Why researching for PR campaigns is a bit like buying a house

Imagine buying a house without taking a look around the area first. You’ve got a spacious living space, a newly decorated kitchen and a beautiful decking area out the back.

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The only problem is you’ve wound up with a neighbour who throws animal heads into your garden (like this guy), you have to navigate 80 potholes every morning just to get off your street (like these suffering residents) and your local pub is so rough that even the poor staff are too terrified to call last orders (I wouldn’t ask for a tap water in this boozer).

Due to these risks, when most people buy a house they tend to do at least a bit of research by having a look at the street, asking about the neighbours and, in my case, going for a pint at the local.

As a business, your reputation is kind of like your life savings. In fact, it’s commonly thought that around 75% of a company’s value is based on its reputation. If you haven’t done your background research it’s all to easy to say something silly and leave your reputation in tatters. UK fashion shop Celeb Boutique had such a disaster when they spotted that the term #Aurora was trending on Twitter and tried to take advantage by linking it to their ‘Kim Kardashian inspired Aurora dress’. Had they done their research before communicating however (just a click on the hashtag would have done it), they’d have realised that the hashtag was an outpouring of shock and sympathy for the tragic mass shooting of cinema goers during the premiere of The Dark Night Rises in Aurora, Colorado.  Twitter was understandably furious with the mistake and the company received a tirade of abuse. They have since changed their name, though this is said to be unconnected.

If you’re looking to do a more substantial campaign around a particular topic, then spending time gathering as much information about it as possible will massively increase the likelihood of it being successful. As well as helping you to hone the overall concept of the campaign, good background research will improve your key messaging, your understanding of the publics you should target, what tactics you will use and how you will evaluate its success. Your findings will inform every aspect of the campaign and everything will run much more smoothly as a result.

I recently led a campaign for Slimming World about how passing our alcohol ‘tipping point’ causes us, through no fault of our own, to embark on a series of behaviours that could affect our weight (more beer, homebound kebab, hungover fry up and a day in bed for example). You can read about it on the Telegraph, BBC News and the Daily Mail websites.

Before just racing ahead with our idea we conducted in-depth secondary research on the subject to understand the context in which our messages would be received. Knowing the government’s strategy on alcohol, what advice the NHS gives us about binge drinking, how the UK compares to the rest of Europe and how industry was reacting to calls for them to do more to reduce overconsumption, were all massively useful in helping us to create a knowledgeable report-based campaign that had far more credibility than we would have been able to had we relied purely on instinct.

Thanks to Google, when it comes to research we’ve never had it so good. In only a few hours you can pull together a whole range of information about almost any issue. Whether your campaign is about healthy eating, traffic congestion or unemployment, there will be a raft of government data, industry comment, public surveys and media articles to help give you a more rounded understanding of the issue in hand.

If you’re not sure where to start, conduct a PESTLE analysis, with headings for Political, Economic, Social, Technological, Legal and Environmental and then go Google crazy, capturing the key points and saving the links so you can revisit them throughout the process. They’ll prove invaluable further down the line. Trust me.

It takes time but a strong PESTLE analysis will give you a 360 degree understanding of an issue. You’ll know the view of the government, business and the public, you’ll understand its financial and environmental impact, you’ll be aware of what the law is and you’ll know whether technology is the cause or a potential saviour. Once you’ve gathered all this information, the rest of your campaign will fall into place – a bit like adding the furniture to your new home. Taking the time to conduct that background research in the beginning is crucial, as it helps you to ensure the foundations of your campaign are solid before you proceed. Fail to do your research though and you could end up bringing the house down. And not in a good way.

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