Public relations research
The dirty little secret of PR writing is that 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.
In fact, 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
One survey1 showed that "research is talked about more
than it is practiced in public relations," in part because of
"apprehension about the complex process of survey research," as
well as cost and time considerations. In other words, it's too
But with the growing convergence of IMC --
integrated marketing communications -- the
quality of reseach in public relations is increasingly important.
Otherwise, public relations remains the "art of intangibles," while
advertising and marketing becomes more and more sophisticated.
That's not as it should be.
asks us to imagine an exchange between a public relations writer and his client,
where the writer takes the position that research is unnecessary because PR produces only
"What do you mean by 'intangible?'"
"I mean that public relations deals with things that can't be
measured or counted."
"Why should I pay you for something that can't be measured or
"Because every organization needs public relations, and I am an
"Good points. Here's your money."
"Where? I don't see any money!"
"Of course not, it can't be counted. It's what you call
Research is the necessary first step in PR writing.
It's so important that entire courses are devoted to it. In this
course we are going to focus on two techniques of research, but
you need to know that this is just the tip of the iceberg.
One text lists six categories of public relations
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.
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.
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
In the words of the text, "Whether it is one
public or several, you are generally well advised to begin by
reducing your message to a single simple idea. Remember,
though, that a single simple idea is not necessarily an
insignificant or simpleminded idea. Reducing what you want to say
to this level is necessary to help keep you on the right track as
you shape your message." The text doesn't make the point, so I
will: an important aspect of research is testing the message
through surveys and focus groups. Of course, we will work
extensively with the message in this course, but not message
Connected to the consideration of target publics
are the decisions about which channels to use. 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
The final category of research is for evaluation
of your PR efforts. 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.
Primary and secondary research are two types of
research that you will need to know how to use:
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. On the
next page 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.
In every serious marketing campaign, someone is doing a
lot of research -- that's how we
get the information that we need to plan the campaign,
test our assumptions about what will or will not work,
set benchmarks so we can later evaluate whether we "moved the needle"
A PR writer should master the research process
because otherwise he or she is required to follow someone
else's lead in this all-important area.
Go on to the next page.