My dad, a tool and die worker, constantly relies on a familiar saying: “measure twice, cut once.” In his job, the line between failure and success is measured in thousandths of inches.
In public relations and other less mathematically-oriented professions, this bit of advice might only seem to rely or home improvement or other DIY projects. I don’t think this is the case at all. Research is the “measuring twice” of these professions. Research protects professionals from embarrassing and costly errors. Poor research skills, or a lack of research, can cost people their jobs and reputations. So the question really isn’t about why research is important, but how to use it in the most effective way.
In the field of public relations, “good research is considered a core competency and professional foundation upon which good public relations is constructed” (Prime Research, 2015). Having strong research skills improves the way public relations professional make decisions. Not only that, but having the research to back up a plan can let professionals “effortlessly support [their] arguments and look confident doing so” (Sanchez, 2013). According to Daunt (2015), using consumer research can help PR professionals “precisely identify target [audiences] and [their] motivations.” Instead of just working off of instinct or common sense, doing research on what a target audience wants, needs or expects creates a much stronger foundation for managing communication and relationships. Doing research on other areas of the rhetorical situation can help create more persuasive communication strategies. Researching can help develop a strategy that will “maximize efficiency and minimize costs,” especially those associated with planning mistakes (Sanchez, 2013).
Research during the planning phase also helps professionals choose “key indicators” to track performance during both implementation and evaluation (Daunt, 2015). These indicators should align with the main goals of the strategy and be monitored regularly during implementation. This monitoring helps “maximize a successful project” and avoid failures (Daunt, 2015). During evaluation, these indicators will be the main measurement of success or failure, and will provide important information for future projects.
One of the problems with using a research-intensive method is that it may take up a lot more time than simply working off of a gut reaction and charging ahead with a tried and true formula. This, of course, is easily combated by scheduling time for research and selecting research questions to control information overload. Start the process by developing research questions, and focus on getting information that directly relates to the research needs. The benefits of even a small amount of research dramatically outweigh the risks of moving forward without important data. Staying up-to-date with relevant industry news and trends can also make the burden of researching much easier by cutting down on the amount of information that needs to be researched at one time.
Not researching is simply not an option for any professional, including public relations. By using good research methods, public relations professionals can maintain great reputations and create more effective strategies based on fact instead of perception of common knowledge. Research is vital at all stages of a strategy, but is especially useful during the planning stage, where examining the different elements of the rhetorical situation, such as audience, setting, and purposes, can create highly effective strategies. Including research into the planning process can take up time, but using good research skills and understanding informational needs can decrease the amount of time spent sifting through data for relevant details.
Daunt, A. (2015). Focus on the facts: using research to inform your PR strategy. Public Relations Strategist, 21(4), 18-19.