Lessons on Research, Communications and Life

March 1, 2018

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Career success isn’t defined only by upward growth. It’s also about how you adapt to new challenges and environments. About five years ago, I moved to Washington, D.C., from New York City and embarked on a massive life change and unexpected career pivot.

I’d previously worked in market research for various providers for more than 10 years, helping clients determine new business strategies, product opportunities and audiences. But moving to a different city opened up new possibilities and gave me a fresh perspective on my career.

I found my new direction at Ketchum Global Research & Analytics, where I use data and research to help shape, refine and measure communications strategies for clients. I’ve taken on exciting challenges, worked with new industries and clients, and grown as a researcher and professional. After my second anniversary with the company in February, I’ve reflected on what I’ve learned in my new city and new career, and the parallels between the two.

Lesson 1: Don’t let your biases get in the way.

Before moving here, I never thought of D.C. as a research city. I saw it as a polling city, but not one where a market researcher could thrive. At first, corporate marketing and market research seem incongruous with the politicos, lobbyists, trade associations and advocacy groups. On closer examination, D.C. is a researcher’s dream. Every company, industry and audience is represented by trade associations and advocacy groups. It reminds me that preconceived notions shouldn’t influence research.

Lesson 2: Researchers must find the signal amid the data noise.

Nothing excites a researcher more than data. On any given day, we may be working with survey research, focus group discussions, social media analytics and more. 

Working with corporations, associations and advocacy groups in the Beltway gives us access to more data than ever before. As a market researcher, I focused on primary research. Within the communications field, my access to data has expanded endlessly, from media-consumption habits to sales and customer data.

Access to such abundant data can feel overwhelming, leading to more confusion and misdirection than insight, however. That’s why my new role within a communications agency — as a researcher and analytics expert who can identify the best data to help my clients and partners achieve their communications and strategic goals — has become critical to the process. 

Lesson 3: There’s always something new to learn.

Since joining the PR and communications-research world, I’ve had the opportunity to work with a range of new research approaches, tools and methods. The experience has challenged me as a researcher and pushed me out of my comfort zone. I don’t rely solely on survey research to explore how people react to new ideas; I collaborate with experts in predictive modeling, media measurement, syndicated research and digital analytics.

These various research streams work harmoniously together to deliver powerful insights that guide strategy. The goal is to see trends and insights that emerge when approaching a problem from many different angles and with many different techniques.

Lesson 4: Explore, explore, explore.

Getting to know your new surroundings can inspire your work in surprising ways, too. Taking the time to see D.C. has reminded me that exploration is a valuable part of research. Looking beneath the surface and drilling into data to find the story is the essence of exploration. 

Over the past two years, I’ve learned many lessons and challenged myself to use my strengths as a researcher to support strategy for a whole new set of clients. But more than the skills I’ve developed, this pivot in my career has helped me better appreciate the role research can play within a larger organization, and how data and analytics can fuel any strategy, regardless of the client or industry.

Stacey Jaffe

Stacey Jaffe is a research director for Ketchum Global Research & Analytics based in Washington, D.C. She can be reached at stacey.jaffe@ketchum.com.

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