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Best Practices in Public Relations Research. Don W. Stacks, Ph.D. School of Communication University of Miami Coral Gables, FL 33145. What is Research?. Controlled , objective , and systematic gathering of data

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Best Practices in Public Relations Research


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    1. Best Practices in Public Relations Research Don W. Stacks, Ph.D. School of Communication University of Miami Coral Gables, FL 33145

    2. What is Research? • Controlled, objective, and systematic gathering of data • Strives to describe, understand, predict, and control social and business phenomena • Seeks to answer questions • Reliable and valid way to access data • Systematic collection and interpretation of data

    3. Theory Abstract, conceptual Builds a “body of knowledge” for PR Academic or BasicResearch Serves as a framework for understanding and predicting why people act the way they do. Applied Research Concrete, practical Strategic Research develops programs, messages, and benchmarks Evaluation Research determines whether communication campaigns works Theory vs. Applied Research

    4. Main Uses of Public Relations Research • Monitoring developments and trends • Examining public relations position • Assessing messages and campaigns • Measuring communication effectiveness • Tracking studies • Gap studies • Evaluation research

    5. General Research Assumptions • Decision-making process is uniformly the same in all companies and organizations • All communication research should: • Set objectives • Determine strategy to establish objectives • Implement tactics which bring strategies to life

    6. Assumptions (Cont’d.) • Research can be divided into three general phases: • Program or campaign development • Program refinement • Program evaluation • Communication research is behavior-driven and knowledge-based

    7. Public Relations Research Assumptions • Research must be behavior-driven and yield data that help design campaigns that lead to desired behavior • PR campaign research must parallel decisions communication pros make; otherwise, they are not knowledge-driven or information based • Effective research is integral to campaign creation, implementation, and evaluation

    8. Best Practice Public Relations Research Programs… • Conduct background/secondary research to establish benchmarks • Establish achievablegoals • Ask appropriateresearch questions • State measurableobjectives • Employ the appropriate methodologies • Understand the need for programmatic research • Have the budgets/resources necessary

    9. 1. Does Homework: Secondary Research/Benchmarking • Establishes both an understanding of what has been done and how it was done • Adds to an understanding of theory • Provides a window into past practice • Not a new concept; espoused by John Hill in the 50s • Reduces the costs associated with needless replication • Provides possible benchmarks against which to gauge progress

    10. 2. Establishes Achievable Goals • Goal: General outcome expected by campaign end • Objective: Very specific projected output • Outputs: individual communication elements • Impact of specific tactics • Written, visual, verbal

    11. 3. Asks The Appropriate Research Question(s) • All research addresses four research questions • Questions of Definition • Questions of Fact • Questions of Value • Questions of Policy • Best practice research asks and answers them in order: definition, fact, value, policy

    12. Definition What is it? How do I operationalize it? Fact Does it exist? In what quantity? Do groups differ or did change occur over time? Value How good or bad is it? How well was it done? Addresses aesthetics Policy What should be done Answered through research on definition, fact, and value Questions Cont’d.

    13. 4. States Measurable Objectives • Management must concur about objectives • Do they meet the business objective(s)? • Precise, results-oriented objectives • Stated in measurable ways? • Realistic, credible, measurable, and compatible objectives • Are they realistic or are they simply goals?

    14. Objectives(cont’d.) • Informational objectives fairly clear cut • What information does the public need? • When do they need it (before, during, after)? • Motivational objectives require • Research • Means to isolate effect provided by public relations • Behavioral objectives state • What you expect the public to do

    15. Programmatic Approach Informational/Evaluation Secondary/ Benchmark Behavioral/Evaluation Motivational/Evaluation Planned benchmarked evaluations Time Development (Evaluation) Refinement (Evaluation) Final Evaluation

    16. Objectives, cont’d. Informational Objective(s) Motivational Objective(s) Behavioral Objectives Business objective(s)

    17. 5. Employs Appropriate Methodologies • A public relations campaign hardly ever employs only one method • Best practices “triangulate” methods to ensure that all research questions are addressed • Methods are often classified as “qualitative” and “quantitative” or “informal” and “formal”

    18. Surveys and Polls Descriptive Explanatory Attitude Opinion Polls Content Analyses Descriptive Readability Readership Communication Audits Delphi Studies Focus Groups Field Observations Participant-Observation In-depth Interview Case Studies Experiments Public Relations Methods

    19. Qualitative or Quantitative Methods? • Qualitative: Questions of definition and value • Intense, but small sample • In-depth knowledge vs. Generalizability • Examples • Focus Groups • Participant-Observation • Informal Observations • In-depth Interviewing • Case Studies

    20. Qualitative or Quantitative Methods? (Cont’d.) • Quantitative: Questions of definition and fact • Scientific • Large samples • Generalizability vs. In-depth understanding • Reliable, representative sampling • Examples • Surveys (descriptive, explanatory, attitude) • Opinion polls • Delphi studies • Experiments

    21. Secondary Qualitative Triangulation Quantitative

    22. Qualitative or Quantitative Methods? (Cont’d.) • Triangulation • Uses secondary, qualitative, and quantitative methods to better describe, understand, predict, and control public relations campaigns • Provides both representative sampling and in-depth knowledge of the publics or audiences under study • Takes the case study into the “real” world

    23. Quantifying via Measurement • Assigning numbers to categories • Four Levels • Nominal (distinguishes only; counts, percent) • Ordinal (distinguishes and orders; counts, percent) • Interval (assumes an equal distancing between categories; counts, means, dispersion) • Ratio (assumes absolute distancing between categories; counts, means, dispersion)

    24. Measurement Examples • Nominal • England, France, Germany, Austria • Ordinal • GNP: Austria ($1B), England ($2B), France ($3B), Germany ($4B) • Interval • Strongly Agree, Agree, Disagree, Strongly Disagree • Assumes that the distance between SA = A = D = SD (problem is that SA=A, and D=SD, but DA) • Data are interval, but not “scalar” in that there is no arbitrary zero point • Ratio • Actual date and time of birth; Bank account balance

    25. Attitude Measurement • Most Often Likert-Type Measurement • Assumes interval data • Respondents “react” to statements, typically by degree of agreement • MUST have a “zero” point — a midpoint • MUST have an ODD number of responses (3, 5, 7) • MUST consist of two or more statements Strongly Strongly statement1. Agree Agree Uncertain Disagree Disagree Strongly Strongly statement2. Agree Agree Uncertain Disagree Disagree

    26. Attitude Measurement (Cont’d.) • Creates a “scale” of statements that • Range from Positive through Neutral to Negative Strongly Strongly Public Relations is an excellent career. Agree Agree Uncertain Disagree Disagree Strongly Strongly Public Relations is a career. Agree Agree Uncertain Disagree Disagree Strongly Strongly Public Relations is no career at all. Agree Agree Uncertain Disagree Disagree Actual reaction to statements is +2 +1 0 -1 -2 Coded as 5 4 3 2 1 Scale Range = 3 (negative) to 15 (positive)

    27. Surveys vs. Polls • Polls • Short and quick • fact-based • Surveys • Longer • Definition- and fact-based • Allow for limited questions of value

    28. Poll & Survey Sampling • Sampling • Scientific Sampling = Probability Sampling • Group sampled represents the entire population from which it is drawn (cross-sectional; trend; panel; cohort trend) • Non-Scientific Sampling = Convenience Sampling • Group sampled is not representative of entire population, but only one limited segment (volunteer, snowball, quota, “man-on-the-street”

    29. 6. Programmatic PR Research • Best practice research is programmatic • Divided into three phases • Program development research • Program refinement research • Program evaluation research

    30. Program Development Research • Program Development stage requires: • Communications goals • Research goals • Communication Goals • Establish actionable and measurable objectives • Design overall strategy to achieve these objectives • Research Goals • Understand the situation • Relate this understanding to the communications opportunities

    31. Program Development Research Should Tell You • The circumstances creating the opportunity or challenge • Target audience(s) characteristics • What needs to be communicated to realize the objective • How ideas can best be communicated • Go beyond just turning out information… development stage helps to change, modify, or reinforce behavior

    32. Program Refinement Research • Communication Goals • Make correct decisionsimplementing the PR or communication program • Research Goals • Validate that decisions made are correct • Supply the information necessary to choose between alternatives

    33. Why Program Refinement Research? • Pre-testing of messages • Informative, Persuasive, Attitude Change, Attitude Reinforcement • Pre-testing of public/audience stance on objectives • Pre-testing communication strategies • Pre-testing for gatekeeper selection • Pre-testing for publics (Active, Aware, Passive, Latent)

    34. Program Refinement Research Examples • Types: • Concept/Message testing studies (definition) • Spokesperson selection research (fact) • Format testing (fact/value) • Methods • Focus Groups • Polls (telephone/Internet) • Informal Field Research

    35. Program Evaluation Research • Communication Goal • Determine program/campaign’s effectiveness • Research Goals • Performance measurements in terms of • Outputs: Air time, clippings, Internet “hits,” etc. • Impacts: What program/campaign did to audience(s) • Behavior: Were desired behaviors realized?

    36. 7. Research and the Budget • Research is a necessary, not sufficient condition for public relations • Research is a part of EVERY program/ campaign budget • Research permeates the program/campaign, plan research across the process • Integrated research is essential to effective public relations and should be built in to each budget

    37. Budgetary Factors • Circumstances • Availability of in-house personnel to conduct research • Commercial research firm availability • Whether the research has been budgeted across or simply as a budget “item” • The research question(s) asked

    38. Research Costs • Focus Groups: $1,000 – $4,500 per group • One-on-One Interviews: $250 – $2,000 per interview • Telephone Surveys: • Small: $ 3,500 – $35,000 • Large: $20,000 – $95,000 • Mail/Internet Surveys • Small scale: $ 5,000 – $30,000 • Large scale: $12,500 – $85,000

    39. Stretching the Research Budget • Never sacrifice quality for price • Seek competitive bids • Never take the low bid without examining the individual or firm’s credentials • Learn about research questions and budget appropriately • Don’t conduct a survey when a focus group is more efficient • When looking only for facts, consider a poll over a survey • Never stop “participating” in the research experience • All good researchers are Participant-Observers • Continually seek informal data in the field

    40. Conclusions • Best Practice Public Relations Research • Is programmatic • Has clearly defined and achievable goals • Has its objectives stated in measurable terms • Addresses the appropriate research question(s) • Employs a “triangulated” methodologies • Has the necessary resources allocated to the research program