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Explain Research and Evaluation in a Public Relations Context, the Methods Used to Gather Data for These Purposes, and Why Research and Evaluation Are Important to the Pr Planning Process

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Research and evaluation go hand-in-hand as key features that contribute to any successful public relations efforts. Without them, public relations plans and activities would have no clear direction or guidance as to how to speak to their intended audiences. With the increase in organisations seeking justification for their PR spend; it is even more important for practitioners to demonstrate return on their investment through their own evaluation. Effective primary and secondary research, along with a commitment to ongoing evaluation is crucial to any public relations plan. It is important that both research and evaluation are always undertaken as it will ultimately provide a solid foundation and help to ensure the campaign is continually evolving, increasing the chances of its success.
Research, an essential tool for any public relations campaign, assists with the gathering of information and opinions, contributing to the strategic plans ability to increase its efficiency, establish realistic goals and target the right market. With the main purpose of research being to find answers to the questions being asked, it enables the public relations practitioner to build theories that will assist in solving the problems they will face. Harold D. Lasswell, a political scientist, explained the questions every practitioner should ask, ‘who says what, to whom, how, with what effect’ (Lindenmann 2006, p. 3). If a practitioner can find answers to these questions, they will be in a better position to understand the relationship between the product and the intended market.
Finding the answers to this is not simple though, so to do this, both secondary and primary research must be carried out. Secondary research is often referred to as ‘desk research’ and is based on gathering information that is pre-existing and already available in the public realm. Examples of this are government reports, journals, databases and information found on the internet (Business Case studies n.d). Primary research, which is based on gathering new information, answers more specific issues or questions and involves methods such as focus groups, interviews and surveys (Business Case studies n.d). Within the primary umbrella, qualitative and quantitative research exists. Quantitative research has the main purpose for the quantification of data. Atlas.ti (n.d.) explains it as the ‘generalisation of results from a sample to an entire population of interest and the measurement of the incidence of various views and opinions in a given sample’. Qualitative research however aims to explore more specific opinions and helps to gain an in-depth understanding of the audience’s motivations. It provides greater insights and is best chosen when detailed feedback needs to be gained (Atlas.ti Qualitative data analysis n.d).
In conjunction with this research, evaluation plays a crucial role in improving the effectiveness of the PR plan. It is defined by Patton as the ‘collection of information about the activities, characteristics, and outcomes of programs, personnel, and products for use by specific people to reduce uncertainties, improve effectiveness and make decisions with regard to what those programs, personnel, or products are doing and affecting” (Patton 1982). It assists PR practitioners in making educated decisions, helps to prove value through results and ultimately enables reflection, assisting in the possibility for evolving change (Evaluation 2015, para 1).
A great example of the use of research and evaluation in a current PR plan is GetUp’s campaign ‘Save the Reef’. After the Queensland government began to allow dredging of the Great Barrier Reef to make way for a coal seam gas export project, GetUp’s original campaign wasn’t having the desired effect (GetUp! Action for Australia n.d.). They needed to create a new smarter campaign to shift political support to parties that would protect the Reef by opposing the dredging plans. They did this through extensive research, gaining access to public records, trying to understand existing opinions and positions of Queensland voters. They then began extensive qualitative research through a range of focus groups, interviews and surveys, which gave them valuable information into their target market. Through this they were able to re-evaluate their approach, creating instructional how-to- vote forms for undecided voters, mobilising 600 volunteers to door knock and engaging active publics within the voting areas that could influence voter decisions.
Erin McCallum (2015, pers. comm., 29 June), GetUp’s political director was responsible for the campaign and she confirmed that the success of the campaign was clear, overall they had an 11.3% increase in supporters and won seven additional seats out of the nine they were targeting. Through their research and continued evaluation, they were able to shift traditional voters and save the reef for now. Erin also expressed that GetUp is not finished here and they will continue to research and evaluate their campaign, working with Queensland voters and supporters to maintain those seats in the years to come (E McCallum 2015, pers. comm., 29 June).
As proven by the ‘Save the reef’ campaign and other supporting sources, undertaking thorough research and evaluation enables public relations practitioners to plan strategically and make educated decisions for the overall benefit of the campaign. By investing in both of these areas, it should successfully help the owner find answers to the key questions they need to ask, in turn creating a solid foundation, clearer direction for the plan and ultimately contribute to the overall success their efforts.

Reference List
Atlas.ti. Qualitative data analysis n.d., Qualitative and Quantitative Research, Atlas.ti, 11 July 2015,
Business Case Studies n.d., Primary and secondary research, Market research and consumer protection, viewed 8 July 2015,
GetUp! Action for Australia n.d., Save the Reef, GetUp!, 7 July 2015,
Lindennman, W K 2006, ' Public Relations Research for Planning and Evaluation’, Measurement and Evaluation, Pg 1 - 32, viewed 7 July 2015, via Institute for Public Relations database.
Patton, M Q 1982, Practical Evaluation, Sage Publications, Thousand Oaks, California
Evaluation 2015, viewed 7 July 2015,…...

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