Posted on: 2014-07-30 in How To
By Nick Hague, director at global business-to-business market research agency B2B International
Businesses often spend a lot of money paying for primary research. This is often because they’re not sure how to locate the information themselves. Or because they don’t realise that a little tweaking of information that isn’t in quite the right shape can be very fruitful, or because it’s too dated for their needs. People often think that a big decision surely merits an original piece of research and that requires a large amount of money - but this isn’t necessarily true.
We believe that where companies carry out initial research before commissioning a specialist, they’re likely to end up with a much more informed brief and therefore a better outcome. Desk research is something that people think of as looking through published reports and statistics, and it’s true that these can be very useful sources. However, many tend to look past other places that can be accessed freely or very reasonably that provide lots of easily digestible information. Simple things, such as speaking to someone at a trade association or carrying out an interview with an expert, can prove particularly valuable.
Obviously, desk research is key in PR, so here are seven sources that can be used to locate information for next to nothing:
There are some useful publications that compile all of the great starting points for gathering information. These range from the European Directory of Marketing Information Services and Directory of International Sources of Business Information to the extremely useful Research Index, which lists all articles published in the press. All can be found in ordinary libraries. The CIA also compiles basic intelligence in an online Factbook that can be very easily examined (https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/index.html). Virtually every country in the world is listed, featuring details on its government, geography, demography, economy, and infrastructure, as well as containing several maps.
This may seem obvious; however, there are a few tricks of the trade which PR professionals should be aware of. Using Google’s search tools to restrict results to certain file formats can help when looking for reports. For example, entering filetype:pdf before the search term will produce a search result limited to PDF files. Where possible, it is also important to use quotation marks to narrow the search and therefore retrieve a smaller number of more relevant results.
Company web sites are full of useful information, including product and service background, data sheets, company histories, press releases, and often financial performance. The information is often more extensive and up-to-date than printed brochures. Financial data can also be found in the Companies House’s WebSales which offers the searchable Company Names and Address Index, free of charge, enabling you to look up more than 2.5 million companies (www.companieshouse.gov.uk).
For most projects, hard statistical data is needed, and this can almost always be found from a government source because they cover most areas of business and social life. The Office of National Statistics website (www.statistics.gov.uk ) contains a vast range of official UK statistics and information about statistics, which can be accessed and downloaded for free. The Annual Abstract Of Statistics is also an easy way into a major series of data and is available in hard copy from Her Majesty’s Stationery Office (HMSO). However, the bible is the Guide to Official Statistics, an authoritative volume that is regularly revised.
This approach strays outside of desk research in the strictest sense. But locating data through interviews and direct contact with organisations and individuals who have knowledge of a particular field, including trade associations and publishers of information, is a means of getting the most value at little cost.
No matter how obscure, every trade has a collective body to represent its interests and usually produces several trade publications that carry considerable information about their industry. It is worth bearing in mind that details that are not always published can be obtained by going directly to the source.
As well as general news, business and trade publications include special supplements on industries and markets that can be extremely useful. The Financial Times is a major reference source in its own right. The Research Index has indexes of over 300 UK newspapers, trade journals and "popular" business periodicals with two sections arranged by company and industry. Each entry gives the title and headline of the article, newspaper or periodical title and date, and page number and is published every two weeks, so it is easy to find current information.
The B2B PR Blog is a resource for both PR professionals and people working in B2B industries on how to devise and implement successful B2B PR campaigns. The blog was founded by B2B PR specialist Heather Baker, who runs video production and corporate animation agency TopLine Film and digital PR and SEO agency TopLine Comms. The B2B PR Blog takes contributions from sensible industry folk with something interesting to say.
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