In public relations, knowing an audience and knowing how to communicate to that audience is the cornerstone of success. Not knowing what a client wants or needs could prove to be fatal in the PR world. So, why was CAP 115 the most stressful “first year” class I took at Grand Valley? The class teaches PR students methods and practices rather than asking to memorize facts and figures. It’s a course meant to push and meant to foster growth and the curriculum is designed to launch students into the next phase of learning in the advertising and public relations field. It was such hard work because everything was a process. Learning how to research, learning what to research and picking through information that may or may not be relevant to your topic are all important components in the public relations research process.
Knowing an Audience
Who exactly a company’s market is may be the most important information a firm needs to know. Without knowing who they’re trying to impress and not upset, how could they attract and keep their business? In addition, how on earth will they effectively communicate to that audience? Do their customers respond to social media; are they more newspaper-readers; what do they pay attention to when doing company research on their own? PR firms have the enormous responsibility of, in some ways predicting the future. They’re tasked with taking information interpreting it into a form the consumer will like most of the time. Not every consumer is the same, and neither is every method of good PR. Research. Do the work. Learn about the audience you’re catering to and how to maintain a good image in their eyes. It’s not easy, it’s definitely not cheap, but it’s necessary to be successful in any business.
In Don Stacks’ Primer of Public Relations Research, he stresses that one of the responsibilities of good PR is to “identify avenues for survival and advancement” for a company, as well as to “establish communication programs or campaigns that enhance the organizations advancement, and maintain those programs against all competitors” (Stacks). He touches on being successful and capture an audience, as well as the idea that long term practices keep a company moving and changing with the times. Stacks describes PR research as having two components: quantitative and qualitative. Qualitative being methods like case studies, secondary research, and observations; quantitative including samples, surveys, and experiments (Stacks). Qualitative information represents information that can’t be obtained in a lab and that is retrieved straight from the source of either past studies or observing subjects. Quantitative information is numbers based and focuses on trends rather than specific responses. In PR, it’s necessary to have both because you must have concrete facts and figures but understand that people are the basis for public relations and the thoughts, feelings, and decisions of the public cannot always be interpreted from numbers. People change as time moves on and companies must move with them to stay current stay successful.
Walk the Walk
So, in summary, what is the lesson from filing through a bunch of journals and articles with technical language about research and analysis? Do the research and don’t screw it up. In a blog by Natalie Bovair, a PR practitioner from Ottowa, credibility of PR research is discussed. She talks about educational level may not be enough to mark research as tested, vetted, and true. The researcher may have been exposed to research practice but a PhD graduate level expert will have had experience in many areas of research (Bovair). Clearly peer reviewed research and articles or journals that come from a reputable source are best to use when doing research in any context, let alone something as current as public relations. Maybe that’s why Wikipedia is frowned upon.
In the News
Recently, an article was posted on the Detroit Free Press’ website about Gov. Snyder hiring a new PR firm to deal with the Flint water crisis. The firm, named Mercury has ties to Snyder’s current chief of staff. The company was called in amid local as well as national attention created too much heat on the Snyder campaign. I’m sure a lot of research was done on which firm would be used by Gov. Snyder and it wasn’t just a decision based on the EVP being the wife of his chief of staff. Even in current news and events, PR and PR research is being used to shape the world around us. These aren’t just textbook examples, these are real-life, current day happenings. Research is happening even when we don’t realize it.
Stacks, D. W., & Ebooks Corporation. (2011). Primer of public relations research (2nd ed.). New York: Guilford Press.
Bovair, Natalie. “Making the Case for Solid Public Relations Research.” PR Conversations. 11 Dec. 2014. Web. 24 Jan. 2016. http://www.prconversations.com/2014/12/making-the-case-for-solid-public-relations-research/.
Egan, Paul. “Snyder Hires PR Firm with Ties to New Chief of Staff.” Detroit Free Press. Web. 24 Jan. 2016. http://www.freep.com/story/news/local/michigan/flint-water-crisis/2016/01/22/snyder-hires-pr-firm-ties-new-chief-staff/79189880/.