PR and Research: Why They Go Hand in Hand

As my public relations knowledge grows, if I have learned one thing so far it is this: research is IMPERATIVE to a successful public relations campaign. We all know what research is but not all of us really know why or how it’s done. When we think of research we think of people in white lab coats trying to research a cure for cancer or something incredibly intense and life-altering like that. Public relations may not be the first thing to come to mind, however, this industry is centered around research.

As a starting point, I wanted to know the complete basics of what research could do for PR. So, Mitchell Communications Group demonstrates this in one of their articles suggesting that research “research allows you to confidently answer questions posed by clients, it tests and clarifies your assumptions, it guides you to opportunities for you and your clients, it helps you form your strategy, and monitor its progress and evaluate its performance” (Mitchell, 2013). From this summary, I wanted to explore how research might apply to a recent PR campaign/news story.

A very recent story (not to bring up politics, but…) includes Starbuck’s publicly pledging to hire 10,000 refugees in response to Trump’s temporary ban. This is a HUGE deal. Starbucks says “We have a long history of hiring young people looking for opportunities and a pathway to a new life around the world. This is why we are doubling down on this commitment by working with our equity market employees as well as joint venture and licensed market partners in a concerted effort to welcome and seek opportunities for those fleeing war, violence, persecution and discrimination” (Emery, 2017). By doing this, Starbuck’s hopes to gain followers/supporters while making their current ones happy. But, they may also be aggravating a group of people, but their brand, in this case, is taking this risk.

For Starbuck’s to know that this campaign would be effective, they had to do initial research on a series of questions and then research of how the world is responding. In the book, Evaluating Public Relations : A Best Practice Guide to Public Relations Planning, Research & Evaluation, by Tom Watson and Paul Noble, they address  “that the objectives of a campaign should be closely related to the research design and and data collection as well as the campaign methods and strategy used,” (Watson & Nobel, 2007, p.17). This is noting that the research and data collection steps cannot be overlooked to succeed. Research done before is critical and if it is not done up to par, some organizations can release horrific statements and promises that villainize their brands. So, after this article was released, Starbucks should research the responses to it. Ronald D. Smith in his book Strategic Planning of Public Relations, discusses the ides of strategic communication, or campaign planning, and how “it is based and research and subject to eventual evaluation,” (Smith, 2013, p.5).Therefore, the evaluation taking place is a way to ensure that you are getting the best responses from your target audience and that a campaign was a success. There has actually already been backlash from American’s responding that this move is “un-American” (Allen, 2017).  This proves that this campaign needs to be re-visited and adjusted.

Don W. Stacks, author of Primer of Public Relations, makes a great additional point where he says that “research is part and parcel of their jobs when they offer communication strategies, council on communication problems, and educate clients as to be the best public relations strategies or actions” (Stacks, 2017, p.4). This really puts into perspective the importance of research because we, as PR professionals are being thrown into different worlds and in order to gain credibility and trust with a client. We need to know all about the client and the world of the client, along with how best to help. Jumping back to the thoughts of Watson and Noble, I enjoyed their use of concrete questions that PR professionals may look for in initial research. These questions include:

  1. What is the content of the objective?
  2. Who is the target audience?
  3. When should the intended change occur?
  4. Are the intended changes unitary or multiple?
  5. How much effect is desired?

(Watson & Nobel, 2007, p.17)

These questions represent the depth that research really intends to go into. The better the research, the better the results.

As you can see, research is incredibly important for so many reasons. From the research before a campaign to the research measuring the success of a campaign. The whole process is surrounded and dependent upon research. It’s part of the job and learning how to do it is a MUST in this industry. So get on it, folks.




Allen, K. (2017, February 1). Starbucks faces backlash in response to refugee hiring plan. Retrieved February 03, 2017, from

Emery, D. (2017). Starbucks pledges to hire 10,000 refugees. Retrieved January 31, 2017, from

Mitchell Communications (2013). Public relations: the value and importance of research. Retrieved February 03, 2017, from

Smith, R. D. (2013). Strategic planning for public relations (4th ed.). Retrieved February 3, 2017. Retrieved from

Stacks, D. W. (2017). Primer of public relations research (Third ed.). Retrieved January 31, 2017, from

Watson, T., & Noble, P. (2007). Evaluating public relations: a best practice guide to public relations planning, research & evaluation (2nd ed.). Retrieved February 3, 2017, from


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