Quantitative research methods allow researchers to draw statistical inferences about a population. Researchers may conclude, within a certain confidence level (how certain they are that the results are correct), that the findings hold true not only for those surveyed, but also for the entire population within that sample frame (Broom & Dozier, 1990). Content analysis provides a means to measure qualitative data quantitatively (Stacks, 2002). It systematically analyzes the content of communication to determine whether key messages are being communicated to key audiences. It can be used to analyze documents, news articles and television pieces, speeches, interviews, and focus group results. Possible measurements for content analysis include number of clips, total circulation of the publications, number of inches or minutes, positive versus negative stories, audience type (key audience or general audience), product mentions, whether key messages appear, key media or general media, quality of the publication or program, and prominence of the company in the story (Gronstedt, 1997; Williams, 2003).
Public relations practitioners may be tempted to put a dollar value to media coverage using “advertising value equivalency.” This is a crude calculation in which the practitioner measures coverage by column inches in a publication or seconds on the air, and multiplies that by the media’s advertising rates. Most public relations researchers do not advocate this method of content analysis for several reasons. No research exists to suggest that news stories have an impact equal to advertising; there is no known relationship between the two. Some practitioners claim that a story from an unbiased journalist is more credible than a paid advertisement. However, the credibility of news media stories varies depending on the subject. Additionally, there is no advertising equivalent for a negative or neutral story. The Institute for Public Relations recommends that public relations practitioners avoid trying to measure what their efforts would equate to in advertising dollars, and instead focus on how coverage helps achieve the organization’s goals (Jeffries-Fox, 2003).
Software such as ATLAS.ti can help practitioners develop detailed analyses of qualitative data, such as for content analysis (Miller & Salkind, 2002). Also, many public relations research firms offer content analysis services. For quantitative data analysis, SPSS (Statistical Package for the Social Sciences) is frequently used in public relations research.