Conducting Research that Matters to the Practice: My Experience at Ketchum Global Research & Analytics

This summer, I was offered the great opportunity of a public relations research internship at Ketchum Global Research & Analytics (KGRA) in New York City as the 2015 Don Bartholomew Award for Excellence in Public Relations Research fellow. My experience at Ketchum offered me great insights on the best practices of public relations research in the industry and taught me how to apply what I have learned in my graduate studies to research that matters to the practice.

Learning about the Barcelona Principles through Hands-on Experience

The Barcelona Principles were first created in 2010 at the 2nd European Summit on Measurement, organized by AMEC and IPR. The principles have set the standards and practices to guide measurement and evaluation of public relations. I read about the Barcelona Principles prior to my internship at Ketchum, but it is through this experience that I actually get to learn how the guiding principles are applied in our daily practices. Here are just a few examples among the many projects I worked on during my internship:

  • One of the very first tasks I got assigned was a media measurement project for a client. The analysis entailed many different aspects including tone, inclusion of company or third-party spokespersons, topic drives, and prominence and relevance of the media outlet to the client and its stakeholders. The research reports we delivered not only showed trends in a quantitative way, but also the relevant topic drives and key quotes in a qualitative way. (Principle 4: Media Measurement Requires Quantity and Quality).
  • During the internship, I was also given the opportunity to get involved in analyzing some primary research reports. One of the projects was to measure the outcomes of a client’s internal communication efforts. Rather than counting what materials the communication team had put together for the company, a series of surveys were planned to measure the awareness, attitude and behavioral intentions of internal stakeholders throughout different phases to set up the baseline, identify gaps, obtain benchmarks and measure outcomes. (Principle 2: Measuring the Effect on Outcomes is Preferred to Measuring Outputs).
  • For the media measurement assignment I was given, the number of news articles sampled, the search strings used in Factiva, and the way they were coded were all explained clearly in the report. For the survey research reports, sampling techniques, margin of error, statistical procedures used and the exact wording of each question analyzed were all presented in a transparent way for future replication. (Principle 7: Transparency and Replicability are Paramount to Sound Measurement)

I also learned that Dr. David Rockland is working on updating the Barcelona Principles along with Dr. Sarab Kochhar, IPR’s Director of Research and a former Ketchum fellow .

The Scientific Process of Research Planning

Coming from the academic world, it’s almost impossible for me to not to compare what I have been doing at Ketchum to what I have done for my academic research. Admittedly, different from academic research that mostly tries to test and develop theories, the research projects I conducted during my internship tends to offer immediate actionable insights. However, when it comes to the planning process as well as the approaches and methods used, they actually share a lot of similarities. Good research practices are scientific in nature, whether it’s in the academy or the industry. A couple of weeks ago, I had an intriguing conversation with my supervisor Jocelyn Jackson, senior project manager at Ketchum. During our conversation, she drew a graph that depicted the similarities and differences between academic and industry research (see Figure 1 below).

Academic Researchpic1

Industry Research

pic2

The “insights” part for industry research, as further pointed out by Dr. David Rockland, interprets the research results into the context of the business world. During the two months, I have immersed myself into this application of research and have been helping solve the problems of our clients—I have to admit, this makes me feel really good!

The two months of my internship went by fast, but the great benefits it provided has reached far beyond that. Entering the second year of my doctoral study, I look forward to bringing the perspective of a professional to my future studies and sharing the best practices I learned at Ketchum with my colleagues and students.

Zifei “Fay” Chen is a doctoral student at the University of Miami and the 2015 Don Bartholomew Award for Excellence in Public Relations Research Fellow.

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