Effective PR Research and Evaluation on a Shoestring

Without question, we all know that research and evaluation are key elements to any successful public relations program. For nonprofit and association public relations programs, however, the thought of executing a full-scale research and evaluation effort seems cost prohibitive. I know because I've been there. We often think that a budget of thousands of dollars is necessary to conduct research and evaluation activities that will give our work needed credibility. But with a little ingenuity, one can build quite a substantial box of tools that will give any nonprofit organization or association the foundation to build a strategic and focused PR program. Here are a few tools and resources that can be helpful when embarking on PR project: Web Sites with Rich Content A number of communications Web sites have rich content that include measurement tools, short case studies, and information on seminars and newsletters to which you can subscribe. I used Delahaye Medialink, http://www.delahaye.com, and KD Paine & Partners, http://www.themeasurementstandard.com. If you seek research on what reporters are thinking, the "go to" resource is the annual Middleberg/Ross Media Survey, http://www.middleberg.com/toolsforsuccess/toolsforsuccess.cfm). Though these Web sites have many services for purchase, you can capture quite a bit of information that will give you a body of knowledge that supports your priorities. Low-Cost Tools IABC had many sessions at its annual conference on the topic of measurement. But say you can't afford to attend this type of conference. That should not prevent you from purchasing conference tapes to stimulate your thinking. During the IABC conference, a new guidebook was introduced titled, "Communication Research, Measurement, and Evaluation," authored by Lou Williams, ABC, APR. Sinickas Communications, Inc., http://www.sinicom.com, also has a number of easy-to-use tools to support your research objectives. All of the member associations of the PR Coalition have research and evaluation resources, too. The Council of Public Relations Firms, http://www.prfirm.org, has information about the Coalition with links to member Web sites. Your Network In an earlier column, I promoted the idea of creating an advisory committee as a way to extend resources. Well, here's the perfect use for that committee. Perhaps some of your committee members are willing to share their PR research or evaluation tools that you can study or adapt for your program. If you don't have a committee, then network, e-mail or call colleagues to see what they are using. We're all in the same boat, so someone should be willing to share his or her resources with you. Resources Down the Hall At the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), our research and surveys staff is constantly gathering data on our members and about trends in the professions in which our members work. If your organization has research staff -- or even if your organization contracts for research work -- see if you can piggyback on planned research. Are you able to add one or two questions relevant to internal or external PR strategies? Will research staff review questions you have created for a brief survey you want to do on your own? Does the research staff or Web team contract with an online survey vendor where you can post your survey? To support my PR efforts, the ASHA research staff has conducted focus groups, assisted in the development of short surveys, and participated in team meetings where we analyze existing data-gathering processes. I have come to realize that the most basic research and evaluation techniques can be adapted to almost any project. University Resources It may be time to go back to school. University journalism, communications, or marketing programs have information on research and evaluation techniques just waiting for you. If you don't feel like searching the racks or online databases, hit up a professor looking for a class project. Class credit beats an invoice from a consultant any day of the week. Brenda C. Siler is PR director for the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association and a past chairwoman of IABC. She can be reached at bsiler@asha.org.

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