Published in Crikey, June 19 2007
Brent from Mumble
yesterdayís double whammy of ACNielsen and Newspoll showed, opinion polls are
big news. They get page one placement in the papers, overflowing to comment by
journalistic heavy hitters and often the pollsters themselves.
everyone involved knows itís all a bit of a try-on, and that individual
surveys donít mean that much. But people like to read them, they cost a lot to
produce and the rest follows suit.
What does an opinion poll cost to produce? Itís an industry secret, but we can
do some simple sums. My understanding is that a telephone interviewer can
generally get about 3 or 4 completed interviews per hour. If each is paid, say,
$17 an hour, then a survey of a thousand people might cost around $5-6,000 in
wages. Throw in a telephone bill of about a grand; because for every successful
call there are probably at least five that arenít - heating, lights,
supervisorís wage, you might get about $7-8k.
But suggest that figure to a pollster (as I did) and youíll be laughed at (as
I was), because it ignores the other costs of running the business: salaries,
building rental, advertising, computers, software development, superannuation
and so on. Maybe you could call $8k the marginal cost. The real price is two or
three times that.
A survey of about 1,000 people might retail for about $20k. But the newspapers
generally donít pay top dollar for them. (The exception, apparently, is the Oz
and Newspoll, but News Ltd owns one and half owns the other, and so some of it
comes back in a profit dividend.)
The pollsters usually sell them cheap because they crave the publicity. In fact
some low profile marketers practically give them away, and they are more able to
do this if samples are tiny and/or the questions are tacked on the end of
another survey paid for by someone else.
Look at it this way. The Australian
Market and Social Research Society lists 280 companies. If you were looking
to use a market researcher, which ones would you have heard of? Exactly.
Consider the publicity Galaxy has generated over the last fortnight alone. You
just canít buy that -- but with placement in a high profile newspaper, and PR
rampaging around all corners of the media, you donít have to.