When research made a difference


PRWeek, February 2, 2023


Research is an integral part of any communications program, and smart agencies have built proprietary tools to help inform and shape PR programs at every stage


Once dismissed as mere "pitch toys," the proprietary research programs that agencies have developed are robust tools that can forge true partnerships. Three agency-client alliances talked with PRWeek about their programs.




The Dow Chemical Co. is many things to many millions of people. A multinational corporation based in Midland, MI, Dow is the world's largest producer of plastics, is a major producer of chemicals, and operates a slew of agricultural sciences products and services.


But during its 108-year history of manufacturing chemicals, Dow has had its share of PR challenges, including investigations into the side effects from the Agent Orange herbicide it helped produce, alongside other companies, that sickened soldiers in Vietnam.


Perceptions can linger, and so beginning in 2000, Dow formalized its reputation monitoring by integrating research from Ketchum's Corporate Brandbuilder into its reputation management program, says David Rockland, global director of research at Ketchum.


"Using a tool like Brandbuilder helps Dow structure messaging that is relevant and authentic to its many audiences," Rockland says, "while monitoring its reputation over time."


For instance, Rockland says Dow can monitor its current positive reputation and outreach efforts, as well as the residual effects of past issues, such as its 2001 acquisition of Union Carbide, a deal in which Dow inherited the legacy of the 1984 Bhopal Disaster, an accidental chemical release from a Union Carbide facility in India. While the acquisition was made a decade after Union Carbide had settled the case, the name still had negative associations for many.


"Today, we are doing very well from a reputation standpoint, but there are areas we want to improve," says Doug Brinklow, Dow global manager of corporate positioning and branding. "We are not in a negative situation, but we appreciate the importance in making the investment to find areas where we can become more positive."

That research filters down to all aspects of Dow's communications operations, Brinklow says.


"You need to decide what you want to find out and what is actionable about data you are collecting," he advises. "The hardest thing is to be consistent. You have to ask similar questions from year to year to be able to look at trends. Nothing is perfect or absolute, but this gives us a strong sense of how we are progressing."




When the owner of one of the most masculine-focused brands on the planet planned on rolling out a product aimed at female consumers, it knew it needed the right data.


In the summer of 2005, Church & Dwight, the maker of Trojan Condoms, debuted its new Elexa line of condoms and sexual health products, including a vibrating ring, targeting women.


Before the launch, Trojan tapped Edelman's StrategyOne to produce the Elexa Study of Women and Desire.

The program included a national online survey of 2,600 women ages 18 to 59 to understand "women's sexual journeys."


The objective was to design re-search that supported the client's unique positioning, to further its understanding of sexually active women, and to conduct statistically projectable research to stand up to media scrutiny, says Sarah Peterson, SVP at StrategyOne.


The decision to conduct the study online was done to encourage greater candor from respondents on a sensitive topic, explains Cassandra Johnson, product manager for Elexa. "And conducting the research with different ethnic and geographic markets enabled us to target our outreach to specific communities."


Media pickup was almost a given - what lifestyle reporter doesn't want to know that "American Women Want Great Sex." The campaign pumped out provocative data, such as, "84% of women agree that a good sex life is part of a healthy life," and "76% say that, at the request of a partner, they have tried something new sexually that they enjoyed." This fodder resulted in 20,871,777 media impressions, including the cover of the New York Post.


"We were expecting that the research would help refine the voice of the campaign and key messages," Johnson adds, "and give us something thought-provoking to say to the media and to women about female sexuality."




For the more than 33 million Americans suffering from overactive bladder (OAB), the subject is very sensitive. When Watson Pharma wanted to know how PR activities were shaping coverage of its Oxytrol prescription medication, it challenged Porter Novelli to generate a media analysis using its proprietary Proof tool, which gauges the impact of specific key messages in driving business outcomes.

"We view research as a vital function in PR, which is why we view measurement as more than just a report card," says Beth Weiner, SVP of strategic planning and research at PN.

To gauge the impact of media outreach and prove ROI, PN and Watson partnered with SDI/ PRtrak, now part of VMS, to develop the media analysis.


SDI/PRtrak searched the LexisNexis database of published information for media coverage related to OAB, urge incontinence, Oxytrol, and its competitors from May 1, 2001, to September 30, 2004.


PN supplemented the search with articles from outside sources, including consumer magazines, TV/radio transcripts, Internet media, and medical trade journals.


Each article was coded for tonality and presence of the program's key messages. In total, 3,000 articles were analyzed.


"In generating key message-related analytics, media value was used as a measure of penetration," Weiner says. "This assesses the market value in advertising dollars of the particular space or time occupied by a story placement and is a proxy for the perceived image or credibility of a media outlet."


However, instead of just providing an estimate for the entire article regardless of tonality or extent of mention, for this analysis, negative values were subtracted from positive and neutral values to obtain a net estimate of media value.

By using Proof, PN determined that stories containing a key message were nearly six times more likely to be positive than stories without a key message.


"Many times we propose research and clients accept, but they run out of budget, and research is the first to go," says Greg Haas, VP at PN. "But Watson was great about measurement from the start and, as a result, received specific recommendations on how to refine its strategy to increase the efficacy of its programming."