We Think We Know

Research in Public Relations-why do we need it and why is it important?

A common problem many of us have….we think we know. In the real world if your information is not backed up by data, facts, and research, your credibility goes right down the drain. Research is an important part in any industry and “thinking” that you know something, is just not enough.

In public relations, research is crucial. There are many benefits of doing research within PR and it’s a basic need if you want to achieve success for your clients. But before I get into all of  the specifics, lets talk about research in general and all of the different types used in PR.

Research is a process in which we preform a methodical study in order to achieve the answer to a previously thought out research question and hypothesis. According to The Dictionary of Public Relations, research in PR can be defined as,

The systematic effort before (formative research) or during and/or after (summative or evaluative research) a communication activity aimed at discovering and collecting the facts or opinions pertaining to an identified issue, need, or question; may be formal or informal (Draper-Watts et al. , 2013. p. 26).

While beginning research, we must come up with a goal for our research-what we want to get out of it. Things under this umbrella could include: identifying your audience, developing objectives, and analyzing data. We should then decide what type of research would work best to achieve your goal and/or answer your research question. The main types of research are primary, secondary, qualitative, and quantitative. So what are they and what are the differences between the two?

  • Quantitative research is the objective, systematic, and controlled gathering of data. It is objective in that the researcher carefully defines the “things” under studies in order to specifically provide what exactly is being studied.
  • Qualitative research is less controlled and subjective and relies more on the subjective evaluations of the researcher. Although both serve good purposes, generally, quantitative research seems to have more benefits because of its consistency, whereas qualitative lacks the control and objectivity (Stacks, 2016) 
  • Primary researchis original research conducted by you (or someone you hire) to collect data specifically for your current objective.
  • Secondary researchinvolves searching for existing data that was originally collected by someone else. (Primary vs. Secondary, 2011).

In the public relations industry it is important to use research for many reasons. Doing research limits the amount of a company or firms biased opinions for their client, it also enables us to get to know our target audience on a better level as well as allowing us to get feedback. According to the book titled, Advertising and Public Relations Research,

Research is a critical competitive tool in modern business: using research can help the researcher learn what the public wants while uncovering pathways that may have not been previously considered. Competent research helps prevent mistakes and unnecessary expenditures, and improves efficiency (Jugenheimer et al. 2014).

As I previously mentioned, research is crucial in public relations. Research is the strategic foundation of modern public relations management (Bowen et al. n.d.). Public relations uses research to identify issues, manage crisis, improve credibility, and allow/assist practitioners to maintain long-term relationships with clients.

So yes, there is in fact a need for research within PR and it is important to realize and acknowledge the value of research when beginning a career in public relations, it’s never enough to just think we know.



Bowen , S., Rawlins, B., & T. (n.d.). Mastering Public Relations, v. 1.0. Retrieved February 01, 2017, from http://catalog.flatworldknowledge.com/bookhub/reader/5573?e=bowen_1.0-ch08_s01
Stacks , D. (2016, November). Primer of Public Relations Research, Third Edition. Retrieved January 31, 2017, from https://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=cWfSDAAAQBAJ&oi=fnd&pg=PP1&dq=types%2Bof%2Bresearch%2Bin%2Bpublic%2Brelations&ots=1PRS6NKipb&sig=sJkpSJbyORRmtuhJAF8NPaagX_o#v=onepage&q=types%20of%20research%20in%20public%20relations&f=false
 Stacks , D., & Bowen, S. (2013). Dictionary of Public Relations. Retrieved January 31, 2017, from http://www.instituteforpr.org/wp-content/uploads/Dictionary-of-Public-Relations-Measurement-and-Research-3rd-Edition.pdf
 Jugenheimer, D., Kelley, L., Hudson, J., & Bradley, S. (2014). Advertising and Public Relations Research. Retrieved January 31, 2017, from https://books.google.com/books?id=-7mtO0V-rzgC&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q=secondary%20research&f=false

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