Frank Ovaitt, CEO Emeritus of IPR, reflects on the development of PR research in honor of IPR’s 60th Anniversary. 

A good ex-CEO keeps a low profile. So you haven’t heard much from me since I retired from IPR almost a year ago. Plus I’m fully engaged in a small farm in Kentucky that my wife and I bought last year. Still I find myself with enough time to think about this: With everybody talking so much about research, measurement and evaluation, are we doing enough of it?

Surely, we are talking the talk. PR News just named new inductees to the Measurement Hall of Fame last week. There are many great awards in this realm, high among them IPR’s Jack Felton Medal for Lifetime Achievement, presented last year to Gary Sheffer as he retired from chief communications officer duties for the GE Company. The award began with the IPR Measurement Commission, still the leading think tank for standards and best practices for research, measurement and analytics in public relations

But after twenty plus years being associated with IPR – and as the organization marks the 60th anniversary of its founding, still dedicated to fostering greater use of research and measurement – I find myself wondering: Are we walking the walk as much as all the awards and conferences might imply? And if not, what are we afraid of?

Could it be commitment? Once we have carefully thought through our contributions to the organizations and clients we serve, turning that into a measurable objective only happens when we’re ready to make a commitment. Yikes, somebody might hold us responsible!

Are we perhaps afraid we can’t measure up to the marketing and advertising functions? I’ll never forget a presentation by a corporate communications person who seemed to have found the perfect way to link media relations success to revenue. She reported that the reaction in the marketing organization was something like, “Oh, that’s cute.” After all, if media relations has one great shot with every news hook while mass advertising can repeat a message over and over, your attributable revenue can never compare. If public relations/corporate communications provide a completely different kind of value, then we shouldn’t adopt metrics that look like marketing or advertising. (That’s not to say what we do isn’t valuable to the marketing effort, it’s just so different and there are many other organizational functions where our support is also essential.)

Are we even afraid of each other or the lack of understanding between us?  I’ve long had a ringside seat to conflicts between the people in positions to hire researchers and some researchers themselves. Sometimes this represents the divide between the professional and the academic worlds, though it can be broader than that and not all prominent researchers in our field are academics. All I can say is, if we can’t bring the practice and the academy together, we have no hope of being considered a real profession. And neither side is to blame; both must reach out and understand the other, how they think, and how “our” side isn’t superior, it’s just different.

Don’t get me wrong, we have made and are making tremendous progress in the use of research, measurement and evaluation. To keep making progress we probably must continue talking about it more than we do it – or where’s forward motion to come from?

Frank Ovaitt is CEO Emeritus, Institute for Public Relations. Follow him on Twitter @FrankIPR.Frank Ovaitt

Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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