There’s no shortage of PR-suitable tools out there in the online world, as a simple search in any decent engine will make abundantly clear—so many ways in which you can glean valuable insight for your PR campaigning: vast resources such as the Agility PR Solutions media database that let you rapidly discover things that would previously have taken a lot of time and effort to discern.
You shouldn’t stop at the tools appearing in those high-profile roundups, though, as there are plenty of other tools that can be surprisingly effective for PR research—even when they weren’t designed for it and aren’t typically mentioned by those in the PR world. In this post, we’re going to look at five such tools, each with a valuable role to play. Let’s get to them.
The first of the two tools on this list that you’ll surelyhave used before, Statista might seem like a curious inclusion: after all, doesn’t everyone already know about it? Well, the surprise element here pertains to a couple of things: firstly, the remarkable power of statistics when trying to shape perception, and secondly (and most importantly), its notable viability as a free resource.
Go looking for a study on Statista and you’ll inevitably be pushed to pay for full access, with the bulk of the information locked behind a paywall. That’s to be expected, of course: the company is hardly going to give its full findings away. You could pay for access at that point, but it’s an expensive service: the cheapest tier comes in at $708 for a year of access. But it’s unnecessary.
Here’s the truth that sometimes goes unacknowledged: statistics and surveys aren’t viewed with scientific rigor in the world of online PR and general marketing. They’re used as cudgels to bolster points and often misused egregiously. If you’re trying to improve a company’s reputation by playing up its environmental credentials, being able to wheel out a shocking stat about climate change will certainly help.
And if you’re just looking for those headline stats, you don’t need to pay. You can find those as headline news. When you use a stat, the context doesn’t really matter because it’s a rhetorical device: just link to the paywalled survey, and it’s extremely likely that anyone seeing the stat won’t even bother to check that it goes anywhere, let alone pay to read the full survey.
Help a Reporter Out
Otherwise known as HARO, this service—in its own words—“connects journalists seeking expertise to include in their content with sources who have that expertise”: and that makes it a great resource for PR professionals who can submit expert statements for their clients and earn them valuable backlinks and citations from huge media outlets.
Even if you don’t want to get involved in the HARO process, though, you can still use the site for PR research. After all, it nearly shows you what journalists are looking for: which topics they’re writing about, what resources they need, and what points they’re trying to make. If it’s clear that there are similar pieces in development, you could steal a march on the writers and release content of your own (just one of the ways in which you could use it for an unintended purpose).
The second tool that you’ll have used before, Google warrants its place as surprisingly relevant because it’s such a core component of the online world that it easily goes unnoticed. When people look to carry out PR research, they turn to special tools that most people won’t know about, imagining that it will give them an edge. In truth, it’s how you research that matters.
Given how rich and varied Google results have become, they’re incredibly useful for researching what your competitors are up to—and what forms of content get noticed. There are various options for modifying the results, even geographically through a VPN (it might be meant simply to keep your online browsing safe, but even a free VPN can effectively spoof other locations). How is the targeted brand or asset faring in different regions? What does this tell you?
When you’re unsure how to proceed, there’s almost always value in venturing back to Google and seeing what you can find—and whether you’re looking for a point of contact or trying to uncover the history of a particular company, it can steer you in the right direction.
If you opt to skirt the Statista fee, you might want to divert it to DeepDyve: it’s ostensibly for scholarly research, but there are immense benefits to having access to academic journals. All of the power that goes to statistics pales in comparison to that of academic citations. Whenever you’re looking to bolster an argument or simply give a fresh statement an air of credibility, you can quote a chunk of a relevant journal.
In addition to that, you can look into research papers written specifically about the PR world, because they certainly exist. You might be able to learn some interesting things about fresh tactics and the likelihood of any given approach working. Knowledge is power, as they say, and having access to so much knowledge is a potent advantage.
Lastly, Reddit certainly warrants a mention due to its massive range of communities. Very often, a key part of PR research is looking into what people already think about particular brands, products or services—and since following relevant organic conversations is one of the best ways to go about this, there’s every reason to start lurking on notable subreddits.
You can use the internal search to see where the thing you’re trying to promote is being talked about. And if it isn’t being talked about, you can push things in that direction by bringing it up (as subtly as you can) so you can see how people react. There are also subreddits devoted to the PR industry—like r/PublicRelations or r/PRpros—that you can draw upon.
When you’re looking to conduct some in-depth PR research, don’t forget the tools we’ve looked at here. Some are ubiquitous while others are fairly niche, but they’re all more effective and relevant when it comes to PR work than you might have thought.