Public Relations Writing: Lesson #10 - p. 4

More about online research

  • If your experience can be summed up as "Research is easy!" you probably didn't do it right. Research is hard, which is why lazy PR writers try to avoid it. Research involves finding sources, evaluating those sources, extracting useful information, and then summarizing that information. It always requires keeping careful track of each source -- and doing some research on the sources, as well.

  • Web research is not about simply downloading pages of information -- that's the easy part. The real task is to start with that information and then distill the relevant facts, evaluate them, organize them, and fill in the blanks where information is still needed.

  • When you do your research, don't simply pad your notes with page after Web page of Internet research -- or links to the pages. Incoporate the finished work on your Message Planner.

  • You will find much more information than you can use -- you need to be discriminating as you browse, and not include everything you find. The more you research the subejct, the more you'll understand the boundaries of the subject. I will often get lost in the details just because it's so interesting, and I will learn much more than I need to know about, say, the politics of natural gas in Texas. But I'm "on my own time" when I do that, because much of the information -- though interesting and loosely relevant -- is not really important to the task at hand.

  • The name of the game is Key Ideas -- this is the whole point of doing research. Your Message Planner should be filled with Key Ideas that you have developed during your browsing and downloading and evaluation. If you have sent me a Message Planner with only a few Key Ideas, you haven't yet completed your assignment.

  • Key ideas are more than facts -- your own observations and insights are also important. As you're browsing for information, let your own natural curiosity figure in... you are a reader, as well as a PR writer... if you opened the newspaper or clicked on the TV and were finding out about this subject, what would you want to know? What questions would be raised by the information you're reading? How can you answer them?

  • Be sure to source everything you capture ... that means that statements of "fact" as well as important opinions are all accompanied by the source of that information. Especially with Internet research, nothing can be assumed to be perfectly factual -- everything must be questioned as to the accuracy, reliability, and objectivity of its source.

  • ... and knowing the source is not enough The source might be Citizens for Pure Air -- but who or what is "Citizens for Pure Air"? Is that a genuine environmental group, like the Sierra Club? Or is it a pretend consumer advocate organization, among the many so-called "grassroots" organizations that have been set up by corporations and interest groups to endorse their business practices, while pretending to be a citizen-watchdog group? If so, is it in the employ of the natural gas industry, or perhaps of the competing petroleum industry? It's important to know.

    • Why is this so important? Because all it takes is for one goof to ruin the reliability of your entire PR campaign and make you a laughingstock. If your best case is premised on the "facts" obtained from a known biased interest -- because you failed to check out the source -- reporters who cover this field will catch it right away, and will question not only your facts but your very professionalism.

  • Obviously, your job is to achieve the client's objectives, and that includes making the best case for the client's point of view. You are not expected to provide full coverage of opposing points of view. But this does not mean that you should rely only on research resources promoting your cause. You need to use neutral sources (like an encylopedia) and unfriendly sources (like the competition's Web page) to reinforce your facts.

  • So, once again, you should ask yourself all the questions that a reporter might ask ...if you anticipate all the tough ones you will not only dispose of them in advance, you will also change the attitude of the editor and reporter in your favor. This will not only give you more Key Ideas, it will also help shape your Angle and, therefore, your Message.

  • Good research is especially important in today's media environment. There is more and more information out there, and more and more advocates spinning the news. That can be confusing. When you establish trust with editors and reporters, you will rise above your competitors in stature and respect. When editors and reporters learn that your information is always adequately sourced, so that its bias can be fairly judged and if necessary, balanced, they will come to treat you as a resource of first resort -- for example, you will be the one they call for an intelligent response whenever any news is breaking in that issue area.

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