Using Focus Group Research In Public Relations

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1 I -is Grmmlg Using Focus Group Research In Public Relations This article analyzes a recent instance of focus group research applied to a public relations--rather than marketing--case. It begins with a brief recap of the advantages and disadvantages of this qualitative method. It goes on to describe as a model the case of a county department of mental health relying on focus group research to help plan a program aimed at reducing the stigma of mental illness. Analysis of the focus group data suggests why members of the community know what they know, feel what they feel and act as they do in situations related to the chronically mentally ill. On a more theoretical level, the research contributes to an understanding of publics and to the development of a strategy for subsequent campaigns. The article concludes with the assertion that such program development does not hinge on additional, confirmatory information provided by subsequent quantitative research. Larissa A. Grunig is an Assistant Professor, College of Journalism at the University of Maryland, College Park. Few research techniques are as widespread in public relations as the focus group has become. Although most marketing research firms have relied on the technique for some time, 1 public relations professionals in both corporations and not-for-profits recently have begun to conduct focus groups and public relations educators have begun to teach about focus groups as well. 2 Robert K. Merton, one of the earliest developers of this method, was prophetic in writing, "I thought of the focussed interview as a generic technique, one that could be and would be applied in every sphere of human behavior and experience, rather than largely confined to matters of interest in market research. "~ This article is intended to fill the gap between practitioners" and scholars' interest in and their knowledge of focus groups. More specifically, it will describe a recent instance of focus group research as an illustration of how the technique best can be applied to a public relations-- rather than marketing---case. Focus groups typically consist of six to twelve participants who are led by a trained facilitator to discuss one topic or issue in depth. Discussion 86 Vol. XVI, No. 2

2 Focus Group Research In Public P~latlons builds from the general to the more specific--gradually focussing, as it were, on the concept of concern. The major advantage is the free, spontaneous and detailed discussion such groups generate even among people who are unacquainted with each other. ~ Focus groups, the marketing community has discovered, also offer immediacy and flexibility. 5 They can be quick to plan, conduct and analyze---taking as little as two weeks, all told, before decisions based on the research can be implemented.' Offsetting these pluses are the cost (which can be--but does not have to be--considerable) of conducting focus groups, 7 the ineptness o f too many moderators responsible for conducting the groups, subjective perception of the findings 5and effort required to recruit participants representative of the relevant populations. There are also risks inherent in relying on qualitative information when quantitative (or a combination of the two) would be more appropriate. In essence, focus groups are considered complements to other research techniques. In a representative summary statement, two experts in research asserted that "focus groups are useful tools in the early stages of research, followed by more rigorous quantitative research. "~ However, David L. Morgan, whose dissertation research in sociology at the University of Michigan dealt with focus groups, has argued persuasively for the use of this technique as "self-contained research," whose results can stand on their own. ~~ The acid test of such a statement is that analysis of focus group research provides information on which public relations professionals reasonably can act upon to solve problems. The Case This case provides an illustration of Morgan's contention--that focus groups designed to increase understanding rather than to predict sales need not be complemented by additional, quantitative techniques. It also should serve as a model of the tool's basic procedures, developed from both sociology and psychology and more frequently applied to marketing. Because one of the virtues of focus group research is its flexibility, there is no standard, prescriptive approach that must be followed in every instance? 1 The closest we have to such prescription can be found in Krueger's comprehensive guide, which not only highlights the distinctions between focus groups and other, seemingly similar forms of research but offers six full chapters on the process of conducting groups? 2 Then, too, one of the most important ingredients for success with focus groups is the experience of the moderator. Beginning as a co-facilitator and watching videotapes of focus groups are instructive, but there is no real substitute for practice. However, considering the following steps should help even a novice moderator approach the focus group with a modicum of confidence. Summer

3 Public Relations Review Defining the research problem A county department of mental health was committed to a three-year plan to reduce the stigma existing in the community toward chronic mental illness. Acceptance of the chronically mentally ill has become a priority in this age of deinstitutionalization. As a result, the Department was looking for ways of overcoming or eliminating perceived barriers to integrating the mentally ill into the life of the community. More specifically, the Department was concerned with attitudes held by adult residents of the county toward supervised living arrangements for the chronically mentally ill. Having experienced community resistance that was increasing in intensity and in sophistication to group homes in neighborhoods and anticipating such opposition to units for the mentally ill in apartment buildings, the Department commissioned this series of four focus groups. Working together during several meetings, representatives of the Department, the public relations firm it engaged to implement its campaign and the researcher conceptualized the plan for the focus groups. The principal investigator, who is the author of this article, also served as the moderator of the groups. I was assisted by a graduate student interested in learning how to conduct focus group research. 1~ Groups were designed to assess different communities" knowledge of, attitudes toward and experiences with the chronically mentally ill. The purpose of gaining these understandings was to develop a program to reduce stigma toward the mentally ill. The focus groups were considered formative research, to be conducted before a telephone survey of a sample of all county residents and well ahead of the public relations plan to be developed and implemented by the consulting firm. Determining the recruitment screen As with most focus group research, determining the number of groups to conduct was problematic. Solving this question hinges on (1) the extent to which different subgroups of the popuiation of interest are hypothesized to hold different attitudes or levels of knowledge; (2) the amount of reliance the client wants to put on the results; and (3) constraints oftimeand cost. Ideally, more groups are better than fewer groups; but the very real expense involved means that the client may end up weighing whether some research would be better than none. In this case, we settled on the four focus groups. Participants in the focus groups were chosen for different reasons. In all groups, however, we tried for homogeneity rather than representativeness or heterogeneity. As Broom and Dozier explained, "A sharply divided group will degenerate into a debate between two assertive individuals from either side, with others nodding but contributing little. "1~ So, recruiters selected participants who would be similar enough to each other to feel 88 Vol. XVI, No. 2

4 Focus Group Research In Public Relations comfortable discussing the sensitive issues that would emerge. Thus we made no claim of generalizability of the findings to adults at large in the county. What we could say of the focus group responses, for example, was that a group of homeowners from one neighborhood confused mental illness with mental retardation. We could explain that another group of adults living in a different area--homeowners and renters alike--was concerned about declining property values in neighborhoods that host group homes for the mentally ill. We could talk about the fact that one small group of adults from a third community, men and women, agreed that media coverage tends to sensationalize mental illness and that another group from the same area, this one all women, believed that a mix of mass media and interpersonal communication is the best way of reducing the stigma of mental illness. More specifically, participants were chosen for the four groups on the following bases: Group 1: over 18, homeowners, living in a neighborhood chosen for two main reasons. An appropriate room set up for videotape recording and with a two-way mirror was available and the community members had experience with a group home for the chronically mentally ill in their neighborhood. Group 2: over 18, living in a community chosen for two main reasons. An appropriate room with a two-way mirror was available and the community members had not experienced a group home for the chronically mentally ill in their neighborhood. However, when such a home had been suggested for the area, a neighborhood coalition successfully aborted that plan. Recruiters aimed for participants who represented a variety of living arrangements: homeowners and those who rent apartments or townhouses. Group 3: over 18, living in a community chosen for two focus groups for two main reasons. An appropriate room with a two-way mirror was available and there were more group homes and clinics for the chronically mentally ill in this area than up-county. However, opposition to such group homes had characterized this neighborhood in the past. This down- county location also provided an urban contrast to the more suburban settings of the first two focus groups. Group 4: women, over 18, living in the same community as Group 3. To guard against an over-representation of male viewpoints in the first three focus groups, this group consisted solely of women. For whatever reason, conversation among all participants in this group turned out to be remarkably more balanced than in the first three sessions. Observers and facilitators agreed that all but one participant contributed almost equally to the conversation. Predictably, then, participants cannot be said to represent any cross- Summer

5 Public Relations Revlew section of the population in the county. Instead, in this case, members of all four groups seemed to represent a population that is older, more highly educated, more professional and more active in the community than a random selection of 32 individuals would be. This is not surprising, given the subject under investigation; only those with a curiosity about research per se and an interest in social issues could be expected to forego an evening of their time for an incentive as low as $20. From this we might gather that our groups represented the active publics of most concern to the client. However, their responses must be interpreted with these assumptions in mind. Planning the introductory remarks Introductory remarks serve to help create a shared experience among the participants. The moderator typically alludes to: 9 modest refreshments (served before and during the session). 9 taping (stressing anonymity and the need to speak distinctly, one at a time). All sessions were audio- and videotaped. 9 two-way mirror, with clients on the other side. 9 assurance that there are no right or wrong, good or bad answers. 9 purpose of the discussion--getting at what respondents think, what they know, how they feel. 9 optimism that along the way, the group will have fun. 9 beginning by getting to know each other. The introduction of the facilitator and assistant should serve as a model, showing without telling participants how to introduce themselves in turn. Thus, as leaders of the focus groups, we mentioned the demographic characteristics we hoped the participants would reveal about themselves. We alluded to our job, education, family, home and the groups we belong to. Then, in the same low-key way, we asked participants to go around the circle and introduce themselves, is Developing the topic outline As with the conceptualization of the research design, administrators of the Department, other experts in mental health, account executives from the public relations firm and the moderator of the focus groups worked together to develop a series of substantive questions. The line of questioning, of course, grew out of the definition of the problem. Questions formed the facilitator's guide, which in this case was moderately structured. Group leaders vary considerably in the degree of structure they impose on the discussion through this "rough map. "~ Of course, one unique characteristic of the focus group as a datagathering tool is the free-form discussion it generates. Thus most moderators 210 Vol. XV[, No.

6 Focus Group Research In Publte Relations lead respondents in a relatively open conversation. In essence, the guide usedby the typical facilitator consists less of a structured interview schedule than a list of broad question areas. The topic outline should, in turn, generate more refined questions as important points are followed up on through additional probes by the facilitator or through the "snowballing," synergistic effect of each respondent's remarks. The first substantive area of questioning was designed to gauge the level of knowledge and understanding that respondents have of chronic mental illness. During the two hours spent with each group, participants went on to discuss the following topic areas: What is mental illness? (and what is it not?) How many people are affected by mental illness in this country? How can mental illness be treated? Is it curable? What are some symptoms of mental illness? Are the chronically mentally ill dangerous to themselves? to others? The next level of questioning was designed to determine how the perceptions or misperceptions were formed. Participants were asked: What direct contact, if any, have you had with the mentally ill? How about indirect contact, through movies, say, or stories you've heard, articles you've read in thepaper? What did your parents tell you, if anything, about mental illness? Have you talked with your own children about mental illness? At this point the discussion narrowed to the specific issue of the stigma of mental illness, focusing on supervised housing for the chronically mentally ill but including other areas, such as employment and recreation. The moderator began by explaining that the mentally ill have much the same needs as we all do: a place to work, a place to live, recreational opportunities. However, I went on, they often have trouble finding jobs or a place to live. This is due in part to the stigma associated with their illness. If we wanted to reduce that stigma in the community, how could we do so? More specifically, participants were asked: What are the stigmas or concerns associated with mentai illness? How would you explain or educate peopie on these issues? Who should do the educating? (Here, the following sources were suggested to participants: the mentally ill themselves? family members? neighbors? administrators of programs for the mentally ill? doctors? the mass media? employers? local celebrities, such as a Sugar Ray Leonard? the clergy? realtors?) Who do you listen to for advice on matters of this nature? What groups do you belong to? The final topic area explored stigma reduction. The moderator began by asking participants to react to specific suggestions. The last question was open-ended, allowing for the most free-ranging discussion possible: Which of these possibilities strikes you as an effective way to reduce the stigma attached, for example, to Iocating group homes for the chronically mentaily ill in neighborhoods such as yours? (Possibilities included meetings with special speakers, open houses, educational programs for young people and distribuling fact sheets in the community.) What would it take to reduce the barriers or concerns you would feel toward a group home in your neighborhood? Summer

7 Public RelaUons Review Reporting the results The client, in this case the Department, received a report of the findings in two major ways: in writing and on videotape. The videotapes were useful in acquainting all members of the Department and the public relations firm with procedures for focus groups and with everything that had been said throughout all four sessions. The written report also went to the public relations firm charged with conducting the subsequent campaign. The lengthy report was organized by responses to the major topic areas, group by group. In general, the most comprehensive responses were recorded for members of the first focus group. Subsequent responses, those that came from the other three groups, emphasized areas of agreement or disagreement. They served more to "fill in the gaps" and to highlight key points than to reiterate information already attributed to participants in the first group. The final section of the report was an executive summary that synthesized responses of all four groups. Reporting and analyzing the findings of focus groups presents the challenges inherent in analyzing any qualitative research. Analysis must be systematic---question by question and group by group--and conceptual. That is, the researcher must work from a conceptual framework that has shaped the study from its inception. Only then can the researcher mull over and hypothesize differences that may emerge from the different groups conducted. At the point of actually writing the report, some quantification often enters in-- noting, for example, the extent to which some term may be used or some attitude espoused. The report should identify clearly any interpretations or recommendations that arise out of the data themselves. Finally, including direct quotes adds color and life to the report. For this reason, we included participants" actual remarks, such as "our greatest fear is the unknown" and "[the house] is your nest egg; if threatened by a plague of sparrows or the mentally ill, it'll upset you terribly." Without at least a sprinkling of these poignant and pithy quotes, few executives could be expected to take time to read the lengthy report. Findings The executive summary is presented here to illustrate (1) a systematic way of preparing such a situation analysis and (2) what the research actually discovered about participants' attitudes toward the chronically mentally ill. Level of knowledge and understanding: Participants were unable to define mental illness as a clinician would. Instead, they used somewhat vague phrases such as "inability to cope," "bizarre or eccentric behavior," "being different," "deviation from social norms" and "being maladjusted" to describe---rather than define--chronic mental illness. Also, they tended to confuse it with other conditions--primarily mental retardation, alcoholism 4,~ Vol. XVI, No. 2

8 Focus Group Research In Pttbllc RelaUons and drug addiction. Respondents acknowledged their difficultyin explaining what mental illness is or is not. They attributed their confusion more to what they considered a "fine line" between mental health and mental illness than to lack of education or information. Perhaps for this reason, they considered almost everyone "susceptible" to mental illness at some point in their life and thus vastly overestimated the number of people affected by mental illness in this country. Members of the focus groups tended to believe that mental illness is incurable. On the other hand, they believed that it is controllable--largely through continued use of medication, counseling and group therapy. They contributed a long list of symptoms that these treatments (which they considered "coping mechanisms") could minimize. Some symptoms described appearance (a vacant look, obesity, unusually small or large head) and others described behavior (talking to oneself, delusions or hallucinations, irritability, wild mood swings, uncontrollable crying, confusion, depression). Few, if any, of these symptoms described violent behavior. As a result, participants in all four groups did not consider the mentally ill likely to be dangerous to themselves or to others. How these attitudes are formed: Most participants had had direct contact with the mentally ill, although most had to be prompted to think of such first-hand experience. The most common form of contact was with relatives who are mentally ill--followed by neighbors, street people and friends (in that order). Those involved in volunteer activities also had worked with the mentally ill, primarily in soup kitchens or shelters or through church projects. A handful of participants had worked in mental institutions, either as paid employees when they were young or as volunteers. Indirect contacts came largely from the following sources: movies, autobiographies written by the mentally ill, news coverage in the mass media and entertainment programs on television. Both news and entertainment, whether on TV or in films, was considered overly dramatic, sensationalized, "Hollywood" in their portrayal of mental illness. Only a couple of participants had heard about mental illness through educational meetings. Likewise, few members of any group remembered learning about mental illness from their parents. For most, whatever knowledge or attitudes they picked up at home were predicated on fear. Mental illness was considered shameful within the family and something to watch out for in others. Participants had said little to theirown children about mental illness. Any discussion resulted from children's questions, rather than a deliberate parental effort to inform. Negative attitudes toward mental illness: Participants in the first group emphasized their concern primarily with drug addiction. In this Summer

9 Public ReLations Re'view sense, they were different from the three later groups--where drug-related problems played a minimal role compared with concerns about property value, violence, neighborhood children, stereotyping and adequate supervision for the chronically mentally ill. Countering all of these stigmas, however, was the prevailing attitude of tolerance, acceptance and caring that might not characterize the population at large. In other words, members of each focus group attributed negative attitudes not to themselves but to their neighbors. One thread woven throughout the conversation in all four groups was the urban/rural, metropolitan area/small town distinction. Most participants believed that reducing stigma toward mental illness would be more difficult in a large, impersonal area such as the county than in the smaller, more rural parts of the country where many of them had grown up. They agreed, though, that stigma is less of a problem now throughout the country than it was when they were young. Still, participants perceived the stigma attached to mental illness as a lingering problem becau~ of the fear and ignorance that remains in the typical community. They recommended educating their "unenlightened" neighbors through a combination of smallgroup meetings and one-on-one, interpersonal experiences. The groups they belong to suggest logical settings for such get-togethers: primarily churches, civic associations and women's organizations. Meetings should be heavily publicized in advance. Respondents disagreed on the best educators to rely on in this community process. Responses did show, however, that the chronically mentally ill themselves have the potential for effectiveness. The groups' concerns with letting "consumers" speak for themselves centered on the negative impact such visibility might have on the mentally ill. Neighbors who live near group homes emerged as the educators most likely to be effective in reassuring others as to the safety of supervised living arrangements for the mentally ill outside of institutions. Their credibility, participants felt, would be unquestioned unlike that of doctors, administrators, elected officials and realtors. Still, some respondentsbelieved that each of these last groups has the potential for effectiveness--physicians for their expertise, administrators for their assurance of supervision, elec ted officials for their power and realtors for their knowledge of property values. The mass media were perceived as powerful tools for focusing attention on the plight of the mentally ill, at least early on in an educational campaign. However, most participants considered their sensationalist tendencies and their programmatic constraints as limits to their potential for conveying in-depth information. As a result, only talk shows and saturation coverage through a lengthy newspaper series emerged as viable options in the opinion of most respondents. Even then, they acknowledged the difficulty of getting the target audience to attend to those messages. Employers, on the other hand, were seen as valuable adjuncts to any 44 Vol. XVI, No. 2

10 Focus Group Research In Public Relations informational effort because they could allay people's fears. Participants also agreed that the clergy could play a major role in community acceptance, at least among church-goers. Respondents felt that only celebrities (local or national) with a logical connection to mental illness should b e considered as spokespeople. Well-known figures with first-hand experience could then be extremely effective. Means of barrier reduction: Any of these sources---or a combination of neighbors, employers and clergy--would be appropriate speakers at the small, neighborhood meetings participants recommended. They also considered open houses (of existing group homes in other communities) to be a valuable conduit for information and reassurance. In every case, participants favored interpersonal channels of communication over the more impersonal, such as the mass media. They were most adamant about the need to involve the community early on in the planning process before a group home is located there. Their experience with the county in this regard had been negative, so they were skeptical about the likelihood of such open, proactive interaction. However, focus group results show that only by being willing to talk with neighbors and deal with their concerns ahead of the fact can an agency hope to settle the chronically mentally ill in supervised living arrangements away from the institution without encountering community opposition. Taking Action on the Focus Group Findings Any basis for projecting county-wide attitudes, we reasoned, would have to come from ensuing survey research. Our focus group research initially was considered a preliminary step, prior to a larger sample-size telephone survey of county residents. Such a survey ultimately was conducted. However, according to the departmental administrator, results of the survey provided negligible information for designing the subsequent communication campaign when compared with the richness of the data generated from the focus groups. A theoretical explanation for this unanticipated outcome might come from a single example. The telephone survey could answer the question of what proportion of county residents considered celebrities the best spokespeople for the chronically mentally ill. The focus groups could explain why respondents feel that way. In this case, participants revealed that celebrities such as sports heroes or movie stars only would be effective if there were some relevance to mental illness. They cited as examples personalities who had had experience with mental illness: Elizabeth Taylor, Mary Tyler Moore and Jack Nicholson. As one woman put it, it's important to find a celebrity who "could talk in the first person about having gone through mental illness." Participants also could go beyond proposed types of spokespeople to Summer ,5

11 Public RelaUons Review suggest their own-- and the reasons why. They added the police (because they get involved if there is trouble with group homes for the mentally ill), elected officials (who could assist in zoning battles), teachers (because the community looks up to them) and nurses (as front-line providers of care) to the list of logical spokespeople for the mentally ill. Taken as a whole, this example illustrates the value of explanation in social science. According to one prominent philosopher of science, ~7 explanation has three purposes: to provide an understanding of the past, to generate expectations of the future and to suggest ways to intervene and control future events. Through the focus groups, the Department was able to understand why celebrities had not been effective advocates for the mentally ill in the past. As one participant put it, "Celebrities would be too removed; they're not going to live in that neighborhood." Another said, "Not everyone would be turned on by a Redskin." Focus group data also suggested that employers would make good spokespeople. One participant suggested that a major employer of the mentally ill could show confidence and comfort working with that part of the population, thus reassuringpotential neighbors. Likewise, participants considered the clergy more an indirect than a direct vehicle that would lead to more understanding of and tolerance for the mentally ill. Members of one group acknowledged that although the clergy is respected as the "conscience of the community," a large number of people do not attend church. Focus group participants envisioned the clergy's role, then, as getting church members to assist them in spreading the word. They considered this diffusion of responsibility to be at least as important as relying on ministers, priests and rabbis alone. Based on these understandings, the Department could work with the public relations firm to develop techniques of putting appropriate spokespeople in touch with communities in which the chronically mentally ill may be housed. Because o f this important explanation, in any instances where findings from the focus groups seemed to conflict with the survey, the Department acted on the basis of the qualitative information gathered during the groups" in-depth discussion. Inother words, the focus group data suggested elaborate patterns of responses that eclipsed the survey data. The client characterized the survey data as "sterile" and "thin." By contrast, analysis of the focus groups conducted during just two weeks highlighted areas of agreement and disagreement among residents of the county. It exposed a level of awareness and information that might or might not be indicative of the understanding of adults in the county as a whole toward mental illness. However, findings did seem to represent the views of carefully selected segments of that population--groups of people of particular interest to the client. Analyzing their responses also helped explain why the participants know what they know and feel the way they do. Finally, and most important, it suggested possible solutions to the 46 Vol. XVI, No. 2

12 Focus Group Research In Public Relations problem of stigma reduction. The two-stage plan ultimately implemented by the public relations firm grew directly from the focus group discussions. That plan relied minimally on the mass media, and then only in the early stage. Participants suggested a multi-faceted approach to media relations, involving magazine and newspaper articles as well as television coverage because they felt that the general population gets information initially from a variety of sources. One major limitation of the press' effects, however, was articulated as "thinking people tend to accept the mass media for what they are-- attention grabbing." Many participants considered media coverage overly dramatic and exaggerated in its portrayal of mental illness. They added that television shows featuring mental illness would not be watched by those who need to see them and that the people who need the information do not read newspapers, either. Respondents were of mixed opinions, though, regarding the ultimate effect of media coverage. Some felt that the media could be helpful through a sustained campaign: news spots followed up week after week in a series, rather than a one-shot effort. Instead, however, the plan designed for the Department incorporated small group meetings in neighborhood churches, women's associations and civic centers. The most credible facilitators for those get-togethers, according to focus group participants, would be non-professionals who had lived near group homes for the mentally ill in other neighborhoods. Other leaders for small community meetings suggested by focus group respondents included the clergy and employers of th e mentally ill. Message strategies for both these interpersonal sessions and for media placements also were suggested by the focus group data. Areas of misunderstanding that needed to be clarified about the mentally ill were identified. One participant seemed to be speaking for the group when she said, "Understanding is the biggest thing--and you don't have understanding until you know someone who is mentally ill." She suggested involving as many people as possible in the educational effort and, as part of that process, putting them in contact with the mentally ill. Another explained that people need to know the mentally ill, rather than just seeing programs about them. Channels of communication suggested by the focus groups included both the interpersonal and the impersonal. The most common suggestion was to hold neighborhood meetings. Although participants acknowledged the difficulty of getting people to tum out for such get-togethers, they had some suggestions: relying on area churches to publicize the date and time of the meeting and one-on-one contacts. They hoped that announcements of any such meetings would not be "buried on the back pages" of a local newspaper, as was at least one woman's experience. Participants also supported holding open houses in neighborhoods that already had group homes and developing elaborate educational Summer

13 PubLic RelaUons Review programs. Touring a "sample home," some model that was working well, would be especially helpful. In lieu of that, they suggested developing a slide show or videotape of the workings of a group home and showing that program during the intimate neighborhood meetings described above. They considered the distribution of newsletters or fact sheets too impersonal to be effective. Participants also emphasized the importance of informing people ahead of the fact when plans affecting their community were being made-- not when the plan was a foregone conclusion. One woman stressed that the incorporation of group homes in neighborhoods "shouldn't be done sneaky." Others agreed that buying land or purchasing an existing house could not be kept quiet, even if that were the county's intent. They felt that the home would almost certainly encounter opposition if instituted that way. Instead, they pushed for a more educational, informational approach--informing and involving the community, in particular. The reason? If enough people came to understand the situation, they might "overrule" the minority who might still object. This research was conducted too recently to assess the outcome of the planned campaign to reduce stigma and, ultimately, opposition to group homes for the chronically mentallyill. However, analysis of the focus group data suggests that some control over the outcome is possible because the data contained explanation as well as description. 1' As a result, we have come to understand why people in groups of interest to us know what they know, feel what they feel and act as they do in situations related to the chronically mentally ill. On a more theoretical level, the research contributed toward our understanding of publics and to the development of a strategy for subsequent communication programs. That program development did not hinge on additional, confirmatory information provided by subsequent survey research. Finally, the case proved to be an illustration of the teamwork inherent in the client, the agency and the researcher working closely together to accomplish all of this. References 1. Barnett Greenberg, Joe Goldstucker and Danny Bellenger, "What Techniques Are Used by Marketing Researchers in Business?" Journal of Marketing, April 1977, See, for example, Robert L.Dilenschneider,"A'Make-or-Break' Decade," Public Relations Journal, January 1990, p Robert K. Merton, "The Focussed Interview and Focus Groups: Continuities and Discontinuities," Public Opinion Quarterly, 51, Winter 1987, , p See, for example, Myril Axelrod, "Marketers Get an Eyeful when Focus Groups Expose Products, Ideas, Images, Ad Copy, Etc., to Consumers," Marketing News, 28 February 1975, 6-7; Eleanor Holtzman, "Use Groups for Parity Products, 48 Vol. XVI, No. 2

14 Focus Group Research In Public Relations Those Meeting Psychological Needs," Marketing News, 12 August 1977, 6; Dietz Leonhard, "Can Focus Group Interviews Survive?" Marketing News, 10 October 1975, 6-7; Carl McDaniel, "Focus Groups---Theh" Role in the Marketing Research Process," Akron Business and Economic~, Winter 1979,14-19; and Melvin Prince, "Focus Groups Can Give Market Early Clues on Marketability of New Product," Marketing News, 8 September 1978, Amanda Bennett, "Once a Tool of Retail Marketers, Focus Groups Gain Wider Usage" Wall Street Journal, 3 June 1986, p Robert Sevier, "Conducting Focus Group Research," Journal of College Admissions, Winter 1989, 4-9, p McDaniel (1979) countered thatbecause focus groups tend to be cheaper than survey research, clients are biased in favor of groups. 8. As one expert in conducting focus groups observed, "It's easy [for the observers] to be too encouraged." Greg Martire, executive vice president of Clark, Martire & Bartolomeo Inc., quoted in Bennett, Glen M. Broom and David M. Dozier, Using Public Relations Research: Applications to Program Management, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, David L. Morgan, Focus Groups as Qualitative Research, Sage: Newbury Park, CA: For an excellent, succinct how-to-guide to conducting focus groups, see Appendix C in Broom and Dozier, 1990, pp Richard A. Krueger, Focus Groups: A Practical Guide for Applied Research, Newbury Park, CA: Sage, Other useful how-to books include Alfred E. Goldman and Susan Schwartz McDonald, The Group Depth Interview: Principles and Practice, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1987; Thomas L. Greenbaum, The Practical Handbook and Guide to Focus Group Research, Lexington, MA: Lexington Books, 1987; James B. Higginbotham and Keith K. Cox, eds., Focus Group Interviews: A Reader, Chicago: American Marketing Assn., 1979; and Jane F. Templeton, Focus Groups: A Guide for Marketing & Advertising Professionals, Chicago: Probus, However, Krueger's represents the only book-length practical guide to conducting focus groups outside the field of marketing. His orientation to evaluation re,w-arch is most appropriate for public relations purposes. 13. My thanks to master's candidate John M. Blamphin for his help in planning, conducting and analyzing the four focus groups. 14. Broom and Dozier, 1990, pp This technique remains controversial. Some expert moderators prefer not to "go around the room" for introductions because they believe it sets up the expectation that participants only may answer in turn. 16. Broom and Dozier, 1990, p Eugene J. Meehan, Explanation in Social Science: A System Paradigm, Homewood, IL: Dorsey, Meehan, Summer

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