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8.1 Importance of Research in Public Relations Management

Public relations professionals often find themselves in the position of having to convince management to fund research, or to describe the importance of research as a crucial part of a departmental or project budget. Research is an essential part of public relations management. Here is a closer look at why scholars argued that conducting both formative and evaluative research is vital in modern public relations management:

  1. Research makes communication two-way by collecting information from publics rather than one-way, which is a simple dissemination of information. Research allows us to engage in dialogue with publics, understanding their beliefs and values, and working to build understanding on their part of the internal workings and policies of the organization. Scholars find that two-way communication is generally more effective than one-way communication, especially in instances in which the organization is heavily regulated by government or confronts a turbulent environment in the form of changing industry trends or of activist groups.See, for example, Grunig (1984), pp. 6–29; Grunig (1992a; 2001); Grunig, Grunig, and Dozier (2002); Grunig and Repper (1992).
  2. Research makes public relations activities strategic by ensuring that communication is specifically targeted to publics who want, need, or care about the information.Ehling and Dozier (1992). Without conducting research, public relations is based on experience or instinct, neither of which play large roles in strategic management. This type of research prevents us from wasting money on communications that are not reaching intended publics or not doing the job that we had designed them to do.
  3. Research allows us to show results, to measure impact, and to refocus our efforts based on those numbers.Dozier and Ehling (1992). For example, if an initiative is not working with a certain public we can show that ineffectiveness statistically, and the communication can be redesigned or eliminated. Thus, we can direct funds toward more successful elements of the public relations initiative.

Without research, public relations would not be a true management function. It would not be strategic or a part of executive strategic planning, but would regress to the days of simple press agentry, following hunches and instinct to create publicity. As a true management function, public relations uses research to identify issues and engage in problem solving, to prevent and manage crises, to make organizations responsive and responsible to their publics, to create better organizational policy, and to build and maintain long-term relationships with publics. A thorough knowledge of research methods and extensive analyses of data also allow public relations practitioners a seat in the dominant coalition and a way to illustrate the value and worth of their activities. In this manner, research is the strategic foundation of modern public relations management.Stacks and Michaelson (in press).