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  • Writer's pictureMatthew Irungu

Understanding the importance of Formative Research


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Research is the foundation for any public relations campaign. It’s important to value research at the beginning of the development of your communication strategy in order to fully understand what’s at hand, who you’re working with, what objectives you must align with and who you’re trying to positively influence.




Without adequate strategic and tactical research, a campaign will turn out to be ineffective and fail to resonate with any particular audience. In his book, Strategic Planning for Public Relations, scholar Ronald D. Smith highlights three crucial steps in his formative research process: analyzing the situation, analyzing the organization and analyzing the publics.


Step 1: Analyzing the Situation


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Understanding the situation is a critical first step in the formative research process. By understanding the situation, those who are putting forth a public relations campaign put themselves in a better position to serve their client. Without understanding the situation, quality research necessary for an effective campaign cannot be conducted.



Situational Key Factors


Some key factors that determine the ability to understand the situation include:

  1. Prioritizing sufficient research and background information on a client

  2. Understanding the context of the situation and those who may be involved (e.g. stakeholders, competitors, enablers)

  3. Having a knowledge of goals, objectives, opportunities, obstacles, threats, potential crises, etc.

By valuing these factors, one is able to better understand the situation and provide a campaign that has a clear direction, can effectively communicate with audiences and lead to the fulfillment of organizational goals and objectives.


Step 2: Analyzing the Organization


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Understanding the organization helps provide more of a foundation for one’s public relations campaign. By understanding the organization, you’re able to fully comprehend the organization’s structure, values and hindrances which can lead to strategic communication practices being positively aligned with the organization’s goals (as well as leaving a positive influence on their publics and target audiences).


Organizational Key Factors


Some key factors that determine one’s ability to understand the organization include:

  1. Comprehending the organization’s culture and values (e.g. mission, values, vision, ethics, guided principles, etc.)

  2. Understanding organizational goals and objectives

  3. Knowing who the organization's target audiences may be

In valuing these factors, you put yourself in a better position to put forth a campaign that feels authentic and resonates with audiences.


Step 3: Analyzing the Publics


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Understanding the publics is a pivotal factor as far as campaign advancement. By understanding the publics, a campaign is more likely to produce messaging that is effectively communicated and has an impact.






Publics Key Factors


Some key factors that determine one’s ability in understanding the publics include:

  1. Identifying the different areas or markets the publics will fall in

  2. Understanding the publics’ preferences, interests, values, etc.

  3. Tailoring messaging that will align with these interests

By doing so, a strategic communication strategy can be applied that features messages that can resonate with specific publics and audiences, leading to an increased likelihood of success.


It’s crucial that each step of Smith's formative research process is utilized. By doing so, you put your campaign in a better position to develop a communication strategy that aligns with organizational goals and objectives, resonates with publics and audiences and fosters sustained growth for both parties.


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