RESEARCH IN PR
In his book Precious Public Relations (1988), Eldon-Hiebert Ray aptly sums up the essence of research
in Public relations practice thus: “Public Relations practitioners who ignore research will soon discover that they
too are ignored”
Eldon-Hiebert’s observation could not be limited to the PR practitioners alone but all those that are responsible
for addressing social changes and trends towards improving the performances of their organisations.
Keeping track of happenings is the fastest area of any given research. Social audit research, which is common in the
financial sector for systematic and analytical examination of social performances as related to the organisation, is quite
inevitable in providing solutions to a myriad of problems relating to financial public relations.
In fact, public relations research, as with other management researches, is at present defined by the uses to which
research is put. The essence of the research is to study the publics’ knowledge and understanding, their opinions, attitudes,
preference and motivating factors that influence their decisions.
According to Otto Lerbinger, a professor of economics and PR expert, studies have shown that the greatest current interest
is in four areas: environment monitoring, public relations audit (public opinion), communication audit (media research) and
social audit which all rely much on seeking public opinion on an organisation’s rating among its target publics
(a) Environment Monitoring:
Here, an organisation investigates the happenings in its surrounding environment, which could be the community in which it
is based, or the country of its operation, to enable it knows the consequences of its actions. New trends in the society such
as democracy and crime rate, may affect, directly or indirectly, its existence.
(b). Public Opinion: Some analysts
also call this Public Relations Audit. As the name implies, the PR office can seek to investigate and understand the public
perception, attitudinal and behavioural patterns on the organisation. The research must attempt to answer basic questions
such as those relating to how favourable its image is, ways of redeeming a bad image and the best ways of doing such.
(c). Media Research: This is
also referred to as Communication Audit, which is the mainstream of public relations research. This is where a study is conducted
on the most appropriate style of reaching the public, the method, channels and the impact of the message as it is delivered.
Such researches involve a lot of surveys on readership, media circulation, popular media events, content analyses of editorials
and in-depth reports and advertising effectiveness, amongst others. When to use the media, which type of media, which page
or time and date and the target readership, are research themes. If studied properly, it would be helpful in deciding how
to reach the public and get the best results from the messages conveyed.
(d). Social Audit: This is
a study of social performance and effect of the organisation on its publics. Recommendations are made for a consultant or
independent auditor to assess the impact of all the public relations activities and measure their relevance in meeting its
target. Like financial firms where external auditors are required to examine the financial account, the PR functions too can
be examined to measure up its performance by an independent body.
The emergence of financial public relations has provided the focus for a wide discourse on the role of financial institutions
in imparting adequate knowledge to the public, not only in developed economies, but also in developing nations.
The starting point for the acceptance of financial public relations functions is the greater awareness that companies
and other financial institutions have roles to play in reaching their publics and establishing, as well as retaining their
confidence for reciprocal appreciation and beneficial relationship through a well-conducted research.
To avoid assumptions, guessing and trial-and-error approaches, which may damage the image of the organisation, the
public relations research is employed to understand a particular problem with a view to proffering appropriate strategies
to maintain and improve the reputation of the organisation in the society.
Financial institutions believe in quantified plans of action. Therefore, to receive management confidence and trust,
the public relations unit must always present well-researched proposals laced with facts and justifiable reasons, which are
needed for effective planning, execution and feedback. It must also propose, by research, budget and short-term, medium-term
and long-term range plans, outlining aims/objectives and expected results. It will surely be suicidal if a programme is embarked
upon without research. In fact, a research should be undertaken to determine the budgeting needs. This will entail identifying
activities relating to corporate plans, outlining the objectives, the audience, message, timing and the cost.
Basically, issues in PR research using survey research technique, may include examining how the publics see and how
the organisation wants to be seen, whether or not it is well understood through the appropriate channels; if it receives adequate
and favourable mention by the media and what are those problems encountered by the publics; whether or not competitors fare
better and what are the strength and weaknesses that can be worked on. Certain ways of doing things may also need to be maintained,
improved upon or changed entirely.
Many have always talked about marketing research, which is the sampling of the market of products and services in a
particular (given) environment. Public relations research however, may be distinct in many ways depend on the techniques and
channels adopted. In fact, opinion research is synonymous with public relations practice. Even when marketing research fails
to achieve better response from unwilling respondents to enquiries, PR can assist in such exercise by employing effective
persuasive methods to achieve good results.
Basically, like an academic research in higher institutions, a comprehensive research in public relations may involve
the basic stages which include identifying the problems, aims and objectives, reviewing the literature, definition of terms,
designing questionnaires, data interpretation, suggestions, recommendations and conclusions. Other researchers may adopt lighter
methods, which may include, but not limited to introduction, identified problems and recommendations/conclusions.
Many types of research in public relations are frequently mentioned, but the most recognised are the following:
(a). Desk Research- As the name implies,
it is a one-position research which is gathered from existing data conducted by others through surveys, interviews or reports.
Permission of the authors of the original works must be sought before it is used. One advantage is that it is cheaper and
quick to gather.
(b). Ad-hoc Research- This involves going
out to conduct the research when materials or documents are not available on the matter/issue.
(c). Continuous Research- This is good
for continued monitoring of the trends, behaviours and reactions of the public on particular products/programmes. This is
done through the media and by seeking public opinion through administration of questionnaires.