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.