see in the final layout. Readers can use the survey data to compare their salaries to others who work on shows with similar revenue, net square footage, attendance and all of the other key sorts identified.
  4. Add qualitative information. In addition to providing the survey results, TSE interviewed leading trade show executives and HR professionals to offer some qualitative perspective to enhance the quantitative data. We interviewed trade show execs from small, medium and large organizations to find out what was behind the trends. We also asked several open-ended questions and included the verbatim responses in the article. As an added bonus, these responses offered dozens of great story ideas for future issues.
    Segmenting research data in a variety of different ways is the key to spotting important trends, said editor Danica Tormohlen.
  5. Compare industry-specific data with general business trends. We supplemented our survey results with additional research from leading independent organizations outside of our industry, including Mercer, Hay Group, The Wall Street Journal and the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Based on this analysis, we found that trade show compensation is outpacing other industries. Readers could use data like this to benchmark their organizations’ benefits packages, hiring and staffing activities, motivation techniques and rewards for top-performing employees, and insurance costs against others in the industry and outside the industry.
  6. Provide actual salaries. Despite the return rate of 12.3%, further analysis of the respondents showed that 70% reported gross revenues for all shows produced was less than $10 million. We did not want the data to be skewed toward smaller organizations. To get a more accurate picture of the universe, TSE presented supplementary data on executive compensation at the top 20 shows managed by associations and publicly traded companies. We culled audited data from IRS return forms (which was available for free online) and reviewed financial statements for the handful of publicly traded companies in the industry to provide actual salaries of their top executives. It was a bold move, but something we felt was important, as it had not been published previously. In the end, we decided to provide titles and not the actual names of the key executives, as some had changed since the audited data had been published.

Danica Tormohlen, who served as editor-in-chief and publisher of EXPO magazine, has covered the trade show industry since 1994. She has won numerous awards for outstanding editorial and design, including the Folio: Award for Editorial Excellence; Best Web Site Redesign from min’s b2b; APEX Award for Special Purpose Writing; and Gold Azbee Award for Original Research. Tormohlen is active in the trade show and publishing industries. She currently serves as president for the Kansas City Chapter of ASBPE and as Chapter Liaison on the national board for ASBPE. She can be reached at (816) 803-8103 or danicat@tradeshowexecutive.com. Follow her on Twitter @DanicaTormohlen.

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