In its early days, research and planning could cover a multitude of
sins and involve little more than a few phone calls in the name of
qualitative research followed by some bullet points by way of
But the discipline has matured and PR has evolved its own hybrid
systems, often by absorbing the skills of outside specialists.
Claire Spencer, director of planning at Manning, Selvage and Lee,
brought a background in advertising to the agency and helped to develop
Spencer explains: ’It’s a model for creating preference for a brand,
product or service through audience insight. One of the tools we use is
Target Group Index, which is a huge panel of consumers profiled by
demographics, lifestyle characteristics and the media they use. There is
a big advantage when advertising and PR are part of the same group since
there is reciprocity in such tools.’
Spencer uses the example of MS&L trying to create a perference for a
certain food brand in Scotland.
’First of all, like an advertising agency, you have to understand the
character of the consumer, the different demographics and lifestyle
characteristics,’ she says.
’For instance, in the south of England people may be more interested in
the health aspect of the brand and since people’s whole battery of
attitudes are important, it may be necessary to promote the brand
differently in Scotland.’
Tina Donohoe, strategic planning manager at Burson-Marsteller, brought a
market research background with her from Unilever, which she believes is
crucial for a perception management agency.
’I’ve used my experience to develop brand strategy which PR does not do
as well as the advertising industry. But now that evaluation is really
taking off in PR, it has become more important to have the research up
front,’ she says.
One of the research tools B-M uses is Young and Rubicam’s BrandAsset
Valuator - a data driven assessment of brands based on large scale
consumer surveys in 27 countries. It measures brand strength and its
contribution to long-term brand growth.
’In particular we use it to survey how brands build and decline and how
that can help our clients develop their own strategy,’ says Donohoe.
Gareth Zundel, group director of Harvard PR has a background in market
research and is passionate about its benefits for PR. ’Firstly as a
pitching tool. It can be used for collecting Brownie points, but it
should also be used for getting to know the client’s market. Secondly
attitudinal, year-on-year research is vital since PR is all about
changing people’s attitudes,’ he says.
But it is Zundel’s third component which he considers the most
overlooked and under-rated. ’The sales force is an important, often
unused source for market intelligence,’ he says. ’It can provide
feedback at the sharp end, saving money on research. So closing the gap
between PR and sales is vital.’
Zundel also believes that agencies should do much of the preliminary
research and planning themselves before bringing in specialists. ’In
January we worked with a private medical group doing research with GPs
and consultants on their perceptions of private medicine. We designed
the research and then got in our cars to interview GPs for a pilot
survey. Experts were only brought in at the quantitative stage when we
Jane Atkin, research and planning director at strategic consultancy
First and 42nd emphasises that research and planning should not be seen
as an add-on to PR programmes.
’It must be a holistic approach throughout the whole communications
process, not just at the beginning and end and there should be
continuous feedback to consider problems and develop and refine the
programme,’ she says.
’Research techniques should be used, not only to formulate messages, but
to identify the best key spokespeople as well.’
While there are plenty of buzzwords for new systems in research and
planning, Kieran Knights, planning director at Welbeck Golin/Harris
emphasises that it is really a question of taking a more scientific
He says: ’Everybody in PR uses research and planning to some degree,
even if they don’t call it that. The question is whether they base their
planning on mere gut feeling - which is traditional in PR - or whether
they have a sound rationale and hard facts backing their decisions.’
Knights’ research and planning is based on MARS - Market, Audience,
Required Responses and Strategy. He explains: ’MARS is simply a planning
process for a structured way of gathering and analysing information to
deliver strategies backed by hard data and clear rationales. MARS
provides a map through the planning maze.’
He has identified a few guidelines. ’Make no assumptions, every
assertion about an organisation needs to be supported by hard facts. Use
information sources, ranging from the virtually free such as the
internet, to more costly sources, or commission qualitative or
quantitative research. Develop a structured way of collecting and
analysing the information and finally, use evaluation not just to
demonstrate results but as a way of learning lessons.’
While sectors such as FMCG have been at the forefront of research and
development, certain growth sectors in PR, such as IT, are just coming
to terms with it.
Banner Corporation is an integrated marketing services company
specialising in IT. Director of research, Joanna Bryant says: ’A sector
like IT is less developed in using research and planning because it has
been sales rather than marketing focused. But as the sector has
developed, marketing has come forward to help differentiate brands.’
She sees surveys as a good way of creating media coverage and providing
clients with research material but warns that they should also follow
guidelines if they are not to become irrelevant.
’Surveys often work well with journalists. But straw polls of about ten
people really should stop. You can turn figures around and say what you
want, that doesn’t help the industry.’
But how willing are clients to pay for research and planning? Paul
Miller, managing director of Countrywide Porter Novelli says: ’Some
clients are easier to engage in the value of a structural, information
based approach and the market is gradually becoming more receptive.
Recession in the nineties forced agencies to look closely at how they
were spending money, so setting objectives and evaluation are now more
Christopher Broadbent, chairman of the Ansdell Group says: ’The question
is whether the client will commit to ten per cent for planning and
evaluation or will the agency have to absorb it. PR accounts can range
from pounds 6,000 to pounds 60,000 a year. Agencies in the pounds 6,000
a year category tend not to be interested in planning, but in
short-term ’get me in the newspapers’ campaigns.’
While agencies are increasingly undertaking much of the research
themselves, outside specialists remain important and the nature of that
relationship is crucial.
Ruth McNeil, marketing director of market research specialist Research
International says: ’It’s important to build long-term relationships
with PR agencies, especially in specialised areas such as medical.
Clients can always get background from general statistics but when there
is a specific issue you need in-depth research. PR is a small part of
what we do but it’s increasing.’
But Peter Christopherson, business development director of media
research and evaluation company CARMA International believes that
agencies’ clients often need convincing about the value of research.
’There is a lack of understanding at the head of marketing departments
and there are often no resources for pro-active campaigns,’ he says.
’The big money is still in advertising. For us, PR work is more
evaluation - where there has been a marked increase in inquiries -
rather than research.
’But clients operating in several countries in particular, can really
get value from research since they can spread it over their operations
to make the percentage of their overall research budget smaller.’
CASE STUDY: SURVEY SHEDS ’ANORAK’ IMAGE FOR COMPUSERVE
In popular media mythology, home internet users are commonly
characterised as introverted ’tech-heads’. Research commissioned by
Harvard PR for its client, on-line information provider, CompuServe
managed to turn that perception on its head and effect a gear change in
While much research in PR is done on a behind-the-scenes basis, Harvard
wanted to use this research as the principal platform for its PR
Harvard’s group director, Gareth Zundel explains: ’We chose this
research because it was double-edged, providing both useful information
for CompuServe on its user base and because the results could be used as
a means of extending its media reach into areas not normally interested
in on-line services and the internet.
In particular, Harvard wanted to demonstrate that those who had bought a
CompuServe account in their own right (not enforced business users) were
not in fact the ’propeller head’, IT hobbyists as generally
Zundel notes that journalists look for credibility in surveys and that
requires statistically significant numbers. CCN Media was commissioned
to carry out an in-depth survey looking at the needs, demographics,
lifestyles and habits of 400,000 CompuServe users representing more than
half the non-institutional UK on-line population.
The survey discovered a very different user from the one of media
mythology - more confident, cosmopolitan, ambitious and caring than
CompuServe’s general manager, Martin Turner says: ’With the survey they
were able to show that our members are discerning consumers who are
looking to maximise productivity, they lack time but not money.’
Zundel adds: ’From a PR point of view this bit of market intelligence
helped us to change gear with our PR work. The release announcing the
results was used by a wide range of national and lifestyle media which
had before regarded the internet as a minority interest. By showing them
that a wider reader cross-section was in fact interested in the
internet, these media were more receptive to subsequent stories.’
The market research not only assisted the client in gauging the profile
and needs of customers, which was important in designing content for
on-line information, but also provided direct input to the PR programme,
both eliciting coverage in its own right and priming new media for
Zundel concludes: ’We will be following this programme up with more
research on CompuServe’s whole user base.’
CASE STUDY: STRENGTHENING STELLA’S FILM COMMITMENTS
Youth marketing can often be predictable in its music culture
The Whitbread Beer Company wanted a new spin to strengthen its Stella
Artois premium lager brand among 18- to 24-year-olds.
Agency Cohn and Wolfe began its research and planning by looking at
existing marketing intelligence on this age range, using established
research channels such as Mintel and TGI, then followed this up by
talking to focus groups.
While the traditional areas of sport, music and comedy emerged as
possible sponsorship vehicles, at the planning stage it was decided that
these were either an inappropriate match for Stella, or too cluttered
with existing sponsorships. Film emerged as an interesting new vehicle
with 83 per cent of the target age group regularly visiting the cinema
and 71 per cent regularly renting videos.
Cohn and Wolfe’s research indicated that the most effective sponsorship
programmes are those involving a completely new idea, specifically
created for the client rather than simply buying into an existing
package. So the challenge was to plan a new sponsorship vehicle in the
film sector that could be owned by Stella Artois.
The agency came up with ’The Stella Screen Tour’ - a giant movie screen
placed in unusual outdoor locations, showing classic movies free of
This was, in effect, a pedestrianised version of a drive-in movie with
the giant screen providing a highly visible brand presence.
The planning team brain-stormed ideas for appropriate movies for each
venue and came up with, for example, Jaws on Brighton Beach and
Backbeat, telling the early story of the Beatles, in Liverpool. The
choice of movies was then pre-tested with research among film
enthusiasts and film journalists.
Detailed media analysis was undertaken and the Guardian was chosen as
the most appropriate national media partner with local radio and poster
advertising used as interest builders for each location. The 1997 Stella
Artois Movie Classics Tour subsequently generated over 270 items in
national and regional media with over 60,000 visitors, generating over
pounds 40,000 in beer sales.
Cohn and Wolfe director, Jill Rennie says: ’Stella is now 100 per cent
committed to film as a unique theme and vehicle to drive awareness of
the brand and we’re continuing to fine tune the programme for more
impact. The tour is a centre piece of their film-related activities in
1998 and Stella is currently sponsoring film seasons on Channel 4.’
Post-event research of the 1997 tour by Group Whitbread Research showed
a spontaneous awareness level of the tour of 14 per cent among premium
lager drinkers and 18 per cent among regular Stella drinkers.
The feedback indicated that the movie tour was seen as ’popular, fun,
outgoing and exciting.’ The results of this research are being used for
planning this year’s tour.
CASE STUDY: GETTING TO THE HEART OF GOVERNMENT
’There is tremendous competition in public awareness weeks, so it’s
crucial to have a strong new topic. That requires at least nine months
of research and planning each year,’ says Harry Cayton, executive
director of the Alzheimer’s Disease Society.
Like many charities, the society runs its programmes in-house on a tight
budget using its public affairs team, local branches and a helpline
service to look out for interesting new angles.
For last year’s awareness week, it decided to invest in research to see
if NHS money earmarked to care for patients with dementia, was in fact
The results would fulfil a three-fold purpose of producing a research
base for the society’s programmes, lobbying the Government and
attracting media attention.
The research by Social Information Systems represented a substantial
part of the society’s annual budget, but it was crucial that it should
be independent rather than in-house to avoid the charge of special
There was an initial pilot study of six health authorities and
interviews with key individuals in the Department of Health, NHS and
academic institutions to determine the feasibility of the project. From
this pilot study a questionnaire was developed with the help of the
society, which was sent to 124 health authorities and 70 responded.
The report, No Accounting for Health, was published to coincide with the
Alzheimer’s Disease Society’s awareness week. It found that NHS reforms
have failed people with dementia because of the failure of health
authorities to ensure appropriate and rational allocation of resources,
quality of access and budgeting control.
Health spending per person with dementia was found to range from pounds
600 to pounds 1,800 each year, depending on which health authority the
patient came under. It recommended that the Department of Health should
issue urgent guidelines on how health authorities should assess current
and future needs of people with dementia.
The society was determined to appeal to both national and local
Cayton explains: ’In addition to pulling out the main conclusions we
extracted geographical details for local media and our 200 local
branches used these to write to local health authorities.’
The research has been used in many other areas of the society’s work
including submissions to the Royal Commission on Long Term Care, to the
new White paper on the NHS and for continuing campaigning purposes.
At a recent conference, Under-Secretary of State for Health, Paul
Boateng admitted that the report’s findings had influenced Government
thinking on the NHS.