FOCUS: RESEARCH AND PLANNING - Challenge ideas with the hard facts/Research and planning methods in PR have become ever more important as results can change the whole basis of a PR campaign. Peter Robinson reports

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 planning.

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

Preference Creation.

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

used NOP.’

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.’


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

CompuServe’s PR.

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

generally supposed.

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

future work.

Zundel concludes: ’We will be following this programme up with more

research on CompuServe’s whole user base.’


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.


’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

reaching them.

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.

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