Sunday, October 21, 2012

Lesson of the day: Research, research, and then research some more.

Launching a PR campaign generates quite the excitement among the client and the public relations practitioner. As the client is focused on the end result, there is a lot of pressure put on the PR practitioner to obtain those results quickly and efficiently. In the essence of time, it may be easier to go straight to the to-do list rather than delve into the nitty-gritty sides of things, in other words, research.

Research is an essential part of any public relations campaign. I would dare to say, the most important element of the campaign. It enables you to uncover important details about your publics and the world they live in.

As Donald Treadwell simply states,” to be a successful PR firm, it’s crucially important to understand the economic, political, legal, regulatory, public opinion, social, cultural, technological, marketing, and financial components of the organization you’re working for.”

Sounds simple enough, right? How does one do this? What techniques can we use to gather detailed information about our publics and their environment?

Firstly, you could start with secondary research before conducting your own primary research. This would mean using existing information to your advantage such as reading books, newspaper articles, surfing social media sites and blogs, etc. It is a good way to assess what you’re working with.

Evidently, if you are a #plugged in PR professional, this type of research should be easy. It should be a simple matter of finding and collecting concrete facts.

Once you’ve got a better of idea of what’s out there, you may still have a few questions which can be uncovered through primary research.

Credit: CRNinc.
A focus group could be used to pretest your key messages, slogans and themes. You could uncover buzz words that resonated with them, and ditch those that didn’t.  Your questions will enable you to compile rich and qualitative data based on these individuals' attitudes and motivations. This information can help you define your strategy.

One aspect of research that cannot be overlooked is comparing your organization to its competition.

It is important to understand what the competition is doing and what consumers think of them. Why? You’re most likely both targeting the same consumers. These findings will in turn help you shape your strategy to « counter their strengths and capitalize on their weaknesses »1

At this point, you should be convinced that research is the first step when you want to create  a successful public relations campaign. 

When designing a strategic plan, you will need to determine the answers to some key questions about facts, goals, and audiences. If your research was properly executed, you will already have those answers and you can begin to craft your strategy. Not only should your strategy reflect your findings, but they should also be aligned with your organization’s business, marketing and communication objectives.

Understanding your audience can make the difference between a top notch campaign and a botched PR campaign.

Take the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty. It was a bold attempt to challenge our society’s views on beauty. Dove, with the help of its PR agency, Edelman, redefined the way women should feel about their bodies.

No other beauty company had tried this before.

Credit:  Dove

It wasn’t by accident that Dove came to the conclusion that the way beauty companies were marketing to women was all wrong.

As explained by the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), Dove conducted a survey and found that « 75 percent of respondents strongly agree that they wish "the media did a better job of portraying women of diverse physical attractiveness — age, shape and size." »

Without this information, Dove would not have been able to identify a clear strategy.  They wanted to generate their sales, create dialogue and debate about the definition of beauty and implement Dove self-esteem programs and they did!

It should come as no surprise that the PRSA presented them with the 2006 Silver Anvil Best of Award to fortheir Campaign for Real Beauty.

Lesson of the day: Research, research, and then research some more.


1 Wilcox, Denis et al. (2013). THINK Public Relations. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Education, Inc.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Interview with a PR professional

As a former Université de Saint-Boniface (USB) student, I was thrilled to meet their Communications Coordinator, Monique LaCoste, at a Manitoba IABC networking event this month. I couldn't think of a better person to interview. Without hesitation, she agreed to meet with me at her office the following week.

Monique LaCoste has over 18 years of experience as a CBC journalist. She is a well- known and respected public figure in the francophone community. She started as a radio announcer and transitioned to television in 2002.  She decided to focus on her family in 2006 and started Monique LaCoste Communications. Her initial plan was to take on radio, television and documentary projects but she was often called upon to produce communications materials for her clients’ public relations needs.

Why did she take the plunge and start a public relations career? It was really by accident that Monique made this decision.  She stumbled on a job posting that perfectly encompassed both her skills and her interests. This dream job is her current position at the USB.

She admits the transition was somewhat difficult. I was curious to know if any of her previous skills as a journalist proved to be useful for her current role. Her excellent writing and research skills have definitely come in handy.  "Being able to think fast, absorb important information and organize it in a concise and clear manner is crucial," says Monique. Not to mention she is quite media savvy. Monique understands how the media functions; what makes them cringe and what makes them embrace your story.

Typical is not the best way to describe her work weeks. Unpredictable would be much more suitable. She is currently juggling seven projects, which include an internal and external  fundraising campaign, the annual report, the Sous la coupole magazine, and much more. Oftentimes, she must drop everything to write a press release, a letter or even a speech as requested by other departments.

As we had discussed in class, a public relations campaign can take years of development before it can be successful and deemed to be true for Monique's proudest career milestone.

Her eyes lit up as she described the recent re-branding of the USB. I must admit, as a former student, I was fascinated to hear the details of this lengthy process.


Credit: La Liberté
From left to right, Raymonde Gagné, USB President and Monique LaCoste.

Although the re-branding of the university occurred within the last year, it took years of preparation to create significant buzz around the USB in order to influence public perception.

It began in 2009 with a public opinion poll to determine how familiar Manitobans were with the USB.  They  found that close to 56% of Manitobans knew or had heard of the USB.

Monique had her work cut out for her. A branding budget was set and specific projects were strategically picked to raise overall awareness of the USB brand in English and French media outlets. By 2011, 62% of Manitobans admitted they recognized the USB name.

Monique's efforts were finally paying off and as reported by the Winnipeg Free Press, "USB has seen its enrolment soar by 8.4 per cent, bringing its total enrolment to an all-time record of 1,267 in 2012."

Needless to say, Monique is quite proud of the USB's new brand image. The creation of their new logo was definitely one of the highlights. An outside agency drafted 14 versions but it came down to 2 logos which were presented to a focus group. "It was a unanimous decision. Everybody agreed that our current logo was the right choice," exclaimed Monique.

The result is truly astonishing. The logo encompasses both the rich history of the institution yet incorporates its bright future. Click here to read more about the different aspects of the USB logo. 

As I chuckled nervously, I dared to ask her how one becomes a successful communications coordinator. She stressed that what differentiates an average PR practitioner to a top notch one is how #plugged in she/he is with their respective community. They must understand their publics before they can effectively communicate with them. Being #plugged in does not only mean being in tune with trends in the PR industry but also in the business world.
What a relief for a #plugged in gal like me!

Inspired by her dynamic energy, I asked her if she could provide any advice to a hopeful PR professional such as myself. She immediately shouted "GO FOR IT!  We are in a dire need for public relations practitioners, especially ones that can communicate in French." She assured me that formal training was the right path, and she does wish she would have known this before starting her own PR career.

Her last words of wisdom were simple: Be passionate. She didn’t hide the fact that her job is not a typical 9-5 job. A true PR professional loves to talk about their organization whether they’re on the clock or not. They are constantly looking for new opportunities to relate with their publics. 

She definitely worked some #prmagic on me. This interview solidified my decision to pursue a career in public relations.  It was a delight to meet a such a passionate public relations professional like Monique.