The public was bombarded with articles about the demise of PEPs and
TESSAs and the birth of the Government’s new financial brainchild, the
ISA, in the run-up to the end of the last tax year in April. The
personal finance firms which peddled these investment products must have
congratulated themselves on a PR job well done.
But was it? Consumer research by Countrywide Porter Novelli at the time
showed that, despite acres of coverage, 82 per cent of those who read
the print had no intention of buying a PEP, ISA or TESSA.
As it turned out, some half of the agency’s 520-strong consumer panel
simply didn’t understand what an ISA was. Even more surprisingly, eight
per cent actually felt more negative towards ISAs after seeing the
coverage, no matter how positive it was, as they could not afford to
participate in the buying bonanza.
The findings highlight an obvious but often forgotten fact: just because
consumers read a favourable review about a product, it does not
automatically mean that they will buy it, or that they will think
positively about it.
This does not just affect the perception of editorial coverage. When
shown a voucher offer for half-price flights in a national newspaper,
some interviewees concluded that the airline must be under-performing to
launch such a good deal while, as with ISAs, others felt resentful
because they didn’t have the funds to take advantage of the offer.
The research is included in the first stage of CPN’s new survey, ’Closer
to the Consumer’. The study, which will be conducted twice a year, will
scrutinise consumer attitudes to a host of PR tactics. The agency is
hoping it will improve planning and enable staff to pick the best tactic
and medium for the job. It could also cut down on the ’hit and miss’
element of consumer PR. The findings will be for agency and client eyes
The panel was representative of the UK population, being 51 per cent
female and 49 pre cent male. A third were aged 25-30, 10 per cent were
18-24, 35 per cent were 45-54 and two per cent were 55 and over. Panel
members came from an even geographical spread in the UK.
The panel completed a 30-page questionnaire on their shopping habits;
leisure interests; ownership of consumer durables; media consumption and
demographic information relating to their home, family, work, education
and income. They then assessed a range of press-related PR tools
including an advertorial, a voucher offer, and product reviews, as well
as coverage of issues such as ISAs and GM foods.
Members were asked whether they had seen the coverage, the impact, if
any, it had on their attitude towards the company or product, and
whether the tactic had influenced or changed their buying behaviour.
Other areas such as broadcasting and the internet will be covered in
Countrywide director Nick Hindle believes the PR industry should invest
more in consumer research if it wants to shake off its unscientific
’Advertising and direct marketing both have a very good grasp of how
their work affects consumer behaviour, but historically PR has been weak
at consumer research and interpretation,’ he says.
Hindle acknowledges the limitations of research, however. The ideal
solution, he says, is to fuse the findings with a client’s own data on
how its customers regard the company’s brand and products.
’By combining the two you can build a body of evidence about how people
respond to both the brand and the PR.’
The Proof survey carried out by PR Week and CPN this year shows there is
room for more consumer research: only a third of consumer PR agencies
Mike Fairchild, author of the Research and evaluation toolkit, says: ’In
many consumer PR campaigns, the research may already have been done,
it’s simply that PR people don’t know where to find it. By tapping into
existing research answers can be had for very little. We’ve certainly
got to educate clients to pay for R&E, but first we have to persuade PR
people to become more familiar with research.’
So what did other consumer agencies make of the research? Some were all
for evaluating tactics and felt CPN had taken a step in the right
direction in making PR more measurable.
’Countrywide deserves due credit for trying to measure the value of PR,’
says Lexis PR chief executive Bill Jones, but he adds a caveat: ’I hope
the research is genuinely useful and provides better insights into the
outcomes of PR and doesn’t end up being just another new business
Lexis itself often commissions research, which the agency pays for, into
consumer perceptions of companies or brands, usually with new business
in mind. ’Where client programmes are concerned, we try to be hands-on
with as much research as possible, including the mass of data often held
by clients,’ says Jones.
However, other consumer PR outfits had reservations about the usefulness
of broad consumer research.
Alison Miles, director of Grayling, says: ’For campaigns which are
trying to generate general noise in the media, broad-brush research is
fine, but to see if you are reaching your target market it’s better to
target as tightly as possible and then measure which tactic had the best
effect on the group.’
At QBO, managing director Trevor Morris agrees: ’We test specific
concepts on people who are definitely in the market for a product. If
they are not customers of a particular company, there is no point in
asking them questions about that company.’
Morris uses QBO’s sister company Brands and Issues Research for
qualitative research, and focus groups and Mori or Gallup for
He believes using the same panel each time could mean that they begin to
give the answers they feel are expected, rather than giving a natural
’The danger of asking ’would you buy this?’ is that people always
over-claim,’ observes Morris. ’If consumers always did what they said
they would, all new product developments would be successful.’
Hill and Knowlton uses a kids panel, a youth panel, and an adult panel
to test financial products. It also has access to sister companies
within parent group WPP, such as market research firms Millward Brown,
the Henley Centre and the planning departments of advertising agencies
Ogilvy and Mather and JWT.
Hill and Knowlton business development director Jason Gallucci says: ’We
are not a generalist agency, more of a collection of specialist
With a company of our size, operating in so many markets, we have to use
both generic and specific research.’
For many agencies, however, the final decision over whether they conduct
an in-depth study, or just stick a handful of questions on an Omnibus
survey, ultimately lies with the client.
’Increasingly we are getting clients to agree to focus groups, but they
have traditionally been reluctant to spend a lot on market research,’
’It’s an age-old problem. If clients are spending pounds 50,000 on a PR
campaign and you ask them to spend pounds 20,000 on market research they
fall over, but pounds 20,000 is nothing compared to the money spent on a
big advertising campaign,’ he points out. ’PR budgets are getting bigger
and more is being spent on evaluation, but we also need more consumer
MCDONALD’S SIMPLE BUT EFFECTIVE CAMPAIGN
Cut-out coupons in local newspapers are one of the most traditional
consumer public relations tools, but they don’t exactly shout ’glamour
Research into the tactic by Countrywide Porter Novelli, however, shows
that the humble coupon is still one of the most powerful PR tools.
As part of its ongoing consumer research survey into the effectiveness
of PR tactics, ’Closer to the Consumer’, the agency showed its
520-strong panel a coupon from McDonald’s which appeared in a large
number of regional newspapers. The voucher offered readers a free
portion of McDonald’s 99p pancakes at participating restaurants.
The results were convincing: 30 per cent were already aware of the offer
and 67 per cent of whose who saw the offer said they intended to cut out
and try the coupon.
When it came to the effect on attitudes, 29 per cent reported a more
positive view of the fast-food giant after seeing the voucher. Just one
per cent felt more negative towards McDonald’s.
’The results really surprised us as the positive response was much
higher than expected,’ says Mary Baker, associate director of planning
and research at Countrywide. ’Cut-out coupons are pretty standard agency
stuff, and this was a low-value offer. We had begun to take vouchers for
granted, but the research shows just how effective this tried and tested
tactic is.’ According to Baker, the results also yielded information
about the usefulness of particular media, which will aid the media
planning process. The fact that they did not appear in a glamorous
glossy or high-circulation newspaper points to the value of regional
’The regional press is quite often ignored by agencies, but they attract
interested, loyal readers because they relate to local people,’ says
APPLIANCE OF SCIENCE RESEARCH AS THE BACKBONE OF PRd
The survey as news hook is still a popular tool for generating coverage
and aiding positioning.
Beatwax, the youth communications specialist, doesn’t often have the
luxury of clients with big budgets to lavish on research. Only one in 20
might devote the funds to analysing the market and then money is
minimal, so it needs to make results pay.
Having received a brief from Canadian Club whisky to target 25-plus
opinion formers, Beatwax went to 40 of London’s hippest bars and
conducted face-to-face interviews with 100 drinkers. It discovered that
most worked in the entertainment and communications professions and
decided to target them at work through their trade magazines.
The agency created a branded, CD-sized guide to forthcoming music, film,
fashion and the arts in London called The List and inserted it into PR
Week, Creative Review, Marketing and Marketing Week.
Account manager Simone Pound says: ’It is proving to be a successful
campaign with our target audience, including PR people, graphic
designers, marketers and creatives on The List database, and it has seen
a significant increase in brand recognition and profile.’
As part of its healthcare work, Grayling uses a behavioural psychologist
in planning sessions in a bid to understand the motivations behind
consumers’ actions. The psychologist also ensures campaign literature
fits with the attitudes of the target market.
The agency received a brief from the Consumer Health Information Centre
to encourage men to look after their health. Instead of preaching to
16- to 34-year-olds, the healthcare team and psychologist produced
100,000 information leaflets in mid-May entitled ’Are you getting
enough ... from your body’, with a cover shot of a half-naked woman.
Grayling also commissioned a Gallup survey to find the men’s ’health
Director Alison Miles says the research showed that there was much work
to be done to stimulate young men’s interest in their health - many saw
Paul Gascoigne and Robbie Williams as health role models.
On a more light-hearted note, Lexis PR asked Dr Len Fisher of Bristol
University’s Physics Department to run a two-month study on behalf of
biscuit giant McVitie’s into the ’science of dunking’. Dr Fisher emerged
from his laboratory with a proven formula to predict the length you
should dunk, which biscuits dunk best and the best dunking angle. The
study caught the media’s imagination and coverage in all the nationals
and TV and radio items followed.
’Consultancies like ours are much more likely to use research-based
planning to create a strategy up front, rather than just recommending
another survey to get PR coverage as a tactic within a programme,’ says
Lexis PR chief executive Bill Jones.
However, Consolidated Communications managing director Alastair Gornall
believes some agencies are still producing unscientific research which
will never get past survey-weary journalists.
’Traditionally PR agencies put two or three questions on an Omnibus
survey in order to demonstrate the need for a product and make a point
that might become a headline,’ says Gornall.
’But a few questions is not a robust piece of research, and journalists
are asking for more detailed studies.’