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Spending on new products, developing markets, public relations or promotion? Then it is better to make informed decisions based on facts rather than taking a stab in the dark based on a hunch. Before commissioning paid for public relations research, it is worthwhile getting an appreciation of the big picture by looking at all the free, in-house and low cost sources that are available to you.

  1. Look at customer service records. Most customers don’t complain, they just go elsewhere. The ones that do complain or have had difficulties are not a nuisance, but a rich source of information that can improve performance, satisfaction and retention.
  2. Ask front-line staff. The sales and service people in customer facing roles take all the flak. They can tell you what customers really like about the organisation and what annoys them.
  3. Traditional media. It is worthwhile looking at several key journals for the industry, going back a full year. Look for comment pieces, key issues, trends, letters, and competitor activity. Cut, paste or scan and classify relevant articles.
  4. Bank, government and trade association reports. A vast amount of industry specific intelligence is produced by these organisations. Go directly to banks and trade associations and government agencies. In the UK government information is available from the Office of Public Sector Information (OPSI) At the HMSO web site you will find DTI, BSI, BRE, DEFRA and other UK government and related publications. In the USA, information on a raft of industries is available from the Department of Commerce.
  5. Internet – it is all here. Plan your search carefully by listing key word search terms. Much information will be available for free, but do remember to check copyright and terms of use statements! At the end you should have a good appreciation about the industry, main players, issues, and trends.
  6. Commercial research. There are a lot of published research reports available to buy, especially for consumer markets and major demographic segments. Ask the leading research organisations. For the UK and 70 other countries worldwide, consult the Market Research Society, or Research Buyers Guide In the USA try the Market Research Association
  7. Compile, consolidate and evaluate. Now you have the data, it is time to make sense of it. It helps to have a structure of main headings – market size, product groups, stability, trends, segments, competitor activity, industry issues, market issues, customer issues and so on.
  8. Pinpoint knowledge gaps, inconsistencies and key issues. This is the basis on which you can compile a research brief. Before you do, see if you can do a deeper search of the above sources to identify missing information.
  9. Identify research companies. Ideally you need a company that has experience of your sector with researchers that understand the issues and can easily identify an audience with the right profile. Research companies often specialise in B2B, consumer, government, demographic segments.
  10. Issue the brief and invitation to quote. This needs to be clear, but not too restrictive. This will allow your chosen research company to show their expertise.
  1. Don’t listen to sales people who tell you prices are too high. There is no sales person born who doesn’t believe they could sell more with lower prices.
  2. Don’t always DIY. Tempting though this may be, confine the ‘do it yourself’ effort to the background data search and use a professional company with the right knowledge and resources for the real research. However hard you try, you can never be independent and impartial.
  3. Don’t be side tracked. It is very easy, especially on the internet, to be drawn into fascinating lines of enquiry that are not directly related to the research you intended.
  4. Don’t rush to conclusions. It is very easy in your own industry to think you understand everything and draw the wrong conclusions based on the slimmest evidence. That is why outside impartial advice is vital.
  5. Don’t corrupt the research. The brief should allow the research company to reveal the situation objectively and not direct them to ‘discover’ facts that reinforce the views of the company or person commissioning the research.

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