Gallup Takes the Reins with Digital Delivery

Though perhaps not as well known to the general public as the Nielsen Media Research "Nielsen Ratings," Gallup is practically synonymous with the origins of widespread opinion polling. Founded upon the idea that asking people their opinions and using expert analysis to interpret the polling results would be of use to businesses everywhere, Gallup has always been a large proponent of one-to-one communication. In the early days, Dr. George Gallup wrote a column made available to the news media, in which he delivered his first-hand interpretation of the front lines of American popular opinion. Over time, however, the media began to do its own interpretation of Gallup results, which placed unwanted filters in the path of Gallup's direct delivery mechanism.

Times have changed, though, and Web and email delivery have provided The Gallup Organization with an even more direct pipe than Dr. Gallup's original syndicated column. And now Gallup reaches further than the desktops of medium and large organizations that have significant money for such statistics and interpretation. The flexibility of digital delivery methods has also allowed the organization to experiment with different pricing models, which has opened up new audiences. According to Steve O'Brien, publisher of Gallup, "what we're trying to do is communicate directly with people interested in Gallup Poll information, as well as to create a larger pool of people interested in polling."

O'Brien says, "What we had been was a resource for other media. But we would do a fantastic poll and send it out and if an editor didn't find it interesting, it ended up on the cutting-room floor." Or worse, Gallup found that the media often misinterpreted or misrepresented its statistical findings. Now, Gallup is "trying to change the business structure to deliver content directly to the audience—journalists, academics, healthcare, and religion—and charge them for it."

The Organization has been offering its Gallup Poll Tuesday Briefing email newsletter for about a year-and-a-half and has been very pleased with its success. While it is still not self-sustaining (other aspects of Gallup's business are still required to underwrite some of its activities), O'Brian says, "We are well on our way to that goal." On Tuesday mornings, subscribers receive an email newsletter that contains links to "five channels"—finance and commerce, government and public affairs, healthcare, religion and values, education and youth—that provide links to a password-protected section of the company's site where full reports and analysis are available. O'Brian says, "I think its going very well. We get a lot of feedback from subscribers and one thing I'm finding is that our greatest pool of subscribers didn't know what Gallup did. While the name rings bells, I don't think people knew you could just go to Gallup and get something."

Digital-only subscribers pay $95 per year for the weekly newsletter and access to Gallup's enormous archive. Print-only subscribers pay $149 and there is a slightly reduced rate for a print and digital bundled price. The archive itself, which contains responses to more than 125,000 questions asked by the Gallup Poll since 1935, is a large draw for subscribers, according to O'Brian, who thinks smart companies would be wise to see if Gallup has already asked a question before investing in expensive research on their own. He also says that often, just looking at the way Gallup formulated its poll can help companies decided how to proceed with their own research.

The low-overhead model of digital delivery has provided The Organization with a way to test various pricing structures to reach new audiences. O'Brian says that Gallup has already done some experiments with different pricing models and payment methods in order to reach the breadth of audience made available by the Web. "One of the reasons we are looking at micropayments is for students," says O'Brian. "$95 is the end of the world for them. We've tested $9 two-month subscriptions and received pretty good feedback. Next semester, we are looking at a semester rate or maybe a finals-only rate or term-paper rate." The company was prompted to test this market because they had a large number of students inquire about discounting and, O'Brian says, "We have a market here wanting to buy something and we want to sell it to them."

The most recent enhancements to the Tuesday Briefing are video-based—you can view editor-in-chief Dr. Frank Newport delivering columns, for example—as well as community-oriented offerings. O'Brian says, "We are building more and more community events to add value for our subscribers. A few months ago, we started producing events via WebEx. If you are a subscriber," he says, "you'll receive an invite to sign up. Members of Gallup host with interactivity from the participating subscribers." O'Brian wants to create more opportunities for end-users to communicate with The Organization, "One feeling we want to give subscribers," says O'Brian, "is that you are an insider."

"The Internet allows us to start communicating directly to people who will be interested without going through another filtering process." This way, Gallup believes that their audience "will get the information explained to them in a way we feel comfortable with, in a way that Gallup feels is statistically relevant." According to O'Brian, "This is much like the way that Dr. Gallup originally delivered the information."

"Remember that what Gallup tried to pull off when he did—interviewing an entire country—well, people must have thought he lost his mind," says O'Brian. But it isn't likely that, more than 70 years later, many will question the sanity of an organization with hopes of leveraging the latest digital publishing channels to return to a vision of directly polling the nation and delivering the results right into the hands of those who can put them to use.