Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Thailand's misnamed "Public Relations Department"

In Thailand, the government has a Public Relations Department in Bangkok which dates back to the mid-1930s. Notionally, it is a classic civil service information organisation but for many years has operated as an extension of political forces.

A recent Bangkok Post article quoted protesters who wanted the PR Dept to represent all views, especially people outside the main political parties. They have been protesting peacefully outside its building since Monday.

A Thai friend in Bangkok has reported how the PR Dept and free-to-air media, which are controlled by political interests aligned to the government, have distorted news about protests or ignored them. (Shades of the Istanbul protests earlier in the year):

"The PR Department and other free-to-air TV stations (which reach majority of Thai people in rural areas since they have no access to other new/alternative media) have been repeatedly sending messages that the protesters are armed, they are portrayed as dangerous, and trying to destroy democracy in Thailand.

"I have to say that it was not true at all since I was myself wondering whether it is true or not and I stopped by the (protest) site (in Democracy Square) on last Saturday's night. They have only whistles and hand clappers as their weapons.

"On Sunday, more than one million people rallied in Bangkok, but there was no news coverage on national television at all. Can you believe that? Please pray for Thailand!"

Reuters and the BBC, however, are reporting the protests:

Thursday, 13 June 2013

PR and Publicity - history's feedback

In earlier blogs, I have argued that PR (in its strategic/organisational form) should be separated from publicity. It may not be a fashionable view but going back into the history of public relations, early practitioners saw a clear separation.

In 1942 (yes, 70 years ago), Herbert M. Baus wrote of public relations that “it involves all the dealings of an enterprise with the public. More limited, publicity involves placing of information before the public through established channels.”
“Public relations is becoming an established domain of business activity … as a career, public relations is one of the most reputable.”

Shortly after in 1948 Glen and Denny Griswold, who was the doyenne of US public relations, commented: “Public relations is the management function which evaluates public attitudes, identifies the policies and procedures of an individual or organization with public interest, and executes the program of action to earn public understanding and acceptance.”

So what happened to public relations’ standing as a valued management function? With the rise in consumer marketing in the mid-century, publicity was rebranded as PR.
British historian Jacquie L’Etang writing of the 1960s says: “business managers saw public relations as a cheap way of getting media coverage in comparison with advertising.”
And that’s the way PR remains for many – “a cheap way of getting media coverage”.

Baus, H. M. (1942). Publicity – How to plan, produce and place it. New York: Harper & Brothers
Griswold, G. and Griswold, D. (1948). Your public relations. New York: Funk & Wagnalls.

L’Etang, J. (2004). Public relations in Britain. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Reputation and PR

I've been following the various debates on blogs (PR Moment, Wadds, etc) and in PR Week (May 17) about the reputation of public relations. 

Much of the discussion has been about the virtues of PR and how these can be expressed, rather than showing understanding of "reputation". For at least 20 years, some PR operations have portrayed themselves as "reputation managers" which has also demonstrated little understanding of reputation.

There is a lot of research and literature on this topic. Much of it is worth reading and comes from outside PR and organisational/corporate communications, as many sectors and disciplines consider that reputation relates to them or their responsibilities.

For example, a 2007 article in the Harvard Business Review specifically argued that one person in each organisation should be in charge of reputation and it should not be "people holding top 'spin' jobs such as heads of marketing and corporate communications" (Eccles, Newquist & Schatz, 2007, p.114). These authors also excluded corporate lawyers but proposed COO, CFO, heads of risk management, strategic planning and internal audit as suitable because "they have the credibility and resources necessary to do the job" (p.114). Marketers and communicators were unsuitable because they hold responsibilities which have potential conflicts of interest.

Moving on to reputation itself, US management academic Paul Argenti and Bob Druckenmiller (of Porter Novelli) defined it as: “the collective representation of multiple constituencies’ images of a company built up over time and based on a company’s identity programs, its performance and how constituencies have perceived its behaviour” (2004, p.369). 

With a bit of decoding, they are making the case that reputation is given by stakeholders ("constituencies") to an organisation, sector or profession by stakeholders because of its behaviour over time. It's not created by a promotional campaign, such as "a traditional PR campaign" or "doing better PR for PR", as proposed in the PR Week commentaries.

After reviewing all the recent comments, I'd support Lord Bell's assertion in PR Week that "the reputation of the PR industry should be based on what it does well or badly" and his focus on "the strategic importance of the business" (PR Week, May 17, p.25)

PR will build its own reputation over time through excellent strategic work undertaken by well educated, creative practitioners, operating in an ethical environment, who create value for their clients or employers. If PR continues to play in the publicity field with loose ethics, then it will get the reputation it deserves.

Argenti, P.A. and Druckenmiller, B., 2004. Reputation and the corporate brand. Corporate Reputation Review, 7(4), 368-374.
Eccles, R.G., Newquist, S.C. & Schatz, R. (2007). A framework for measuring reputational risk. Harvard Business Review, February 2007, 104-114.

Thursday, 2 May 2013

PR associations - an uncertain future

On April 21, I posted a blog titled Are PR associations past their “sell-by” date? It was a rhetorical question and brought a lot of traffic to this blog along with some comments. It also inspired CIPR presidential candidate Jon White to start a LinkedIn discussion about the questions posed.

(BTW, I am not campaigning for either CIPR presidential candidate. I know both Jon White and Stephen Waddington and wish them well. It’s a benefit that in 2013 there is a civilised debate taking place).
Despite groans from one contributor that a “Professor of Public Relations” might actually be involved in discussion and debate, I have analysed the posts from more than 20 practitioners on this site, the LinkedIn debate and some other blogs (e.g. Stephen Waddington’s “Wadds” and Heather Yaxley’s “Green Bananas”).
These are the headlines:
1)      There’s no concept of what ‘professional PR’ or professionalism is in UK public relations practice. It’s a vague sort of aspiration that has no dimensions;

2)     About half the respondents consider CIPR should enforce a CPD policy as a requirement of continuing membership.  It should make entry more (rather than less) demanding.

3)     Some consider that CPD is too loosely applied at present; others think enforcing it would be a step too far and “would pull up the ladder” on good members who are less committed or able to spend time on training and continuing development.

4)     About half believe that there should be a PR body of some sort, preferably only one. It should be less costly, less London-centric, offer cheaper training and more benefits. It should be more engaged with stakeholders, but less with internal issues. Others were much less supportive and considered CIPR to be past its expiry date like many club-type organisations. “I think the CIPR should hear the clock ticking”, wrote one contributor.

5)     The majority consider that CIPR does not campaign for PR practitioners and their businesses. (PRCA, however, should be congratulated on its battle with NLA which has been successful in the Supreme Court).

6)     CIPR's stance on ethics is soft and relativist. Johanna Fawkes’ comment that “weak engagement with ethics undermines a lot of claims (that PR has) a social benefit, and that most Codes, including CIPR’s, are general statements of intent rather than moral guidelines” captured this.

Overall, there was an undefined feeling that a CIPR-type body should exist but there were no convincing arguments about its purpose or objectives.
Finally, a personal observation of mine on a comment that CIPR be “a provider of hard evidence of PR’s value”. Surely, that is the practitioner’s role to develop campaigns that create value that is recognised by clients and employers. Even if CIPR bestrode the whole communication landscape, it could not deliver what practitioners should be doing through application of research, planning, best practice and applied theory.
For at least two decades UK practitioners have had readily accessible information on research, planning and evaluation but have mainly chosen to ignore it for quick fixes like AVEs and other junk data.

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

FH rebrand: Hostage to fortune?

Fleishman Hillard has announced (see NYTimes link below) that it is rebranding as FleishmanHillard, repositioning as a through-the-line "complete communication" business, and adopting the slogan, “The Power of True”.

More than whether it is grammatically correct,” The Power of True” is a disaster waiting to happen. FH has created a ‘hostage to fortune’ and will be watched like a hawk and pilloried for every bit of overblown hype it produces. The reputational, ethical and implementational (is that a word?) threats are massive.

I hope their in-house crisis management team has been strengthened alongside the clever, creative advertising and social media bods who are being added to their staff.

As this is an Omnicom group agency, the creation of a through-the-line business could take business away from other ad, PR and digital media agencies in the group. They could all be squabbling over the same budgets.

On the other hand, the one-stop-shop model may be attractive to clients. It has been talked about for a long time, and is widely used outside major cities. Usually, it is the ad agencies pushing into PR territory (doing it badly; usually as a loss-leader), but here is an PR business going the other way.

In 2011 Golin-Harris offered a media- and channel-agnostic restructure, although it still positioned itself in the PR sphere. It has just won the Holmes Report's Americas region ‘Large Agency of the Year’ accolade, which may indicate that its transformation is paying off.

Interesting times amongst the larger agencies: I wonder if a round of consolidations will be next?

Friday, 26 April 2013

Is PR part of the 'creative economy'? Probably not

It's noticeable that PR bodies haven't rushed to comment or even acknowledge the 'Manifesto for the Create Economy' which was published by innovation charity NESTA on April 23.

This challenging document starts from the claim that the 'creative economy' provides 10% of gross added value to the national economy, employs 2.5 millions people and grows faster than most other sectors.

Its message that Britain is falling behind international competition is one that we should heed. The report says that policies in the UK have failed to keep pace with developments in North America and Asia.

Among its 10 actions points are:

  • policies to incentivise innovation in ways that suit the creative industries
  • the adaptation of copyright laws to "digital realities"
  • broadened research programmes, with greater investment in knowledge-exchange
  • changes in education to create a  "fusion" covering technology, art, maths, science and the humanities
  • greater involvement in the digital economy by publicly funded creative leaders like the BBC and museums
  • a more open internet sphere, with less control by a few major players

At the launch of the report Lord (David) Putman argued there was a mismatch between skills needed to drive the creative industries and the learning of current graduates, while Skillset chief executive Kate O'Connor said universities should do more to teach entrepreneurial skills.

I agree with them in many ways but no-one in the PR industry has come to my colleagues and me to offer that advice. The only common feedback is that graduates "have to write well".  I would like more teaching on management and entrepreneurial skills and have been working in that direction for the past 3-4 years. This report gives me greater confidence to develop this element of learning further.

But it worries me (and here's a cue for CIPR presidential candidates Stephen Waddington and Jon White as well as PRCA's leadership) is that the public relations sector has taken no part in the general debate on the creative sector which has been developing for the past decade. It certainly has no voice (or even recognition) in the NESTA report.

Why is it important for PR to be involved? Firstly because the creative economy is where the sector should be positioning itself; secondly because the ideas from this report will probably shape policy no matter which government is in power; thirdly because while PR still replicates old models of operation, the rest of the creative sector is developing creative clusters at local and regional level to drive its innovation, employment development and growth. "Communities of practice" produce innovation and employment across media, digital, animation and VFX sectors. It's time for PR to go down that route, too.

You can download the report from:

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Remembering great-uncle Tom (Thomas Colin Watson 1897-1916)

As ANZAC Day looms on April 25, I’m commemorating my great uncle Tom Watson (Thomas Colin Watson) who served in the 20th Battalion of the Australian Imperial Forces in World War 1.

I’m by no means the first Tom Watson in my family line. My great-grandfather came by that name. He had a son Thomas Colin and my grandfather had a son named Thomas Guthrie. We aren’t very original about names in the male line (and my sister has a son named Tom).

Long ago I promised myself a visit to the Somme battlefields of northern France. With family guidance, I looked up Australian Army records online about Thomas Colin Watson.

After working as a clerk, he enlisted in October 1915 and was shipped from Sydney to England on the ‘Ceramic’ for training as an infantryman. He had quite a disciplinary record: Once for “using indecent language in a public place in the hearing of the public”, he was severely reprimanded. More than once, he was promoted to corporal then dropped back to private. Generally, he seems to have been a ‘larrikin’, as Australians call noisy, scrappy young people.

Tom joined 20th Battalion in the Western Front on October 2nd and was ‘Killed in Action’ on November 7th, 1916 at Caterpillar Valley near the village of Longueval, 6 miles from Bapaume. His family was told he was killed by concussion from a German artillery explosion. He was 19 years old.

Tom was later buried in the Commonwealth War Grave at Caterpillar Valley. His family was sent his effects that comprised a few letters only. Later they were sent his medals, the 1914-15 Star, British War Medal and Victory Medal. By 1922, all that remained were their memories and a gravestone in a carefully maintained graveyard on the Somme.

He wasn’t the only relative of mine to die on the Somme. Guthrie “Goo” Reilly, my grandmother’s brother, died in August 1918 at Villers-Brettoneux on the first day of the great offensive that forced the German army back and led to the end of World War 1. A 33-year-old farmer-turned-sergeant, he was killed by a German prisoner.

Those are the facts. Going to Caterpillar Valley and finding great-uncle Tom’s grave was an unexpectedly emotional journey. After a morning touring the Somme, we came to the graveyard and found the gravestone by the front wall. Cue an enormous lump in my throat. It was quite surprising to feel so strongly about an unknown relative but he was my personal connection to the carnage of the Somme. It was a very humbling moment.

As for the next Tom Watson (Thomas Guthrie), he was killed by a Japanese sniper in New Guinea in July 1945. So I am the first Tom Watson in this family line to live so long in three generations, only because others had laid down their lives.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Are PR associations past their 'sell-by' date?

As there is a real debate-led CIPR presidential election campaign in the UK, it's time to ask whether PR associations perform any real purpose other than ensuring their continued survival.

They can offer benefits but I am unsure whether they do so at present. I'd welcome the views of the CIPR presidential hopefuls, Stephen Waddington (@wadds) and Jon White (@drjonwhite) about how CIPR or a refreshed version would perform.

My membership of CIPR goes back 30 years, so I should declare an interest here. What follows may lead you to ask "why are you still subscribing to it?" Good question!

The purpose of professions is seen in two perspectives - maintaining status quo and playing a positive role in society (functionalist) and self-promoting and restricting entry to the field (revisionist). Jo Fawkes has written recently that "traditionally professions secured (or at least asserted) public trust by virtue of their professional status (body of knowledge, extensive training, extra-moral ethical standards)".

Some commentators consider that the concept of professionalism, often called the "professional project", is under threat and professional identity is in crisis. Professional bodies, they say, are  bureaucratic mechanisms to promote exclusivity and monopolistic practices.

As CIPR is largely inward looking, is doing little to build PR's body of knowledge, is not able to control entry to the field and has a difficult ethical stance to maintain, its main contribution to the professional concept is training. However, it is not alone in either offering training or setting standards. PRCA and numerous training companies offer the same services, not forgetting the extensive university sector.

So what is the purpose of CIPR if it is not able to offer the objectives of most professional bodies? And it can't achieve the negative aspects (according to revisionist critics) of restricting entry to the field to those of established knowledge and professional standing. 

All evidence of recent studies is that PR=publicity and is practiced as a craft, not a profession.Recently, I wrote about inspecting 70 papers that reported on PR practices in UK organisations. I can't think of one that demonstrated high professional standards. Reading entries to CIPR's own AVE-laden PRide regional awards reinforces that impression. PR is not practiced as a profession by many CIPR members, let alone the 85% who aren't.

In an earlier post (, I discussed the separation of strategic/organisation communication from PR/publicity. If CIPR wants to renew as a genuinely professional body, that is a serious option to consider.

So my question to the two candidates is: what would they do to develop the professional project for public relations in the UK of, if is is bust, how would they reorganise CIPR for a post-professional organisation age? At 65 years old, CIPR is an OAP. Retirement may be a valid option.
  • My thanks to Jo Fawkes's article, "Interpreting ethics, public relations and strong hermeneutics", published in Public Relations Inquiry, 2012, Vol. 1, No. 2, 117-140 for its discussion of professionalism.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

The Thatcher Years - and me

Watching Maurice Saatchi discussing Margaret Thatcher’s legacy tonight (Channel 4 News) made me feel really old. Maurice, the originator of the “Labour’s not working” campaign of 1979, focused on why Mrs T was a winner: she was a conviction politician whom people believed in, even they didn’t like the medicine.

She wasn’t an oily creature like Blair or Cameron; or a machine politician like Brown or Callaghan; a lieutenant such as the likeable John Major. Having spent from 1979 to 1997 working on local and national elections, that was the view on the doorstep.

Now, 33 years on, I reflect on this politician who had an influence on my life like no other. I have never been a great believer in the inspirational leader model. There was only one St Paul who, struck down on the road to Damascus, changed from persecutor to proselytiser. Mrs T was not a C20th female St Paul, but she did change Britain.

So why did I become a Conservative of the centre? I had come to England in late 1974, when it was just ghastly: three-day weeks; the Mussolini of the coal mines trying to bully government; the collapse of government itself. In 1976, I was working as a magazine journalist when the NUJ held stop-work meetings to demand 25% pay rises because that was the current rate of inflation. Soon after, the IMF bailed out the British Treasury. By 1978, under “Sunny Jim’ Callaghan, Britain was going downhill rapidly.

I married in 1977 and was faced with either staying or convincing my bride to go to Australia. Not an easy task. To stay meant doing something that would help change the appalling situation Britain was in. So I joined the Conservatives and started knocking on doors.

It was hard work but Mrs T won in 1979. Then followed the disappointment of the electorate – “why wasn’t everything being changed immediately”. In particular, council tenants wanted right-to-buy legislation introduced “now!” so they could buy their house and finally feel “at home”. It is sneered at now, but in the early 1980s it was the greatest social change that these people could imagine. And she delivered it.

In 1981, I was elected as a County Councillor in Hampshire with a thumping majority and in 1984 set up a PR consultancy business. [Unlike 2013, banks were very keen to help you get started. In fact, we knew the manager personally and he would drop regularly in for a cuppa to see how we were progressing].

There were, of course, ups-and-downs. Prescription charges were introduced which angered many, although few paid them. In the South, the government’s stand against the NUM was very fully supported – Arthur Scargill was deeply loathed – but police tactics seemed brutal at times. On the other hand, the Thatcher governments spent more on the NHS than their Labour predecessors did; they started the expansion of higher education which has been the Conservatives’ great legacy for reducing social division.

As for my political career, it ended in 1985 when I realised that a young family and a consultancy business were not compatible with being a county politician. I stood down and focused on election campaigns at local and Westminster level. I also attended party conferences: Bournemouth and Brighton were OK but Blackpool was always dire – a grubby, rundown seaside resort at the end of the season by the brown, windswept Irish Sea.

However, it was in Blackpool in the late 1980s that Mrs T and the party gave their support to Eastern Europe’s emerging voices and the leaders of their nascent democracies. Perhaps that was the major legacy of the later Thatcher era: very active, visible support for the new nations emerging from the Soviet umbrella.

I worked on the 1979, 1983, 1987, 1992 and 1997 General Elections in Winchester and surrounding electorates. By the end of the Major period, the aura of 1979 and the energy to give people the opportunity to develop had completely run out. I stepped down from party membership and have been on the sidelines since. I was never a die-hard Thatcherite or a “Tory”. Now, all conviction has gone from UK politics, no matter what party interests you. It’s just three 40-somethings leading dull, pragmatic operations.

With the passing of Mrs T, the era of conviction politics has finally been buried. But her support for enterprise and personal development benefited me, my colleagues, suppliers, families and the taxman. We developed a £1.3m turnover business from hard work and the enterprise-supportive atmosphere of nearly three decades ago. My life has moved on but I still hold Mrs T’s legacy in great respect. I’d hate to think of the alternative history of the UK if she’d lost the 1979 election.

Friday, 29 March 2013

Memo to Rob Flaherty

It’s been announced that Rob Flaherty, CEO of the Ketchum PR consultancy group, is be keynote speaker at AMEC’s European Summit on Measurement in June. According to Ketchum’s PR Newswire message, he will be calling for “unified effort to establish measurement as key tool”.

I don’t know Rob but have met his predecessors David Drobis and Ray Kotcher. I have a lot of time for the consultancy’s immensely likeable European CEO, David Gallagher who, like me, is a former PRCA chairman. There are lots of very able people at Ketchum, so this “memo to Rob” is offered collegially.

Having researched the history and practice of PR measurement and evaluation since 1992, this issue comes around again and again. Nothing new is said and PR people continue not to evaluate.

I have delved recently into the International Public Relations Association (IPRA) archive which starts in 1953 and am planning to write a paper on the practice topics that appear decade after decade. For industry leaders who think they have a new insight to offer: forget it, it has probably been said ten times before. There is little institutional memory in the business.

For Rob’s address to the Madrid jamboree, here is a timeline about PR measurement and evaluation (see also Watson, 2012).

1905/6: The Publicity Bureau of Boston, which Scott Cutlip says was the first PR agency in the US, developed the ‘Barometer’. It was a researched guide to the attitudes and interests of newspaper editors to help with accurate placement of editorial material.

1920s onwards: AVEs and multipliers start to be used in press agentry and publicity work in the US. They continue to this day.

1928 to mid-1940s: Arthur W. Page uses extensive opinion research to shape AT&T’s communications, public relations and customer-facing behaviours.

1950s onwards: Cutlip and Center’s PII (Preparation, Implementation, Impact) model of PR planning and measurement appears in the still-published Effective Public Relations. Generations of PR practitioners have been taught PII.

1977: James Grunig, in association with AT&T, starts continuing academic research into measurement and evaluation. This leads to a flowering of research and publication that continues to now.

1990: Glenn Broom and David Dozier publish the still-excellent Using Research in Public Relations, which has been used extensively around the world.

1993: Walter Lindenmann, who worked for H&K and Ketchum, introduces his Three-Step Yardstick of Outputs, Out-take and Outcome. It has become the standard terminology of public relations measurement.

Late 1990s: The three-year-long 'Proof' campaign to promote best practice in PR planning, research and evaluation is launched in PR Week (UK) in collaboration with PRCA and the-then IPR (now CIPR).

2010: The Barcelona Principles, a benchmark statement of existing practices, is launched by AMEC and supported by PR organisations widely.

My case is that practitioners have been offered well-developed methods of PR measurement and evaluation from at least the late 1970s onwards. In 2008, a paper by Anne Gregory and me reviewed the range of methodology and called for practitioners to use it. No further basic research was needed, we said. There were no knowledge barriers; it was time to borrow Nike’s theme and for PR people to “just do it”.

There have been innumerable books written and industry initiatives conducted, but there is still very low take-up by practitioners. Only recently, a Ragan survey found that around two-thirds of US practitioners had not heard of the Barcelona Principles. So it’s not methods that are needed, it is for practitioners to open their minds and change their behaviours.

So Rob, when you stand on the Madrid platform with your “roadmap on the future of PR”, please propose that practitioners take their own futures in their hands and apply the PR measurement and evaluation methods that have been around for decades. They are well-proven.

Best wishes, TOM

Here’s some reading to help you prepare the paper

Broom, G.M. & Dozier, D.M. (1990). Using research in public relations. Englewood Cliff, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Gregory, A., & Watson, T., (2008). Defining the gap between research and practice in public relations programme evaluation – towards a new research agenda. Journal of Marketing Communications, 14(5), 337-350.

Lindenmann, W.K. (2006). Public relations research for planning and evaluation. Gainesville, FL: Institute for Public Relations. Available from: 

Watson, T. (2012). The evolution of public relations measurement and evaluation. Public Relations Review, 38(3), 390-398. DOI:10.1016/j.pubrev.2011.12.1018.

Friday, 22 March 2013

ROE may be more accurate than ROI

I was interested in Andrew Smith’s post on CIPR's Conversations blog (March 22) about Oliver Blanchard’s book Social Media ROI. However, both blogger and book shared same old misunderstanding of Return on Investment (ROI)'s application to PR.

Through 2011 and 2012, there was a three-nation debate about whether ROI was appropriate for public relations or not. It was carried out by PR academics and practitioners in Germany, UK and US.

[It is available on the IPR’s website ( and academic research is online at PRism journal, (

At its heart was the contention by Prof Ansgar Zerfass (Leipzig University, Germany) and me that practitioners mis-apply ROI to their disadvantage. In 2011 we undertook a Europe-wide study of practitioners’ understanding and usage of the ROI concept.

The sample of more than 2000 responses showed wide national variations but generally, practitioners had very loose, inaccurate views of ROI’s application. These very different to classic definitions of the term as a ratio of monetary value created, divided by the costs incurred and multiplied by 100.

Where PR folks get it wrong, is that unlike a business ROI which related to capital expenditure over time, their ROI fail to account for all costs, don’t have a hard-edged financial objective and rely on estimates and not accountancy. So what their figures are not recognisable as a ‘return on the capital employed’. They are guesses which are not related to the specific financial management term.

In most cases, intangible results of public relations activity did not lead to financial outcomes. This is especially relevant in governmental and non-profit organisational communication even though there are attempts to employ "ROI" in those fields.

Our conclusion was that ROI was an inappropriate term for public relations measurement and evaluation. This conclusion was supported by the eminent PR theorist Prof James E. Grunig who wrote that he would “cease and desist” from using ROI in the public relations context.

In the US, Prof Don Stacks of Miami University contends that, rather than creating a PR-ROI, the practice should consider a Return on Expectations (ROE) measurement which could cover both financial and non-financial situations. He has published on this recently. His case is worth considering.

Saturday, 9 March 2013

PR Latest Research - Day 3

Day 3 at IPRRC Miami was quieter as the conference was coming to a close:

What happened to Social Media Newsrooms? In study of over 2000 corporate websites in the US, UK and Germany, Zerfass and Schramm found only 100 social media newsrooms (SMRs). Dissemination of material on services and products was the most common use but there was little dialogue with customers and stakeholders. The authors say SMRs are a “lost opportunity” despite being available for five years. Interviews found that companies could it difficult to decide who would manage SMRs and where would operate from (that is, the barriers were internal silos).

Should Delphi studies make a comeback? Rob Wakefield and Tom Watson (this blog’s author) made a case for revived interest in Delphi studies for research on contemporary PR issues. The method uses ‘experts’ to investigate issues, policies and trends and gives “greater richness and insight” than surveys or focus group.

“Stealing Thunder” strategy may reduce crisis impact: The policy of immediately releasing information about a crisis before regulators and stakeholders respond, known as Stealing Thunder may help recovery from a crisis, a study from Singapore proposes. Hyun Jee Oh told the conference initial data showed that the public considered the crisis to be less severe and increased trust for the affected organisation.

New PR pros get social media tasks: Research by Nicole Lee and colleagues has found that new PR employees get most social media tasks because their charge-out rates are cheaper. This is mainly dissemination work (one-way media). They also reported reluctance by clients to pay for social media.

PR Research Latest - Day 2

Today’s report on PR research papers at IPRRC Miami:

Discussion of PR ethics levels off: Michael Mitrook has been studying reports and research on the ethics of PR over a 13 year period from 1998 and found that the amount of discussion has levelled off and is declining, despite the challenges of social media.

Publicity-led activism: The publicity methods of the PETA activist group have been analysed by John Brummette and Lynn Zoch who found that it uses a relentless mix of stunts, media actions, celebrities and unreasonable public demands all set to get media coverage. The most effective were sensational print and billboard advertisements. These were usually followed by a protest from the target (sometimes including legal action) and then follow-on media coverage of the drama.

Online article marketing is a threat to public relations and ethical communication, reported Kirk Hallahan who described it as a “subterranean cottage industry” that uses software and low-paid writers to ‘bastardize’ articles for offer to bloggers. These were ‘content farms’ which commoditise media content.

Pro Bono work for charities pays off: Research has found that pro bono work for charities delivers results for agencies in terms of “bringing in paying clients”, retaining staff, supporting reputation and good business practice. The study based on interviews with top managers in major PR agency groups was conducted by Justin Pettigrew, Abigail Jensen and their supervisor Bryan Reber.

Social Media Measurement: An eight-point step-by-step approach to measuring social media, which uses the AMEC Valid Metrics Framework, has been developed by Angela Jeffrey, a leading US measurement adviser. It will be published shortly.

Evaluation of social media is “archaic”: The latest report in an eight-year study of the measurement of social media by Donald Wright and Michelle Drifka Hinson has found organizations and companies are still using “archaic output measures” when measuring blogs, social and other emerging media. “In spite of concerted efforts encouraging organisations and companies to incorporate modern outcome measures ... our 2013 report results unfortunately show virtually no progress from what we found in previous years. Discussion considered that “engagement” was just a new variation of confusing media output with campaign outcomes.

Booming social media use in Turkey: Bilgen Basal reported that social media use in Turkey with Europe’s leading number of Facebook users at 32 million (more than half the population) and ranking fourth in Twitter sign-up. They spend 8.6 hours a week on social media.

More tomorrow, IPRRC's last day.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

PR Research Latest - Day 1

The annual blitz that is the International Public Relations Research Conference (IPRRC) started in Miami today. Here are some headlines from the 36 papers presented:

CSR and purchase intentions – Melissa Dodd and Dustin Supa have found in a pilot study that there is a positive relationship between corporate social activism campaigns and customer purchase intentions. This form of CSR, which supports policy changes, has been investigated in student populations and research will be extended to a wider demographic and range of organisations.

Spinning the green web’ is the title of Denise Bortree’s paper that found positive associations between the amount and prominence of online information about corporate sustainability and the subsequent impact on the organisations’ reputational performance across three indices. She also found that companies get improved reputational effects by posting material online, rather than presenting it to traditional media.

'What CEOs want to know about PR performance' is the theme of a proposal by Canadian commentator Fraser Likely. He is investigating a five-factor model, based on management theorist Peter Drucker’s studies about the information needs of senior management. The outcome could be a framework that helps PR and corpcomms advisers to meet management’s demands rather than supply the information they think is important.

Most Admired Companies’ adoption of social media was researched by Marcia DiStaso, Tina McCorkindale and Alexa Agugliaro. They found that 96% have a Facebook page, 82% have a Twitter account and 72% are on YouTube. Overall, the consumer packaged goods industry was the best adopter and use of social media. Their sample was 417 US companies from Fortune’s Most Admired Company list for 2012.

How valid is data on the PR industry? That’s the question asked about the quality of data in the US by Vince Hazleton, Bey-Ling Sha, Candace White and Melissa Graham. As much research, world-wide, is based on samples drawn from PR bodies, they have been checking the PRSA data and have found it may not be representative of the general PR population in the US. Their study has value for academics, market researchers and PR bodies around the world. (PRSA represents only around 8% of the US PR workforce).

A standardised method for measuring traditional media? An academic-industry team has developed a standardised method for analysis of traditional media. The study by Marianne Eisenmann, Julie O’Neil and David Geddes has tested, over time, a standard method of measuring traditional media which includes (i) defining the item or unit of media content analysis; (ii) counting company or brand mentions; (iii) calculating impressions; and (iv) scoring stories for tone or sentiment. Supported by training of coders and use of a coding guidebook, they believe it can eliminate the wide variations of results often evident in media analysis from different suppliers.

More tomorrow.

PR's future: Sing along with Tammy Wynette

Ten days ago, I posted on the PR Moment blog calling for a divorce between publicity/PR and strategic communication #. This blog reviews 10 responses which came from the UK, USA, Canada and Sweden and a separate poll of PR Moment readers.
Also, that well-known Northumbrian blogger Stephen Waddington penned a response on the PR Moment blog with the catchy title of “Elementary my dear Watson”. I was honoured!

What surprised me was the consensus for the admittedly difficult to achieve “PR divorce” proposal. Several respondents were in some form of complete agreement. I needed an extra glass of wine to cope with the shock.

Nick Grant referred to the PR=Publicity problem as the ’elephant in the room’, while Craig Fleisher and Fraser Likely commented that there is a trend to a separate strategic communication practice and body of knowledge already.

Even the 26% level of support for the split, shown in the PR Moment poll, was a plus. PR research over many years has found that more than 80% of practitioner effort goes on media relations and publicity. So 74% rejection is a positive trend, and was predicted by Canadian commentator Fraser Likely.

It will be a Long March for change, so what next?

- Unhook strategic communication from Marcoms at all levels. As suggested before, encourage publicity and Marcoms practitioners to form their own associations or link to CIM (marketing professional bodies). As Jesper Falkheimer noted, this is already happening in Scandinavia.

- Bring together online resources about best practice and theory in strategic communication and make them accessible to managers. There are already academic journals and leading texts in the field, as well as conferences.

- In the interim, demand that PR bodies give more recognition to strategic communication in their awards; the standard of many awards is woefully poor because if their focus on junk data and public (a point made by Fraser Likely)

- Starting with the Global Alliance, get it to drop ’public relations’ from its title and focus more on the 'communication management'. This would encourage PR bodies to reorganise and retitle towards strategic communication. For instance, the Institute of Public Relations (IPR) could become the Institute for Strategic Communication, as that is the overwhelming theme of its work.

So let's sing along with Tammy Wynette for “D-I-V-O-R-C-E” for strategic communication from Marcoms/Publicity. (But not in our private lives).   #  

Monday, 4 March 2013

Valid and Reliable? Why PR experts may be wrong

This is a difficult blog to write. It has the potential to upset some really committed folks who put a lot of time into thinking about public relations. However, it has the possibility for a very positive outcome.

Some practitioners are kind enough to give guest lectures to students. Others (some the same people) write blogs. A few commit themselves to writing 250-300 pages of a book, and the publishing grind that goes with it. They are good people. And it’s almost a ‘golden age’ of expert practitioners contributing to PR and corpcomms development in the UK.

But they are missing out on two vital concepts that could make their commentaries and books even more valuable. They are ‘valid’ and ‘reliable’ which are key components for producing best practice and theory that can really advise practitioners and make PR more effective.

Here are some examples of the type of commentary and “theorising” that comes unstuck. The first was a challenge to Jim’s Grunig’s concept of “symmetrical communications” which is based wholly on anecdotes and personal observation. The Grunig concept is not without challenge in the academic world but case studies and structured research are applied, not anecdotes and assertions.

The second was a set of “brainstormed” set of six descriptions of communications operations prepared by a PR organisation without any evidence there had been any preparatory study (this is not a new topic) or consistent research method applied. Neither of these assertions has “validity” or “reliability” for application in either practice or theory. They may be insightful but are just informed guesses.

Why is theory valuable for PR? Essentially, it aids prediction: “A sound theory is the conceptual foundation for reliable knowledge; theories help us to explain and predict phenomena of interest to us and, therefore, to make intelligent practical decisions” (Frankfort-Nachmias & Nachmias 1992). The outcomes of applied theory are organization, explanation, prediction and greater control of the situation. All these factors help practitioners build campaigns and programmes which are more likely to achieve their objectives because they are built on a valid, reliable base.

Can practitioners develop commentary and assertions into theory? Yes they can, and it’s very productive. In Australia, evaluation expert and commentator Jim Macnamara developed high-standard academic research skills and is now a widely quoted expert (and latterly a professor). Another approach is the research partnership of Chicago consultancy boss Lou Williams and San Diego professor David Dozier who for many years have researched best practice in internal communications. Their work is highly rated. In the US, practice research is fostered by the Institute for Public Relations (see its excellent which gets industry backing for the type of robust research that practitioners look up to.

In the UK, is it time for industry to support continuing research into practice by creating an equivalent to the Institute for Public Relations? Partnerships, with some funding, between academic and the PR experts will produce enduring results. I hope so because there is so much energy and enthusiasm to be applied that could result in ‘valid and reliable’ outcomes for the PR sector.

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Why the British don’t have ‘good’ political scandals

What is it about the British and their political scandals? They are so minor key and grubby. No gross corruption or venality on the Berlusconi scale, just lies and odd sexual practices which should have stayed private.

For over 30 years, I have lived in Winchester; once England’s capital and the site of its most beautiful cathedral. In that time one local MP was driven out of the Conservatives for dumping his wife for “an American heiress” and behaving like a ‘cad’. Oh yes, I was there on the evening when Capt. John Browne MP was accused of being a ‘cad’ by a party member. There was an audible gasp among the 200+ party members. It was the absolutely worst thing that could have been said about him. After that, he was doomed.

A later MP, Mark Oaten, also a chairman of the Liberal Democrat party, admitted to a relationship with a rent boy in London which included very obscure practices. He retired at the last election.

Now in Eastleigh, our neighbouring constituency to the south, there is a by-election caused by the resignation of its high-profile MP and former government minister Chris Huhne. He recently pleaded guilty for ‘perverting the course of justice’ for making his wife accept speeding points for him. As a result of the conviction, he resigned as a Member of Parliament and is likely to be gaoled.

There is a continuing and bitter back-story of Huhne leaving his wife, the prominent economist Vicky Price, and taking up with a formerly bi-sexual political aide. It was Price who revealed in a Sunday newspaper that she had taken Huhne’s driving penalty to allow him to keep his licence. Both have been prosecuted.

A previous MP, Stephen Milligan, died in 1995 from auto-asphyxiation while wearing stockings and suspenders. There is more detail but it doesn’t add to the grubby awfulness of Milligan’s sad death.

According to The Economist whose Bagehot (UK politics) columnist was is sparkling form, the voters have a choice on February 28 between a LibDem who is “amazingly uncharismatic” and a Conservative who while “warm and articulate … (has) a shaky grasp of national policy and questionable judgment.”
As yet, their private lives have not been subject to prurient interest but watch out. Past performance is probably a guide to future news. Forget Westminster and all that ‘Mother of Parliaments’ fluff; for real British politics and its yucky scandals look no further than mid-Hampshire.