Research is all about the questions. There's the core research question, that critical piece of knowledge on which you will build your communications program. There are the questions you will need for survey or focus group research. When it comes to integrating research into public relations practice, however, there are eight key questions to consider.
These eight come into play long before you are ready to specify research methodologies (such as surveys). They are the secret to using research on a daily basis in your work. Most important, they can help get your mind around four domains of public relations research:
- Foundational or basic research (the underlying social science of our field)
- Benchmarking and best practices studies (what we professionals do and how we do it)
- Initial or formative research (specific to your program planning)
- Measurement and evaluation (to assess what you've done and how to do it better)
Each of these research domains plays a critical role in effective public relations. And you can engage them all with just eight questions:
1. In situations like the one our organization faces now, what does underlying basic research say about how opinions develop, communities form, and attitudes become action?
2. What are other companies doing in similar situations?
3. Will following the crowd work here, or does our organization need its own distinct path?
4. For the program we are creating, what critical pieces of knowledge are available from existing sources, and where can we find them?
5. What additional knowledge do we need to develop original research?
6. How will we use this formative research to set objectives, strategies, tactics and messages that support desired business outcomes?
7. What measures of success will demonstrate the return on this program?
8. How will we use measurement and evaluation to keep improving the program?
Eight straightforward questions. Ask them daily and research really can be integrated into practice.
Frank Ovaitt is EVP and head of research consulting at Makovsky + Company. He is also CEO Emeritus of the Institute for Public Relations and adjunct professor of applied public relations research at The George Washington University Graduate School of Political Management.