FOCUS: RESEARCH AND PLANNING - Tailor-made research/PR planning can be aided by research tools to fit all budgets. Mary Cowlett reports

With the raft of information sources now available, from specialist research studies to the internet, there is a wealth of data PR people can use to inform their planning.

With the raft of information sources now available, from specialist

research studies to the internet, there is a wealth of data PR people

can use to inform their planning.

But while the likes of MORI polls and Mintel studies provide a

sophisticated picture of markets and issues, these generic resources are

available to everyone. As the emphasis increasingly falls on brand

differentiation and organisations’ intangible assets - including social

and environmental impact - some believe there is a need to deliver a

sharper focus by more bespoke examination.

Jennie Kettlewell, management consultant to the communications industry,

including Bulletin International, thinks that PR could benefit from many

of the tailored techniques used by advertisers.

’The PR industry is making great strides in research and evaluation,

partly due to advertising account planners being employed by PR

consultancies,’ she says. ’But the emphasis is still largely on

post-campaign evaluation, rather than pre-campaign research and


Certainly, data from the PR Week Countrywide Porter Novelli Proof survey

last year (12 March, 1999), seems to bear this out, showing that around

60 per cent of respondents used post-campaign content analysis, but just

three per cent used pre-testing.

’PR could make much better use of focus groups to test concepts, and

tone messages,’ says Kettlewell. ’Consumers are savvy and bring you down

to earth about jargon and management speak.’

And if PR fails to get a handle on planning now, then exploiting the

digital explosion will prove tricky. As communication channels continue

to proliferate and audiences become ever more niche, companies

increasingly need their strategy to be proactive and to meet issues head


The on-line world also still contains many unknowns, such as how people

interact with e-commerce and how they react and respond to on-line


But to maintain a competitive edge, is it vital to have knowledge that

others do not? To relate to business objectives more closely and build a

closer relationship with customers, should PR research be bespoke?

’Tailored research is not as vital as it used to be, as there is so much

real-time information already out there now, particularly on the web,’

says Ruth Yearley, planning and research director at Ketchum. ’In

addition, the research companies like MORI now take a much more creative

approach for their customers and offer services such as syndicated

qualitative surveys,’ she adds.

Ketchum recently reorganised its planning function to place knowledge

and insight firmly at the core of its business. Known as the EPICENTRE,

Ketchum’s Exploration, Planning Intelligence Centre is a

multi-disciplinary team that offers strategic insight, scientific

knowledge and trend forecasting to all clients, through generic and

tailored research.

According to Yearley, this shake-up was in response to clients’


’They wanted PR that was responsive to their business aims and was

arresting and creative, because it was grounded in an interesting and

meaningful strategic direction,’ she says.

However, while Yearley believes that it is not always necessary to

commission a bespoke study of issues and markets, she also highlights

more practical reasons for why secondary research is sometimes a winning

solution. ’Tailored research is a real luxury these days, because you

don’t always have the turnaround time or the budget to buy something

in,’ she says.

The expense may prohibit use of some widely available research tools,

such as BMRB’s Target Group Index, which also provides highly complex

data that demands a certain level of specialist knowledge.

Last month, to arm the industry with what it claims is a user-friendly

planning resource, media planning, analysis and research company Metrica

announced the launch of its ’Lifestyles’ tools. ConsumerPulse, which

will be launched in the summer, comes under this umbrella.

Costing between pounds 500 and pounds 3,500 per year, depending on

usage, subscribers will receive a twice-yearly CD that helps analyse the

whole UK adult population’s lifestyles, related to media consumption,

internet and mobile e-commerce usage, leisure activities and attendance

at shows, exhibitions and other PR-related activities. Initially this

will be based on a database of 1,000 respondents. Metrica Lifestyle

chief Peter Crowe is hoping that this will set a new standard as a

generic tool for PR planning. ’In an age when media proliferation is a

real issue, it will help to pin down the media consumption of target

audiences, not just by the usual demographics, but by the products

people consume or the services that they use,’ he says.

But the choice between a resource that a competitor may access and more

individually-tailored study depends on the client’s objectives. If the

need is simply to get a broad-brush view of the market or confirm a

hunch about trends, then existing research is usually up to the job.

’Generic research is really useful if the market is well-established and

you have a bunch of people you can track,’ says Stephen Martin, managing

director of Aspect Consulting, the research arm of The Argyll

Consultancies. He uses the analogy of maps , explaining that the type of

planning people undertake should be informed by the level of direction

they need.

’If you drive to the south of France, at the outset of your journey, all

you need to know is whether to go by Paris,’ says Martin. ’It’s when you

get to down to ’should I turn left or right here?’ that you want the

detailed picture,’ he adds.

Indeed, commissioning bespoke research simply for the sake of it can be

a costly, misleading business. But there are some occasions when there

is little or no timely information about an audience. This is especially

true when entering a new market, such as launching an internet service

or with tightly targeted business audiences, such as opinion


Marc Moninski is joint managing director and head of planning at

corporate and public affairs specialist Fishburn Hedges. He says while

research companies and industry analysts publish reports of specific

publics such as City journalists and the directors of the UK’s top 500

companies, there are other drawbacks besides competitors having access

to the same information.

’Firstly, such studies tend to be undertaken annually, so if you’re

looking at issues surrounding new media, for example, the information

can be out of date. Secondly, they tend to be so big, it can be hard to

hone the data down, and lastly they are expensive,’ he says.

To get around this problem, FH does a lot of ad hoc research on market

dynamics, firing off e-mails and undertaking informal telephone

interviews with key audiences.

Last year however, for its client Shell, FH established a panel of

academics, City media, analysts, MPs and NGOs including

environmentalists, who are consulted at least twice a year. ’This is a

costly commitment,’ says Moninski. ’But it ensures that Shell is

absolutely informed about itself and industry issues.’

The real answer to whether PR people should use generic or bespoke

research in their planning is, of course, that they should use both.

Microsoft, for example, is a highly research-driven organisation. To

keep a finger on the pulse of its business audience, Microsoft uses a

range of generic information, from FT and Economist surveys into IT

trends, to detailed studies from industry analyst, the Gartner Group, on

hot issues.

Tariq Khwaja, managing director of August.One Communications,

Microsoft’s main UK PR agency, says: ’Generic research helps us define

who our audience is. For example, studies show that in a quarter of

companies, the purchasing decisions about technology are made entirely

at board level. So yes, we do need to speak to those people.’

However, according to Khwaja, it is Microsoft’s bespoke research that

best informs its communications. Every year, the company commissions a

global customer satisfaction survey, which is conducted by MORI in the

UK. ’It’s about getting things the right way round,’ says Khwaja. ’What

is it that the audience wants to hear. What are the issues that excite

customers or keep them awake at night?’

Since last summer, Microsoft has also undertaken a ’Business Barometer’

survey with the Cranfield School of Management. This provides a

temperature check of the UK’s top 300 CEOs, examining how they view

business issues such as global competition and the current economic and

political climate.

’It would be easy to assume that everybody understands e-commerce and

just bang on about it,’ says Khwaja. ’But this research shows that

Microsoft needs to be empathetic to people’s worries and provide more

education, to help them through the maze of issues.’

As PR continues to move centre stage and claim its place as a strategic

business tool, it needs to justify this position by taking a more robust

approach to planning. The type of research that guides this process is

always likely to be dictated by time, budget and objectives.

But research on its own is no guarantee of a fail-safe foundation.

Planning does come first, but at the same time, PR people must not

become slaves to research by losing sight of intuition and failing to

extrapolate information using common sense.


Last year, BACS (the Banks Automated Clearing System), briefed Manning

Selvage and Lee to promote the electronic payment service, direct

credit, to a business audience. Owned by the UK’s banking industry,

direct credit is the flip side of direct debit, where payments go

straight to a bank account.

On its own, this is not a service that readily excites either

journalists or audiences. However, using a 1998 quantitative usage and

attitude study by Continental Research, MS&L identified a new

opportunity for direct credit among the small business community. It

found that only 21 per cent of small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs)

were currently receiving payments from their creditors by direct credit,

but this could be changed by using banking details on bills.

It was agreed that the campaign should reach at least 70 per cent of

SMEs with the key message of asking creditors to pay using direct

credit, and a supporting message highlighting the benefits. The bottom

line was to increase the inclusion of banking details on SMEs’


The PR team created the concept of a ’pay me direct’ media relations


By commissioning a tailored, independent study from Continental

Research, MS&L uncovered the current issues and concerns running through

small business and incorporated the findings into a wider business


For example, evidence that SMEs in the UK were overdrawn to the tune of

pounds 4 billion at any one time gained mass national, regional and

business coverage.

The campaign was formally evaluated and, by the end of December, MS&L

had raised the number of SMEs who included their banking details on

invoices from five per cent to 36 per cent. And the number of SMEs being

paid by direct credit increased from 19 per cent in 1998 to 75 per cent

by the end of 1999.


TRW Automotive Aftermarket Operations (TRW) manufactures and distributes

a broad range of car components through dealers and independent channels

under the Lucas brand. These include everything from brakes, batteries

and bulbs to state-of-the-art engine diagnostic equipment.

Traditionally, editorial messages about TRW’s investment in the future,

forward-looking approach and innovative product range were fed through a

wide range of trade press titles. In the latter half of 1999, TRW’s UK

PR agency, Countrywide Porter Novelli, decided to re-examine this

approach and check whether there were more direct routes to reach Lucas

customers and its ultimate end-users, the garages.

Although CPN could draw some broad conclusions about garage workers’

media consumption habits from BMRB’s Target Group Index and the National

Readership Survey, it wanted a more in-depth understanding.

Last November, the agency conducted telephone interviews with 100 garage

mechanics and distributors to explore their reading, listening and

viewing habits.

This revealed that while the core trade titles, such as Motor Trader,

Car and Accessory Trader and Autotrade still ranked quite highly, many

others were scarcely read. In addition, although only read by a third of

respondents, consumer title Auto Trader was by far the most popular


As one in three mechanics consumed no trade or consumer title at all,

CPN wanted to uncover whether they might view their daily newspaper as a

more comfortable medium for messages. The results showed that they were

three times more likely to read a local newspaper than a national


Another top-line finding indicated that give-aways of practical items,

such as mugs, were a winning formula.

CPN and TRW are still finalising the details of incorporating these

findings into the communications strategy, but CPN director Keith Taylor

says: ’To complement our trade channels we are taking a much more

open-minded look at regional activities.’

As a result of the research, local commercial radio remains an option,

as does supplying more educational-style press material to the regional

and popular national newspapers.

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