Research: Leading the brand

Solid PR research can take a brand to a whole new level.

Solid PR research can take a brand to a whole new level.

Behind any good PR campaign is solid planning. And that planning is very often the result of extensive and thorough research. With the increasing importance of ROI and accountability, research has emerged with more significance than ever before.

David Rockland, partner and global director of research at Ketchum, says the agency's research division has grown more than threefold in the past five years. "We have seen a desire by clients to know their target better," he says. "PR has become more a rifle-shot business, as opposed to shotgun. The relationship between research and PR has become stronger."

Often that increased use of research, whether by agencies or corporate departments, can help to make the PR component of a campaign, or ongoing development of a brand, especially effective.

Last year, Ketchum worked with the Fireman's Fund Insurance Co. to develop a corporate social responsibility program. When it was started in 1873, the company gave 10% of its profits to widows and children of firefighters. So when it came time to develop its CSR program, Rockland says, the initial thought was to continue in that original tradition. Ketchum conducted focus groups and surveys of employees, customers, prospective employees and customers, and personalized and commercial agents. Rockland says research indicated that there was not strong support for firefighters, but rather for helping the firefighting community be more effective.

As a result, the focus of the program was revamped. When it rolled out in San Diego, the Fireman's Fund Heritage program raised money to award grants for fire-prevention education, organizations like the San Diego Burn Institute, equipment, and outreach to communities. Rockland says the resulting CSR program has had a positive impact on Fireman's Fund. "There is an immense measurement system for this program," he says. "They have seen improvements in employee, customer, and agent loyalty."

Research can also play an important role in the highly competitive and ever-changing technology world, especially when it comes time to launch a new product. Mei Li, VP of corporate communications for NetSuite, says that one of the most important things is to keep track of the competition in the customer relationship management (CRM) space. "We always want to know what other people in the industry are doing," she says. "It's a very crowded space, and everyone is trying to do as much as they can to drive awareness."

Before the launch of NetSuite 10, the team used Biz 360's Market 360 product to analyze different media messages about what the competition was doing. Li says the team noticed that several competitors mentioned they would be getting into the enterprise resource planning (ERP) space. The team had previously planned to stress the product's CRM component, but Li says that the research pointed out that the upcoming launch would have to position the product differently: as an all-in-one solution, given its CRM, ERP, and e-commerce capabilities. "If I had never read those [reports], I don't think I would've been able to come up with a comprehensive PR plan to launch a new product," she says. "I think that this really helped us to make our message more compelling and complete."

Line extensions

Not only can research help launch a product, but it can also help to position a new product that is an extension of a well-known brand. Lisa Eggerton, SVP and head of consumer practice at Euro RSCG Magnet, says research played an integral part in the agency's recent work with K-Y, a Johnson & Johnson brand. Even before this year's launch of Touch, K-Y's new line of massage oils, the company had already been working to reposition the brand as one of intimacy between longtime partners, rather than a solution for a problem.

But the launch of Touch presented new challenges. "This was really their first line extension that was not a lubricant," Eggerton says. "It was really important for us to realize how to go to market with that." Working with Consumer Insights, Magnet's research group, the team sought to gather general consumer attitudes about massage in very specific situations. "We certainly were well aware that massage has become a mainstream concept," she says. "Where we weren't clear was how people perceive massage within a relationship."

Consumer Insights provided research on general attitudes about massage, including media analysis, industry briefings, and interviews with the Touch Institute in Florida. Using this information, Eggerton says, the team was able to develop a consumer survey that directly asked about massage as it related to intimacy. Results showed that people generally got the notion of massage as an intimate gesture. "What it helped us to do is frame all of our PR programming so that it's not just around launching a new product," she says. "It's given a context in which to talk about the product." So when pitching magazine or newspaper editors, the focus was not on health or beauty editors, but on those in charge of stories about relationships. Although the product was just launched in May, this tactic has already shown signs of success. "All of the coverage so far has been about intimacy," Eggerton says, adding that some coverage even quoted results of the survey. "It hasn't been relegated to just a new product."

Corporate launches

Research can even help PR when launching a corporate brand. When Boston Scientific decided to launch a master brand a few years ago, it turned to KRC, a research partner of Weber Shandwick, to help determine how to best craft a message that would appeal to both employees and clinicians. Pam Brickley, director of corporate brands, says that surveys and focus groups showed that clinicians valued the message of helping people and innovation, while employees conveyed one of making a difference. From the research, the company was able to craft a positioning statement: "Helping clinicians improve life through innovation." That message was consistent throughout the company's communications.

The PR department was especially effective in using the research to communicate with the company's 17,000 employees globally. "[The research] has come in handy in a number of ways in which we communicate with our external audience," Brickley says.

Recent surveys of employees and clinicians have shown that the brand's message is beginning to stick, something PR certainly had a hand in.

"Externally, it certainly has helped us to stay on message [and] to develop and bring awareness around Boston Scientific," Brickley explains. "Everything that we're doing through PR is really to help enhance the image and reputation of the company. So it's really been a core for us - sort of the foundation."

Share and share alike

While there is no doubt that research has been on the rise, there is still the question of whether it is being used enough in PR. And, if not, what are the reasons?

Jackie Yeaney, CMO at HomeBanc, says the structure of some corporate marketing departments can sometimes impact the PR department's ability to get a hold of research. For example, some corporate structures have research as part of the marketing group, with PR under the corporate communications umbrella.

"If PR and research aren't both sitting inside marketing, it probably is hard to get that connection to happen," she says. "Marketing owns the voice of the brand. One of the ways to communicate the voice of the brand is PR. To not include PR as a major channel ... seems ridiculous to me."

At HomeBanc, PR is included in the marketing department. But in Yeaney's previous experience at Delta Air Lines, where she was managing director of consumer marketing, PR was in the corporate communications group, which resulted in a disconnect as far as the amount of research that was available to the PR department, she says.

Sometimes the question isn't whether enough research is available to PR departments. Hiroshi Wald, managing director at Zeno Group's Competitive Insights division, says that, although there is a lot of research being done by PR departments, most of it is not the right type.

"A lot of times, there's a disconnect between the research that gets done and the client's business goals," he says. "When you have that disconnect, you have research that you can't act on." Information that results in a clip book, a total number of article counts, or a general share-of-voice percentage is not something that will ultimately contribute to the client's end goals, he says.

Doug Costle, senior director at Text 100 subsidiary Context Analytics, agrees that for the most part PR is not using research to its full potential. "I think it's underused because a lot of research focuses on a media report card," he says. "The more sophisticated consumers of research understand that research is not just cover- age management. Research should do more than measure results; it should also help inform strategy."

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