National Capital Chapter

The Dangers of DIY Market Research: A Matter of Ethics

By Jason Booms, Director of Strategic Research & Communications, The Hannon Group, LLC

Market research technology has evolved to the point where “DIY survey research” is frequently employed by communications professionals. Sometimes, it works.  Other times…not so much.  Communicators should think critically about how best to design, implement, and analyze studies to ensure that the information obtained is accurate and gathered in a manner that reflects market research and communications ethics best practices.  Otherwise, the risk of garbage in/garbage out is far too high.

By viewing communications research through the framework provided by the six core values of the PRSA Code of Ethics, it is possible to determine optimal market research practices.  Those core values are: advocacy, honesty, expertise, independence, loyalty, and fairness.

Considering PRSA Ethics: Advocacy

By considering the core value of advocacy, a communications practitioner can ask questions and apply the answers to help shape a PR research approach.  Questions can include:

  • Is this a study design/questionnaire/question/analysis that reflects “responsible advocacy for those we represent?”
    • Is it making outlandish claims? Are you using one or two pieces of opinion research to make the case that your automobile manufacturer client is the safest car company ever? If so, you are likely over-stating your argument.
    • Would the average person see the questionnaire as biased or otherwise flawed? Is there bias in how you describe certain individuals or historically underrepresented groups? If so, one should consult with an expert on how to properly frame questions.

Researcher Responsibilities

There is also a need to engage in ethical disclosures when releasing data for public consumption, both upon release of research findings (e.g., sharing the questionnaire) as well as within 30 days of request by third parties (e.g., interviewer quality control methods).  In short, there are a number of steps that must be taken by the researcher, even after the survey is complete.  With public release research, the connection between the researcher and their product is made public for all to see, potentially forever.  From a career point-of-view, who wants to be attached to a sub-optimal DIY project years after you have moved on from that effort?

Talking with Research Professionals Saves Time and $$$

There are many ethical factors which must be considered by communications professionals, especially when DIY research options are on the table.  That is why early consultation with experienced market research consultants is so important.  In this way, the risks of ethical transgressions on core values such as fairness and independence are greatly reduced…which will save time, money, and energy for PR professionals and their clients.

About the Author

Jason Booms is the Director of Strategic Research & Communications with The Hannon Group, LLC, a full-service public relations, market research, and multicultural marketing agency based in Maryland.  He has been a strategic communications and opinion research professional for 30 years, beginning as a political pollster in the 1990s.  Jason is an adjunct lecturer at Georgetown University, teaching communications research to graduate students.

He can be reached