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May 28, 2009
Research is Always the Best Place to Start
Public relations, essentially all forms of marketing communications, is truly about relationships. However, PR is much so because you often have to rely on others to be successful.
How can you sell something – a product, an idea, a cause, action, etc. – if you don’t know much about your audience?
Research is very much under underutilized and underappreciated. There are two main reasons. One is arrogance. People assume they know their audience’s hot buttons. While you may have a sense, without hard core sentiment and numbers, that assumption is nothing more than a few anecdotes and a gut feeling.
The second main reason is budget. Again, research is underappreciated so it is not given high enough priority.
What can you do?
Assuming you value research but you are butting heads with others in your organization about one the above two barriers, what can you do?
There are some inexpensive short-cuts you can take – depending on what you want to find out. Remember though, “free” still can have a cost in time and limited information.
If you’re looking to get trends, preferences, sentiment and other more general market research, social media is a great tool – assuming enough of your intended audience is online and active in social media. (And, as time goes forward, having to check if your audience IS online is becoming less and less of a consideration – it’ll be assumed, eventually for all audiences.)
Blogs, discussion boards and forums, microblog platforms like Twitter, are great for data mining. If you don’t have a thorough paid social media monitoring and analysis service like Techrigy’s SM2 (which is what I use), there are many other, more niche and free services to use.  Examples include: Omgili, BoardReader, Google Blog Search, Twazzup and WhosTalkin.
Use these and other services not only to search for your company or clients’ names, but to look at trends. If you’re in the building products industry, for example, you can search Twitter for terms like “LEED certified.” If you’re into sweets, you might want to search how people like “milk chocolate” versus “dark chocolate.” You can check blogs or boards.
There are even tools like Rollyo where you can create your own search engine. Here’s one I created to search social bookmark sites.
For trends, demographics and other information, there also are plenty of online research resources that offer free content. These include Forrester, MarketingCharts, eMarketer, Pew Internet & American Life Project and Nielsen Online.
You also can read, watch or listen to the media your intended audience reads, watches and listens to. You’ll find plenty of industry studies, trends, and other stories and information that will give you a better understanding of your audience.
If you’re involved in media relations, you already should already be regularly, thoroughly reading, listening or watching the media whose audience you want to reach. For assistance in checking out new media outlets, there are alternatives to paid services like Cision. You can look for the outlet on LinkedIn, including seeing what beats reporters cover. If you’re looking for radio stations in a market, check out Radio-Locator. Another source to see what media are in which markets is Newslink.
Remember, if it’s free, the information won’t be as in-depth as you’d likely get from a paid source. Whether you’re looking to supplement existing thorough market research you or your employer have already done, or still do your job when those above you don’t see the same value in research, there are plenty of alternatives.

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Michael  Driehorst, president and founder of Diamond Communications, is a proven public relations professional who knows how to develop the right set of strategies and matching tactics to achieve communication objectives for the right target audience. After an early career as a newspaper journalist, Mike has worked in public relations and marketing communications since 1994. He has been active in social media marketing since 2005; read his blog.

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