The right research is an essential part of many successful PR campaigns. No matter how smart and experienced you are, you’ll encounter projects where you’ll need to work to become a subject-matter expert – and fast. Your company or client might be lucky enough to have in-house research, but otherwise it’s important to know where to find the right resources.
Fortunately, research tools are more prolific and accessible than ever before. But the proliferation of information doesn’t mean it’s all good. Now more than ever, ensure the quality and reliability of your data with these guidelines.
Seek to understand the broader landscape. Whether it’s for your own company or for a PR client, it’s important to understand the business or scientific landscape to be able to listen critically and objectively. Consider the history and context of the product or service, review what’s been said by industry experts, pore over trade and research publications, analyze business and risk sources, and, if relevant, review scholarly or regulatory research.
If affordable, there’s a plethora of high-quality industry and market research out there. But it’s also possible to be fiscally responsible and take advantage of information at little or no charge.
Use open-source information intelligently. Beyond newspapers, magazines, social media, web-based communities, radio and TV, you can access budgets, debates, demographics, hearings, press conferences, speeches, environmental impact statements and contract awards. If your product or service is in a regulated industry, CSPAN schedules should be on your desktop. Conferences, symposia, professional associations and academic papers may often be accessed and provide a trove of high-quality and timely information. Books, professional journals, government databases, and records from public hearings are all good sources.
Open-source information is abundant, it’s free or low-cost, and it provides important context for materials you might not have immediate access to.
Don’t overlook “grey literature.” Defined loosely as unpublished academic information, this is an important resource. It includes:
White papers – Reliable, respected reports on significant or complex issue, intended to serve as a resource to understand an issue, solve a problem, or make a decision. For example: “Digital marketing governance: From fragmentation, to alignment, to impact” illustrates the standards required to create a globally consistent digital experience.
Green papers – Provisional government reports of policy proposals for debate and discussion, without a commitment to action, these may act as initial steps in policy changes, and will keep you current on policy changes that may affect your client. “Copyright policy, creativity, and innovation in the digital economy,” authored by the U.S. Commerce Department Task Force, assesses the effects digital technology has had on copyright laws, and whether consumers, creators and service providers are adequately served. Such information can be helpful in informing and advocating for your client.
Blue books – A collection of statistics and information. Just about anything can be compiled into statistics, and consumer and opinion information is no exception. Both quantitative and qualitative information is available.
Next time someone asks you or offers to “Google around” to gain insight on a prospect or industry, you can offer some concrete suggestions that might make both of you a little smarter.