Focus Market Research: Examining the evidence - Public opinion is the barometer that decides the direction in which a PR campaign will blow, but how do you get the most out of market research? Mary Cowlett investigates

From consumer omnibus surveys to in-depth studies of specialist audiences, market research comes in many shapes and sizes. As part of the virtuous circle of research, measurement and evaluation, it can enhance or help shape a PR campaign, and define audiences, as well as showing how far messages have penetrated during and after a campaign and providing information to feed back into future campaigns.

From consumer omnibus surveys to in-depth studies of specialist

audiences, market research comes in many shapes and sizes. As part of

the virtuous circle of research, measurement and evaluation, it can

enhance or help shape a PR campaign, and define audiences, as well as

showing how far messages have penetrated during and after a campaign and

providing information to feed back into future campaigns.

Interesting results from original research can also become a stand-alone

strand of a campaign, worthy of a press release in its own right. But

choosing the right technique for the right results isn’t always easy,

and this Under the Spotlight guides PR practitioners through the

minefield with help from the market research sector.

How do I choose a market research company?

’Until you have a clear idea of your objectives, the chances of being

able to find an appropriate agency that fits your needs are slim,’ says

Tim Burns, managing director of Test Research. He recommends PR people

undertake a rigorous examination of their own requirements: from target

audiences, to timescale, budget and beyond. ’Then you can look at the

attributes of a particular research agency,’ he says. ’And the most

important question to ask is ’Do they know anything about PR?’.’

Marc Moninski, head of planning and joint managing director of Fishburn

Hedges says: ’Because a research company is an ambassador for my client,

I always look at who is going to be conducting the interviews, to ensure

that they are articulate and actually have their heads around the

issue.’ He adds that when approaching a global project, he also checks

that a company can get it together as a team. ’The question is not, ’Do

you have international offices?’, but ’Are you truly a network?’. I want

to know that there is co-ordination based upon real relationships, so

that the report I receive is consistent,’ he says.

How do I decide which research technique I need and what sample size is

the most appropriate?

’The onus is on the research company to guide and advise,’ says Tony

Lees, PR consultant for NOP Research Group.

Dave Phillips, marketing director of Research International, part of the

WPP Group, adds: ’Instead of leaping to a conclusion about which

technique you should use, ring up two or three agencies and explain your

situation, time, budget and other constraints. Then ask: ’What are my


As for sample size, Lees, NOP’s former consumer omnibus director, says:

’For consumer research on our omnibus survey the standard sample size is

1,000, because this gives you enough data to cut up and drill down.’

However, for UK analysis by region, he recommends a sample size of

2,000, to ensure valid representation.

’There really is no magical figure,’ says Phillips. ’But for an ad hoc

piece of proprietary telephone research, I’d say a sample of 300 is the

optimum intersection where statistical reliability meets cost. For

example, on a sample of 600 you would pay around twice as much, but you

wouldn’t necessarily get double the value from the results.’

How can PR consultants help market research companies to help them?

’Give us as much background in the brief as possible, then we can draft

the most appropriate questions,’ says Lees.

BMRB director Lynne McClymont says she would rather sit down and have a

conversation than receive a written brief. ’Then I can ask what I need

to know and have a true understanding of exactly what people are trying

to do,’ she says.

’The more you work together, the better the relationship,’ says Stephen

Martin, managing director of Aspect International Consulting, the

research arm of the Argyll Consultancies. ’But PR people need to be

precise about what they want to get out of their research. They

shouldn’t say ’tell us about this market’ - they need to explain that

they want to know why a certain customer acts in a certain way, for


Equally, however, market researchers realise that they need to be more

flexible about seeing things from the point of view of PR


’There needs to be an education process on both sides,’ says Martin.

’The output from research is very rarely as simple as PR people would

like it to be, but market researchers shouldn’t be so uptight about

their principles and ethics.’

McClymont says problems sometimes arise because both sides are

approaching the problem from a different angle: ’Most market researchers

are measurement specialists, while PR people have to deal with thoughts,

ideas and feelings,’ she says.

How can we engender a relationship based on partnership?

Claire Spencer, director of planning at Manning Selvage and Lee, says:

’I want a relationship more like the one I enjoyed as an advertising

planner. I want research companies to work more closely with PR

consultants and not just treat us as purveyors of PR survey fodder for

the media.’

According to the majority of full-service market research agencies, this

is because the perception is that many PROs only use research to create

headlines. ’Virtually everything PR people do is among consumers, to

hang a hook around a press release,’ says Lees, whose company has more

than 200 PR clients.

Martin adds: ’It’s a fact that research does generate headlines by

making a press release more punchy and more memorable.’

McClymont thinks that some market researchers don’t develop proper

relations with PR people because of their comparatively small spend. PR

practitioners and market research companies need to work harder at

creating a more long-term and profitable relationship.

How can research best be used to measure the effectiveness of a PR


It is not only possible but crucial to use research to show how

effective a PR campaign has been, as part of the continuous cycle of

research, measurement and evaluation that should be applied to every PR

campaign. The benefits of R&E at each stage of the process - including

proving that the campaign achieved its objectives - are outlined in

detail in the IPR and PRCA-funded guidelines, the Public Relations

Research and Evaluation Toolkit, published last year.

Burns is adamant that research can help measure and inform PR activities

in many ways. ’Firstly, there is planning, where you need information to

increase your knowledge of the market place and audiences. Here your can

start looking at concepts, messages and ideas that might influence your

target audience and pre-test them,’ he says.

’Then you can actually track PR and find the shifts in brand awareness

which don’t relate to advertising or other marketing activities,’ he


Through its product PR Test, Burn’s company measures media coverage and

tracks the correlation between audience exposure and reaction to PR


’Unlike media analysis, which simply tells you which messages people

have been exposed to, this shows which aspects people have picked up on

and reacted to,’ he explains.

At what point will UK internet usage reach a level where it is possible

to get representative samples on-line?

Kieran Knight, research and planning director of Shandwick UK, asks:

’Everyone is talking about the whole issue of survey and research using

the internet, but how long will it be before companies can survey

pensioners, for instance?’

In addition, Tim Wheatcroft, business development manager at hi-tech

specialist Lewis PR wants to know: ’How are market researchers going to

get around all the issues of ethical on-line research techniques?’

The whole new media explosion is a hotbed for discussion among market

research companies, with internet-based research of specialist consumer

audiences such as early adopters of new technology already available

from most. ’The pros of surveys on-line is that there is no need for an

interviewer, it is immediate and the data is keyed straight into a

computer,’ says Colin Shaddick, director of internet, digital and mobile

specialist Continental Research. ’The disadvantages are that we still

have to use traditional channels to alert people and encourage them to

take part. But we are building panels of people who we have profiled, so

we know they are representative.’

McClymont says: ’I think we will have a hard job using the internet to

survey consumers until penetration has reached two-thirds of UK

households, and then we will still have to look at what people are

actually using the internet for.’

This is confirmed by Shaddick who adds: ’The evidence is that home-users

are still experimenting rather than integrating the internet into their

lifestyle, so there is still a huge learning curve.’

But will these research techniques really work out cheaper? ’Nobody can

predict that one,’ says McClymont, ’The set-up costs are likely to be

pretty hefty, but much will depend on what is happening at the moment

with phone charges.’

How can I justify the cost of commissioning research to my boss or


’This is a problem, because the people who give good advice are in

demand, so market research is expensive.’ says Martin. ’Again, it goes

back to being specific about what you want, so that you get a whole lot

more value.’

Much depends on what type of research is purchased, however. Sue

Homeyard, director of omnibus services for Taylor Nelson Sofres, says:

’The most cost-effective way of buying research is through an omnibus

survey. The amount of coverage achieved for a client through a few

questions on an omnibus is disproportionately more than the initial

research investment.’

She adds: ’There should be a degree of trust within the PR and marketing

research agency relationship. The researcher should be on the look out

for any questions that will not work, and the PR person should assume

the value of the advice given.’

But whatever type of research is undertaken, Martin thinks that most

practitioners should have no problem in justifying the cost in terms of

delivering real customer value.

’Companies shouldn’t look at just the immediate PR value of market

research, but give it a broader marketing value, so that it is taken in

to all their communications, from sales literature and seminars, to

focusing different messages to the target market,’ he says. A point

emphasised in the Toolkit which, in addition to outlining what you can

expect to buy for pounds 5,000 also advises utilising research

undertaken across the whole organisation as part of planning. Funds

don’t have to come out of a budget labelled ’PR’.

How do you avoid including personal interpretation in the analysis of


’It really depends on the PR person. Some like input from the market

research company and need guidance in interpreting their results, others

don’t,’ says Lees.

In addition, there are often time factors at stake, with PROs looking

for added value from their research agency. ’Increasingly we are being

asked to provide management summary reports in the form of bullet

points, to save PR executives having to plough through pages of

print-outs, to find the two or three interesting bits they want,’ adds


’This is why people go back to the same company time and again,’ says

Martin. ’There is a big step from the end of a market research exercise

to the end of a PR exercise, so basically the more you go through the

analysis process with somebody, the better it gets.’

What is the research industry doing to ensure that ’research fatigue’ is

not influencing results or respondents?

’How is the industry securing participation from difficult-to-reach

audiences such as the media, politicians, and FTSE top 250 companies?’

asks Mary Baker, research director at Countrywide Porter Novelli.

Moninski also wants to know how researchers can get to difficult

audiences: ’I always want to know about an agency’s ability to recruit a

panel. For instance, for small universes, does the company have the

reach to persuade special audiences to take part? After all, there is

only one editor of the Economist.’

MORI chief executive Brian Gosschalk says: ’We have specialised in

researching elite opinion leaders for over 30 years, so we have the

experience and take particular care to maintain the goodwill of

relatively small populations.’

He says MORI achieves this by limiting the amount of times it calls

people, for instance restricting contact with MPs to no more than once

every two years, and combining the needs of several clients into one


’We also ask relevant questions that show our understanding of the

respective audience,’ adds Gosschalk. ’And where required we give

incentives for participation, such as feedback, so that respondents come

away from an interview feeling positively disposed.’

To tackle the problem of falling response rates industry-wide, over the

past 18 months the Market Research Society has established several


These include a pilot scheme to improve the training of interviewers and

data collection of response rates and respondent satisfaction


’Our bread and butter is gradually coming under threat with falling

response rates,’ says Don Beverly, who runs the MRS Respondent

Interviewer Interface Committee.

’The big issue is that the goodwill to take part in research is there,

but whether you are chief executive of a blue chip company or a busy

parent, people simply don’t have the time to take part.’ He adds: ’We

need to look at ways of being more flexible in approaching people and

ensuring that being interviewed is a good experience.’ l

The next Under the Spotlight will cover the subject of visuals.

If you have a question you would like featured, e-mail:

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Already registered?
Sign in