How to Tell Real Research From PR Research


One of the easiest ways for product manufacturers to promote their wares is by convincing you that there’s research behind their goods. After all, unless you know how to read research, you might not do a little digging and check the facts. It gets even more confusing when news outlets pick up on the latest PR “research” and announce it as if it’s the same as a peer-reviewed study from an academic or research institution.

Sometimes, that happens because the news folks simply don’t know the difference. Sometimes, it’s because the 24-hour news cycle encourages people to report things as quickly as possible, which precludes fact checking. And sometimes, they really don’t care because they want to sell advertising more than they want to offer facts.

Fortunately, Dr. Petra Boynton has written an excellent and easy-to-follow guide: How to Spot PR Research. She’s participated in PR research, always with companies that sought her expertise and took her input into account. But she’s also seen plenty of projects with the “give us the results we want” focus. And she’s got quite a few useful tips for telling difference between real research and a PR stunt. Here are a few of them:

Academic/Scientific Research PR Research
Studies take time to plan, complete, and publish. This can range from several months to many years. The research usually takes between three and five working days – this includes planning the work, carrying it out, and the researcher writing up the results and doing interviews with the media.
The researcher (usually) determines the direction the research will take. The funding body is supposed to be aware of this, but not tell the researcher what to find out. The client tells the PR company what direction the researcher can take.
‘Data’ (results) from the research should be available to all so their validity, accuracy and honesty can be checked. Data (results) are not made publicly available.
The researcher (usually) determines the direction the research will take. The funding body is supposed to be aware of this, but not tell the researcher what to find out. The client tells the PR company what direction the researcher can take.
The study results are more important than the researcher who completed the research, or the funding body. The client (who funds the research) is the most important part of the study, followed by the researcher – whose name and title gives weight and credence to the work. The results are secondary to these two.


It’s definitely worth being aware of this whenever you see reports about the efficacy of a product, especially when the announcement is coming from the people who make money off of it. Check out the rest of Dr. Petra’s advice and remember: caveat emptor!

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