Primary and Secondary Research

Primary and Secondary Research

Research is the first step in the public relations campaign process.  You will create an overview of existing research/information about the client and the relevant issues (secondary research), and new original research about publics’ attitudes, opinions and beliefs through in-depth interviews (primary research).   Finally, you will create a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats).

Part 1 (1- 2 pages): Secondary Research: Create a summary of existing research about the client organization and relevant issues.

Part 1 has two sections: Internal Factors (the client) and External Factors (relevant issues).

Label each section.  Each section should be no less than two paragraphs and include at least three sources (the total sources for this section should be at least six different articles/sources of information).

Sources can include:

  • The organization’s website:  While the org’s website might have several pages of useful information, this cannot be the only source of information for this section.  You must use additional sources in addition to the org’s own site.   You can cite this information at the end of the sentence like this: (
  • Articles from news media outlets: (local and national), trade publications, credible blogs/online outlets.  Please let me know if you are unsure if a site is considered a credible source of organization. You can cite this information at the end of the sentence like this: (Jones, 2019) or ( 2018).
  • Research studies: published by government organizations (including the census, city/state agencies, etc.), nonprofits or NGOs (non-governmental organizations), or scholars/academic researchers.  For example, the National Parks website has comprehensive statistics about all of their parks, all provided free to the public online.  Also–sometimes competing or similar organizations’ websites can be a great resource for research studies or other useful information!  You can cite this information at the end of the sentence like this: (Jones, 2019) or (Centers for Disease Control, 2018).
  • Personal communication: OPTIONAL: If you would like, you may contact the client organization for details that might not be available to the public.  Please let me know if you would like help.  To cite this information, include the name and title of the person you spoke to in parenthesis at the end of the sentence.  For example:
  • “The organization lost more than 10 volunteers last year and believes it is because of the new location, which is difficult to reach via public transportation.”  (Jane Smith, Mostly Mutts Pet Rescue Community Outreach Coordinator)


Internal Factors should include information about the client itself.  Most of your information will come from the organization’s website.  There might also be a few media articles about the organization (the specific chapter you are working with and the national chapter, if there is one), but if there aren’t, that’s OK.


External Factors should include information about the issues that are relevant to the organization and its publics.  Simply put, the purpose of the organization.  For example, if your organization is a pet rescue, relevant issues would be puppy mills, spay and neuter programs, local or national economic or environmental factors that are contributing to pet abandonment or a decline in pet adoptions, etc. Information about competing or similar organizations can also be helpful (are there too many pet rescues in the area?).


Part 2: Primary Research


Primary research means new, original research that you create.  You will interview three people who have been or could be affected by the organization.  This should NOT be someone within the organization, but someone representative of the people you will be trying to reach through your campaign.


For example, if you are working with the American Diabetes Association, you will want to reach out to people who have diabetes, friends and family of those who have diabetes, people who have donated or volunteers with ADA, and medical personnel and practitioners who deal with patients who have or are at risk for diabetes.


For each in-depth interview, plan for at least 20 minutes.  Formulate questions that will yield-open ended answers.  This is an opportunity to learn more about the public perception of your organization, so ask questions about their feelings, opinions, and beliefs.  This information can be very eye opening and point you in a specific direction for your campaign. Be ready to ask follow-up or additional questions based on the subject’s response—the beauty of the in-depth interview is that it’s flexible—have a conversation!


How you find your subject is up to you.  You probably already know people who qualify, and you can reach out through friends and family to find others (ask co-workers, fellow students, or post on Facebook).  Phone or in-person is the best way to conduct interviews, so that you can add follow-up questions during the conversation.


You will need to include this information in Part 2 (approximately one half page):


List: The demographics of your anonymous subjects (Subject 1:  Female, 24, nurse,…)


A 1-2 paragraph summary of the responses to your questions–a transcript is NOT necessary.  What were the most interesting, surprising, or significant responses and why?  What were the consistent themes? Did your subjects agree or disagree on any items?  Analyze their responses:  what does this mean you should consider or focus on when you create your campaign?


Part 3: SWOT Analysis (approximately one half page)


A SWOT is the “summary” of what you learned in both Secondary and Primary Research.  For each element of the SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats), create at least two succinct statements, for example:



  • The organization is fully staffed with seasoned leadership who have been in place for no less than two years.
  • The organization is well-known in the community, having been featured on the local broadcast news at least four times last year.


You may use bullets or a list format for this section.  Some students like to create a four-section box for the SWOT.  🙂