WMPRSA Program: Take the Mystery Out of Research - 5/17/12

Research is the first and most overlooked part of the four-step process that guides strategic public relations. Research doesn’t have to be feared, it can be the public relations practitioner’s biggest ally. Scott Watkins, Anderson Economic Group

Research expert Scott Watkins of Lansing-based Anderson Economic Group will outline the most effective ways to create a research component that delivers meaningful results. Watkins will provide examples of how research can help to strengthen a campaign or event, offer tips for conducting research on your own and outline when it might be necessary to bring in additional support.


Scott Watkins is the director of market and industry analysis at Anderson Economic Group, with expertise in economics, industry and market analyses, as well as public policy. AEG has offices in Lansing and Chicago. Recent reports by Watkins include “The Likely Economic Impact of a Chicago 2016 Olympic Games” and “Automation Alley’s Annual Technology Industry Report.”


Thursday, May 17, 2012, 11:30 AM - 1:00 PM


University Club of Grand Rapids 111 Lyon Street NW, 10th Floor of Fifth Third Bank Building Grand Rapids, MI 49503


  • Event Registration
  • Member $25.00
  • Non-Member $35.00
  • Student $20.00

Please note: Day-of registrations and walk-ins will be assessed an additional $5 surcharge.

Program Recap - Writing Winning Award Entries

PRoof Award entries are due March 1, and WMPRSA offered a free program to members on January 26 on how to write winning entries.  Brian Burch, a former WMPRSA Board Member, judge, and winner of numerous awards has now made his tips available here: WRITING WINNING AWARD ENTRIES: A Holistic Approach January 26, 2012 Brian Burch, Public Relations Director, ArtPrize

Big Ideas

Award-winning public relations campaigns are often the result of a “big idea.” It’s important for public relations campaigns to embrace this type of creative thinking or design thinking in order to break through the clutter and chaos of an increasingly fractured media landscape in order to have real impact.

It’s these big ideas that are the greatest contenders for awards, but an idea is not a plan. Creative, big ideas have to solve communications problems using original, strategic thinking. They also need to show some elements of risk, relevance, impact and originality.

Plan Early, Document Everything

The key to writing a campaign entry that will win an award is following the basic tenants of good communications. No level of “wordsmithing” will cover up a mediocre or weak campaign. Starting with a plan, executing deliberately and documenting the process will help your efforts when it becomes time to create the award entry.

  • Databases
  • Journal
  • Budget
  • Track progress in real time (starting metrics are as important as final metrics)

Clearly Define Measurable Goals

Among the greatest missteps of a public relations campaign is to believe that media clips alone will win an award. While highly impressive and definitely a factor, the most important part of a public relations campaign is how it impacted the core business of the organization.

  • Sales objectives
  • Website Traffic
  • Audience increase
  • Fans/Followers/Influence

Even if something as intangible as awareness is the key objective, ensure that there is a metric that can quantify growth or prove that the messages of the campaign were carried through.

Start Writing: Start at the End

It might seem counterintuitive to start with the results of your campaign, but it shouldn’t be. Your results are likely the reason you’re submitting the campaign for an award, so build off of them and meet your goals and objectives in the middle. This will help ensure that you’re carrying a narrative throughout the entire entry.

Intro Paragraph

Think about writing an entry as you would write a press release, each sentence needs to entice the reader to do one thing—keep reading.

An easy-to-grasp introduction providing an overview of the entry should provide a summary of the campaign and what worked. The intro sets the tone with key ideas and goals, but it’s not the narrative, so get to the point, fast, and make it easy for judges to understand the program and the important takeaways.

Target Audience

Understanding an audience is critical to establishing a comprehensive strategy. Therefore it’s important to define the audience—its attitudes, beliefs and desires. It will prevent the juror from making assumptions, show you’ve done your research and will create greater appreciation for strategy and execution.

Research and Results

The two elements that separate a good entry from a winning entry are the research at the beginning and the results at the end. When writing an entry, these are literally at the beginning and end of your draft, but the two are inherently connected and therefore should be written in parallel.

The creativity of a campaign can be found in the opening paragraphs and then carried through the strategies. The research provides the justification for those strategies. Winning entries provide evidence based on primary or secondary research to support the following:

  • Risk
  • Relevance
  • Impact
  • Originality
  • Evaluation

In addition, you need it to provide a comprehensive understanding for your audience and objectives. From those stem your strategies and tactics.

Two things to remember:

  • Primary research is conducted by you.
  • Secondary research is conducted by someone else.

Research is hard evidence, not anecdotes or stories. Dig into sales data, market share, survey results, census data, etc. All of these can provide the facts that determine why the campaign was important and timely. It will also support how much risk was involved in the campaign and therefore how important the strategy was to its completion. They also provide the metrics for results.

Results are the tangible items that explain how well a campaign accomplished its goals and made a difference beyond media coverage or positive anecdotes. What was the change and how did it positively impact the primary business?


There’s often confusion for award entry writers on the difference between a strategy and a tactic. The best way to describe the difference is a strategy refers to a direction or conceptualization of how to reach an objective, while tactics are the individual executable components used to reach that objective.

In the narrative, outline the strategies, how did you decide to divide and conquer. What were the key influences that led you to that direction?

The Drama is in the Challenge

Your project was probably really difficult, and there were probably obstacles along the way. The most memorable award entries are the ones that called out the tactical challenges they faced — whether budget, time, unforeseen events – and illustrate how they adapted to overcome the challenge. Judges care about the end results, equally important, it is what you did to get there – research, planning and execution, and what happened along the way. Sell the drama of your program.


Every line item in the evaluation should match a stated goal, objective, item of research and strategy. Just saying that you wanted media coverage and showing a bunch of clips isn’t enough. Analyzing reach, impressions and how the target audience reacted makes a convincing case. Show that the organization will receive a return on investment as a result of your program. There needs to be a direct correlation between what you wanted to accomplish and what you did accomplish.

Support Materials

Ensure support materials are comprehensive by going through research items that are mentioned in the two-page narrative are included in the support materials. If you call out an action or tactic in the summary, then there should be documentation in the binder. Too often the binders lack substance and need to be more than just a “clip book” of resulting coverage.

Items to include:

  • Primary Research
    • Survey Results
    • Qualitative and Quantitative Data
    • Analysis of Results
    • Budget
    • Creative concepts
      • Diagrams
      • Wireframes
      • Photos/video/audio clips
      • Key quotes