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Ten Takeaways for PR Research
See the "Lesson Schedule" for suggested rewrite deadlines. (rewrites are optional and you may choose to simply include your final drafts in your Final Portfolio.)
- Too many public relations professionals don't do enough research. And as a result, too many PR writing students get little guidance from the professionals who teach them.
- Quality research is one of the measures of PR as a profession. Without quality research, PR writers are "flying by the seat of their pants," giving advice and writing copy based on instincts and impressions. Of course, this is a lot more fun than doing the detailed research necessary for professional work.
- Primary research is the first-hand information you gather. It can be from consumers through surveys and focus groups, or from board members of the company, through interviews, or from observation, or any of a variety of similar means. In the optional lesson material I'll give you a crib sheet to use when interviewing the clients themselves, which mixes secondary with primary research.
- Secondary research is the "second-hand" information you have gathered from such sources as encyclopedias, books, magazines and newspaper clippings, and the Internet. There are six major categories of PR Research:
- Policy -- You need to know the rules -- both "the company line" and any external regulations that may apply to your industry. Maybe your client "George Baker Ltd" never mentions the fact that the boss's full name is George Baker Jr., nor that the company was started by the late George Baker Sr., nor that it is in fact owned by his mother... Our techniques will cover "policy" but only generally.
- Background material -- You need a full list of "Key Ideas" before you can begin your PR writing. Some of this information will come from the client, and some from independent research. This is the area of research we will concentrate on.
- Publics -- Who are we trying to reach? Targeting the audience of your marketing efforts is one of the most important principles of integrated marketing communication. We will assume a "general reader" in most of our writing for the mass media, but we are including consideration of our target audience when we declare the objective at the top of every Message Planner. Our research techniques will partially cover the target audience.
- Message -- can you boil it down to a single simple idea -- not necessarily simpleminded. This will help keep you focus as you home in on your message. An important aspect of research is testing the message through surveys and focus groups. Of course, we are working extensively with the message in this course, but not message research.
- Media -- which channels should you use. Clarity about your target publics make those decisions. Obviously, PR writing targeted on seniors will not use the same media as that targeted on single working mothers. We'll take a pass on this complex subject, and simply concentrate on mass media for mass audiences.
- Program evaluation -- how well are your PR efforts working. Once benchmarks are established before the campaign, follow-up research shows how attitudes or behavior have changed as a result of the PR work you did. Our course will not include this critical area of public relations research.
Again, for this and other lessons during the semester, you are welcome to read further and in greater detail about each subject we will cover. However, you are not required to do any of the assignments mentioned there, or postings to the student conference area. We are going to focus your five-week writing intensive experience on the work you need to earn a good grade -- the rest is available to you at any time, including beyond this semester.
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