Someone once observed that the shortest word in the English dictionary that contains the letters abcdef is also one of the essential elements of effective communication: feedback. While the function of mainstream advertising is persuasion through one-way communication, public relations communication is only effective when mutual understanding between the sender of the message and the receiver is achieved.
Take A Look Back
Think back to your childhood. If your parents lectured you about everything you did wrong in their eyes, chances are the effectiveness of their lectures was limited. On the other hand, if you had the kind of parents who discussed their expectations with you (admittedly rare), soliciting your viewpoints and helping you understand why they felt the way they did, it’s likely to have had a greater impact on your character development.
By the same token, in college you have presumably taken the traditional lecture courses in which 50 to 200 students sat in a large lecture room taking notes as the professor talked. Hopefully, you also had courses in which a small class of 15 to 20 students had the opportunity to ask questions of the instructor and express observations. In which class did you retain more? Which did you find more stimulating?
Two Key PR Factors
There are two points at which feedback is critical to the public relations communications process – before the message is crafted and upon completion of the process. Audience feedback before the process begins is for the organization to learn how it is perceived by the public. This gives management a foundation on which to build their policies and develop their message. Then evaluative research can be used to determine whether the PR effort achieved its goal and has improved both the image of the organization in the eyes of the public and management’s understanding of its audience.
PR Focus Groups and Polls
Feedback can be obtained in a variety of ways, the most commonly-known methods being focus groups and surveys or polls. Focus groups are an effective approach to identifying the attitudes and perceptions of participants and are widely used in advertising and marketing as well as in public relations.
When you think of polls, undoubtedly Gallup comes to mind. In the 1930’s George Gallup began conducting public opinion surveys that PR specialists would then use to evaluate public attitudes and plan their campaigns accordingly. Of course, today many believe that polls have evolved into a monster by which political policies are drafted.
Be as it may, the importance of feedback in any public relations communication process cannot be underestimated. In the same way a trial lawyer never asks a witness a question to which the lawyer doesn’t already know the answer, a public relations professional never launches a campaign without knowing in advance the public’s perceptions. This is key to an effective public relations campaign.