Musings of a PR Professional

Chapter 3: Conducting Research and Targeting Audiences

Once again the importance of research rears its head in a PR text. But, that is no problem because it should come up. A lot. Because research is the corner stone on which good public relations practices should rest.

 Since this text in particular deals with communicating for nonprofits, it is especially relevant to understand where your target audiences stand in relation to the issues that you are fighting for. And how do you find that out? By researching. You won’t know how to reach an audience unless you first know who they are, what they believe in and value, among other important information that you can gain through research. It is also essential to know how and what about your issue has been covered in the news already so that you know  how to respond to the media, what aspects of your issue need attention,  how to frame your issue, and much more.

Both researching the people you are trying to reach and the way your issue is presented in the media will give you a more comprehensive view of how you should go about creating and disseminating your message. For example, we talked about each of the projects we will be working on for Safe Harbor and what they will entail in class. The first thing that came up across all three is the need for research. While each will need a different message, mindset, and action to execute, we will all begin in the same place by researching because research will let us know what we should do next.

In conclusion: You can’t catch a fish without a worm, so why would you try to reach your target audience without knowing what will hook them?

Chapter 2: Elements of a Strategic Communication Plan

As you may have gathered from my previous blog post, last week we were asked to think of a communication strategy that has been used to create social change and when we got to class yesterday, the first thing we did was each share our example. While no one missed the mark, it became clear to me that defining and really understanding what  social change is is a lot more difficult than I had thought. It’s not just a charity fighting the good fight, nor is it getting one story about your cause published and patting yourself on the back. It’s about sustainability and the mobilization of people.

To prove this point further, we ended class by discussing Glenn Beck’s Restoring Honor rally in Washington this past Saturday. We explored his invitation for the event and his website and then talked about what change we thought. Long story short: he failed. Not for lack of turnout or donation to the event’s sponsoring charity, but because his goals, outcomes, and mission were not clearly stated. As the text notes at the beginning of the chapter, determining your desired goals, outcomes, and mission are the core of a successful communication plan and the very first thing you consider when creating one. Without them your efforts will be without purpose or unity and ultimately unsuccessful.

This rally example leads me to why I liked reading the last 7 pages of this chapter so much- it gave a clear-cut, real-life example of a communication strategy that inspired tangible social change. The text systematically broke down the strategic communication plan of The Fairness Initiative on Low Wage Work and related it back to the previous section in which it described the elements of a good strategic communication plan. In the wake of hurricane Katrina, the Initiative sought to change the perceptions of the “working poor” and ultimately create a better economy to foster better lives for these people. There are three things that I think this example demonstrated very well:

  • The importance of research.

The Initiative did extensive research throughout the entire process of implementing their plan which helped them to effectively craft and distribute their messages regarding low-income work. In my opinion, PR’s number one rule is research before you do anything and let that research guide everything you do and this plan clearly demonstrated the benefits of it.

  • The importance of sustainability.

Sustainability was one of their main objectives, so the Initiative “trained key personnel to implement strategies on their own” after the initial momentum of the plan died down. I think sustainability is so important because social change doesn’t happen overnight, it’s an ongoing process that needs ongoing fuel in order to occur and it is good that the Fairness Initiative realized that.

  • The importance of measurable goals.

The Initiative crafted their goals in such a way that they would be able to determined whether or not their efforts were successful on their terms. After conducting another study, they were able to determine that they were successful in achieving their goals- so successful even that “the federal minimum wage has been increased for the first time in ten years, and new legislation has been introduced to provide paid sick days as a minimum standard for many workers. Clearly, their strategic communication plan was successful in implementing social change, and I think it is one that PR students and professionals alike can learn a lot from.

Chapter Seven

  • Research and evaluation, two very important steps in the public relations process, are interconnected. Research eventually leads to evaluation, but evaluation requires research for a meaningful understanding of the results. It is important to use research and evaluation to understand what different publics feel/need/want etc. before any planning or communication of PR plans can occur.
  • In designing a research strategy, one must identify answers to the questions “What do I want to know?” and “How will I gather that information?” (pg. 206 Public Relations A Values- Driven Approach).
  • How well research is done and therefore how accurate its results are is contingent on the resources (i.e. money, personnel and time) available to the PR practitioner.
  • Surveys are a very in-depth research method. They are often time consuming because they are heavily concerned with appropraite and representative sample selections. But, this concern allows for better accuracy of results in the end.