Book Reviews


Applied Communication Research

Author: Judith Mitchell Buddenbaum, Katherine B. Novak
Publisher Iowa State Press
Publication Date: January 2002

Reviewer:Andy Marken
In his nearly 25 years in the advertising/public relations field, Andy has been involved with a broad range of corporate and marketing activities. Prior to forming Marken Communications in mid-1977, Andy was vice president of Bozell & Jacobs and its predecessor agencies. During his 12 years with these agencies, he developed and coordinated a wide variety of highly visible and successful promotional campaigns and activities for clients. A graduate of Iowa State University, Andy received his Bachelor's Degree with majors in Radio & Television and Journalism. Widely published in the industry and trade press, he is an accredited member of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA).

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We have to admit at the outset that we’re a little skeptical of most communications research activities so coming to review Applied Communication Research didn’t seem all that stimulating.

Why are we skeptical?

Probably because we’re from the school that believes you have to listen to what the client tells you about its image, position and products and then go out and ask people who know -- reporters, customers, channel partners and even competitors.  Roll all of this around in your mind and come up with your own conclusions, decide what needs to be done, do it and see if it works.

In short -- more right brain than left brain.  To us communications research has always been done by listening and intuitive analysis rather than studies, reports and numbers. 

But we approached Mss Buddenbaum’s and Novak’s book with a fairly open mind.  If you read a lot you’ll learn something from everything you read…even if it is what not to do!

We had a slight problem in their premise that people who know how to evaluate, plan and carry out research and use the findings make better business decisions and rise more quickly in their jobs.  Most of the marketing and communications researchers we’ve known were strong on the analytical side but often come up short on the execution side because the real world doesn’t always fit into a tidy model.

Applied Communication Research however is a very good book for undergraduate and graduate students.  From an academic’s perspective the book does a good job of discussing the various communications areas and the technical requirements in these areas.  They also explained why the research components were needed if the analyst was going to produce valid results.

For the student entering the field, the book is an excellent self-help or even reference guide in understanding all of the elements of communications research that most professionals in the field use consciously or subconsciously.  If you've been in the industry for a few years and did what we did when we were in school -- grabbed just enough of the information to pass the test  then Applied Communication Research will serve as a very good refresher course.  It also helps you examine your own activities to see where bad habits may have crept in so they can be corrected.

We skimmed a number of the chapters but found the Fundamental Concerns and Planning Research Projects chapters to be excellent refreshes for us.  In the heat of day-to-day business we find it easy to forget why we need to step back and analyze what needs to be done, what we’re doing and what was the impact -- in many instances the only analysis is a gut level decision that something worked…or it didn’t. 

Interestingly, we found the best reading for PR people at all levels was tucked way back in the appendices area.  Appendix B -- Evaluating Research Reports is worth reading two or three times if you are someone who has to base his or her decisions on the results and recommendations that come from communications research projects.  The two authors do a very good job of giving you an insight into how to determine if the research project is flawed and therefore the recommendations are questionable.

Most of us never know when reviewing a report if the research was carried out to support a conclusion or if the conclusion is the result of valid research.  We would have liked to see the authors include real examples in this appendix that illustrated valid and flawed research reports.  Examples would have made the book come alive so that you could see how each of their applied research recommendations had been applied or misapplied.

Even without these examples though we found that we were able to recall instances where good applied research might have changed the outcome or would have validated that the company’s goals had been achieved.  The strength of the book is that it goes well beyond the normal communications research -- results by the pound.  We’ve always found that the number of hits -- video, audio and print clips -- were a good way to show the CEO or head of marketing and sales that you were doing a good job were more than a little shallow.  Even analyzing where the item appeared on a page, relationship to other articles in the same issue and weighting of the writers “opinions” come up short if they don’t take into consideration whether or not they had any impact on the target audience.

If you’re someone considering communications as a career you’ll find Applied Communication Research as a good study guide.  If you’ve been beaten up by a few years in the field it’s a worthwhile refresher.  But if you’re looking for a book that is a light, easy read or one that will tell you what you or someone else did right or wrong this isn’t the book for you.  It’s a good study of communications research from the academic perspective but could have been made more relevant had it included practical examples and observations rather than so many references for additional reading.