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5 ways to make news media research actionable

By Gary Meo

Research and Analysis of Media (RAM)

Austin, Texas, USA


Researchers often struggle with ensuring the work they do is acknowledged and appreciated by non-research managers within their organisations. The research practitioner can design the perfect questionnaire, create a robust methodological approach, and execute flawlessly. But if the research doesn’t result in action, all this hard work might be wasted.

In these challenging times, when every marketing expenditure is carefully scrutinised, it is more important than ever to ensure each research project drives a meaningful result. The lack of actionability can lead to lost confidence among managers, fewer research resources, and diminishing relevance of research within the organisation.

To achieve optimal research results, keep scope creep at bay by aligning all aspects of the research project with stated goals.
To achieve optimal research results, keep scope creep at bay by aligning all aspects of the research project with stated goals.

So, what can researchers do to improve the actionability and value of research? To answer this question, I turned to four experts:

  • Pauline Brockman, senior customer insight analyst at the Tampa Bay Times.
  • Bryan Champ, research manager at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
  • Darrell Kunken, director of research and business development at McClatchy.
  • Francis Lopez, director of market research and analytics at the Miami Herald Media Company.

I asked each of these seasoned news media researchers to answer this question: “Imagine you are advising a group of young analysts about how to get non-research managers to understand and act upon research results. What would you tell them?”

The answers they provided were very similar and fell into five thematic buckets:

1. Start with the end result in mind.

Before beginning any research project, be sure the goals of the project are clearly identified, defined, and articulated to all the stakeholders. The goal may be to learn something specific about your audience, or convince an advertiser to increase her spend in a particular product, or test some new Web content ideas. Whatever the goals are, they must be made clear upfront so the results of the research can be acted upon to achieve specific outcomes. Keep your eyes on the prize!

2. Align every aspect of the project with the defined goals.

Always keep the goals top-of-mind as you design and execute the project, and don’t be driven off course by “scope creep.” Scope creep is when the purpose of the research expands beyond the originally defined goals, resulting in changes to the project that could distract from the more important matters at hand and overcomplicate the project. This is not to say the project can’t be used to achieve additional research outcomes, but the originally defined goals must be prioritised over all other considerations. Stay the course!

3. Tell a story.

When presenting the results of a research project to non-research managers, your task is to tell a clear and compelling story with data. There are some basic rules of good storytelling, but a key element in this context is “show, don’t tell.”

Utilise data visualisation techniques that illuminate the insights. Icons, pictures, maps, and infographics are just some of the ways to communicate the important findings in the data. Use numbers sparingly and strategically to make your key points. And share the most important findings — the “golden nuggets” — upfront in the presentation. Don’t bury the lead!

4. Define specific actions to be taken, take action, and document the results.

Now that research has answered the questions posed at the start of the project, what are you going to do about it? What specific actions will be implemented? The goals defined and articulated at the beginning of the project should drive the actions taken. If the goal was to convince an advertiser to increase her spend in a particular product, use the research results to define and implement the actions necessary to achieve that outcome.

And document the results. This documentation will be critical when you are asked to justify the cost and value of your research. Have an impact!

5. Communicate at every step.

Be sure to communicate with your stakeholders at every step of the process. Make sure the goals are clearly understood and agreed upon by all the stakeholders. Touch base frequently to ensure the goals remain clear throughout the execution of the project. Don’t let the goals morph into questions the research was not designed to answer. Begin to formulate action items throughout the process and communicate those action items so they can be refined along the way. When in doubt, over communicate!

Finally, I would like to add a tip of my own: Make insights available everywhere, all the time, and spread them throughout your organisation. Don’t rely upon a single presentation to communicate your results. If you have unique and actionable insights to share, share them with every person in your organisation who would benefit from these insights. Proactively market your findings. The more your research is known, understood, and acted upon within your organisation, the more likely non-research managers will recognise — and appreciate — the value of your work.

About Gary Meo

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