Monday, 22 October 2012

Do Your Homework!

On Target?

Research is a crucial component of any PR campaign. Research must be used to correctly identify your public or audience. There would be no worse scenario than to implement a PR campaign to address a serious issue and not even reach your target audience. For instance it would be a poor idea to confront the delayed Bomber Stadium project by addressing the people of Regina. Putting aside our rivalry with the Saskatchewan Roughriders, this would be an utter failure as a PR campaign.

Although this may seem far fetched, there are situations where a company or organization may indeed address the improper audience and not only fail to address the initial issue, but also embarrass the organization further.

Ultimately there are 2 main types of research that are conducted; qualitative and quantitative:

Qualitative research involves “soft data”, which often includes open-ended questions and is unstructured. Although the results may be valid, they are not scientifically reliable. These studies typically involve non-random samples; examples include focus groups, one-on-one interviews, role playing studies, etc.

Intercept interviews are one such example and are an inexpensive means of gathering information. You may do this by randomly interviewing shopper at a mall. Although they do not represent the entire population, this can have the effect of “having your finger on the pulse”. Picking a location where your target audience is likely to be found will provide you with better results.

Similarly, focus groups typically target a small sample size, however they provide you with an excellent means of interacting directly with your subjects. Given the duration of time spent with the test subjects, you have ample time to get a good feel about the answers you are receiving. Unlike an interview, the focus group can last for a couple of hours.

Quantitative research involves the hard data and is more scientific. The questions are closed ended, measurable and are typically directed towards a larger audience. Examples include telephone polling, mail surveys, omnibus studies, panel studies, etc.

Surveys are an example and are a common means of gathering data. Online and phone surveys can reach a large number of people and are measurable since they require multiple choice answers. Through surveys you can ascertain a person’s product preference, voting preference and even personal traits such as age, gender and income. You can also address a random sample, or a defined demographic.

Since this type of research is time consuming and expensive, some organizations opt for piggy back surveys. The organization can buy a question in a national survey conducted by Angus Reid, for example. This highly attractive option also allows PR professionals to save money while relying on the expertise of a professional polling company.

Primary and Secondary Research

Primary sources involve research that you have completed yourself. For example, the information you received is derived from the survey that you created and made conclusions based on the results.

Either qualitative or quantitative research can be categorized as primary research.

An example of primary research includes Apple setting up their own focus groups to decide how best to launch the new i5.

Secondary sources include websites, organizational materials, journals and any publication where a relevant study and its results are provided.

In this case as well, either qualitative or quantitative research can be categorized as secondary research.

Examples of secondary research include organizational data and library/online databases. Personally I find that organizational materials are an excellent means of gathering secondary research. Statistics Canada offers a wealth of information that is easily accessible at low cost. If you are looking for the demographic information on a particular area, you can find data such as the age of the residents, incomes, ethnicity, etc. Using pre-existing data assists you greatly, saves you money and prevents you from having to recreate the wheel.

Since research is ongoing in most PR campaigns, there is a continuity starting from the initial first step through to the measurement stage. Measuring success can be done in a number of ways. PR professionals may use content analysis to identify the amount of media coverage. This can be very scientific or simply achieved by counting the number of times an organization is mentioned in the media.   

Content analysis is not restricted to traditional media, since social media and the number of hits your website has received can be easily monitored by services such as Google Analytics.

Research and Strategy

In an effective PR plan, there are typically eight basic elements:

1. Situation                   3. Audience      5. Tactics         7. Budget
2. Objectives                4. Strategy        6. Calendar/timetable    8. Measurement           

These eight elements rely heavily on research! As I alluded to earlier, research is essential in addressing all elements, especially the situation. You must know what the situation was that caused the need for a PR campaign in the first place. If the problem is declining market share due to high costs to the consumer and you address how environmentally friendly your product is, you will fail.

In defining your objective, you must understand whether or not it addresses the situation, if the objective is achievable and if it’s measurable. You cannot define any of these if you have not done any research. Researching similar projects done in the past or resorting to focus groups to determine if your “publics” will respond to your message are some possible solutions.

Knowing your audience should be obvious, however some publics are harder to identify and may require research. If you are XL Foods and you need to address your public, you could rely on in-house market studies to direct the message to your most loyal customers. Likewise, it would be advisable to address legislators that you have dealt with in the past. Addressing them with an appropriate message may be crucial to ensuring that your company remain out of the cross-hairs of the government.

Once you are ready to define your strategy, you will be providing a guideline as to how you will meet the objective. You will never know how an objective can be met if you do not do the necessary research. For instance, XL food’s strategy could be to increase the level of the public’s trust of meat products by 25% by November of 2013. The current level of trust must be quantified initially so that a baseline is established. Likewise ongoing research would be necessary to judge the campaign’s effectiveness.
To implement the strategy, the PR professional must put in place a relevant check-list. Also known as tactics, a listing of what activities will be used to carry out the strategy must be in place. These activities cost money and consume time. In order to properly plan and allocate resources, your research must be impeccable. Not only to ensure that you addressed the problem effectively, but to know what tactic will cost how much and when and how it should be done. For example, it would make no sense to survey people’s support of the NFL by phone on Super Bowl Sunday.

Although 90% of what I said is common sense, it is easy to make a grievous error and cause your organization serious trouble. Although you may not be an expert in research, there are many ways of outsourcing this type of work. As a PR professional, you’re not expected to be an expert in research, but you must have an understanding of this process.

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