Answers to 7 Common Questions About Opinion Research in Public Relations

Opinion research is a critical tool for effective public relations and marketing campaigns. The information gleaned through research helps you understand your audience, what motivates them, how they form opinions, and what communications channels you can use to influence them.

It’s a topic that comes up in most of our marketing or PR campaigns. Below we’ve answered some basic questions we get asked about opinion research.

Need help with research project?  Please contact our research partner DHM Research for all your opinion and market research needs.

At what stage of a PR campaign is opinion research important?

You always want to start a PR campaign with solid research. This is research that helps you define your target audience and how you can best influence them. The most important thing to keep in mind is that, without reliable and current information, you’re just shooting in the dark. While we can all make an educated guess–without research, it’s just that–a guess.

In most cases, the best place to start the process is through a “benchmark poll.” A benchmark poll allows you to gather a deep understanding of your audience and identify which metrics you’ll want to impact during the campaign. From there, the results may lead you to conduct a series of focus groups to give additional context from specific demographics or gain additional context in key issues.

With fresh insights in hand, you’re ready to develop key messages and deploy them on the audience(s) you wish to reach.

What’s the difference between qualitative and quantitative research?

As we’ve illustrated in our past Quinn Thomas #Insights research reports, qualitative and quantitative research are both critical to public relations opinion research projects.

Quantitative research is about analyzing the cold hard facts. It’s about responding to specific questions and leveraging the enormity of the data to uncover patterns and trends that help you draw conclusions. The most common vehicle for quantitative research in the PR industry is polling or survey research. Polls are typically conducted via phone, but online polls are also becoming more common and reliable.

Qualitative research helps understand people’s motivations and viewpoints and see the big picture. One of the most common forms of qualitative research in the public relations industry is focus groups and less structured in-person interviews. While quantitative research tells you “what,” qualitative tells you “why.”

Why is polling an important tool in public relations?

Knowing and understanding your audience is critical to the success of any public relations or marketing campaign. Qualitative and quantitative research are invaluable tools that help you understand the values, beliefs, and motivations of your audience or consumers.

Too often, people think of public opinion research as a means of measuring where you are today rather than where you want to be next month or next year. While a poll should always be looked at as a snapshot in time, it is also a strategic tool to develop a roadmap for your PR and marketing campaign.

Opinion research helps you understand which buttons to push. It helps signal when to push them and what triggers your audience to take action. Actions may be to buy your product, donate to your cause, or agree with your viewpoints. It also serves as an independent auditor that holds public relations professionals accountable against their own biases.

What’s the purpose of a focus group for opinion research?

A focus group provides the opportunity to have a deeper conversation and explore nuances associated with an issue. They enhance your understanding of the discoveries you made in a poll. Focus groups also enable you to put things in context. You get to ask follow-up questions and even test creative concepts to gauge how they land with your target audience.

An effective moderator creates an environment where you can push past generalizations and really drill into people’s values and beliefs. In fact, some of the best soundbites that get used in a successful campaign are casual comments that rolled off the tongue of a participant.

Isn’t it getting harder to get people to take polls?

Securing someone’s opinion is becoming a more difficult task. Pollsters today may have to make at least 100 calls to get just one person to complete a survey. When mining for very specific audiences and demographics that number can balloon to 175-200 calls to get a single completed response.

Fewer landline households are also making the task more difficult. Survey researchers are required to dial cell phones manually. That adds time and cost and means two things:

  • Surveys are getting more expensive. Pollsters must call additional people to achieve the prescribed sample size and desired margin of error.
  • It’s taking longer to complete polls. What used to take one or two nights can now take up to a week to complete.

Can you trust an online poll?

The reliability of a survey doesn’t necessarily come down to the medium used to collect the data as much as the methodology used to collect it. The growth of opt-in style online panels has allowed for the expansion of online polling as a legitimate and accurate gauge of public opinion.

We’ve found great success using online polls for clients asking complex questions that are difficult to process over the phone. The ability to read complicated concepts often makes it easier for respondents to grasp the issue and offer an opinion. This can reduce the percentage of people who don’t have an opinion.

Quinn Thomas has worked with Portland-based DHM Research to effectively use online panels in order to measure the views of Oregon voters on a wide range of issues.

That said, there are some important considerations when conducting online research for PR or marketing campaigns. There are still a large number of Americans who aren’t online daily. Some even lack internet access entirely. While adjustments can be made, this can be a challenge to accurate sampling on projects that require the opinions of older demographics, rural residents, or those of modest economic means. When faced with these challenges, you may choose to use phones or in-person interviews.

Any final tips for conducting option research?

The American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR) provides some great advice in their Best Practices for Survey Research. Two of our favorites at Quinn Thomas are:

  • Having specific goals.
  • Selecting a sample that well represents the population to be studied.

Never forget that research is a snapshot in time. Views change. Tracking these shifts over time is important. You’re able to follow the progress of your campaign. And they may help you make course corrections that ensure efficient and effective use of resources.

Rick Thomas is a founding partner of Quinn Thomas, a strategic communications and marketing agency with offices in Oregon and Washington. He advises major brands on strategy, messaging and execution of PR campaigns throughout the Pacific Northwest.