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. Knowing a client's needs, target market, and available resources is essential to drawing up a good PR plan.
For example, before submitting a story to a magazine, you must know its readership and editorial standards to ensure your piece will fit in.
You see, public relations is the act of communicating to the public to create an acceptable image of the company for which you are working. This means that a public relations professional needs to understand what the public considers a pleasing image, which is often done through research.
Various types of research are involved in PR, such as market research, industry research, news tracking, and competitive analysis. All PR projects involve research to some extent. Here are some of the ways that research can help improve PR practice:
1. Justify your ideas – When you present your PR plan to a client, you should be prepared to justify your thoughts – why you chose a particular 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 goal is substantiated by research, you shouldn't have trouble answering such questions.
2. Finding your market – One of the first things you need to know when promoting a product or service is who your market is. For example, are you selling the product to teens or adults, males or females, students or professionals? Market research involves more than demographics – you have to analyse your audience's behaviour, lifestyle, and preferences. Knowing your target market will help you determine your message and how to design it in a way your audience can understand and appreciate.
3. Choose your media – When you've 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 you're 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 your target market prefers. For example, you won't run a news release if your research shows that your audience doesn't read newspapers.
Types of Research:
Let's take a look at some of the different research methods.
1. Applied vs Theoretical
Applied research finds answers to a problem or a specific question. Finding that answer directly affects our lives and the world around us. For example, researching which school offers the best financial aid package is applied research because knowing the answer to that question is beneficial to others considering attending school.
Theoretical research, also known as basic research, is centred on curiosity. For instance, research to see how fresh your sandwich is after four days in the refrigerator is theoretical research. This is because, while the information may benefit you, so you do not waste food, it is not the information that impacts the world.
2. Quantitative vs Qualitative
Quantitative research is research that can accurately be measured. For example, we can accurately measure how many dogs get adopted from shelters each year. A great way to remember quantitative research is to think of the word 'quantity,' which indicates how many.
Qualitative research is research that is not accurately measured. This is because it is impossible to determine an accurate number. Qualitative research focuses on the quality and opinions of something. For example, researching how someone feels about owning a dog. This is a matter of opinion rather than actual numerical values.
But why should public relations departments do research?
1. To avoid biased Opinions:
Without research, a company has to rely on their own opinions of what customers want and how they feel. Unfortunately, this means they are using a biased view to make company decisions, which ultimately may not help their public image. With research, a company can understand how the public and customers currently feel about their company.
For example, a company might survey their customers to see what they like about the company and areas in which it can improve.
2. To reach the public:
From time to time, a company creates a public relations plan to reach out to the public. This plan often involves a message they want to portray to the public. To deliver what customers and the people want to hear, a company needs to do research. It is also a valuable tool to discover the media outlets both current and potential customers use so that a company can reach out to the largest audience possible. An example might be to poll the average age of a company's customers. Then, research what types of media that particular age group relies on. For example, a younger crowd is probably more in tune with social media, while an older generation might prefer newspapers or radio advertisements.
3. To get Feedback
A company cannot make changes or improvements if they are not aware of what areas need to be improved. To identify where changes need to be made, research is often conducted. This means understanding whether objectives and goals were met so that a company can decide if the public relations plan should be continued or whether the company should create a new one. For example, if your goal was to host an open house to advertise your new business and only three people showed up, a new plan likely needs to be created because the objectives and goals were not met.
4. PR without research can not be an actual management function
It would not be strategic or a part of executive strategic planning but would regress to the days of simple press agency, following hunches and instinct to create publicity. Instead, as an actual management function, public relations uses research to identify issues and engage in problem-solving, prevent and manage crises, make organisations responsive and responsible to their public, create better organisational policy, and build and maintain long-term relationships with people.
5. Research helps you to strategise
Putting thorough research into any strategic plan helps you establish realistic goals, meet communications objectives and increase your campaign's chances for success. In PR, strategy is key to maximizing efficiency and minimizing costs. In terms of developing solid communications plans, extensive research can help you target the appropriate audiences, find the right influencers and even determine the most cost-effective budget. Having a strategic "plan-of-attack" also allows you to spend less time accounting for errors in the long run (less time accounting for errors = less time and money spent on fixing those errors).
6. Research helps substantiate your claims
PR can call for you to take on all kinds of assignments, from looking up the correct spelling of a journalist's name to delving into that journalist's location, beat, recent coverage and more. As a young professional, it is important to provide hard-hitting facts to back up any statement or idea you send to your team or client.
Here's an example of how secondary research can help substantiate a claim made to your client: when it comes to developing a paid social media plan, a sound
the recommendation should contain data points that support key decisions.
For example, "According to a recent XX study, 87% of online users spend the most time on Facebook between 10 p.m. and midnight. Therefore, we should promote Facebook posts within that time-frame to reach the optimal amount of users."). Showing exactly how you derived your recommendations can be the difference between delivering a strategy that requires multiple revisions and one that is ready to be put into action.
7. Research allows you to make informed decisions Every decision you make impacts your team, no matter what level of employee you are – from interns to senior account executives. With that said, research is critical to making informed decisions.
Hence, research is the cornerstone of public relations. It helps us to understand our audience, messages and channels as Public relations professionals are responsible for managing the company's reputation. They are also responsible for generating goodwill with the public and creating a positive perception of the company in society. Research is an integral part of this process.