Research in the Ogilvy Tradition
Charting the future of public relations
Holmes Report

Research in the Ogilvy Tradition

The era of programs that rely primarily on cleverness and creativity, instead of a strategy based on knowledge, no longer suffices. Today, agencies need to offer sound insights and perspectives to their clients.

Paul Holmes

  Building a foundation that creates truly effective public relations programming is the key differentiator between agencies today. Every public relations agency has access to scores of the same tactics and many can execute programs with equal skill and aplomb. However, the era of programs that rely primarily on cleverness and creativity, instead of a strategy based on knowledge, no longer suffices. Today, agencies need to offer sound insights and perspectives to their clients as well as function as partners in communications instead of simply executors.
The legacy left by David Ogilvy has continually demanded that type of thinking. As he so eloquently stated: “People who ignore research are as dangerous as generals who ignore enemy signals.” That belief has never been more relevant than it is today.
In the rebuilding of the agency, which began in 1997, one of the chief executive officer’s priorities was establishing a world-class research function. At that time, research at Ogilvy PR consisted almost exclusively of an information services group whose primary focus was serving the needs of the New York office. In January 1999, the long-term commitment to research was made with the hiring of Dr. David Michaelson, one of the leading practitioners in public relations research. Dr. Michaelson brought to Ogilvy 20 years of experience conducting high quality, actionable research for numerous Fortune 500 companies, advertising agencies and public relations firms throughout the world. Under this leadership, the research group at Ogilvy PR has grown in just two short years to a 17-person team that includes staff in New York, Washington, Atlanta (Alexander Ogilvy) and Cambridge, MA (Kendall Strategies).
Research is applied in four ways at Ogilvy:
  • Understanding clients, their competitors, the marketplace, customers and the media who cover them in the most complete way possible
  • Finding, highlighting and making public data that support the positions of the firm’s clients
  • Evaluating programs in a way that demonstrates their true impact across all target audiences and provides diagnostic information to improve program performance
  • Conducting annual client and employee surveys as well as other special internal evaluations for the firm. In conducting this work, the research group has pioneered the use of the Internet in data collection with these audiences
Research services are provided in four tiers of service, ranging from basic information retrieval to analysis of existing data to primary research to management consultation. The four stages of research are designed to give clients and account staff the best and most appropriate research that match their needs and budgets. Each of these stages is designed to provide a high quality and actionable research product that is presented as a unified research offering.
SECONDARY ANALYSIS prepares detailed reports, insights and conclusions based on information collected from existing research resources. These sources include previously conducted surveys; data from Simmons, MRI or Nielsen; Roper Reports; and relevant articles and interviews with experts or other key resources. These reports also provide communications analyses, identify target markets and offer insights into developing public relations strategies and tactics.
PRIMARY DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS is data derived from original sources. These sources include surveys, focus groups and individual and executive interviews. Applications of this research include formative program research, strategic analysis, program measurement and evaluation, communications and message testing as well as tactical research (research for publicity). Included in this research is a conclusion-based presentation of data as well recommendations for appropriate communications strategies.
CONSULTATION SERVICES are an extension of primary research. These services include research design, communications and program recommendations, marketing insights and other appropriate forms of analysis and recommendation.
INFORMATION RETRIEVAL includes searches for data and articles from database and hard-copy sources. Professional information service specialists and desktop resources available to all account staff provide this service. Included in this service is a news monitoring capability that provides each office in the Ogilvy PR network with up-to-the-second access to breaking news for clients, enabling the firm to respond to stories as soon as they are filed around the world. The agency also provide clients with the capability to monitor news anywhere on the World Wide Web, tracking developments in online news sources, Web sites and chat groups throughout the Internet.
While there is no single point of entry for these services, all research staff, regardless of function, is cross-trained to know the resources and capabilities of the entire department as well as to make appropriate referrals when research opportunities that have not been requested exist within the agency.
The Ogilvy PR Research Group has access to state-of-the-art global information resources to find the information needed wherever it is located. This includes more than 1,300 commercial databases and other research services. In addition, the agency has direct access to the resources of WPP Group research partners anywhere in the world.
This work is supplemented with ongoing staff training programs that are conducted several times each year by senior research staff in each office throughout the Ogilvy PR network. The research group also manages all “institutional” research on behalf of the agency.
In addition to these fundamental services, the research group has also developed numerous specialized services that are designed to meet the unique needs of public relations agencies:
Measurement & Evaluation
The measurement and evaluation process at Ogilvy Public Relations starts at the very beginning — establishing with our clients’ objectives and goals that are achievable and measurable. The research group at Ogilvy PR developed an approach to exactly measure the goals of a specific client program by looking at both outputs (How many people saw a specific article, or heard a specific message?) and outcomes (How did the program influence and impact people’s behaviors?). To do this, the agency developed the Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide Measurement Toolkit. The Toolkit is a suite of four proprietary measurement tools that includes N.O.V.A. (News Overview Valuation Assessment), a tool that measures the ability of agency- and client-originated placements to convey their intended messages. Supplementing this is Dr. Michaelson’s active participation with the Evaluation & Measurement Commission of the Institute for Public Relations Research and Education.
Research for Publicity
Ogilvy PR research professionals are experts at designing studies that enable uncovering those attractive “factoids” that will have significant appeal to its target audiences, as well as to the media. Research studies designed and executed by the agency have appeared everywhere, ranging from The New York Times to USA Today to Time; from public radio to the nation’s shock jocks; from all-news cable networks to TV’s big three news operations and talk programs.
Kendall Strategies
Kendall Strategies is a management consulting firm based in Cambridge, MA, that specializes in developing and implementing commercialization strategies for health care technology companies. Kendall consultants have a diverse and special set of skills tailored specifically to that market. These skills include market research, a unique understanding of small companies and experience in valuing the assets of these healthcare companies while products are still in development.
The most significant measure of the success of the research group has been its integration into the agency. The group has consistently exceeded its goals each year and is constantly in demand by offices throughout the network. The use of research at Ogilvy PR is expected to expand even further this year and its work has been recognized within the agency with its Chairman’s Award as a major contributor to a program that was considered the best program at the firm in 1999/2000. Additional highlights in the past year have included requests for studies conducted by the research group by the White House, the Council of Economic Advisors and the General Accounting office. The group has also been recently assigned a major research assignment valued at $1.1 million as well as work for the Health Care Financing Administration.
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