See the 18th camel

Date of publication: June 15, 1993

Abstract:

Public Relations (PR), since their humble beginnings as "flak", have evolved into a major and very specific discipline in communications, requiring specific research techniques. The paper shows how qualitative research methodologies adapted from marketing research are being increasingly used in this field, because they match some of the specific requirements of Public Relations (vs Advertising and/or Marketing ). The first part: provides an overview of what "Public Relations” encompass (from traditional press relations to crisis management or stakeholders relations) and how they evolved into their present state-of-the-art; then points out the specificities of Public Relations vs Advertising and/or Marketing and shows how qualitative techniques often match these specificities. Among others, the following specificities are discussed : PR focus on small, hard-to-reach but influential audience (vs large market segments); PR use two-way, interactive, interpersonal "relations (vs one- way communications); PR presuppose a "political" view of opinion- and attitude-forming, influenced vertically by opinion-leaders and laterally by social speeches (vs a "democratic" view of the market/public opinion where every consumer/citizen has equal power to build market share/public opinion) The second part describes some of the uses of qualitative research at each successive stage of a Public Relations programme, from strategic planning to tactical communication activities (e.g. press relations); and illustrates them with case studies. The paper concludes with a hopeful note on how research can still provide insight in communications, especially in disciplines such as PR that deal with complex contexts and issues - and illustrates this with a camel story.

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