How To Quickly Learn a Topic

One of the things I enjoy most about working in PR is the opportunity to learn new things. During my career, I've learned the ins and outs of the healthcare industry and spent a decade navigating the ever-changing world of quick-service restaurants. But nothing taught me how to quickly learn a topic like agency life.

Agency work moves at a rapid pace and it's essential to become informed fast about a new client or potential client's business, industry and issues long before launching a formal research and discovery process.

Unfortunately, there are no Cliffs Notes about hydraulic fracturing, anaerobic digestion or WAN optimization - all subjects I've had to learn about on behalf of clients - but there are short cuts you can take to get smart about anyone and anything fast.

Start at the Source
Websites are information warehouses for many businesses and can yield a bounty of information with little effort about the company's mission, vision, goals, audiences, media activity and more. Scanning news releases, blogs and white papers can help you quickly identify some of the opportunities a company is pursuing and the issues it is facing.

Google is your Friend
Anyone even slightly adept at online research goes to Google first - not Bing or Yahoo - Google, baby! However, the trick is to not drown in information. Pull a handful of on-point articles, fact sheets and infographics then get out!

Be a Social Creeper
A quick review of a company's social media feeds can provide the latest and greatest news and happenings, as well as insight into its culture, personality and even its strategy, or lack thereof, for addressing issues.

Ask your Network
Check within your circle of colleagues and friends to find out if they, or someone they know, is familiar with the company, industry or issue. It's hard to beat first-hand knowledge and insight when first researching a business or topic.

Talk to a Librarian
Yes, the Internet can deliver information instantly with a few keystrokes, but sometimes old school is the way to go. Libraries and librarians are often overlooked in the digital age, but they can be a valuable, trusted resource.  If you're in search of historical, arcane or difficult to access information, a librarian can hook you up with the resources - if not the information itself - to find what you need.

Do you have any tips or tactics about how to quickly learn a topic? We'd love to hear them.