PR must use research to ensure its relevance in a changed world, says Guy Bellamy, MD of Elephant Communications
Date: 26 October 2012 09:20
Research fatigue is a phrase that often gets mentioned in PR circles. A tactic perhaps too often drawn from the PR arsenal to plug a client need. To some, a lazy or tired PR tactic, although arguably there’s always a place for it when it’s done well. PROs may be guilty of over-labouring the research solution for clients, but how often do PR consultants and agencies design and commission it for themselves?
Earlier this year when I met with colleagues in a London café to discuss what our new agency would look like, we didn’t simply draw on our respective world views on what we presumed clients needed. Instead, we asked questions: lots of questions.
In the following months we commissioned lots of research. We asked in-house PROs what they liked and disliked about working with PR agencies. We polled the public to get their gritty living room take on how they were interpreting the big events they were living through. We polled businesses. We explored attitudes to media – new and old - and people’s terms of engagement with issues, current affairs, brands and channels. We asked lots of questions, listened, asked some more - and then analysed.
What quickly became quite clear was that the challenging economic climate had had a profound ripple effect on pretty much everything relating to the PR consultant’s universe. The consumer mood seemed quite different, as were the issues they wanted to engage with. The media landscape seemed to have changed too – beyond just talking about emerging media – as had trust perceptions with brands in many sectors. Set against this, the message from in-house teams pointed to them often having to deliver more for less, many needing help in new areas as their brands grappled with how to build market share and engagement in a bleak economic climate. There was a big elephant in the room. The world had changed.
In the months that followed, we set about creating services that responded to many of the specific issues our research identified. Forget notions of new-world and old-world media, the question of new-world and old-world PR approaches seemed far more relevant.
We are still asking questions and research has now become a permanent feature of what we do – as we now run six concurrent research series and draw on it directly in the advice we give clients every day.
Research may or may not be over-used and tired as a tool PR consultants recommend to clients – but in a changed economic climate, it has arguably never been more important for the PR consultant to stay close to their market, to test assumptions with fresh data and to keep asking questions. In this sense, research has arguably never been more relevant or important.
Guy Bellamy is MD of Elephant Communications