The Use of Information Research
in PR & Marketing Campaign Development
All good public relations and marketing campaigns start with research.
Some seek the “big idea” for the successful campaign, but more often than not, big ideas are actually generated from an astute understanding of the realities of the particular marketplace – an understanding made clearer and grasped more quickly by good research.
Often, when PR or marketing managers think of “research,” they imagine survey research. While survey research – or other approaches like focus groups – are often very appropriate, the best place to start is often with general “information research.” This can take many forms, such as a literature search by your company or public librarian, or an assistant reviewing top search engine results to see what other companies are doing. A thorough commitment to information research at the beginning of the campaign can give precision to more traditional research efforts like surveys or focus groups, as well as providing valuable insights into the business and communication issues involved in developing the campaign. There are many other sources for information research including Web sites where you can post questions; journals and professional societies; and professional information specialists.
Sometimes all you need is a quick or simple answer. In such cases, Yahoo Answers (answers.yahoo.com) may be all you need. You post a 110-character question and get answers from people who respond to your post. Of course, the responses may not always be helpful or accurate, but there is a rating mechanism and often you’ll get enough direction to move further in your research.
Example: What % of PC users have broadband in UK?
Answer: Total of 4 answers giving figures ranging from 38 to 90%, but one answer from a “level 2” participant said “72 percent” and cited a specific news story on a UK Internet ISP news site.
If you’re willing to put up a bit of money (limited to less than $200) to get your question answered, Google Answers (answers.google.com) is a good place to start. Researchers are screened by Google, answers guaranteed, and results generally include excellent citation information. You’ll need to set up an account and payment information to use Google Answers (How to ask a good question / see full FAQ).
Example: Do any Fortune 500 companies have published policies on their marketing ethics?
Answer: 11 links to companies provided with their Fortune 500 ranking, as well as two general links on the topic from a college and the American Marketing Association. The researcher also supplied links to ethics-related web sites and the lists he used to identify Fortune 500 companies.
There are also a number of other sites like Yahoo and Google Answers that are more business focused.
Many industries have professional societies or commercial newsletters and journals that can be a wealth of information for the marketing or PR manager. Some examples for the hospital industry are shown below, but you can substitute your field into these examples to come up with your own list of resources:
1. Professional societies – The American Hospital Association’s Resource Center provides member organizations with access to AHA and member publications, policies and samples, as well as providing information broker services (see below). The AHA-sponsored Society for Healthcare Strategy and Market Development (SHSMD) offers current studies, reports and publications, while a wider leadership portal for hospital administrators is available from HospitalConnect.com.
2. PRSA professional interest sections – The Public Relations Society of America offers 19 professional interest sections. In healthcare, The Health Academy serves hospitals, pharma, medical, and related fields. The value of such groups in campign development is that they provide contacts to whom you can ask questions, as well as publications that may address topics related to your topic.
3. Business journals – especially if they have a searchable database of back issues. Some healthcare examples:
- HealthLeaders Magazine
- Profiles in Healthcare Communications (PDF files, subscriber login required)
- Healthcare Advertising Review (PDF files, subscriber login required)
4. Lists of award winners in PRSA, IABC or industry-sponsored programs – Armed with these lists, you can identify programs or campaigns that have been judged exemplary. Then, write, call or network to learn more. For example:
- PRSA’s silver or bronze anvil programs (the search dialog allows you to specify the industry)
- IABC Gold Quill (2006 list)
- The Aster Awards
- The Heath Care Advertising Awards (23rd Annual-2006 winners, PDF, 292KB)
5. Bulletin boards or listservs sponsored by professional society or vendors – SHSMD’s e-mail community is a place where members can ask questions and solicit advice from other members. Likewise, PRSA’s e-groups is a bulletin board that facilitates communication and questions between members, and IABC’s MemberSpeak is an areas where members can trade ideas, solicit advice and input, debate strategies, and share information with peers.
6. Customized newsletter vendors who will share what other clients are publishing – For example, hospitals that are clients of syndicated newsletter vendor Coffey Communications can contact planning@ to request examples of topics that have been developed by other facilities around the country.
7. Vendor listservs, user group meetings or conferences – Call center, database warehouse, and research vendors are just a few types of firms that may offer user groups, web seminars, white papers, listservs or other information resources. Plus, vendor user groups or seminars may provide lists of contacts that you can write or call as part of information research effort. Often offering a copy of your results can be a successful way of generating responses to a short survey or request for literature samples.
8. Consultants or Industry Think Tanks – Often industry consultants will offer white papers or other free resources that apply to your campaign topic. In healthcare, The Advisory Board is a think tank and information research service that provides analysis on key topics within hospital service lines, as well as insights on emerging technologies. These are often the same topics that healthcare marketing and PR staff are charged with communicating to the public. The Advisory Board also provides primary information research services where staff will call hospitals around the country to solicit insights on a particular question. The quality of this approach can vary, hower, due to the qualifications of the researcher and the difficulty of translating one’s exact information requirements to the respondent. Nevertheless, this approach can provide valuable contacts for one-on-one followup by the client, as well as literature samples and other documentation.
When you’re ready to move beyond do-it-yourself approaches, it’s time to call in an information professional. The common term is “information broker,” although the term is not universally used (see Wikipedia entry). Although there are larger firms, many information brokers are self-employed or run small shops. As such, they are something like a cross between a librarian, a researcher and a detective. Fees will likely run from a few hundred to several thousand dollars, depending on the complexity of your project.
Mary Ellen Bates gives three reasons why you should consider engaging an information broker:
- Your time is money
- Surprisingly, most information is not available on the free web
- An information broker can add value by analyzing and synthesizing the results
Another reason to use an information broker is that many have access to the popular LexisNexis information system (corporate site / Wikipedia entry). This can be useful for searches involving news or company information (LexisNexis also provides some high-powered services for public relations professionals).
The Association of Independent Information Professionals provides a referral program to help you locate an information professional, as well as information on How to choose an information broker.
Planning Ahead for Great Ideas
A great way to have great ideas when you need them is to plan ahead. One way to do this is to make sure you have a flow of examples from other companies like your own. This is essentially an ongoing research effort. Non profits and service organizations are in an especially good position to collect each other’s newsletters, or make arrangements to share brochures or other publications.
Whatever approach you take to information research, it will likely pay dividends in the quality and effectiveness of your next PR or marketing campaign.