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
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
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
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.
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