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Top tips for using research in PR campaigns

Have you ever read a news story beginning with the phrase “research shows”, or “a new study has revealed”?

These are pretty common, and more often than not they will be stories pitched by a PR team to ‘create’ news and begin a conversation of their choosing.

Sometimes it can be difficult to spot an opportunity to insert your business and the topics you want to discuss into an existing conversation in the media. Conducting your own research is a great way to be proactive and create your own news or start a new conversation.

Research is a powerful tool in the PR arsenal and can be the basis for everything from thought leadership, to product launches, public affairs or lobbying work, and creating consumer interest campaigns.

Releasing new data or a new study helps position a business as an authority on the topic and allows you to dictate the direction in which the conversation goes.

In this article, we’ll share our top tips for using research to elevate your PR campaigns.

1. Choose the right kind of research

There are many different ways to produce insights for a PR campaign. The type of story you want to tell will help you to identify the right kind of research you need to undertake. Here are a few options:

Consumer insights - this is a common form of research used by the PR industry, involving asking the public (or a more specific audience) for their views on a subject. Asking about their habits, their hopes, fears etc. It’s a great way to produce headlines such as: “65% of Brits don’t believe they will retire before they get to 70”, or to use as a basis for thought leadership.

When conducting this research, make sure your survey has a representative number of responses. There are baselines for the number of people that are statistically representative of all groups of people. Journalists are very unlikely to cover a study that’s not representative.

Customer insights - similar to consumer insights, however the audience is the customer base of a specific company. This is useful to draw out insights from a very specific audience, a company’s database will usually be able to identify people within specific buckets or who display specific behaviours in the way they use the product/service.

Again, this research would consist of a survey sent to your sample. Sample sizes are less prescriptive, but should be representative of your customer base.

Customer behaviour - as well as surveying your customer base, you can also look at trends in the way your product or service is used to glean newsworthy insights. For example, a business bank may notice an increase in salary payments, or an uptick in payments to construction companies - this would imply there is a trend in small businesses growing, hiring more people and expanding their premises.

With a large customer base and striking trends, this data can help you create powerful news stories.

Desk research - this final bucket encompasses any research that doesn’t involve surveying people or looking at customer trends. This involves searching for and bringing together publicly available information or data to prove a hypothesis or dig into an issue.

2. Make sure you’re going to get the insights you want

Once you’ve decided on the kind of research you want to conduct (it might be a combination of a few different types), you need to write your questionnaire or create a briefing for desk research.

Before doing this, it’s important to have a clear idea of the story you want to tell, the angles you want to develop and the assertions you want to explore or challenge.

Writing out some ideal headlines, or hypotheses you want to prove or explore will allow you to work backwards and ensure you’re asking the right questions.

Of course, you can’t guarantee you’ll get the exact responses or insights you’re expecting, but with effective pre-planning you can make sure your research will give you data you can work with to create valuable insights.

Working with a research and insights agency to craft your questionnaire, or guide you in briefing data analytics specialists will help you to get the most useful data possible.

3. Make the most of your data once you have it

When you get your data back you’ll have the story you want it to tell in mind, however, when you first look at the results try not to let yourself be led by what you want them to say.

Take in what the data is telling you and dig into the results that surprise you, or say something you hadn't expected. There may be a better or more surprising story than you were expecting and that may enhance the campaign.

The more controversial or surprising the findings, the more interesting they will be to journalists and other audiences.

Consumer and customer insights can be cut in multiple different ways to tell you what people in certain age groups, or in certain locations think and feel. Make sure you look at multiple different break-downs to get as many different insights as possible.

Once you’ve identified the story the data is telling you, you can plan how you’re going to use it.

There are a huge number of formats you can put data into, including thought leadership-style whitepapers, press releases, microsites, or events.

Think about all the different ways you can showcase your data, including visual (infographics etc) and copy-based representations.

Good quality research gives you a host of opportunities and can usually be used for up to a year after it’s conducted.

Make sure you utilise it in as many ways as possible!

Research providers

Finally, there are many research and insights agencies out there who are experienced in working with PR teams and developing research for PR purposes.

We’ve worked with the likes of Opinium, YouGov and Ipsos in the past, all of which have a number of ready-made representative sized panels of people ready to respond to surveys.

They can also build custom panels and undertake desk research, as well as interpret internal data and advise on how to survey your own customer base.

When research is done well it’s a powerful tool and can help elevate a brand and position a company as a thought leader.

You may be able to do some research internally, but it’s certainly worth considering investing time and money into working with a third-party to secure robust insights.

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