Resource material for campaign planning is significantly underused
in the PR industry. This can have two main effects, neither of which
reflect well on the PR team or the client. Insufficient research fed
into a campaign may mean goals cannot be optimised; and PR people often
put a great deal of effort into re-inventing the wheel.
But PR practitioners don’t have to run around doing all the research
themselves. There is plenty of information available which can be tapped
into to save time and money. Clients’ in-house research data, research
carried out by their advertising agencies and other satellite
organisations, reports from research companies and Government bodies,
information from the internet - these can all be used to good
Most clients are willing to share most of their existing research data,
although there may be some confidential or sensitive information they
are more reluctant to supply, especially to a newly-appointed
But equally, there also could be other data that the client does not
realise is relevant, or withholds because it does not want to burden the
agency team with too much information, which PR practitioners could use
to boost a campaign.
Kieran Knights, planning director at Shandwick Welbeck, says one of the
most costly times for sourcing information is at the pitch stage with a
potential client. ’They may be less comfortable about sharing sensitive
information. Everyone is naturally loathe to risk too much money on
market reports and other research, at this stage,’ he says.
’However, trade publications frequently produce market round-up features
which can provide a useful overview at minimal cost, while reports
published by market research companies such as Mintel and Euromonitor
provide a good summary of the major players, key trends and issues,’ he
adds. These are expensive to buy but can be perused at no cost at a
public library, such as the City Business Library in London.
Knights says that if a confidentiality agreement has been signed, the
client is likely to feel more comfortable in sharing information, but
adds: ’The important point for agency teams to remember is that if they
don’t ask, they won’t necessarily receive, so clients should be badgered
to share all research. Better still is to get to a situation where the
agency can contribute a few questions at the stage when a piece of
research is being commissioned.’
’In PR, we’re at the cutting edge of the client’s situation,’ says Sarah
Howe, associate director and head of the corporate affairs department at
Text 100. ’A client can be so busy running their business that they
don’t have time to do a lot of research, so it is up to their PR people
to tell them what needs to be modified in response to Government, media
and customer developments. For instance, if the Department of Trade and
Industry publishes information on the role of technology in the UK, we
should keep the client informed so they are prepared the next time they
are interviewed by the media.’
One way of eliciting information from a client is to give them a formal
briefing document. ’We use a formal document with a variety of questions
that are not all PR-focused,’ says Howe. ’The document refers to other
elements of the marketing mix, the target market, the client’s
perspective on advertising, and other issues.
’We go through this document with the client face-to-face because the
data can come across in a very dull way on paper,’ she adds. ’Other
questions and other data can emerge which could have remained buried
were the consultant and client not talking face-to-face.’
Countrywide Porter Novelli has gone as far as identifying what it sees
as the main stages in the planning and evaluation cycle: information,
research, strategic analysis, objective setting, channel selection,
output evaluation, out-take evaluation and outcome evaluation, which
feeds back into the information stage. At any stage, the agency may use
information provided by the client, or its own agency resources,
depending on the situation.
For instance, information gathering may involve using client material
when data is very expensive to subscribe to, such as Nielsen panel data
on grocery consumption, for food clients.
Alternatively, information may be gathered using the agency’s own
resources; for example, producing a proposal development using Reuters,
cuttings, databases, archives, Mintel reports, and TGI data.
Emma Brazier, associate director of planning at Countrywide Porter
Novelli, says: ’In terms of market research, we might use client
information when the client is research-led, or when the client is doing
research for another reason. For instance, Origin, an IT consultancy,
conducted research into the retail sector, a new area for them, to
understand the likely uptake of their services. We exploited aspects of
the findings for news hooks.’
Countrywide Porter Novelli uses client information for output evaluation
when the client has good internal systems. For example, with clients ICO
Global and FT, the agency submits cuttings and uses the resultant
reports to refocus its programme and identify which tactics are working
best for them.
Hill and Knowlton, meanwhile, uses MindShare, the media buying, planning
and research company owned by its parent group WPP, as a planning
Nigel Jones, senior associate director at Hill and Knowlton said: ’Every
consultant has to be a planner. We do not have a dedicated planning
department, though we do access much of the same research data that
advertising agencies use.
’We are able to use this for every new business pitch or campaign,
through our formal agreement with MindShare. This is a facility that
probably would not be available in a smaller agency. Our approach has
always been to sell on strategy while being aware that delivering your
plans comes down to the data you have gathered.’
Accessing existing research can be a challenge for in-house PR teams if
they work in a company without much contact between departments.
Lever Brothers takes a holistic approach to PR campaigns, integrating
brand and corporate campaigns through its in-house corporate affairs
External relations manager Esra Erkal-Paler says: ’Lever Brothers is one
of the most open companies in terms of sharing data with its agencies,
and we provide agencies with as much information as they need to become
corporate strategic partners. For example, we work with Shandwick
Welbeck on the Domestos and Persil brands and share all key information,
although there are obviously some areas of data that we will not
The company’s customer telephone carelines also supply a great deal of
useful information. ’Lines such as the Persil Careline provide a lot of
unsolicited and genuine feedback, which helps us understand consumer
issues and in turn, information is fed back into marketing plans and PR
campaigns,’ says Erkal-Paler.
’The customer focus gives us a reality check. We also survey customers
who contacted the careline and have found that more than 90 per cent
would repurchase the product after our response to their contacting
Research at the PR arm of Lever Brothers includes in-house research on
an ad-hoc basis for both the UK and pan-European markets and the
commissioning of large-scale research into consumer purchasing habits
from research agencies.
Other activities are extensive perception surveys, commissioned on
behalf of the corporate relations department, and surveys in localities
where the conglomerate’s factories are based. There are focus groups to
explore particular issues and areas of development; and the efficacy of
internal communications programmes are measured. Other external research
such as government statistics are also used.
Extranets, where they exist, can be another useful tool for research and
planning. Access to a client’s extranet can provide a link with other
associated organisations, such as the client’s advertising agency or
Text 100 has built its own dedicated extranet site for its Xerox
Howe explains: ’It is accessible in each of the ten countries where work
is being done on the account. Our PR plans are posted on the site, which
provides the client with easy access to the campaign.’
In the US, research is frequently managed in a very different way,
according to Howe, who recently spent a year working in Text 100’s
’The way people do PR is on-line intensive,’ she says.
’In the hi-tech sector particularly, the speed of change brought about
by the internet, creates a need for constantly updated research. Any PR
consultancy working in this sector and not using resources on the net,
is going to be left behind very quickly,’ she adds.
Shandwick Welbeck’s Knights concludes: ’To be successful at planning
requires an enquiring mind, not a huge research budget. You first have
to ask the right questions and then you can often use a little
resourcefulness rather than cash to find the answers.’
CAREFUL PLANNING: GOOD PREPARATION LEADS TO BETTER TARGETING
Some PR agencies are starting to take research and planning seriously
enough to set up dedicated departments.
At Cohn and Wolfe, media planner Sarah Hill, working on a part-time
basis, and non-executive director James Murphy develop planning research
projects, run workshops and deal with other planning issues. Hill, a
former director of the Young and Rubicam group, was appointed two months
ago and foresees expansion in the department.
She says: ’PR is no longer just media relations; it is more
strategically driven, so a wider overview of the situation is needed. PR
people must relate to clients in a way the client understands.’
Hi-tech consultancy Text 100 has a central information services team of
two full-time staff who research specific pieces of information on
request. The culture of the company dictates that each executive keeps
up-to-date through daily, ongoing research.
Sarah Howe, an associate director and head of the corporate affairs
department says: ’It’s important that each executive keeps up-to-date
with news and research on an individual basis, ensuring they are aware
of not just the IT industry, but the industry globally, UK competition
and the impact of technology on society. They must be aware of
legislation, client competition, customers and the media.
’When an employee writes a plan for a client, it is glaringly obvious if
the employee is not taking account of the broader world,’ she adds.
Countrywide Porter Novelli has a dedicated planning team, employing Emma
Brazier as associate director of planning, and one market
Brazier spends 60 per cent of her time planning and the rest
specifically dealing with accounts.
’The market researcher, Mary Baker, and I split the coverage,’ she
’I work on strategy and evaluation and cover London and Brussels, while
Mary deals with our Banbury office and our northern companies. There is
also an employee in our Brussels office who spends about 50 per cent of
her time planning.’
Yasmin Encer, head of marketing at Cohn and Wolfe, comments: ’This type
of dedicated planning is the way forward. Taking a campaign back to the
planning stage makes it much more targeted.’
INTERNET RESEARCH: INFORMATION AT THE TOUCH OF A BUTTON
To use the internet effectively as a resource for research and planning,
David Phillips, managing director of Phillips and Company, says it is
necessary to have the right tools for monitoring what is being said
about your client’s product or company.
The tools can take the form of a clippings service, such as NUA
(www.nua.ie/surveys), which offers a weekly e-mail on what’s new in
surveys on the internet.
An alternative, Cyberalert (www.cyberalert.com), is a knowledge
management tool which monitors what consumers say in cyberspace and
delivers daily alerts of all new clips found.
Esra Erkal-Paler, external relations manager at Lever Brothers, says:
’The internet is an integral part of the way we work, and will help
develop PR programmes. Everyone in the PR department uses it on a daily
’Among other things, we will use it for accessing very technical
information that could relate to our products, the latest expert writing
on germs, which relates to home hygiene, which in turn relates to
products such as Domestos, for instance.
’We regularly look at a lot of US web sites. There are papers available
from the US, such as a university paper on research into skin care,
which would not be published in the UK but can be accessed through the
internet. We also check many other sites regularly, including the ASA
’I see the use of the internet as absolutely fundamental to research,’
says Sarah Howe, associate director and head of the corporate affairs
department at Text 100. ’It is second nature to all our staff to use the
internet throughout the day, every day. If a company is not using it, I
do not see how they can deliver good PR.’
But Tim Burns, managing director of Test Research, does not think the
internet has yet changed the nature of the PR game. ’The internet
certainly covers discussion of the major companies and the IT sector,
but for many FMCGs, it is still fairly irrelevant in terms of
communications,’ he says. ’ The press still spreads the message more
The following sites are worth a look at:
- www.itc.org.uk Independent Television Commission: includes
broadcasting regulations, press releases and contact details for ITC
- www.radioauthority.org.uk The Radio Authority: information on UK
commercial radio stations
- www.rajar.co.uk Radio Joint Audience Research: topline results from
radio audience surveys and special reports www.royalmail.co.uk Royal
Mail: includes listings of UK addresses and postcodes
- www.open.gov.uk created by the Government Better Regulation Unit:
information about a wide range of government regulations
The following newspaper
- web sites may also be useful for research:
- www.telegraph.co.uk Daily Telegraph
- www.megastar.co.uk Daily Star
- www.expressnewspapers.co.uk the Express
- www.ft.com Financial Times
- www.guardian.co.uk the Guardian
- www.independent.co.uk the Independent
- www.mirror.co.uk the Mirror
- www.the-times.co.uk the Times
- www.thisislondon.com Evening Standard.