Written by: Nicolette Bender, CCA President
Going into PR, I didn’t think I would be conducting tons of research on a daily basis. In fact, I expected the majority of my time to be spent writing, editing/proofreading, pitching to media, and creating content for social media. I quickly learned that that wasn’t true.
I know when people hear the word “research” they don’t think it’s going to be very fun. Lots of students want to avoid research projects like the plague. They would rather take classes like “event planning” or “social media strategies” but knowing how to research, knowing how to effectively research and utilizing that information is highly important in the PR field. You can’t even be successful when event planning or compiling social media strategies without research. I feel like a lot of people don’t expect that of our major.
We aren’t really known for researching or numbers or anything but social media to this generation. In all honesty it makes sense with the rise of importance in that area, but again that’s not all we do. After spending six months putting together a campaign for Student Veterans of America (SVA), and another two years of working for our school’s student-run PR firm, also add the two internships that I’ve completed, I’ve realized there are facets of PR that are not commonly anticipated by most, let alone people within the field – one of those being research.
Let me define what I mean by research. According to the book “A Practitioner’s Guide to Public Relations Research, Measurement, and Evaluation,” research is defined as “the systematic effort before or during and/or after a communication activity aimed at discovering and collecting the facts or opinions pertaining to an identified issue, need, or question.”
Research can be for something as simple as comparing competitor’s Yelp reviews online, to a complexing data on the top digital trends of the 21st century.
I believe, whether for assignments big or small, research is the most important component of a successful public relations campaign. Because without research a public relations professional, let alone a public relations campaign can’t succeed.
So I mentioned earlier that for the past six months I’ve been putting together a campaign for SVA. I feel this experience has been the most eye-opening to my topic today. The amount of research my team and I put into the campaign was extensive, but extremely essential for us to be successful. Research helps you strategize your campaign, it can help in backing up your claims for implementing such campaign, and it can help you make informed decisions.
Back in June 2015, five of us were selected to be a part of CWU’s 2016 Bateman Case Study Competition team. The Bateman Case Study Competition is PRSSA’s premier national case study competition for public relations students, and gives you an opportunity to apply your classroom education and internship experiences to create and implement a full public relations campaign.
We got our client selection in September, which was SVA. Their mission is to provide military veterans with the resources, support, and advocacy needed to succeed in higher education and following graduation. So with that in mind, we were tasked with putting together a PR campaign that helped accomplish their mission on CWU’s campus.
While brainstorming, we tried to figure how to do that. We researched originally SVA’s methods of accomplishing their mission and tried to bounce new ideas off what we found. We wanted something bigger than a one day of dedication to these student veterans. We decided to throw a week of events. We wanted to call it “CWU Student Veterans Week.”
So how do you host a Student Veterans Week on campus? A LOT OF RESEARCH AND A LOT OF PLANNING.
We needed a lot of research to back up why we would even need to throw a week of events. Everything we did, every decision we made, was embedded in research. We met with several different thought leaders. People around campus like professors and veterans themselves. We would bring them into our meetings and ask for insight. A big partner we gained was the Veteran Center here on campus. Ruben Cardenas, the director of the Veteran Center, informed us on how to contact student veterans and what sort of events they would be interested in.
After collecting insight from all these people, we decided to conduct some more in-depth research. We created a survey and hosted a few focus groups. One that asked traditional students about their perception of student veterans and veteran resources in Ellensburg. And another that asked student veterans how they felt about the resources and support available to them in Ellensburg.
We found out that traditional students didn’t know much about student veterans, but student veterans didn’t even know what resources and support they even had here in town. Therefore, our first day of CWU Student Veterans Week was dedicated to hosting a “Resource Fair” for student veterans. We brought vendors from all around Washington State to show veterans they have everything they would need at their disposal. All student veterans in attendance got a lot out of the fair and even expressed interest in starting CWU’s own SVA chapter.
Another conclusion we gained from our surveys and focus groups was that traditional students really didn’t understand student veterans their transition from service to school. So for our second day of CWU Student Veterans Week we hosted an “Experience Panel.” We asked around the student veteran population here on campus and got four of them together to give insight to our traditional students. The students got to ask veterans questions about that transition and the environment created a very open discussion between the two.
Many left the panel claiming it to be a real eye-opening experience.
Our next three days focused on support and awareness of student veterans. Throughout our research we conducted case studies. Specifically case studies that helped us understand how comparable events, so ones like what we wanted to host, were successful. One example of this was our third day of CWU Student Veterans Week. We set up a “wall” in which people could sign their name in support of student veterans or write a little message if they wanted to. This mimicked CWU’s First Amendment Festival, a week full of events that educates students of their rights. They display a wall that is for students to exercise their freedom of speech and write whatever they want on it no matter what the content.
Every year it’s a hit. So the wall we displayed was titled “I Support Student Veterans” and was a huge success to all who passed by the Student Union Building. Almost 600 signatures were recorded on it. This wall of support was also displayed at our Friday event and will be a continuous reminder to student veterans of CWU’s support.
There was definitely more organized research like case studies and focus groups and surveys, but even just simple research of what’s going on around town and what’s already in place to help support veterans goes a long way. It can also save you a lot of time.
Through a simple search of events going on at CWU we found our partnership with the Center for Leadership and Civic Engagement (CLCE). Coincidently, they were hosting an awareness concert for POW/MIA the Thursday of our Student Veterans Week. This worked perfectly because we could help with the planning process and create a bigger and better event than what was originally planned as well as spreading awareness toward a serious topic. That search cut down our work of hosting another event while creating a meaningful partnership.
Also, when searching on Google for businesses downtown we found our partnership with the Clymer Museum, appropriately named after John Ford Clymer who was a veteran himself. Our Student Veterans Week fell on the first week of March. This museum holds First Friday Art Walk every month and with that in mind we thought of a unique idea. Pairing student veterans with student artists to bring those veterans stories to life and possibly displaying the art pieces during First Friday Art Walk.
When bringing this idea to the Clymer Museum they immediately jumped on board. 488 people were in attendance and not only did the veterans stories move our audience, but so did the artists passion behind the artwork. A few pieces were even sold that Friday.
Overall the week was a complete and total success. The amount of resources provided, support shown and attendance we had for CWU’s Student Veterans Week was incredible. All of these events I’ve mentioned could never have been as successful without the research we did for several months. Anyone could throw an event together, but without listening to your audience it’s like shooting in the dark. It could turn out well or tank.
Like I said before, research helps you strategize your campaign, it can help in backing up your claims for implementing such campaign, and it can help you make informed decisions. We did all three. And when we submit our campaign to the National Board, we have plenty of research to back up our claims for creating such a campaign. As a team we are proud of this and hope it contributes to winning the competition.
I’m just so glad to be able to say I was a part of something like this and tell everyone about this really meaningful and successful campaign. It’s been great not only for my career in giving me the experience I need to be a better PR professional, but also shaping me into a well-rounded person.
And maybe gave me a little more appreciation to the importance of what seemed to be “boring, old research.”
3 Reasons Why Research Is Crucial to Effective Public Relations | Weber Shandwick Seattle Public Relations and Digital Marketing. (2013). Retrieved March 16, 2016, from http://www.webershandwickseattle.com/2013/09/3-reasons-why-research-is-crucial-to-effective-public-relations/
About Us. (n.d.). Retrieved March 16, 2016, from http://studentveterans.org/index.php/aboutus
Bateman Case Study Competition. (n.d.). Retrieved March 16, 2016, from http://prssa.prsa.org/scholarships_competitions/bateman/
Stacks, Don W., and David Michaelson. A Practitioner’s Guide to Public Relations Research, Measurement and Evaluation. New York, NY: Business Expert, 2010. 203. Print.