How PR-Led Research Can Serve Your Business Objectives

by Rachel Ilardi

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been reminded of one fundamental truth to our industry: a customer-centric approach is essential to achieving the goals and objectives of not only your public relations efforts, but of the overall business.

Time and time again, we hear that businesses should have a “customer first” mindset, working to address their main concerns, needs and desires. This is absolutely true; yet, there’s a temptation to jump directly from the thought of “I need to do something” to taking an action that assumes you know the main desires or concerns of your audience, without stopping to consider the market research necessary to achieve your organization’s desired results.

To ensure effective action, a public relations practitioner must first be able to answer these essential research questions about their target audiences and desired outcomes. Otherwise, your communication strategies are just a shot in the dark. At our office, we have a quote on the wall of our conference room by Howard Hill, a renowned bow-and-arrow hunter: “Unless you know your game’s feeding, sleeping and daily habits, unless you plan your hunt in great detail and follow your plan with precision, you are not hunting at all; you’re just walking in the woods.”

Rather than going for an aimless walk in the woods, our team has established a foundation of PR research in the creation and implementation of any strategy we create for clients. This approach allows us to be precise in our communication efforts and deliver quantifiable results.

While PR research can take shape in a variety of ways, one of the most common is a market survey. With access to a number of online resources, it’s now easier than ever to distribute a survey to your target markets and publics that will determine their knowledge, perception and connection points with your organization.

What should this look like? Here are a few points to remember when developing your PR survey:

  1. Align your information gathering with organizational priorities.

There’s a lot of information you could cover in a PR survey, but you only have so much time to keep your audience’s attention – so focus on gathering the insights that really matter. As you develop survey questions, tie them back to measuring your business objectives. For example, if your organization has made a commitment to supporting the community, ask your audience if they consider your organization a good community citizen and if they are familiar with, or can name, any of the related actions you have taken.

Keep it short and sweet. The longer the survey, the less likely a respondent will take the time to complete it. Or, they may rush through their answers as they become impatient, providing you with less accurate feedback for use in planning. To achieve the best results, determine the key pieces of information that are “must-haves” and delete any other superficial questions that are irrelevant to your efforts.

  1. Optimize your survey design.

Survey response rates can vary, and industry standards say anywhere between 5-30% is typical, while response rates 50% or more are considered excellent. Keeping a survey’s design and format simple can help to increase response rates, while also making data collection and analyzing easier on the backend. While open-ended questions provide great feedback, an entire survey of such questions will tire out your team and the survey respondent, who will not put as much detailed thought into their responses in order to get through them quickly. Utilize a mix of multiple choice, hierarchies and short answers to achieve accurate results.

Additionally, it’s important to consider survey length. A study from SurveyMonkey has shown that survey completion rates drop by 5-20% if they require respondents to take more than eight minutes out of their day to complete. Based on this insight, the ideal length for a survey is less than 30 questions and takes less than eight minutes to complete.

  1. Close the loop.

Simply administering the survey isn’t enough. Just as your questions should tie into behaviors, an organization must follow through on the insights and takeaways received through audience feedback. In sales, this is often called “closing the loop.” After reviewing the results of a customer satisfaction survey, a sales representative will often identify areas for improvement within the organization and work to rectify any negative experience the customer may have had with the company. Once the issue is fixed and a process is established to avoid similar situations in the future, the customer journey has come full circle, effectively closing the loop.

Surveys are not done in a silo; rather, they work in tangent with other PR research efforts to inform and guide a single strategy. What does this look like in practice? In 2017, our team was tasked with supporting efforts by the Electronic Arts (EA) Tiburon studio in Orlando to employ a workforce more representative of its diverse players worldwide – in this instance, by recruiting more women. Initial research underlined the importance of reaching women before college, which led us to help EA Tiburon establish “Get in the Game,” a summer program for female high school students interested in Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics careers.

Ten young women from local high schools visited the studio every day for one week, fully immersed in the culture through interactive presentations and technology demos, mentorship and hands-on learning opportunities. Based on our research of the motivations behind career pursuits, the decision to incorporate each of these elements was intentional. And it paid off; by the end of the program, eight of the 10 participants were persuaded to pursue a computer science degree and/or career at EA, directly tying back to one of our main program objectives.

We collected student feedback with a short survey. Results indicated which elements of the program students enjoyed most and least, and were used to inform planning for camp the following year. These survey results were so helpful that EA has embedded them into the evaluation process of each camp since.

The idea of research can sound daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. With the right tools in place, anyone can use market survey data to their advantage, creating an effective public relations plan that will resonate with their audience.

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