By: Ashleigh Horn
Research is the key to all successful public relations strategy. It is the defining factor in how we choose to tell our client’s story and helps us identify how our target audiences will react—long before they are ever exposed to any messaging.
But why is research crucial? How can it single-handedly define the effectiveness of our PR efforts? Isn’t research a little bit…old school?
No! Before I continue any further, I would like to emphasize that research is not old school. Call me a nerd for thinking it’s cool, but you actually need it to be successful in this industry. Here is why:
Beyond identifying an objective, research is the first step in defining what steps should be taken to solve a problem. A need may be increasing brand awareness, avoiding a crisis, or launching a campaign. The list is endless. However, used strategically, research can be conducted to meet needs, elevate your client’s brand and create lasting mutually beneficial relationships.
On the other hand, failure to conduct research may lead to indecision, inaction or financial loss. It may also make identifying key publics and their needs difficult. In many cases, actions taken without sufficient knowledge about who or what they will impact can even lead to tarnishing your brand’s overall image.
One brand whose reputation was tarnished because of its failure to conduct any research was Digorno. In 2014, the frozen pizza brand received major backlash for inappropriately using a trending Twitter hashtag to advertise its product. The company’s Tweet, “#WhyIStayed You had pizza” was ill-received by Twitter users who were disgusted that the company would poke fun at domestic violence to encourage pizza sales.
The company could have avoided the situation altogether by researching the nature of the hashtag before Tweeting. While research may frontload your efforts, it helps prevent mistakes later on. Doing so allows you to preserve your brand and may even save you money.
I will be the first to admit that research is not always sexy. In fact, anyone who has taken University of Central Missouri’s PR 3605: Survey of PR Research & Theory with Dr. Tricia Hansen-Horn knows that research can be tedious and seemingly mundane at times. However, it can also be exciting and provide key insights that will make decision making easier down the road.
Research allows us to strategically gauge information about our key publics. It helps us identify possible reactions and outcomes of our efforts and avoid unnecessary costs. It also equips us with the tools to measure the impact of our efforts from the get-go. At the end of the day, it takes out the guesswork and lays a solid foundation from which you can build—without fear of total failure.
You may be thinking, “Gee, that sounds great. However, I have no experience conducting research. I would never know where to begin.”
But you do!
May I ask if you have ever had a friend tell you that they have begun to develop feelings for someone? If you are like me, this small piece of information often triggers Sherlock-Holmes mode. Within the next hour you have scoured up a list of their hobbies, identified their grandmother’s name, and searched through all of the accounts they follow on Instagram.
Does this activity sound familiar? Don’t lie, I know you have done it too.
Curiosity is in our nature and whether we recognize it or not, we conduct research every day. We care about our friend and use research to ensure that the one who has them so smitten is actually right for them.
But where should you start?
Certainly there are methods to help guide how we research. However, there is no set protocol for how it should be conducted, especially in PR as we deal with all things human. I advise formulating one single question and allowing your curiosity to fuel any questions and quests for answers that follow.
You may think research is boring. It’s not! It is a vital element in the daily life of a PR pro. Ask questions, find the answers, then ask more questions that lead you to solid strategy and valuable decision-making.
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