Using Marketing Research for Public Relations

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Using Marketing Research for Public Relations

Author: Gregory J. Kohs

International Communications Research white paper; November 2005

Why should PR firms use research?

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Public Relations Research

For the marketing research professional, working with Public Relations firms is invigorating in several ways. PR clients are typically upbeat people, their end clients come from varied and diverse industries, the survey topics are often more “fun” than serious, and the market research practitioner can advise PR clients as the research “expert”, leaving the promotional and communication expertise to the client.

Why Should PR Firms Use Research?

Generally, there are two classes of circumstances that would lead to strong recommendations for marketing research.

(1) Research the environment.

To be a successful PR firm, it's crucially important to understand the economic, political, legal, regulatory, public opinion, social, cultural, technological, marketing, and financial components of the organization you're working for.[1] This type of research can take place before a big pitch to a prospective client, or in conjunction with a major repositioning with an existing client. In either case, it helps the PR team make better decisions about major or subtle directions, and frankly, makes the PR firm look like it knows about the client's business problems and its marketplace.

It's interesting to note that a 1994 study[2] by the International Public Relations Association showed that 76% of American public relations practitioners recognized that "evaluation" research of the market environment is necessary; but only 16% said that they frequently undertake research aimed at such evaluation. Your PR firm may be "talking the talk" about evaluating your clients' and prospects' business environment, but are you "walking the walk" by actually budgeting for and conducting the necessary research?

(2) Research for ink.

The most successful PR firms are the ones that get the most mileage out of media support and favorable exposure for their clients. One creative and powerful way to capture the media's attention and "get out the good news" is to feed the media with your message through the guise of public opinion polling. Newspaper, radio, and television content editors are on constant prowl for targeted, incisive information that not only defines some of their subscribers, but is also interesting to a broader audience. What better win-win solution than a market survey that reveals the consumer or business sector‟s opinion about what's important to them about the products or services that your client just so happens to provide?

Here is one example of an enormously successful "research for ink" study that ICR conducted for Manning, Selvage & Lee in 2003. Their end client was Procter & Gamble's Prilosec OTC, which was to be the first proton-pump inhibitor ever made available over the counter to help consumers treat frequent heartburn. Based on a previous ICR-conducted study ranking the top US heartburn cities, MS&L orchestrated a late-summer promotional trek through the top 24 cities, challenging residents in each city to be screened for frequent heartburn, learn about ways to reduce heartburn, and to learn about the new Prilosec OTC treatment. As an incentive, the fire department of the city whose residents did best in this "BurnTown Challenge" won a big cash grant to buy new equipment. The MS&L tour came armed with city-specific market research data that ICR collected, mapped, and analyzed, and local newspaper and television media ate it up. As an end result, the campaign reached over 100 million people and Prilosec OTC shortly became the #1 recommended treatment for frequent heartburn. Did the ICR research make this all happen? No, not alone -- but it's a choice example of the powerful results that can be achieved when a PR firm teams up with ICR to make research for ink work for them.


  1. ^ Treadwell, Donald & Jill B., Public Relations Writing: Principles in Practice, Sage Publications, 2005, p.100.
  2. ^ "Public Relations Evaluation: Professional Accountability", International Public Relations Association, Gold Paper No. 11, 1994.