This guide outlines five key areas of Public Relations that can be strengthened with the integration and adoption of research. These areas are aims and objectives, PR programme, evaluation, insights and new pitches. The optimum level of research adopted within these PR areas is dependent on the industry, size of business, type of business, company culture, industry structure and market.
PR objectives help create successful PR programmes by identifying areas for change and improvement and this can be supported, qualified and quantified by research.
Research helps set your aims and objectives
All companies and organisations have corporate aims and objectives even if they are not stated formally. An organisation’s PR objectives should be in line with corporate objectives and in the same way that corporate objectives should be measurable to be effective so should PR objectives. It is old school to think that PR objectives are not measurable, today measurable objectives are increasingly common place. In many instances, measurable objectives are best generated by research and in some cases can only be generated by research.
The American Institute of Public Relations’s six reasons for setting measurable PR objectives, indirectly provide the six arguements for setting PR objectives with research because there is a major connection between measurable objectives and research. Research can help set objectives which:
- link the PR objective to the business objective.
- create a structure for prioritistion.
- focus resources to drive performance and efficiency.
- reduce the potential for disputes before, during, and after the programme.
- help create successful programmes by identifying areas for prescriptive change and continual improvement.
- set the stage for evaluation by making it easier for sponsors and team-members to determine if the PR programme met or exceeded expectations.
Research can guide PR activity
With the development of technology, the range of direct and indirect distribution channels as well as communication channels are growing. Effective PR programmes target an increasing network of market segments matched against suitable PR channels and activities. To optimise PR exposure, channels and market segments should be researched and quantified. Some market segments are accessible to certain PR activity while other market segments favour accessibility from other PR activity.
Market research results can
- explain why you are doing something
- give credibility to your actions
- allow you to express an opinion on an important issue
- overcome media scepticism. Its makes the PR message sound less like a hard sell from your PR department/consultancy and more an impartial review.
Research results provide power and credibility
By offering context and providing relevant supporting facts for your action, market research findings give a PR campaign more credibility and impact. Research findings reduce the gap between the message you want delivered and the message understood by the media and public. The content of any proactive or reactive PR message is enhanced in at least in two ways by researched factual content:
- POWER: Researched content is more likely to get exposure in the media
- CREDIBILITY: Researched content is more likely to be believed compared with content that is not quantified or qualified by research. The media and its readership is generally more interested in fact than opinion unless it is from an opinion leader or someone of fame.
Research helps the evaluation of a PR programme
To evaluate the effectiveness of a PR campaign, its results must be measured. Measurement is often done by employing market research, although data may also come from an organisation’s management information system. The outcomes of a PR campaign can be measured along three dimensions
- Outputs – Essentially raw numbers generated by press releases (e.g. number of mentions in the press), special events (attendances at press conferences, media mentions), web sites (web statistics) and other channels
- Outcomes – Research among customers, general public and the press to generate information on areas such as awareness and understanding of the company/its products and services; attitudes to and preference for the company and its products/services and buyer behaviour.
- Business Results – Sales, profits and customer numbers pre and post the PR campaign and the meeting of corporate aims and objectives
The results of a PR campaign are often measured against one or both of the following benchmarks: results from the previous year/previous campaign (if applicable); and the specific targets set for this campaign
A research agency can be used the collect and collate the above information, thereby creating an overall evaluation (or picture) of the success or otherwise of the PR campaign.
Research empowers Insight, moving beyond Evaluation
Knowing whether a PR campaign succeeded or failed, while important, is never the complete story. To become truly integrated into the goals of the organisation, Insight is needed. Insight bridges the gap between research findings and corporate goals, it shows how a PR campaign has or has not changed customer behaviour and changed it in the long-term and not just temporarily.
Many PR agencies and departments commission research consultants to both project manage the research that will evaluate a PR programme and also provide insights on the research results. This often takes the form of a written report on an industry highlighting consumer changes and trends to the market.
Research aids with the agency pitch
If a PR agency has been asked to pitch for a PR contract, the agency will have to pull together a proposal and most likely a presentation. In any proposal or presentation, it is important for the agency to demonstrate it knows about and understands the business of the prospective client and the market in which it operates. Market research can generate the facts and insight required for a successful pitch.
Research provides the ammunition for the pitch. It helps create compelling, inspiring and, most importantly, winning proposals and pitches. Increasingly, PR agencies must be able to translate customer insights into creative solutions that will have an impact on clients’ PR success and ultimately on the client’s bottom line. More and more clients are asking for the data behind recommended PR strategies. Agencies are likely to increase their odds of winning an account by explaining the rationale for their proposed PR campaign with the help of something more than recourse to their experience.