The Importance of Research – Surveys & Focus Groups

Hi all! It’s Nicole and Katie. We’re taking over the blog today to give you the low-down on research options. Namely, surveys and focus groups. When should you use one vs. the other? What are the advantages? Disadvantages?

Let’s jump in.


If you want to reach a large, geographically diverse audience, a survey is the way to go.

  • It allows people to respond on their own time and from their own location, and takes less time investment than a focus group.
  • The format can easily be customized to your own design and questions. Keep it short, though–under 20 questions is a good rule.
  • It can be distributed online—we do our own annual client survey this way—or in printed form via mail, like the Nielsen TV surveys you may have received in the past.
  • Survey results are easier to quantify and analyze than focus group responses. Online survey instruments often have automated statistics and coding tools that help you run data on large respondent pools.
  • You have the option to make responses anonymous or not, and online participants can forward the survey to others, helping to increase your reach.
  • Participants aren’t swayed by other respondents like they might be in a focus group.

The downside…

  • Though you have opportunities for follow up after a survey, you lose the “in the moment” discussion that often produces the best insights in a focus group setting.

Focus Groups

If you’re looking for insights based on real-time discussion, consider a focus group.  

  • Participants are carefully screened and recruited to ensure they are part of the target market. A focus group is most effective when there are 6-10 participants who all actively participate in the discussion.
  • Clients often are able to watch the discussion behind a one-way mirror or on a TV screen and witness participants’ emotions and thoughts first hand.
  • The moderator has the ability to direct the conversation to improve the quality of input and clarify any confusion.
  • Direct quotes from respondents’ are especially insightful and can be used as testimonials.
  • Focus groups are particularly useful during the exploratory phase of a new product or service to gather insights before a product actually launches.

Keep these challenges in mind when considering a focus group.

  • One or two dominant personalities can sway the conversation and make the results biased.
  • Some people feel uncomfortable talking openly and honestly in front of a group.

Research is the first step to any effective marketing campaign, public relations plan or product launch. Now that you know more about your research options, dive in and discover how people think/feel about your organization. 

Planning for Your PR in 2015

With the launch of a new year, many companies are looking to dust off their existing PR and marketing goals and outline a fresh approach. The trick is knowing how best to do so.

  • Review the Old – Take a look at last year. What worked well? What didn’t? Which objectives did you achieve and which are still out there? Are there certain areas of PR or marketing you were very successful in hitting vs. others where you don’t have much presence? Asking questions like these will help you identify key areas of focus for this year while maintaining momentum on your past successes.
  • Consider Your Overall Corporate Goals for 2015 – PR and communications strategies should be closely connected with your organizations overall goals for the year. If you haven’t identified those yet, take some time to consider where you want to be next December. What does success look like from a company-wide perspective? Then, based on that, how can communications best support?
  • Look for Strategies that Reach YOUR Audiences – Too often, people think annual PR plans need to be the widest assortment of creative ideas they can dream up. Creativity is fantastic, but it’s wasted if it’s not applied to channels your customers use or read. Think about where your key audiences are active, where they get their info, and what’s meaningful to them. Incorporate those insights into your communications strategies to marry creativity with relevant reach.
  • Consider Emerging Trends – Don’t dismiss all that creative energy too quickly. It’s still wise to have an eye toward fresh trends that will help your organization stand out among the crowd. Some of our suggestions for doing that in 2015? Think visual! Try infographics or brief videos to convey information in a fun and engaging way, fully supported by social media and other outreach.
  • Do More by Doing Less – Remember the plan you were considering with everything but the kitchen sink? Not only does it not reach your audiences, it’s also trying to tackle too much. Scale back and prioritize your PR objectives so that you have the budget, capacity, and time to execute them right. A good rule of thumb is to limit yourself to about three overall objectives for the year.
  • Own It! – Identify specific people to lead strategies or tactics, and engage outside firms when necessary. If everyone tries to own all parts of the plan, no one will own any one part of it. That’s often a recipe for disaster. Be thoughtful in assigning responsibilities, and keep up morale and momentum with monthly progress check-ins.

Now, you’re off and rocking communications for the New Year!