In my last blog entry I talked about the developmental stage of a public relations initiative or campaign. Between then and now the public relations profession lost a true giant in education and practice—Jack Felton. I’ve worked with Jack for over 15 years. He was the force behind the “Primer of Public Relations Research,” especially after publishing company after company turned it down because “public relations doesn’t need research.” He had a keen sense for why research was important to public relations and part of that sense led him to help underwrite the IPR Measurement Commission, which I am now honored serve as chair.
Jack believed in the long view of public relations. He told on more than one occasion, “Why can’t practitioners get it into their heads that they need to plan on evaluating the work against something?” Here, Jack was talking about beginning any initiative with an understanding of what had been done before, with what effects, and establishing baselines against which public relations efforts are evaluated at the end of the public relations effort. We also discussed what benchmarks should be planned, when to measure against baseline (yes, there should be more than one mid way through the effort), and how they would influence public relations strategy as outputs—tactics—were evaluated.
The key here I believe is understanding that public relations effects can be measured and serve as indicators of client or customer or organizational return on investment (ROI) in the public relations function. Before Jack and before I started on the Commission I had never considered how public relations related to the larger goals it was supporting.
At one Commission meeting the term “non-financial” indicators came up, defined as indicators other than units sold, gross profits, call-ins, and so forth. This made sense to me as my background is in the social sciences and particularly in research methodology, measurement, and the evaluation of social variables as outcomes. Over the next couple of years I proposed a model whereby return on expectations (ROE) served as a moderator of ROI and posited that five social scientific variables in turn influenced ROE: Credibility, Confidence, Relationships, Reputation, and Trust. (For more on this see the Primer or David Michaelson and my “A Practitioner’s Guide to Public Relations Research, Measurement, and Evaluation,” chapter 2 of both books.)
Where should the public relations professional be going to better understand communication social science variables and their effect on expectations? Honestly, reading an academic article can be onerous; it has its own style and requirements and can be broken into qualitative or quantitative approaches to answering the question or testing the hypothesis. The Measurement Commission has a large number of papers written for the professional to provide the necessary background in not only measurement and evaluation but also various non-financial variables. And two new research bases have been added by the Institute for Public Relations, one in organizational/corporate communication and the other in social media. Finally, in over-the-counter books, look at the offerings of Expert Business Press’s Public Relations collection. At present it has two volumes but by year’s end should have over six volumes exploring integrated communications, the public relations agency, social media crises, a model for social media evaluation, reputation, and CCO leadership in the C-suite.
I realize that this blog is late. My next blog will appear soon. I apologize for being out of touch, but it was a tough month for many of us who knew Jack.