Every public relations program needs to research its publics to determine whether goals set are possible of accomplishment and how. The public relations practitioner may find, after research is completed, that the principal's goals are unattainable for one or another reason. Before goals are set they may need modification to accord with the realities of the public's attitudes.
Public opinion polls are used for measuring public attitudes, motivations, and hopes. The public relations practitioner has a wide range of able pollsters to choose from. The conscientious practitioner studies and evaluates how to carry out research among the numerous methods of accomplishing the purpose sought. There are mail polls, telephone polls, and personal interviews, sometimes in depth. These techniques vary in time, and money required and in results achieved.
When funds are available, a professional nationally known organization may be selected. Burns Roper, George Gallup, Jr., Louis Harris, and Daniel Yankelovich head such organizations. If the budget is limited, less formal research may be carried out. Leaders of those groups whose opinion is sought may be surveyed. For instance, an idea of the eating habits of a town may be obtained by talking to butchers, grocers, and supermarket managers in various socioeconomic groups and to the heads of inexpensive, medium-priced, and high-priced restaurants. An estimate of political patterns of a community may be gained by talking or writing to leaders of the many groups making up the community.
Public opinion research is also valuable at stated intervals after the first research has been completed to ascertain changes in public attitude or action that have taken place.
Public opinion research today is a diverse, complicated field. Its ramifications are numerous. Development of computers and other instrumentation brings continuing changes. When I first started in 1919 personal assumptions about public opinion governed public relations planning.
Interpretation of Research
After the pollsters have interpreted their findings, the practical application of the findings as a basis for change of attitude or action is left to the public relations practitioner. The polls identify for the practitioner adjustments or maladjustments between principal and publics. They point up what modifications of policy or program are necessary to win public approval and support, and they also expose the areas of ignorance, apathy, or bias of the public that need correction.
The study, if properly analyzed, discloses (1) those in favor; (2) those on the fence; and (3) those against the subject of the study. This enables the public relations practitioner to deter-mine policies and programs to intensify favorable attitudes, win over those on the fence, and negate unfavorable attitudes. The study may also indicate modifications of behavior and action by the principal and a program of information and persuasion of the public. The more depth the study has, the more useful it is in planning. Surveys reveal the influences that potentially shape opinions of specific publics by authority, reason, persuasion, factual evidence, emotion, or a combination of these. Some may indicate that certain publics resent the principal's actions because they do not conform to certain standards of conduct. Surveys also may reveal the specific media to reach certain publics.
Surveys enable the public relations practitioner to meet problems in a logical way. Instead of functioning on assumption or dealing with vague, ephemeral forces, the practitioner is able to plan strategy and tactics to develop a program of action toward socially responsible goals.
Modification of Objectives
The public relations practitioner often finds after research that goals set are unattainable. They must be modified. Some ideas, products, or services may need more education of the public. The public may have prejudices against a particular cause or product or service, or a competitive situation may be such that it is impossible to meet the goals set. Under such conditions, the principal, on advice of the public relations practitioner, changes goals, modifies them to accord with realities.
When specific goals have been set, strategy is determined. By strategy is meant how mind power, manpower, mechanics, and money are deployed. This demands high professional skill by the practitioner, the application of art to a science-social science. How should social science be applied to bring about the desired objectives? It demands professional expertise of the kind a doctor or lawyer employs in handling cases.
Themes and Appeals
Themes and appeals are shortcuts to human understanding. Their proper selection is essential to well-planned public relations. They are derived from the results of public opinion research. Properly used, they intensify already favorable attitudes, convert the undecided, and negate unfavorable attitudes.
To decide upon themes and appeals, the public relations practitioner turns to the social sciences. Humans are motivated by three main drives: (1) bodily or physiological; (2) cultural or social; and (3) individual. These drives are subject to outside stimuli.
Physiological drives, arising from bodily needs, cause us to act in certain behavior patterns. Hunger, for instance, is a positive physiological drive. Withdrawal from unpleasant or dangerous situations is a negative one. Sex and thirst are physiological drives. For instance, the appeal of the soft-drink industry is based on arousing the thirst reaction and stressing the ability of the product to bring relief.
Social drives affect our attitudes toward products, policies, and practices of all units impinging on the public. They affect our judgments on political candidates, toothpastes, and auto-mobiles. Purchase of a particular motor car is often motivated by social pressure.
Individual drives dominate other conduct Safety factors, for instance, appeal to a desire for self-preservation-the life wish.