Research and insights

How to use research as more than just a PR poll

Written by Paul Stallard, MD, Arlington Research

31 March 2021


In the second of our guest blog posts, Paul Stallard, managing director of our sister company Arlington Research, discusses the merits of using insight and market research to frame a campaign, not just fuel content or predict headlines.

When you talk about PR and research in the same breath, most people think of a headline-driven survey to drive press release content. “The nation has spoken, and X is officially the favourite flavour of crisp” or “X identified as the number one concern for IT decision makers in 2022”. The media love these types of stories, and they allow a client that doesn’t have any news announcement to still set the agenda. By fuelling content and giving your client a platform to provide thought leadership or comment on a topical subject, it is easy to see why surveys have become an essential part of many communications campaigns.

But generating coverage via surveys isn’t the only reason a business should use research. In fact, it is an essential tool for decision making and particularly key for communications and marketing departments.

There isn’t a communications director who, at some point, hasn’t been asked about the measurement and evaluation of campaigns. Research should be a core part of this process but is all too often overlooked due to budget or time constraints. However, this is also a key reason why many campaigns fail. If you look at all great campaigns, they combine three essential elements for success: diagnosis, strategy and tactics.

Following this formula means you can diagnose the problem and understand how you can solve it; create a strategy to do this; and agree on the tactics required to get to your goal. In my experience, the diagnosis stage is all too often left out and replaced by gut feelings.

No one would set off on a journey without knowing where they were heading or the best route to take to get from A to B. If you did, how confident would you be that you’d get to where you’re going safely, in a timely manner, and without running out of fuel? Now take that idea and apply it to your business, especially as we try to navigate out of a pandemic. Before a business can decide on any strategy, it needs to have a firm grasp of the situation.

In short, market research shouldn’t just be seen as a tool for creating content but an essential part of every stage of the communications and campaign process. Market research should be used to:

  • Before the project: inform the development of the PR brief by helping you understand your target audience, the competitive landscape, and the dynamics of the industry. It will also help you to build credibility with stakeholders and may smooth project sign-off
  • At the PR planning stage: investigate areas of interest, consumer trends and hot topics in order to create a compelling story.
  • Conducting surveys with consumers or other end-user groups can give you great statistics to build your campaign around
  • During a campaign: To track the impact of the campaign and adjust if needed.
  • After the campaign: To evaluate the success of the project, understand any issues and where improvements can be made for future work

This process of understanding the audience should be part and parcel of any research campaign, but at the same time, if communication departments work smart, they could add some additional questions into any project to help fuel their content, thus killing two birds with one stone.

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