FOCUS: RESEARCH & PLANNING - Ready-made research is at your fingertips/Researching a client can be essential to delivering the PR goods, but few agencies make use of existing information before committing their own resources

Resource material for campaign planning is significantly underused in the PR industry. This can have two main effects, neither of which reflect well on the PR team or the client. Insufficient research fed into a campaign may mean goals cannot be optimised; and PR people often put a great deal of effort into re-inventing the wheel.

Resource material for campaign planning is significantly underused

in the PR industry. This can have two main effects, neither of which

reflect well on the PR team or the client. Insufficient research fed

into a campaign may mean goals cannot be optimised; and PR people often

put a great deal of effort into re-inventing the wheel.



But PR practitioners don’t have to run around doing all the research

themselves. There is plenty of information available which can be tapped

into to save time and money. Clients’ in-house research data, research

carried out by their advertising agencies and other satellite

organisations, reports from research companies and Government bodies,

information from the internet - these can all be used to good

effect.



Most clients are willing to share most of their existing research data,

although there may be some confidential or sensitive information they

are more reluctant to supply, especially to a newly-appointed

agency.



But equally, there also could be other data that the client does not

realise is relevant, or withholds because it does not want to burden the

agency team with too much information, which PR practitioners could use

to boost a campaign.



Kieran Knights, planning director at Shandwick Welbeck, says one of the

most costly times for sourcing information is at the pitch stage with a

potential client. ’They may be less comfortable about sharing sensitive

information. Everyone is naturally loathe to risk too much money on

market reports and other research, at this stage,’ he says.



’However, trade publications frequently produce market round-up features

which can provide a useful overview at minimal cost, while reports

published by market research companies such as Mintel and Euromonitor

provide a good summary of the major players, key trends and issues,’ he

adds. These are expensive to buy but can be perused at no cost at a

public library, such as the City Business Library in London.



Knights says that if a confidentiality agreement has been signed, the

client is likely to feel more comfortable in sharing information, but

adds: ’The important point for agency teams to remember is that if they

don’t ask, they won’t necessarily receive, so clients should be badgered

to share all research. Better still is to get to a situation where the

agency can contribute a few questions at the stage when a piece of

research is being commissioned.’



’In PR, we’re at the cutting edge of the client’s situation,’ says Sarah

Howe, associate director and head of the corporate affairs department at

Text 100. ’A client can be so busy running their business that they

don’t have time to do a lot of research, so it is up to their PR people

to tell them what needs to be modified in response to Government, media

and customer developments. For instance, if the Department of Trade and

Industry publishes information on the role of technology in the UK, we

should keep the client informed so they are prepared the next time they

are interviewed by the media.’



One way of eliciting information from a client is to give them a formal

briefing document. ’We use a formal document with a variety of questions

that are not all PR-focused,’ says Howe. ’The document refers to other

elements of the marketing mix, the target market, the client’s

perspective on advertising, and other issues.



’We go through this document with the client face-to-face because the

data can come across in a very dull way on paper,’ she adds. ’Other

questions and other data can emerge which could have remained buried

were the consultant and client not talking face-to-face.’



Countrywide Porter Novelli has gone as far as identifying what it sees

as the main stages in the planning and evaluation cycle: information,

research, strategic analysis, objective setting, channel selection,

output evaluation, out-take evaluation and outcome evaluation, which

feeds back into the information stage. At any stage, the agency may use

information provided by the client, or its own agency resources,

depending on the situation.



For instance, information gathering may involve using client material

when data is very expensive to subscribe to, such as Nielsen panel data

on grocery consumption, for food clients.



Alternatively, information may be gathered using the agency’s own

resources; for example, producing a proposal development using Reuters,

cuttings, databases, archives, Mintel reports, and TGI data.



Emma Brazier, associate director of planning at Countrywide Porter

Novelli, says: ’In terms of market research, we might use client

information when the client is research-led, or when the client is doing

research for another reason. For instance, Origin, an IT consultancy,

conducted research into the retail sector, a new area for them, to

understand the likely uptake of their services. We exploited aspects of

the findings for news hooks.’



Countrywide Porter Novelli uses client information for output evaluation

when the client has good internal systems. For example, with clients ICO

Global and FT, the agency submits cuttings and uses the resultant

reports to refocus its programme and identify which tactics are working

best for them.



Hill and Knowlton, meanwhile, uses MindShare, the media buying, planning

and research company owned by its parent group WPP, as a planning

resource.



Nigel Jones, senior associate director at Hill and Knowlton said: ’Every

consultant has to be a planner. We do not have a dedicated planning

department, though we do access much of the same research data that

advertising agencies use.



’We are able to use this for every new business pitch or campaign,

through our formal agreement with MindShare. This is a facility that

probably would not be available in a smaller agency. Our approach has

always been to sell on strategy while being aware that delivering your

plans comes down to the data you have gathered.’



Accessing existing research can be a challenge for in-house PR teams if

they work in a company without much contact between departments.



Lever Brothers takes a holistic approach to PR campaigns, integrating

brand and corporate campaigns through its in-house corporate affairs

department.



External relations manager Esra Erkal-Paler says: ’Lever Brothers is one

of the most open companies in terms of sharing data with its agencies,

and we provide agencies with as much information as they need to become

corporate strategic partners. For example, we work with Shandwick

Welbeck on the Domestos and Persil brands and share all key information,

although there are obviously some areas of data that we will not

divulge.’



The company’s customer telephone carelines also supply a great deal of

useful information. ’Lines such as the Persil Careline provide a lot of

unsolicited and genuine feedback, which helps us understand consumer

issues and in turn, information is fed back into marketing plans and PR

campaigns,’ says Erkal-Paler.



’The customer focus gives us a reality check. We also survey customers

who contacted the careline and have found that more than 90 per cent

would repurchase the product after our response to their contacting

us.’



Research at the PR arm of Lever Brothers includes in-house research on

an ad-hoc basis for both the UK and pan-European markets and the

commissioning of large-scale research into consumer purchasing habits

from research agencies.



Other activities are extensive perception surveys, commissioned on

behalf of the corporate relations department, and surveys in localities

where the conglomerate’s factories are based. There are focus groups to

explore particular issues and areas of development; and the efficacy of

internal communications programmes are measured. Other external research

such as government statistics are also used.



Extranets, where they exist, can be another useful tool for research and

planning. Access to a client’s extranet can provide a link with other

associated organisations, such as the client’s advertising agency or

suppliers.



Text 100 has built its own dedicated extranet site for its Xerox

account.



Howe explains: ’It is accessible in each of the ten countries where work

is being done on the account. Our PR plans are posted on the site, which

provides the client with easy access to the campaign.’



In the US, research is frequently managed in a very different way,

according to Howe, who recently spent a year working in Text 100’s

Seattle office.



’The way people do PR is on-line intensive,’ she says.



’In the hi-tech sector particularly, the speed of change brought about

by the internet, creates a need for constantly updated research. Any PR

consultancy working in this sector and not using resources on the net,

is going to be left behind very quickly,’ she adds.



Shandwick Welbeck’s Knights concludes: ’To be successful at planning

requires an enquiring mind, not a huge research budget. You first have

to ask the right questions and then you can often use a little

resourcefulness rather than cash to find the answers.’



CAREFUL PLANNING: GOOD PREPARATION LEADS TO BETTER TARGETING



Some PR agencies are starting to take research and planning seriously

enough to set up dedicated departments.



At Cohn and Wolfe, media planner Sarah Hill, working on a part-time

basis, and non-executive director James Murphy develop planning research

projects, run workshops and deal with other planning issues. Hill, a

former director of the Young and Rubicam group, was appointed two months

ago and foresees expansion in the department.



She says: ’PR is no longer just media relations; it is more

strategically driven, so a wider overview of the situation is needed. PR

people must relate to clients in a way the client understands.’



Hi-tech consultancy Text 100 has a central information services team of

two full-time staff who research specific pieces of information on

request. The culture of the company dictates that each executive keeps

up-to-date through daily, ongoing research.



Sarah Howe, an associate director and head of the corporate affairs

department says: ’It’s important that each executive keeps up-to-date

with news and research on an individual basis, ensuring they are aware

of not just the IT industry, but the industry globally, UK competition

and the impact of technology on society. They must be aware of

legislation, client competition, customers and the media.



’When an employee writes a plan for a client, it is glaringly obvious if

the employee is not taking account of the broader world,’ she adds.



Countrywide Porter Novelli has a dedicated planning team, employing Emma

Brazier as associate director of planning, and one market

researcher.



Brazier spends 60 per cent of her time planning and the rest

specifically dealing with accounts.



’The market researcher, Mary Baker, and I split the coverage,’ she

says.



’I work on strategy and evaluation and cover London and Brussels, while

Mary deals with our Banbury office and our northern companies. There is

also an employee in our Brussels office who spends about 50 per cent of

her time planning.’



Yasmin Encer, head of marketing at Cohn and Wolfe, comments: ’This type

of dedicated planning is the way forward. Taking a campaign back to the

planning stage makes it much more targeted.’



INTERNET RESEARCH: INFORMATION AT THE TOUCH OF A BUTTON



To use the internet effectively as a resource for research and planning,

David Phillips, managing director of Phillips and Company, says it is

necessary to have the right tools for monitoring what is being said

about your client’s product or company.



The tools can take the form of a clippings service, such as NUA

(www.nua.ie/surveys), which offers a weekly e-mail on what’s new in

surveys on the internet.



An alternative, Cyberalert (www.cyberalert.com), is a knowledge

management tool which monitors what consumers say in cyberspace and

delivers daily alerts of all new clips found.



Esra Erkal-Paler, external relations manager at Lever Brothers, says:

’The internet is an integral part of the way we work, and will help

develop PR programmes. Everyone in the PR department uses it on a daily

basis.



’Among other things, we will use it for accessing very technical

information that could relate to our products, the latest expert writing

on germs, which relates to home hygiene, which in turn relates to

products such as Domestos, for instance.



’We regularly look at a lot of US web sites. There are papers available

from the US, such as a university paper on research into skin care,

which would not be published in the UK but can be accessed through the

internet. We also check many other sites regularly, including the ASA

pages.’



’I see the use of the internet as absolutely fundamental to research,’

says Sarah Howe, associate director and head of the corporate affairs

department at Text 100. ’It is second nature to all our staff to use the

internet throughout the day, every day. If a company is not using it, I

do not see how they can deliver good PR.’



But Tim Burns, managing director of Test Research, does not think the

internet has yet changed the nature of the PR game. ’The internet

certainly covers discussion of the major companies and the IT sector,

but for many FMCGs, it is still fairly irrelevant in terms of

communications,’ he says. ’ The press still spreads the message more

quickly.’



The following sites are worth a look at:



- www.itc.org.uk Independent Television Commission: includes

broadcasting regulations, press releases and contact details for ITC

licensees



- www.radioauthority.org.uk The Radio Authority: information on UK

commercial radio stations



- www.rajar.co.uk Radio Joint Audience Research: topline results from

radio audience surveys and special reports www.royalmail.co.uk Royal

Mail: includes listings of UK addresses and postcodes



- www.open.gov.uk created by the Government Better Regulation Unit:

information about a wide range of government regulations



The following newspaper



- web sites may also be useful for research:



- www.telegraph.co.uk Daily Telegraph



- www.megastar.co.uk Daily Star



- www.expressnewspapers.co.uk the Express



- www.ft.com Financial Times



- www.guardian.co.uk the Guardian



- www.independent.co.uk the Independent



- www.mirror.co.uk the Mirror



- www.the-times.co.uk the Times



- www.thisislondon.com Evening Standard.



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