Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Measure Twice, Cut Once?

Today’s guest author is Frank Ovaitt, Executive Vice President of Makovsky + Company and Head of Research and CEO Emeritus of the Institute for Public Relations

“Measure twice, cut once” may be good enough for carpentry, but not for public relations.

Actually, it’s not good enough for carpentry either. Any competent carpenter has theoretical knowledge of materials, structural strength, the requirements of various applications and practical knowledge of standard practices and tools. Listening and learning from the customer is also critical, of course.

So it is in public relations. Many practitioners focus too much on measurement at the expense of other domains of research. In fact, there are four kinds of research-based knowledge that every professional needs:

1. Foundational research. For a practical example, consider Toyota’s response to its multi-faceted safety crisis. There is solid theoretical research that would have told them that explanation and confrontation would not work in this case (sometimes they do). With so much blame attributable to the organization, Toyota should have gone much quicker to accommodation strategies (apology, assurance and compensation).

2. Best practices and benchmarking studies. These help us understand important trends in public relations so we can consider whether they apply in a given situation. In crisis communications, this might mean research on what kind of scenario planning experienced practitioners use to be ready for whatever comes.

3. Initial or formative research. When you begin campaign planning, this work should precede all other work. Start with desired business outcomes. What additional knowledge (of audience attitudes, for instance) do you need to define PR objectives, strategies, tactics and messages? Returning to our crisis example, research can even identify “what could go wrong here” before possibility turns to disaster. The risks are different for a drug company versus a retail company or a tech company, but they are still knowable.

4. Measurement and evaluation. Even in a crisis, you can use online and offline metrics to understand what’s been achieved and how to achieve more. Do stories that quote your spokesperson have a more positive tone? Which messages are resonating, and which are falling flat? You have to keep tracking to keep improving.

Public relations practitioners shouldn’t sell themselves short — as if the research needs in this field are as simplistic as the carpenter’s “measure twice.” It’s the rich mix of four domains that really marks true professional work.

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foundational research, crisis,online metrics, offline metrics


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