Executive Checklist: Research Essentials for Winning Global PR Campaigns
by Mark Weiner
Global public relations programs strive for consistency, efficiency and economy but relatively few achieve better than mixed results. Successful public relations programs – domestic or international – begin with understanding: understanding of the customer, understanding of your company and brand reputation in the marketplace, and understanding of your product or service and how to differentiate it positively. To achieve these points of understanding, especially across global markets, winning PR campaigns begin with research.
If you manage an international public relations or corporate communications program, your research choices can make the difference between failure and success. What follows is a list of the global research essentials without which your global PR program is certain to cause disappointment, dysfunction and, in some cases, disaster.
Objectives: as in all business initiatives, objectives must be well-articulated across all regions and must be measureable, meaningful and reasonable. Incoherent objectives lead to waste, discord and ambiguity. Business goals may be difficult to translate into public relations objectives, but a good research partner can help. When choosing a research partner, ask about their approach to setting, tracking and evaluating performance versus objectives at the beginning and throughout your global campaign.
Consistency and Flexibility: While a communication strategy may be borderless, campaign execution happens locally. As such, your cross-market research must foster consistency and flexibility at the same time. Every organization, product or service can be described and evaluated using a common lexicon of attributes: “innovation,” “quality,” and “performance,” for example. However, the importance and the meaning of these characteristics may vary from market to market and this must be factored throughout the campaign management process. When selecting a research firm, inquire about their abilities for worldwide consistency; this may include questions about whether local research is subcontracted, conducted by employees or part-time labor, and about the firm’s quality control mechanisms to ensure uniformity wherever the research Ask about the research partner’s ability to adjust on a market-by-market basis to better represent the true picture.
Cultural nuance: For accurate, insightful and actionable research, the organization must understand the subtleties of local culture to facilitate public relations success. Think “one voice/many accents:” “Corporate downsizing,” for example, plays very differently on Wall Street than it does on the Paris Bourse. Beyond translations, your research provider must offer native-language capability to properly interpret meaning, share implications and derive insights. When vetting potential research partners, ask about their system for in-country research and analysis; do they work within the target country; are they from the target country or are they simply students of the target country? An American-born student of French Language working in New York infers different meaning from Paris market-intelligence and data than does a Parisian, whether working in-market or in-region.
Speed: The increased use of social media as a research instrument – as an alternative to traditional attitudinal research as well as fuel for social media analysis – means that the velocity of social media research must run at a parallel pace with the medium itself. Many available tools enable automated real-time content gathering and analysis but can they adapt to different languages (not to mention “cultural nuance”)? Is the content filtered and relevant? Are the data accurate? And does the research firm possess sufficient acumen to derive insight and to provide guidance from the content and data it processes? Request information about how your potential research provider ensures accuracy as well as speed. Ask about the degree to which they provide communications guidance as well as help-desk support. Is the software designed for and does the firm have experience working within public relations environments? Beware of fully-automated systems which promise speed, high accuracy and relevancy. Be prepared to invest weeks or even months “training” the software to improve performance. Recognize that automated systems accumulate data but require professional expertise to uncover insight, to provide strategic guidance and to offer meaningful interpretive analysis.
Accuracy: Any investment in research – global or domestic – returns only when it’s accurate. Add complicating factors like distance, time-zones, languages and local culture nuance and accurate research becomes even more challenging. Ask prospective research providers how they ensure meticulous execution and precise data by inquiring about the firm’s quality control measures.
Everything else being equal, a global research program will almost certainly require a greater investment than its domestic counterpart,. International research programs require more in terms of the numbers of samples, the quantity of audience segments and more. For media analysis, it will require more content, more competitors and more reporting. Factoring exchange rates, telephone rates, subscription costs and other elements having nothing directly related to the research itself further complicates the budgeting process. But even if international research tends to be more expensive, there are many controls to discuss and implement before taking the first step. Ask probable research firms for cost options in advance and ask about their flexibility in case of potential detours. If the research provider outsources local service to in-market affiliates, how do they guarantee the centralized budget to which you are responding?
Even domestic public relations research programs can be challenging to the uninformed. Finding equilibrium across the research criteria listed here remains a difficult challenge for most public relations practitioners but global programs present even greater demands and higher risk. The best research partners provide a balanced solution by combining talent with tools and technology. They involve the client in shaping the ideal research solution, inviting the client to share important campaign elements and success drivers. They provide flexibility and a single-source opportunity to accomplish your objectives on-time and on-budget, whenever and wherever you do business.
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