ComPRehension

Professional development and training blog of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA)
April 23, 2012

Quality Research and Evaluation Matters: Q/A with Mark Weiner, PRSA Health Academy Pre-Conference Speaker


Mark Weiner, CEO Americas, PRIME Research, presents Research 101: Learn to Create, Implement and Manage Research Programs Within Your Organization, on May 16, from 1–5 p.m. at the pre-conference session for the 2012 PRSA Health Academy Conference, held May 16–18 at The Inn at Penn in Philadelphia, PA. His session also allows attendees to bring their research questions and examples for review. Register Now

In this post, Weiner shares his insights on the changes and trends in, and value of effective research and evaluation, in public relations. Joyce Lofstrom, MS, APR, co-chair of the conference and director, corporate communications, HIMSS, posed these questions to him in an email interview.

Q. Tell us about your work in communications research/measurement, especially as it relates to public relations professionals, in general, and specifically, to all of us in health care communications?

A. Professional communicators generally have two primary interests in public relations research and evaluation: to improve performance and to communicate value. Health care communicators are the same even though the highly regulated environment in which they operate differs considerably from others. As research-based consultants, our mission at PRIME is to help clients understand their business landscape and to position them to make more intelligent communication and business decisions. By informing better choices, clients improve performance organically; proving value naturally follows as senior executives see how PR programs deliver more with less and for less.

Q. How have you seen PR measurement change over the years in terms of how we measure success? I am thinking of going from clips to current evaluation techniques?

A. Despite the proliferation of communications channels, the proliferation of social media and the abundance of technology, most of what is fundamental to PR research remains unchanged. Given the two central motivations already mentioned, research approaches do not depend on advanced technology nor do they require big budgets or advanced statistical methods (although these are beneficial in some cases).

For example, one of PR’s most challenging questions remains “proving PR value.” The solution is really quite simple and costs nothing: The difficulty relates more to the subjectivity of executive values and our professional inhibitions which often handicap our desire to uncover them.

The “Research 101” session reveals the research techniques health care PR people can use to uncover and align executive preferences and priorities. Once executive preferences are reflected in campaign objectives agreed to be reasonable, meaningful and measurable, “proving value” may be as simple as “meeting or beating objectives.”

It may surprise communicators to learn what we’ve learned through thousands of executive interviews: “Quality completion of projects” is more popular than “tying PR to sales” among executives. How much simpler can it be?

Although the research fundamentals remain unchanged, the impact of technology contributes greatly to the current state of research and evaluation. For example, automated media monitoring and analysis systems provide speed and consistency for tracking Twitter content to meet the accelerated pace of business and the cascade of content flowing through social media channels. Advanced statistical software, combined with data-warehousing and new research methods enable brands to assess, attribute and predict relative sales revenue by communications channel.

Interestingly, in dozens of studies across many industries including pharmaceuticals and health care, this highly developed analysis known as Marketing Mix Analysis proves what we PR people have always believed in our hearts to be true: PR works. As we will dissect during the “Research 101” curriculum, PR drives more sales per-dollar-invested than any other marketing channel.

While technology has wrought many advances, research requires uniquely human input and navigation. Just as public relations is driven largely by creativity and relationships, public relations research requires distinctly human insight, intuition and understanding. The marriage of “talent and tools” makes for the most powerful combination.

Q. I am really looking forward to your session, “Research 101.” because of the ever-changing world of evaluation and measurement in public relations. What are the top three take-aways attendees will find from your session “Research 101”?

A.

  1. Quality research is within the reach of everyone in public relations: it need not be expensive, overly sophisticated or mysterious. We will demystify PR research while sharing simple, accessible and affordable approaches through case studies and step-by-step exercises.
  2. The challenge of “proving the value of public relations” is a matter of unwillingness rather than inability. Attendees will learn how easy proving value can be using proven methods provided in the session.
  3. Public relations can be managed for continual improvement in ways that yield meaningful business results. “Research 101” registrants will be exposed to established approaches to identifying and eliminating waste and improving efficiency.

Q. Any closing comments?

A. “Research 101” is designed as much for the neophyte as for the experienced. Using case studies, proven methods and interactive exercises, attendees will leave prepared to create, implement and manage research programs within their own organization. Examples drawn from 20 years of research practice equip attendees to expedite their learning through best-in-class experiences from within and outside the health care category.

We support attendees to bring and share their questions, their challenges and their aspirations. For those currently conducting PR research but unsure of its value or application, mini-appraisals will be available following the general session.

Joyce A. Lofstrom, APR is the director of corporate communications at HIMSS (Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society) in Chicago, IL. She is the co-chair of the 2012 PRSA Health Academy Conference.

Mark Weiner has devoted his career to helping many of the world’s most respected organizations and brands to demonstrate and generate a positive return on their investment in corporate and brand communications. He is the author of Unleashing the Power of PR: A Contrarian’s Guide to Marketing and Communication. Weiner is a visiting professor for The Executive Education Programs, S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University and has guest-lectured at many of the nation’s leading public relations programs.