Here it is. My first blog. I’ve written them for my clients, but never for myself. What’s the old saying? “The cobbler’s children have no shoes?”
I’ve been in public relations for 25 years now. Many things have changed, but ultimately, the basics have stayed the same. It’s all about relationships. Perhaps I should share a quick and well-respected definition from the Public Relations Society of America: “Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.”
The emphasis here is on “mutually beneficial relationships.” PR is about two-way communication. If one side is doing all the talking, it’s not building relationships. It’s advertising or marketing. And if you haven’t followed the most important step in the four-step process of public relations – research – (yes, we have a formal formula!), then you probably don’t know enough about your key audience(s) to know what to say or how to reach them. In other words, you don’t know what floats their boat, trips their trigger, tickles their fancy, etcetera, etcetera.
My clients – heck, even my husband – will tell you I am BIG on research and the fourth step of our process, evaluation. (BTW, the other two steps are planning and implementation. They’re sandwiched between research and evaluation.) If you don’t know where you’re going or how you did along the way, how can you claim success? Learning about the people you want to meet on that journey is critical.
So how do you find that perfect relationship? Lots of ways. Research doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive. Many organizations skip it – especially formal, primary research like surveys, polls and focus groups – because they think it will cost too much money. But the ROI can be priceless! For now, however, here are a few no- or low-cost ways to take lessons on your targets so you can make more bulls-eyes:
- Do-it-yourself research: Depending on what you’re trying to learn, sometimes informal discussions with the folks you’re trying to reach are very useful. For example, if you want to know what your kids think about an issue you need to communicate to their peers about, talk to them about it at the dinner table or take advantage of when they have friends over. You might be surprised how frank they’ll be (even if you embarrass your kid!).
- Employee Outreach: Looking to start an internal communication initiative? Just want feedback on an event you’re planning to repeat? Bring in lunch for everyone and ask their opinions. If you’re worried about confidentiality, send out an e-survey they can complete online anonymously. They’ll appreciate you asking their opinion.
- Audience Analyzation: Write down all points of contact your organization has and prioritize them by primary and secondary audiences, depending on the project/program you’re getting ready for. This could be your board of directors, volunteers, media, employees, customers, potential campaign supporters, and many more. Every company or nonprofit is different. Make a grid that evaluates what you already know about them (if anything), their perceptions of you and the likelihood of their engagement with you. If you have blanks, fill them in through e-surveys, informal discussions (see #1) or secondary research like learning about them online. More involved, paid research tactics may also be needed.
- Dig up the past. Review plans and outcomes from similar previous projects. What did you do for research then? What did you learn that might still be relevant? How did things go? What would you change? Knowing where we’ve been can help get us where we’re going.
There are many other forms of research that are well worth the time. Consider it an investment. You’ll be glad you did, especially when you find that perfect relationship!