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When you think of PR skills, what comes to mind? Writing? Proofreading? Pitching media?

All true. But what about research?

It’s kind of the unsung hero of the PR skill set. The PR newbie quickly learns that everything about a story — telling it right, targeting it right, timing it right — has to be based on research.

Here’s a look at three ways research is a fundamental part of PR.

Research Helps You Strategize

If strategy is your blueprint, then research is the engineering that goes into it. Extensive research can help you target the appropriate audiences, find the right influencers and even determine the most cost-effective budget. Having a strategic plan of attack also saves you time making up for errors down the line.

From journalist databases to social media analytics software, there’s no shortage of tools to help you unearth key audience insights and effectively execute outreach campaigns. Understanding consumers and the industry you’re working in is critical in PR, and by doing some digging you’ll be able to build a more effective campaign. 

Research Helps You Give Informed Advice

A PR professional is obsessed with information all day long — from providing journalists with dates, times and stats regarding your client’s big announcement to providing your client with sound advice about when, where and how that announcement should be made. All that info needs to come from somewhere solid.

PR pros perform basically two kinds of research: primary and secondary. Primary research is conducted by you, your agency or your client. This is data you collect in-house, via online surveys, field surveys, focus groups, and other means. Secondary research is anything conducted by a third party, including online articles, scholarly journals, reports, books, etc.

When you Google around for data points or quotes, you’re not doing primary research, even though you are “researching” the subject. You’re scoping out results that someone else came up with — someone else’s primary research — so, for you, that’s secondary research.

For example, say you’re developing a paid social media plan. You’re using LinkedIn, because you know your audience is active there. And you recommend timing your posts between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. on weekdays (except for Monday), because research shows that’s when traffic on LinkedIn is highest.

Without research, your recommendation wouldn’t carry much weight. And in PR, serving clients means offering counsel several times a day.

Research Helps You Choose Your Next Move

Sometimes you’re going to have make the call on your own. You’re not advising your client or suggesting something to your team. You’re deciding.

And after you decide, someone is going to ask you why you made that decision and not another one.

What will you say? “It seemed like the right thing to do”? Or …

  • “I chose this journalist because she has covered Big Data analytics and wireless technology three times in the past month.”
  • “We’re targeting millennials instead of Gen Y because of this study that says millennials are way more engaged in this area.”
  • “I chose this café for the interview because online reviews said it’s casual and easy to find your own private space and sit for a while.”

Every decision you make — even which coffee shop is ideal for an interview — involves better options and worse options. You’ll only know the difference if you look into it.

So look into it. Make research your first impulse every time there’s a lingering question or a fork in the road. Then you’ll set yourself and your clients up for success.

Image courtesy of Ginny.

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