“By the seat of your pants” research won’t fly you to the top

You’re an in-house public relations manager. Your boss comes to you with a problem so you plan a miracle campaign to fix it. The tactics are professional grade, each media channel corresponds perfectly with your segmented publics and, most importantly, you stayed under budget. Great! This campaign will resolve the problem, your boss will promote you and everyone will go home happy, right? WRONG! Two essential pieces of your campaign are missing: research and measurement.

PR research and measurement earned Southwest Airlines $2.5 million in ticket sales. (Photo Source: TravelandLeisure.com)

PR research and measurement earned Southwest Airlines $2.5 million in ticket sales. (Photo Source: TravelandLeisure.com)

You might be thinking “But I do conduct research before starting a campaign.” Those Google searches you do before a planning session are not adequate research. That is called “by the seat of your pants” research and you won’t reach excellence with it. To convince you, let’s examine the benefits of proper research. Ultimately, thorough research and measurement will increase your success with your key publics and your boss.

Starting to think a little bit differently about research and measurement? Good. Hopefully, you are considering the idea that adopting these activities as part of your routine will increase your success. While the two examples above are great indicators of how effective research and measurement leads to success, let’s examine a few more indicators. Research and measurement:

  • Fosters effective strategies. Research sheds light on the situation which allows you to figure out where you need to end up. It also helps find the appropriate audiences to send your messages to and the influencer through whom you should send them.
  • Identifies market opportunities. Understanding problems within the situation allows you to seize beneficial opportunities you otherwise would be blind to. For example, Samuel Adams entered their Boston Lager in a taste contest and bested top German beers. Subsequent strategies transformed the unknown brew into the nation’s leading hand-crafted beer. Surely, the company would not have dominated the national market had it not known more people preferred the taste if Samuel Adams.
  • Uncovers potential problems. Similar to revealing undiscovered opportunities, research and measurement also unveil weaknesses that could evolve into problems. For example, surveys conducted before a campaign could find that a certain public dislikes the CEO of your company.
  • Supports your claims. Because research can guide the direction of a campaign, the ability to substantiate your reasoning can help win over the rest of the team. The Southwest Airlines communication staff figured this out. They fitted all their press releases for top results on search engines and marked each with a URL designed to identify subsequent ticket sales. This measurement attributed $2.5 million in sales to public relations efforts. Now that is a figure that will impress any executive board member and grant you the budget you need – not to mention a raise.
  • Minimizes risk. Just as research and measurement validate your claims, they can also provide a greater sense of security in pursuing a particular course. Again, think of Samuel Adams. The communications staff must have felt more confident in tackling the national market after knowing that the general public like their beer best.
  • Determines messages. After establishing problems and opportunities, research also helps outline messages that address the problems/opportunities. It allows you to perfect and refine your messages by testing them on a sample key public.

By now you should be asking your self why you haven’t done more research before. Like you, most public relations professionals reach the conclusion that conducting research and measuring outcomes is a good idea. To be specific, a study of Australian PR professionals found that 90 percent of those professionals agree that strong research and evaluation is necessary. Great! We all agree.

Also, like most other public relations professionals, you probably rarely follow through with this belief. The same study found that only 55 percent of PR professionals frequently conduct research and a meager 14 percent research and plan evaluations.

Ninety percent of PR professionals feel strong research is necessary but only 55 percent actually do it. (Photo Source: altmf.com)

Ninety percent of PR professionals feel strong research is necessary but only 55 percent actually do it. (Photo Source: altmf.com)

Professor of Research at Brigham Young University Andrew Watson corroborated, “If PR professionals aren’t conducting research, one reason may be that they don’t understand how it can make their jobs much easier … Another reason may just be laziness. It takes effort to build a story with meat on the bones; sometimes that requires a lot of time and effort.”

Don’t be the professional who uses these excuses. You can find time for research with proper organization; spending some time on research initially will bring a more developed, effective strategy. There are too many powerful reasons above for you to find research and measurement unnecessary. Don’t let your campaigns go without first conducting research and later evaluating the effects; it will only make your job harder and your success smaller.


Megan Wald was born near Chicago and grew up in Arizona. Her down time consists of reading, playing the piano and watching movies. Megan also considers herself an amateur artist. Such passions and talents allow her to exercise creativity constantly. She learns quickly in and out of the office. (And is currently learning how to write computer code.) Megan is searching for opportunities to learn and develop as a communications professional.
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