Research is the critical first step to every public relations campaign. It ensures that communication is two-way and establishes a basis for strategic planning. However, it’s also been unfairly nominated as the most overwhelming and least enjoyable step by many public relations professionals.
I, on the other hand, am a research junkie. Therefore, I’d like to break down the research process into simple steps to help you make it more manageable. So, if you’re one to groan about spending time scrolling through databases, listen up!
What to Research
This varies from campaign to campaign depending on your overall goal. However, there is some baseline information you should know no matter what: your organization, your publics, industry trends, and your competition.
This should be the first thing on your list. It’s important to know your organization/client inside and out before producing any materials in their name. Know their story, what products/services they offer, and what they’ve done for PR in the past.
It’s always important to understand who your publics are. This includes their demographics (age, gender, race, profession, etc.), psychographics (values, interests, desires, fears), behaviors (shopping habits), and communication preferences (social media platforms, news, email).
Industry Trends and Current Events
Knowing what’s going on in the world and what’s going on in your industry assures that your messaging is timely and relevant.
If you want to stand out from your competitors, you first have to know who they are and what they’re doing. This can help you find opportunities to share what unique features your organization brings to the table. It can also help with benchmarking your campaign objectives.
Where to Research
I split my research sources into two groups: secondary and primary.
It’s best to start with secondary research: finding information that is already available to you. This avoids “reinventing the wheel” and wasting time (and money) conducting your own study to gather information that is already at your fingertips. Secondary sources include:
- Google: Nothing fancy here—it’s where I always start.
- Academic databases: WARC, Communication Source, and Business Source Ultimate all have good PR-specific articles and are available to students through university libraries. As a professional, this may require you to pay and subscribe to certain databases.
- Trade publications: PRweek, and Adweek are notable.
- Websites, blogs, and social media: This is especially important when researching yourself, competitors, and media outlets.
- PR-specific tools: Cision and Meltwater are great for researching media outlets and reporters. These both require subscription payments.
Primary research can help fill in any gaps in secondary research, or it can add depth to that secondary research to make it more applicable to your campaign. It’s usually conducted in a survey or focus group.
How to Organize Research
I like to organize my research in a spreadsheet. My spreadsheets usually have tabs for each of the topics listed above, and each tab includes the following columns:
- Source title
- Type of source
- Source link
- Key facts
Staying organized is key to making the research process more manageable—and, therefore, more enjoyable. When you’re not overwhelmed by all the content you’ve gathered, it’s easier to appreciate it all. And there’s a lot of valuable information out there, so dive in!