PR TECHNIQUE RESEARCH: A fresh approach to market research - Tried-and-true methods have their place but with e-mail and new media technology, gathering data has never been so fast. Debra S. Hauss describes some creative research ideas

Creativity may be the cornerstone of any good PR campaign, but when it comes to research, most pros could use a strong kick out of the phone poll and focus group rut. Simply by stretching your imagination, firms can gather vital information while simultaneously saving clients time and money, says Dr. Walter Lindemann, the former senior VP and director of research and management at Ketchum. There are several simple and low-tech means of digging up consumer insights.

Creativity may be the cornerstone of any good PR campaign, but when it comes to research, most pros could use a strong kick out of the phone poll and focus group rut. Simply by stretching your imagination, firms can gather vital information while simultaneously saving clients time and money, says Dr. Walter Lindemann, the former senior VP and director of research and management at Ketchum. There are several simple and low-tech means of digging up consumer insights.

Creativity may be the cornerstone of any good PR campaign, but when

it comes to research, most pros could use a strong kick out of the phone

poll and focus group rut. Simply by stretching your imagination, firms

can gather vital information while simultaneously saving clients time

and money, says Dr. Walter Lindemann, the former senior VP and director

of research and management at Ketchum. There are several simple and

low-tech means of digging up consumer insights.



One West-Coast utility company, for example, collected valuable feedback

from 5,000 customers by piggybacking phone inquiries. Lindemann explains

that during a drought emergency, the company wanted to find out if

customers believed the water policy plan was working. Since the

customer-service line was already ’ringing off the hook,’ Ketchum

trained the phone operators to first address the inquiries and then

conduct a survey. ’It was a ’self-selective’ bias sample, but we were

able to compare those findings with our own scientific 350-customer

poll,’ says Lindemann.This type of phone polling might cost dollars

2,000 to dollars 3,000 versus dollars 12,000 to dollars 18,000 for a

focus group study, Lindemann estimates.



The fax machine can also be a pollster’s best friend. ’Because busy

professionals can be difficult to survey by phone, you might get a

better response by faxing it to them,’ says Lindemann.



While most professionals use the Internet and e-mail every day, many

have not realized the full potential of these new media tools. For

example, Delahaye Medialink formed its New Media Measurement Team in

January 1995 - before many pros had even gone online. ’We jumped on it

when we noticed that high profile events, like the Clinton/Lewinsky

matter and the Intel/Pentium crisis, were beginning to have their

genesis on the Internet,’ says Shaun Ennis, a director of marketing.



Medialink’s Infotrend computer system can analyze and complete a report

on thousands of electronically transmitted media stories overnight

instead of three to eight weeks if compiled by hand. Not only is the

system cost-efficient, it offers clients indisputable savings. An

Infotrend report might cost a client dollars 3,000 to dollars 5,000,

versus approximately dollars 20,000 for a traditional customized report,

Ennis says.



Other agencies are tapping into new media research by monitoring

news-type web sites and specialized discussion groups. ’We will want to

analyze online discussion groups so that problems can be dealt with

before they get blown up into a public media matter,’ Lindemann

explains.



E-mail has also been put to use by agencies to speed up the research

process. Surveys can be sent over e-mail or via disk. ’This way, you can

add other informational documents or instructions to the disk,’ notes

Graham Hueber, director of the national research and measurement

department at Ketchum.



Even such basic research techniques as survey polling and focus groups

can be conducted online for lower cost and better efficiency, according

to Geri Mazur, Porter Novelli senior VP and director of research. ’Only

two years ago, those on the Internet were not a representative

population for research, but that has changed,’ she points out.



Another technique for beyond-the-box consumer research findings is a

kiosk survey. ’Using a kiosk equipped with a touch screen computer is a

cost-efficient way to reach a large number of people in a relatively

short amount of time,’ says Hueber. You can also use the kiosk to

display information about your client and its products.



Pros should also take advantage of a trade show or association meeting

to survey a hard-to-reach industry group. You can distribute

questionnaires, plan one-on-one interviews or conduct group sessions

during these events, suggests Hueber. In-person surveys can also measure

the effectiveness of a press or promotional event. During a meeting, for

example, questionnaires can be distributed both before and after the

session - pre- and post-responses can be linked and compared.



Finally, you can use the same survey to generate publicity and uncover

strategic insights. Porter Novelli’s Geri Mazur says this is one way for

firms and their clients to get more bang for the buck. For example,

during an educational campaign for vitamin antioxidants, PN conducted a

survey to measure public awareness. The results - showing how little

people knew - was used as both a news hook as well as a benchmark for

tracking. The agency then repeated the study three years later to

measure the amount of awareness the PR campaign had generated.



DOS AND DON’TS



DO



1. Look beyond traditional research tools for more imaginative ways to

gather information.



2. Learn more about new media research such as e-mail surveying and

monitoring of web sites.



3. Take advantage of the opportunity to query incoming customer service

calls.



4. Use meetings and events to gather additional information.



5. Fax or e-mail surveys to busy professionals.



DON’T



1. Shy away from new technology.



2. Under-budget.



3. Forget to share your research with other company departments.



4. Forget to ask the client for any proprietary research they have

conducted on their own. You don’t want to waste time and money

duplicating efforts.



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