This blog is presented by the IPR Measurement Commission.
BledCom, the international public relations research symposium held every year in the beautiful village of Bled in Slovenia, celebrated its silver anniversary this year. From July 5th to 7th, almost 200 academics and practitioners got together to hear about the latest research and discuss the role of public relations in a world in crisis.
The Measurement Commission of the Institute for Public Relations was represented in force, through Professor Ana Adi from Quadriga University in Berlin, Fraser Likely and myself. Both Fraser and I are contributors to the third edition of the Global Public Relations Handbook, edited by Professors Dejan Verčič and Krishnamurty Sriramesh (who are also the organisers of BledCom, together with Professor Ana Tkalac), to be published later this year.
Our main contribution to the event was a panel on “PR measurement & evaluation: the compass to navigate a VUCA (volatile – uncertain – complex – ambiguous) world – and providing users with the skills to use it”, which was led by Ana and myself, with three panellists: Fraser Likely, President & Managing Partner of Likely Communication Strategies Ltd., Ilia Krustev, CEO of information processing business A DataPro, and Hans Ruijgers, Head of Communication at the KWR Watercycle Research Institute; three practitioners from different countries (Canada, Bulgaria, the Netherlands), with different, compatible experience and expertise.
For Ana and myself, this was an opportunity to continue a discussion that we had started in April, in a piece for PR Conversations: is the current managerial model of PR fit for the digital age? As the technology-driven evolution of the media landscape requires communicators to adapt and adjust continuously, hierarchical management models might be regarded as too restrictive for changing requirements.
At Quadriga University, Ana and her colleagues make sure that the managerial perspective is enriched and enhanced through models of networked collaboration and values-based choices, where accountability, reliability, transparency, fairness and flexibility are handled in a more self-organised way, and the role of trusted advisor and consultant to the organisation becomes the key function.
We brought that same perspective to our panel and focused on key trends with the strongest impact on measurement and evaluation, key skills that a successful data-savvy communicator needs to have today and in future, and the best sources of information and guidance to stay up to date with the relevant thinking, research and tools in this space.
In his comments, Ilia highlighted the convergence of PR with marketing, the growing mistrust of new media, spurred by discussions around fake news and disinformation, and AI and automation as key trends.
Hans mentioned social media traffic and engagement data as a new way to engage senior management in the measurement and evaluation of communication activities. In his own research organisation, KWR Water, he noted that communication has become a shared responsibility between his centralised team, and the researchers themselves. That leaves less budget for corporate communication, and evaluation and measurement is often the first casualty of such budget shifts.
In his analysis, Fraser identified some of the barriers for adoption of fit-for-purpose measurement and evaluation programmes, such as lack of time and budget, lack of industry standards, lack of skills, lack of a supportive organisational culture, and lastly, lack of involvement in strategic management. At the same time, he acknowledged improvements in the research standards of analysis, toward better alignment with organisational objectives.
When it comes to sources of information, both audience and panel pointed to the Institute for PR website as a rich and regularly updated repository of relevant research and opinion. There is also the work that is done by AMEC and its affiliates on the Integrated Evaluation Framework, plus in particular German efforts around communication controlling, led by the ICV (Internationaler Controller Verein; see also the communication controlling portal).
The engaged discussion focused on challenges arising from an overload of information (how to manage the noise to signal ratio and ensure attention for communication efforts), the need to get faster to the information that matters, and the importance of recognising that successful communication is a combination of science, as well as art and craft.
Practitioners need technical skills as well as business skills both to communicate effectively, and to contribute measurably to organisational objectives. But first, the challenges need to be understood and the skills need to be taught and trained. The academy needs to ensure that practitioners are fluent in the language of applied research on the input level (=formative research to inform strategy, planning, design of activities), the output level (=process research to support implementation and deployment, and assess progress), and the outcome level (=summative research to gauge success and evaluate results). Professor Jim Macnamara, advisor to both the IPR Measurement Commission, and AMEC, has made critical contributions to this area, not least through his comprehensive textbook, Evaluating Public Communication (Routledge 2018).
Academy and practice together need to create and continuously refine that data analytics compass to navigate our VUCA world. When BledCom reconvenes for the 26th time in 2019, the lead topic will be Trust and Reputation. The measurement and evaluation of communication will again be a central theme.
Thomas Stoeckle is co-founder of SmallDataForum, and Associate Chair of the Institute for Public Relations (IPR) Measurement Commission. Follow him on Twitter @ThomasStoeckle1.