January 6, 2012
An excerpt from PR Week
by Erin Allsman
Myth 3: Ignorance is bliss – I don’t need to invest in research to execute a strong PR effort.
For my final myth of the week, I’d like to reveal that PR professionals are not clairvoyant. Shocking, I know. We can draw on past experience, leverage existing contacts, absorb the information we are given, and we are usually pretty good at asking questions, but we do not know what we do not know. We do not know what you do not know either, and while we want to believe our clients’ every word, third-party validation and an objective point of view might describe a different reality.
Too often, our basic research approach lacks the discipline and depth necessary to uncover all threats and opportunities. Without a 360-degree outlook we risk applying the wrong strategy, missing a key detail to inform a campaign, or operating unaware of a potential crisis brewing in a distant business unit – oversights that could lead to disastrous consequences.
As an integrated agency, we have a department dedicated to research, but it has a different name: brand strategy. Most clients that came for “a new brand” also receive insight from brand strategy that informs tough decisions such as operational issues, employee dissatisfaction, or other ills that must be addressed in order for a revitalized brand to flourish.
Many of our best long-term PR clients started with our agency through this process, but the relationships almost always begin with advertising in mind. The irony is that much of the complex messaging that is deciphered is best expressed through PR. Moreover, most issues that are uncovered will likely be the PR team’s responsibility if and when they surface in a public forum.
Sophisticated advertisers understand the value of research as an agency deliverable, but I see a difference on the PR side. Many organizations that approach us for PR want to start immediately, to launch into media relations as soon as the ink on the contract is dry. We can typically make the case to write the plan first, but a dedicated research effort? That’s another story.
The research pill is a tough one to swallow because it takes time, it lacks tangibility, and it’s a heavy lift for both client and agency. In other words, it’s a serious investment of financial and human capital. But when done right, PR campaigns are more strategic and the agency is better prepared to communicate on the organization’s behalf.
Erin Allsman is VP of PR & social media director at Brownstein Group in Philadelphia. Follow her @ErinAllsman.