Mustard recently attended a round table discussion – hosted by UK Fast – focused on the skills of using market research in the public relations and communications sectors.

Joining us at the debate were representatives from PR, communications and publishing.

The discussion, video excerpts from which can be seen on YouTube, created some debate but interestingly, more often unanimous agreement. In particular, regarding the importance of good quality research and insights in the support, development and testing of PR / communications campaigns and strategy.

In this blog we want to share with you some of the themes emerging from the debate. We want to share our experiences and tips on what works and what doesn’t. We also want to share thoughts on how important market research is in PR, communications and media.

1. Talk more, collaborate more, do more

Planning research

Market Research and Public Relations are two marketing disciplines who really should talk more. It really should be a match made in heaven. As PR companies have expanded their repertoires to become more 360 reputation managers, the need to consult and seek attitudes and opinions, and the need to understand behaviours is more critical than ever.

Research is too often a last minute decision in the PR and communications sectors. How often do communications professionals precede “research” with the term “quick and dirty”?

The consensus – research should be planned. It should be used to inform, to test and to benchmark. It should not just be used for quickly generating headline-grabbing statistics.

2. Do it properly

DIY market research

To what extent are market researchers the Painters & Decorators of the marketing world? Perhaps it is tempting for people to think they can ‘have a go’ themselves, but the communications professionals at the round table agreed that, like most things in life and business, you get what you pay for.

A trusted, professional market research partner will offer consultative guidance as well as honed skills in survey / discussion guide design, data capture / moderation and analysis / interpretation. 

We often pick on BBC1’s The Apprentice for amusing examples of how not to do research. There have now been sufficient examples of dodgy sample sizes and profiles, terrible moderation / question phrasing and almost criminal misinterpretation and bias of reporting for everyone to have a favourite anecdote. Our favourite remains the time the candidates went to Paris, closely followed by Pants Man.

The consensus – market research is important, but we all need to be upfront about what research is capable of, what is needed and how it is going to be paid for. Like most business investments, it’s got much more chance of happening and being done properly if it’s been discussed and budgeted for.

3. The era of transparency

Transparency in PR and research

We live in the era of transparency, and this has implications on PR’s requirements of market research – the what, the why and the how.

More than ever, businesses and their communications partners have got to be transparent and fleet-of-foot. The online and social media revolutions have dictated this, but at the same time have enabled this. The Leveson enquiry has meant that all communications professionals have to be more accountable, “cleaner” and more honest than ever before.

At the same time, consumers are more inquisitive, more informed and more powerful than ever. Both good and bad news travel faster than ever. Jo Leah at Weber Shandwick nailed the point when talking about living in “the glass era”, where consumers demand transparency. “Anyone with an iPhone is a reporter, anyone with web access is a publisher”. There are millions of consumers ready to “out” those organisations who are not telling it how it is, and not confronting the critical issues.

Spurious and contrived research will be seen as such, so more attention has to be paid to factors such as who is doing the research, how are they doing the research and who are they talking to.

The consensus – research has to be more considered and thought provoking, it has to be conducted with more vigilance and it has to be more “on brand” – part of a ‘one voice communications strategy’. And most certainly, no more exaggeration, no more spinning and no ‘region washed’ press releases.

4. The era of openness and creativity

Creative online research methods

Online and social media revolutions have not only acted as enablers for consumers and for PR / communications professionals. Market research has also benefitted from new ‘open’ methods brought about by technology and connectivity.

It has allowed us to be more creative in the research methods we deploy. It has also allowed us to do research more quickly and more cost effectively than ever before.

Online research is now fully established, for both quantitative and qualitative research.

Increased sophistication in mobile devices and greater connectivity means that more research is being conducted real-time, through mobile handsets – capturing consumers in context. Insights are being generated and consultation happening 24/7 through social media.

Many organisations are investing in dedicated online research communities for ongoing consultation and closeness, using alternative incentive schemes to drive participation.

The consensus – communications professionals fully support using more creative online research methods where appropriate, consulting through the channels that consumers themselves are using to discuss and debate products, services and communications.
The video excerpts from the round table discussion, hosted by UK Fast, are available here: