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The importance of research in public

relations
How research can help you promote your business
Many public relations practitioners count communication and strategy as the
most valuable skills in their field. But in practice, one cannot put those skills to
good use without a foundation of research and information gathering. Its
important to know a clients needs, target market, and available resources in
order to draw up a good PR plan. For example, before submitting a story to a
magazine, you have to know its readership and editorial standards to make
sure your piece will fit in.
There are various types of research involved in PR, such as market research,
industry research, news tracking, and competitive analysis. Each project
requires different research methods, but one thing is constant: all PR projects
involve research to some extent. Here are some of the ways that research can
help improve PR practice:

Knowing your client When you present your PR plan to a client, you
should be prepared to justify your ideas why you chose a certain
medium or publication, how you came up with the tagline, or how you
think a certain step will contribute to the overall plan. If your plan is
substantiated by research, you shouldnt have trouble answering such
questions.

Finding your market One of the first things you need to know when
promoting a product or service is who your market is. Are you selling the
product to teens or adults, males or females, students or professionals?

Market research involves more than demographics you have to


analyze the behavior, lifestyle, and preferences of your audience.
Knowing your target market will help you determine what your message
is and how to design it in a way that your audience can understand and
appreciate.

Choosing your media When youve put your message together, the
next step is to choose a medium for sending it. You need research to find
out which media your client can afford, and which ones will bring in the
most returns in the shortest time. If youre looking into field sales or
promotion, you also need research to stay updated on industry events
that can be useful for your PR campaign. It also involves a bit of market
research, because you have to know which medium is preferred by your
target market. You wouldnt run a news release if your research shows
that your audience doesnt read newspapers.

Finally: Making your pitch


If you want to promote your business in the media, you will have to pitch your
story to editors, producers, or reporters. In most cases, other PR firms or
businesses will be competing for the space or airtime. Your pitch has to be
well-planned and well-researched for it to stand out from the other pitches.
Look up the magazines reader profile and editorial policy, or find out the
ratings of the station or program you are pitching to. Be prepared to answer
questions about your clients business. This can make you appear more
knowledgeable and responsible, and helps build credibility for both your firm
and your client.

8.1 Importance of Research in Public Relations Management


Public relations professionals often find themselves in the position of having to convince
management to fund research, or to describe the importance of research as a crucial part of a
departmental or project budget. Research is an essential part of public relations management. Here
is a closer look at why scholars argued that conducting both formative and evaluative research is vital
in modern public relations management:
1.

Research makes communication two-way by collecting information from publics


rather than one-way, which is a simple dissemination of information. Research allows
us to engage in dialogue with publics, understanding their beliefs and values, and
working to build understanding on their part of the internal workings and policies of
the organization. Scholars find that two-way communication is generally more
effective than one-way communication, especially in instances in which the
organization is heavily regulated by government or confronts a turbulent
environment in the form of changing industry trends or of activist groups.
2.
Research makes public relations activities strategic by ensuring that
communication is specifically targeted to publics who want, need, or care about the
information. Without conducting research, public relations is based on experience
or instinct, neither of which play large roles in strategic management. This type of
research prevents us from wasting money on communications that are not reaching
intended publics or not doing the job that we had designed them to do.
3.
Research allows us to show results, to measure impact, and to refocus our efforts
based on those numbers. For example, if an initiative is not working with a certain
public we can show that ineffectiveness statistically, and the communication can be
redesigned or eliminated. Thus, we can direct funds toward more successful
elements of the public relations initiative.
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Without research, public relations would not be a true management function. It would not be
strategic or a part of executive strategic planning, but would regress to the days of simple press
agentry, following hunches and instinct to create publicity. As a true management function, public
relations uses research to identify issues and engage in problem solving, to prevent and manage
crises, to make organizations responsive and responsible to their publics, to create better
organizational policy, and to build and maintain long-term relationships with publics. A thorough
knowledge of research methods and extensive analyses of data also allow public relations

practitioners a seat in the dominant coalition and a way to illustrate the value and worth of their
activities. In this manner, research is the strategic foundation of modern public relations
management.

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What we do
Research
Listening is what we do in the research process. Some of the tools we use when we
begin research are awareness surveys and communication audits. We always do
informal research by reading about your company and your competitors on the
Internet. We also listen to you and your key people as you tell us about your business.
For awareness studies, we partner with local research firms that have a track record of
providing useful information. In a communication audit, we measure the effectiveness
of your communication efforts.

Planning
In this phase, we continue the listening process by reviewing with you the information
gained in the research phase. A major result of research is an abundance of
information upon which to base a communication plan with measurable objectives. We
listen to your views in the research phase so we can integrate your thinking into the
plan. We can focus on planning for solving specific problems as well as on overall
communication. The plan designates what communication tools will be used, when
they will be used and by whom. Your p.r. firm may plan your public relations program,
but you, as a client, also have responsibilities in the implementation phase, though
they may be simply to tell us to carry out the final plan that is approved by you.

Implementation
Implementing a total communication program or a plan to address a specific issue
involves learning about your business quickly. Businesses have many priorities to
address through communication, but in those situations where an immediate need for
communication has been identified by top management, we are ready to assist.
Implementing a total plan is multifaceted and can involve using many communication
tools. Specific issue plans tend to be more targeted in the choice of communications
vehicles.
We are generalists and can learn your business rapidly. We have communication
experience working with many kinds of manufacturing and service companies including

contract furnishings, professional photographic equipment, computer software,


automotive components, ergonomic seating, greeting cards, custom labeling,
restaurant industry (several facets), industrial design, acoustics, contract interiors,
physicians and medical offices, design engineering, process flow control and more.
On behalf of our clients we have worked with publications in the following markets:
training, lawn and garden, painting and coating, metal finishing, government, food,
electronic engineering and manufacturing, international automotive and general
industrial, plastics, rubber, quality, cleaning and laundry, chemicals, utilities, offhighway equipment, engineering services, flows/instrumentation, glass coating,
primary metals, stone/clay/concrete, apparel industry, building/facility management,
interior design, hospitals/health care, heavy industry, health and safety,
laboratory/research, libraries, offices, home office/small office, pharmaceutical, schools
and colleges, physical/occupational therapy, welding, packaging, photography,
video/broadcast, film, cleanrooms/static control and more. Though you may not see
the markets you wish to reach mentioned, ask us to tell you how our experience can
help you.

Evaluation
How do we know were doing a good job? One way to evaluate our services is periodic
comparative awareness surveys or communication audits like the ones initiated during
the research phase of our plan. As public relations professionals, we find this most
reliable.
However, some clients measure our success by increases in phone calls or web visitors.
Many measure it by their business growth. Some clients will engage a clipping service
to see where we have placed articles. Some ask us to value the number of inches of
space in magazines as though it were advertising space. This is easy enough to do if
we can be sure the clipping service is finding everything, but few clipping services will.
If we visit a magazines website and see material we have sent to an editor, we print it
out. If we see something in a magazine that we receive, well call it to your attention.
Few, if any, people will tell you they bought your product because they read about it in
a single article. You see, there is a cumulative effect of communication. That is why we
say that consistent effort yields consistent results. In a world in which we are
constantly bombarded with communication, it takes many exposures to cause a
potential customer to act. This means, for example, that if you sell flow meters, your
communication needs to be in a trade magazine that is doing a focus on flow meters in
October rather than just in February when you introduced the new product. An
organized public relations program that gets your messages to the right place at the
right time is the consistent effort that will yield consistent results

Discussion (in which we summarize current thinking and communication research


about the value of editorial placement and advertising).

The conclusion of the following discussion is that editorial placements make public
relations equal to advertising in effectiveness and that the business implications are
that public relations should have a higher stature in the marketing communications
mix. We hasten to add that it is usually less costly than the advertising portion of the
marketing plan.
Thirty years ago, the number of times that an ad had to be placed before it caused
action was cited as three; a few years after that it was seven. With the Internet
broadly used in business, communication research has tried to determine the number
of exposures of all types (advertising, editorial, Internet) that will cause action, but to
no avail.
We base our work on the assumption that people are more likely to read and value
editorial in magazines over advertising because having your company in the editorial
pages means that the editor sees the news value in your product. There is
disagreement among researchers over whether this also means there is implied thirdparty endorsement by an editor. A few researchers discount it while others are
studying a proposed multiplier effect caused by people seeing your company
mentioned in the editorial pages as opposed to advertising. A study, Exploring the
Comparative Communications Effectiveness of Advertising and Public Relations: An
Experimental Study of Initial Branding Advantage by Michaelson and Stacks published
in June 2007 by the Institute for Public Relations Research, looked for this multiplier
effect and failed to find it. However, Michaelson and Stacks could not totally discount
the multiplier effect, saying it may exist in some circumstances. The conclusions of
this study are that editorial placements have equality with advertising. The business
implications of this are that public relations should be afforded significantly higher
stature in the marketing communications mix by receiving the same support and
financing as advertising, direct marketing and other marketing communication
disciplines. (Michaelson and Stacks, p. 9)