The Institute for Public Relations (IPR) Board wants to redouble our focus on research, tracking even more toward topics that matter to the practice:  providing timely insights and applied intelligence that leaders in our field can put to immediate use. In this post and another to follow, I want to share our research direction broadly with IPR’s supporters and followers.  Please consider this your invitation to join the conversation and help set our course.


Dr. Jim Grunig has praised the Institute for supporting three kinds of research:  in public relations, on public relations and for public relations.  Jim’s well-considered and scholarly use of this taxonomy differs somewhat from how the IPR Board has used it as a guide.  But here is IPR’s adaptation of the Grunig structure:

  • Research in public relations is used to guide and evaluate relationship-building and communications programs (in other words, planning research and measurement).
  • Research on public relations helps us understand what we as professionals do and how we do it (e.g., benchmarking best practices, the talent pool we attract, and the business of public relations).
  • Research for public relations establishes the social science underpinnings of our work (sometimes borrowed from other fields).

The lines between these can be less than perfect.  Any given research work may have elements that qualify for more than one kind.  Nevertheless, across many discussions with senior communications officers and researchers, these categories seem to hold up well and inform the conversation.

IPR’s involvement in the first kind has been driven primarily by the Commission on Public Relations Measurement & Evaluation and its standard-setting efforts.  As an example of the second kind, in the weeks ahead, we will announce a new partnership with the USC Annenberg’s Strategic Communication and Public Relations Center to advance the methodology and distribution of the GAP (Generally Accepted Practices) studies.  But it is the third kind – the fundamental research of our field – that Trustees believe is the most distinctive (and unfortunately, least accessible) of the three, and that should be our primary focus.


Historically IPR has played multiple roles in supporting the three kinds of research.  These roles may not be new, but I  believe they are more widely understood and supported within our organization today.

  • Aggregator – Identifying, publishing and promoting important research from many sources, including IPR’s own volunteer commissions, Trustees and the research organizations of major agencies and corporate communications departments.
  • Grantor – Commissioning new research and using awards to encourage research on high-priority topics.
  • Partner – Amplifying IPR’s influence and reach through relationships with organizations that we have traditionally considered partners (e.g., membership-based public relations associations both national and international, trade groups, academic institutions and funded academic centers); and going forward, organizations more readily recognized by CEOs and other organizational leaders.
  • Interpreter – Drawing actionable insights and intelligence from research, and employing all communications channels (including our free website, social network outreach, professional forums, the annual lecture, speaking and media opportunities) to share compelling knowledge and manage what one Trustee has called “the life cycle of a research project.”


After proposing dozens of research topics, the IPR Board has identified its five highest priority basic research topics.  I will share those with you in my next post, part two of “Laying Down a Research Track.”

But for now, just as you have stepped up in the past with financial contributions to IPR, we now need your intellectual contributions to help set our research direction. Thank you.

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Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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6 thoughts on “Laying Down a Research Track, Part One

  1. Thanks to all for your input. Forrest and Jerry, I doubt we can go back to the Essential Knowledge Project as it was, but we can move forward with an even bigger concept of what it might have been. IPR welcomes your involvement in that. Linda, we need to talk about linking social science to public relations and the resources you are tapping for that.

  2. Personally I find research linking social science to the strategy and tactics of PR as being the most compelling and interesting. I subscribe to a number of peer-reviewed journals for my own research and find them highly informative and intellectually challenging. Additionally, I think the role of interpreting is crucial for a field with a systemic history of math-avoidance among even many of its leading practitioners. For example, many of my clients have great reluctance to engage in social media as a central tenet of their platform. Research that is accessible and framed in PR-ese might help them build their confidence and the case inside the company. Thanks for raising the issue.

  3. Delighted about our new partnership on GAP, and agree with the overall direction you outline. “Research for PR” is indeed an essential work in progress, which is why I agree with Forrest on the Essential Knowledge Project. Nonetheless, my experience has been that “Research on PR” remains the most important to the vast majority of practitioners.

  4. Making IPR a clearing house for (aggregator) as well as an initiator, partner and interpreter of communications research is a great service to our profession. There is great need and no other organization serves this purpose. This is particularly true when you consider the three kinds of research you outline above.

    I believe IPR has been doing this as long as I’ve known it, but formalizing this research focus as one of the organization’s objectives gives me hope that we will become the information-driven profession we should be.

    Personally, I hope you will resurrect the Essential Knowledge Project. It showcased some of the most germane and timely research in our field, and gave practitioners immediate access to it.

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