When people think “Public Relations,” that thought may not often be followed by “Research,” but research is actually a large part of public relations. When you think about it, it makes sense. PR is about shaping perceptions, and research can help you learn more about the impact of your organization.
Research at all points of a campaign is valuable. There are so many benefits including defining audiences, preventing crises, remaining up to date, and measuring your success. There are also countless resources available to us for secondary research (research using existing information and data), such as the internet, news releases, and all forms of media we can get our hands on, but we do have the option of conducting our own research.
Before you compose a campaign for your organization, you have to develop a baseline. This gives you an idea of how your client is perceived before the campaign is put into action. Here’s an example: you’re organization is a dairy distributor and your target audience is families. To develop your baseline, you may look into your current customers and see how and why they consume your products. Additionally, you may look at those who don’t choose your products or who buy less often and figure out what impacts their behavior. Following the launch, you need to monitor your publics and the impact on their beliefs about your organization during the campaign. This helps you adjust your plans and make your company palatable. With the dairy example, you may analyze families’ responses to your content and update anything that seems like a flop. Following the campaign, you must evaluate how successful your it was, so that you know how to best enact change in the future. If you’re selling dairy products, the easiest way to do this would be seeing how much product was sold to families; you could also analyze consumers responsiveness and engagement to determine how successful your campaign was.
A PR professional is expected to know the ins and outs of his or her organization. You must be knowledgeable of your client, any current or future problems, and your client’s audiences and how to target them. All of that knowledge is bettered by research, so if you can’t find what you need from a secondary source, don’t be afraid to conduct your own investigation and develop your own data.
This can be done in a number of different ways. Some are less involved, like ethnographic observation. Ethnography is a type of research where the observer situates himself or herself into a naturally functioning environment and takes note of the patterns that occur. To continue with the earlier example, if you were representing a dairy company targeting families, you may go to a grocery store where your ideal consumer would shop and observe the type of dairy products they purchase and how they interact with them. This type of research can be easily and informally conducted by a PR Professional who just wants to learn a bit more about his or her organization’s publics. It is also ideal because your subjects are unaware they are being observed, so they behave more organically.
Another option is to conduct interviews to form a better campaign. The tactic of interviewing provides many options for a PR professional. You have the option of structured, semi-structured, unstructured, or group interviews. The varying ways you can interview allows for more flexibility in formality, so you can still take the initiative to learn more about your public even if it is not specifically required. This can result in rich data where you can get the exact opinions people have about your organization. You can also conduct interviews at any or each point in a campaign, so this strategy can be used to find your baseline, midpoint, and final evaluative data.
There are more than a few ways to conduct research and it can be so beneficial for your campaigns. Plus, it doesn’t have to be hard to do because there is flexibility as a PR professional. Take the time to learn more about your organization; whether that be by going out and interviewing people on the street or sitting in your cafeteria and observing how people interact within the company. Happy researching!