Monday, April 2, 2012

Do. Say. Feel. See. Fenton's PR research approach


In the past few years, we in the public relations research business have seen (not to soon) an emerging consensus against "the black box" -- the (supposedly) proprietary monitoring/measuring/analytical product that is better than the other guy's. PR professionals increasingly demand transparency and plain English from research. This is a good thing; it's going to make public relations more scientific, more professional, more thoughtful -- and more honest.

But it doesn't change the fact that PR research is hard; "results" and "insights" aren't often easily apparent from the metric. It would be nice if there were a black box. So the research companies and some PR firms are understandably struggling with not only how to do sound research, but how to present and communicate the product of research so that it is accessible and usable.

I recently came across one approach, which if not perfect, is quite impressive. Fenton has e-published (free PDF) about their approach to social/traditional PR research, placing various metrics under the categories of "do, say, feel, see." (As Aristotle taught us, the first step in intellectual endeavor is to create useful, meaningful categories.) In those four analytical buckets, Fenton puts the array of social and traditional media metrics -- but having the individual metrics in those categories explicitly acknowledges what the metrics tell us. This is what people have seen. This is what they said. this is how they've felt. This is what they've done.

As might be expected from Fenton, the scheme is designed for a non-profit organization, but it's clearly applicable how it could be adapted for a commercial or government organization, with the "do" metrics being adapted to the situation.

Fenton's approach isn't a black box, but it delivers a top line simplicity (in the good sense of that word). The approach is also transparent -- in the sense that it is easy to understand and open about its methodologies.

I would be interested to learn -- and I would hope -- if such a "packaging" of PR research is making it easier for Fenton to sell (literally) PR research. Lack of transparency in PR research has been an obvious obstacle to selling PR research: a black box may make a company seem mysteriously intriguing, but it's hard to price mysteriously intriguing. A fully transparent method and presentation of PR research should sell -- at least I hope it does.