Spark PR on Public Relations Research

Written By: Jessica McAlum, research director

The value and practical application of public relations research may not be obvious, but the foundation of any PR campaign is based on research.  Research should serve as the basis for all strategic decisions within the campaign.  The graphic below from “Effective Public Relations” textbook explains that research is the first step in the four-step process to any effective PR campaign.

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Image courtesy of Effective Public Relations

The research portion of a campaign is critical to its overall success. Unveiling the practical applications of PR research should help to explain why it is so crucial.  Research allows PR firms to identify key information needed for strategic campaign planning. Research can help to:

  • Create a problem statement to ascertain what problem the PR practitioner is there to fix.
  • Identify target markets  – including detailed demographic and psychographic information on those markets.
  • Identify effective media channels to reach respective markets.
  • Identify current behaviors, attitudes and knowledge of key publics.
  • Justify a firm’s decisions to a client.
  • Develop strategic public relations activities.
  • Show results and measure impact of PR activities.
  • Allow for two-way communication with the public.

Research can be primary (conducted by researcher) or secondary (conducted by a third party). Spark PR chose to utilize both primary and secondary research methods in our campaign with The ALS Association. We used secondary research on ALS disease to identify demographic information on patients, costs associated with the disease and information on the organization. We then utilized a primary research method and distributed a survey to the public.

Data derived from research can be qualitative or quantitative .  The type of data derived from research is contingent on the chosen research method. Qualitative research methods include in-depth interviews, focus groups, case studies and participant observation. Quantitative research methods include Internet, telephone and mail surveys, comment cards and feedback forms. The characteristics of each type of data are explained in the diagram below.

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Image courtesy of Oswego City School District Regents Exam Prep Center

We  distributed a survey using Qualtrics as our research instrument to gather quantitative data from The ALS Association’s publics.  We asked respondents about their attitudes, knowledge and behavior regarding our client. After analyzing our survey results, we were able to identify the target demographic for our campaign. We were also able to identify the most effective strategic communication channels to reach our target audience. If our client wants justification behind these choices, we can refer them to our research results.

The value and practical application of research on the public relations profession is profound. It is our hope that this blog has explained the basic benefits of research and why it is needed to plan a successful public relations campaign. More information on public relations research and its applications can be found here.


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Jessica McAlum, Spark PR research director


Bowen, S.A., Rawlins, B. J., Martin, T. J. (2016). Mastering Public Relations (1st ed.).   Retrieved March 12, 2016, from

Broom, G. M., Cutlip, S. M., & Center, A. H. (2006). Effective Public Relations (9th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ, NJ: Pearson/Prentice Hall.

Qualitative vs. Quantitative Data. (n.d.). Retrieved March 12, 2016, from