The way in which you communicate is integral to successful PR and to do this you need to have a strong strategy in place. To put all of this into practice though, you need to have carried out a sound research. Research is a very broad term and can be broken down into categories such as industry research, market research, looking at what your competitors are doing (and how) and news tracking. Research should be a constant process too, because you need to be able to react very quickly to what’s going on in your industry. Research in public relations is important as it allows you to strategize, helps you to substantiate your claims and allows you to make informed decisions.
Properly conducted research eliminates bias and gives the leaders of a company a realistic picture of how various members of the public perceive organisations. If the leaders and public relations workers in a company were to rely solely on their own biased opinions of how the public views the organisation, they would risk not really knowing if the organisation’s public image needs to be improved. The leaders and public relations workers also risk making decisions that would not positively affect the public’s perception of the organisation.
Research for a public relations plan should involve a non-biased assessment of the organisation itself. This research analyses not only the overall mission of the organisation but also how far the organisation has gone toward achieving its mission. The research also gives a list and assessment of all resources available to the organisation that it may use in the implementation of a public relations plan. Leadership in the organisation also receives information about any liabilities or possible internal threats that could jeopardize the public relations plan, allowing the leadership to devise a plan for how to proactively manage these risks.
The research conducted by the organisation provides valuable information about how the organisation should craft its public relations messaging. The research provides feedback about what matters most to the public, which the organisation addresses or incorporates in public relations messaging. Thorough research on groups the organisation interacts with also supplies a list of media forms the different groups engage in, letting the organisation know the most effective methods of delivering its message.
After a public relations plan has been formulated and then put into practice, additional research provides feedback on the actual public relations plan. This research allows the organisation to determine if any of the objectives formulated for the public relations plan has been achieved and to what degree. Knowing how effective the public relations plan is at achieving the objectives helps the organisation decide whether to continue with the plan, make adjustments to the plan or to scrap the plan and begin formulating a new one.
Many public relations practitioners count communication and strategy as the most valuable skills in their field. But in practice, one cannot put those skills to good use without a foundation of research and information gathering. It’s important to know a client’s needs, target market, and available resources in order to draw up a good PR plan. For example, before submitting a story to a magazine, you have to know its readership and editorial standards to make sure your piece will fit in.
Here are a few key ways that research can help inform PR strategy:
Finding your niche market
Above and beyond anything, you need to know exactly who your target and niche market are to establish to whom you need to sell your product or service. This will also determine the question of ‘how’ you sell it to them. So are you selling the product to adult females, teenagers, students, young professionals and what is the age demographics?
It pays to get really detailed on this part of the research. Think about where your niche market interact online (if they do), what types of books, blogs, magazines or websites they read, what are their values, what type of lifestyle do they lead, where do they shop and how? Good market research involves far more than demographics – you really have to try and get inside the head of your audience. This will help you clarify your key message and how to communicate it in a way that resonates with your audiences. All the information and insights you gather can be part of the ingredients that go into planning effective PR campaigns.
Knowing your target market will help you determine what your message is and how to design it in a way that your audience can understand and appreciate.
Choose your media
So you’ve got your campaign and message clear, you now need to research the types of media you need to use to get it out there. Consider channels such as magazines, newspapers, TV, blogs, websites, social media and direct routes such as roadshows.. Prioritise the options and decide where your budget will be best spent. Look at factors such as which media or direct routes will provide the most return or traction and in the fastest amount of time. You also need to make sure that the context in which you’re trying to promote your product or service is relevant or appropriate. If you’re approaching a magazine for example, you need to know that the readership of that publication falls within your target market and that your piece is relevant to the type of content that is published.
It also involves a bit of market research again at this stage, because you have to know which medium is preferred by your target market. You wouldn’t run a news release if your research shows that your audience doesn’t read newspapers.
Build Relationships and Have a Fantastic Pitch
You’re very likely going to be contacting journalists, editors, bloggers, reporters and producers with your stories, and a key part of the research process is all about knowing the correct people to approach. It helps to personalise each communication – if you’re sending an email, know their name and why they might be interested in running your story based on something they’ve written/produced before. Your pitch or press release also has to be meticulously well planned and researched for it to stand out. And be prepared to answer any questions that may arise in the pitching process. So research the types of questions they might ask in advance.
Be at the Cutting Edge of your Industry
As already mentioned, research is an ongoing process so it’s wise to invest time to keep on top of what is happening in the industry so that you can react quickly whenever the need to do so arises. Look out for key networking and industry events that would be beneficial to attend. If a big part of your PR is online, ensure that you’re up to speed on the latest social media and online developments and trends.
If you want to promote your business in the media, you will have to pitch your story to editors, producers, or reporters. In most cases, other PR firms or businesses will be competing for the space or airtime. Your pitch has to be well-planned and well-researched for it to stand out from the other pitches. Look up the magazine’s reader profile and editorial policy, or find out the ratings of the station or program you are pitching to. Be prepared to answer questions about your client’s business. This can make you appear more knowledgeable and responsible, and helps build credibility for both your firm and your client.