Dr. Neill: PR, Marketing, and Research

Research being carried out at the Microscopy l...

Quantitative Research being carried out at the Idaho National Microscopy Lab: http://www.facebook.com/idahonationallaboratory (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Dr. Marlene Neill, an assistant professor of Journalism, Public Relations and New Media at Baylor University, spoke to our Mass Communication Theory class Tuesday about trends in scholarly research.

Dr. Neill is a Public Relations specialist who has worked in the field as well as academia in the capacity of professor and researcher. She discussed two papers that she either authored or co-authored. In addition to discussing the specific papers she wrote, she also discussed the process of getting a paper published and presenting it at a conference, as academia is becoming increasingly research oriented.

One of the major distinctions Dr. Neill discussed within research is whether or not the project is quantitative or qualitative research. Quantitative research is utilized most heavily in the sciences but is often seen in the arts (journalism included). For instance, one may do a survey, an experiment, or any number of research tactics that would be more definitive and cover a much larger group (therefore allowing generalizations) than qualitative research. The latter method of research employs in-depth interviews with a specific person or a focus group that only covers a small group of people. Neill prefers qualitative research and conducted both of the papers she discussed with us in this fashion.

In academia, there is much discussion on which method of research is more effective and trustworthy. All scholars have their own opinions but each method has its place in certain fields and certain topics within those fields. For instance, a sociologist would certainly utilize quantitative tactics because it is necessary for that discipline. One simply cannot understand the greater sociological implications by only asking a few people. It is for this reason that political scientists use polls instead of simply asking one person. On the other hand, Neill chooses to use qualitative research tactics because the field of PR is more of a personal field. Understanding how people think on a deeper level and asking open-ended questions allow more creative answers. One is not as boxed in with qualitative research. Personally, I prefer Dr. Neill’s approach because (for me, specifically) the individual stories underneath the masses are much more important. I would rather speak with someone who just lost their house in the hurricane and determine how I might help as opposed to simply providing the number of people affected. Each method has its time and place and each possess great advantages and pitfalls.

Dr. Neill also discussed her papers “Beyond the C-Suite: Public Relations’ Scope, Power & Influence at the Senior Executive Level” and “PR Professionals as Organizational Conscience.”

“Beyond the C-Suite” raised some interesting questions as Neill explored four different corporations. The focus of the study was to determine whether Marketing or Public Relations specialists took greater importance at these corporations. She wanted to know what kind of executive committees had been put in place in these companies and why they contain the people they do. She found that the companies who had fairly stable environments tended to place more importance on the marketing side of things because they didn’t have damage control to do like the turbulent environments did. The latter place more stock in their PR departments (understandably so) because they tend to have more messes that must be cleaned up. For a company, effective PR departments can either be their most underutilized asset or their lifesaver. They might not get noticed until they are needed but at that point they become worth their weight in gold.

In “PR Professionals as Organizational Conscience,” Dr. Neill determined that in most cases, the PR professionals take this role rightly. These are the people who will have to explain the decisions of the company to the public, whether they are ethical or unethical. These are the people whose faces will be plastered around blog slams, Facebook rants, and hated by all manner of infuriated people. If a company fails to keep their investors’ best interests in mind, the PR department is the one that will take the public fall, despite the fact that they may have had little or no say in the matter.

Neill explained the importance of recruiting people for research, as well as the importance of doing it correctly. It’s important to reach out into one’s network to gain interviewees and participants because the success of the study hinges on the quality of these people and the answers they give. One must also be prepared to offer them confidentiality if that is something that will sway participation in one direction or the other. Professional groups and alumni will also offer invaluable resources when searching for participants.

She also discussed a few things to keep in mind when working to get something published. First, don’t give up. Sometimes it is simply not the right thing for that journal at that time but giving up will never yield results. Second, be constantly aware of new work in that subject area. If something was recent and marked, address it. Furthermore, address all milestone work in that subject area as well. Failure to do so will not look good to reviewers. Third, don’t give up. I realize I already said that but it’s important enough to say again.

Ultimately, Neill’s talk was an incredible insight into the world of Public Relations as well as an excellent lesson in research. I will be looking forward to her next work.

English: Interactive Visualization of Qualitat...

English: Interactive Visualization of Qualitative and Quantitative data in a web based mixed methods application (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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