Public relations might as well be called “public research.” To me, that’s what it is: research on the public.
Research is the backbone to every and any step in any and every PR campaign. Public relations without research is like spaghetti without marinara, or salad without croutons: no one likes it, and no one understands why they did such a horrible thing.
The primary reason public relations professionals conduct or consult research is to identify who they should be talking to, and how.
Imagine you’re an English-speaking, single male. If a Mandarin-speaking woman came up to you and tried to get you to attend an event on female hygienic products, you’d probably tell her to “get on [your] level.” Like, seriously. Did she even feel you out first? If she would have paid attention [conducted research- with her ears and eyeballs], she would have seen and heard that you’re not interested. You have no need or desire to attend such an event, and now your perception of the hosting organization is tarnished.
Public relations requires both preliminary and “post-liminary” research; the research itself should include both quantitative and qualitative qualities, and should utilize methods of primary and secondary research.
A 2008 study by Tom Watson published in the Journal of Communication Management put into perspective the priorities and objectives that public relations firms should undertake when conducting public relations research. The priorities are, as listed in the study:
- Public relations’ contribution to strategic decision-making, strategy development and realisation, and efficient operation of organisations
- The value that public relations creates for organisations through building social capital and managing key relationships
- The measurement and evaluation of public relations both offline and online
- Public relations as a fundamental management function
- Professional skills in public relations; analysis of the industry’s need for education
- Research into standards of performance among PR professionals; the licensing of practitioners
- Management of corporate reputation; management of reputation
- Ethics in public relations
- Integration of public relations with other communication functions; the scope of public relations practice; discipline boundaries
- Management of relationships
- Understanding of public relations [AN: The perceptions of clients and employers]
- The impact of technology on public relations practice and theory
- The role of public relations in community/social responsibility programmes
- International issues in public relations; intercultural public relations
Another purpose of the study was also to create research questions that addressed the priorities listed. It is for these above reasons, among others, that the PR industry needs research.
Conducting research not only helps you target and communicate with the correct audience for a successful campaign, but it also opens new channels to get your message out to the masses. Ben Silverman, a journalist, explains in a post on PR Fuel, a weekly online newsletter:
“As a journalist, it wasn’t often that I listened to a public relations pitch. But then there were times when I was three hours from deadline and I still didn’t have a story. During one of those crunch times, I checked my voicemail and there was a new message from a public relations rep named Alyssa Shelasky, pitching me on a story that I would normally ignore. But Alyssa got me interested in a very easy way: she did her research (2009).”
The article was a huge success that mutually benefited both the PR firm and the publication.
A public relations campaign without research might go the way of Abercrombie & Fitch’s 2002 attempt to sell racist t-shirts in their stores, because, in the words of a company spokesperson: “We thought everyone would like these t-shirts” (Guillermo).
If they would have done their research, they would have known– not thought– that nobody would like their t-shirts.
Guillermo, E. (April 23, 2002). Humoring Ethnic America: Abercrombie & Fitch Still Doesn’t Get It. SF Gate. Retrieved from http://www.sfgate.com/politics/article/Humoring-Ethnic-America-Abercrombie-Fitch-2847869.php
Silverman, B. (January 7, 2009). Public Relations Basics: Do Your Research. PR Fuel. Retrieved from http://www.ereleases.com/prfuel/public-relations-basics-do-your-research/
Watson, T. (2008). Public relations research priorities: a Delphi study. Journal of Communication Management, 12.2, 104-123. Retrieved from ProQuest.