For those working within the industry, PR research is a well-known method of generating content when there is no ‘news’ to work with. However, outside of this space, it’s relatively unheard of.
The concept of using a psychologist within such a project has been discussed a fair few times in the office of late, and questions about how independent such input would be have come up more than once.
Dr. Petra Boynton – a sex and relationship specialist – is also well known for questioning whether it is fair or even ethical to lend her name to a report that she’s had nothing to do with the creation of:
I’m constantly being approached to do PR research and offered silly money to put my name to findings I’ve not designed or analyzed, or quotes written for me by a PR company. I refuse.
However, it isn’t just PR-generated reports that come under fire. This week, changes have been proposed for how public money is awarded to university research. In future, funding for researchers could be assessed in part on the impact their work has had on social, economic and cultural terms.
Some are willing to stand up for such academic projects, as they see real value as an accidental outcome from topics that are perceived to be superficial (which day of the year you might sneeze the most for instance). However, there are far more that still see this kind of research as detrimental to the field, as Simon Kendrick points out:
There are no doubt some good intentions burrowed beneath the marketing effort, and some people may genuinely gain benefit from the tips on diet and ergonomics. But when the advice is packaged up in such a moronic fashion, it completely destroys any appeal that the campaign may have instilled. At some point, either the press must resist publishing these “stories” or the sheer ridiculousness of their claims must be exposed. But in the meantime, there appears to be no respite.
So how do you use research – the cornerstone of many a PR campaign – in a way that presents valid findings and cuts down on ‘churnalism’ (the business of a press release simply getting a copy & pasted for reproduction)?
It seems clear that involving your ‘third party’ psychologist from the inception of the project makes a huge difference. As does being honest about whether they’ve been paid or not (as is almost always the case), should someone ask?
If the results don’t suit the original aims, there’s not much that be done to change them without affecting the credibility of the research. And don’t forget that geography, sample size, and demographics (i.e., the specifics) make a huge difference to how relevant the report is to different contacts.
However, with the pressure to fill news pages with reduced resources still very apparent, there’s also a responsibility on the side of the media to pay attention to the science behind such research, or at least ask for a closer look into the way the report has been collated. This would go a long way to ensuring that the creators of such research are working harder on their methodology and aren’t simply creating projects with a headline in mind but no real substance.