Jim Macnamara’s ‘Measuring Up’
I couldn’t miss writing an article for this, the 100th issue of The Measurement Standard. This publication has been an industry flag-waver for accountable, measurable public relations and professionalization over the past eight years or so—sometimes a solitary voice, but increasingly part of a growing movement.
So now is an appropriate time to reflect on the recent past. In my hot Down Under summer reveries, I see PR poised at three major thresholds as it enters the 20-teens:
1. Measurement Has Arrived
In the past 12 months, a number of landmark decisions and initiatives have occurred around the world that have put measurement of public relations on the front pages of industry journals and hopefully put practitioners on the front foot rather than dragging their feet. It is about time. And it’s welcome justification for the group of nags (including those of us who write in this publication) who have been harping about measurement for “yonks.” (Another of my Aussie terms, meaning a “bloody long time.”)
Recently no less than four global public relations and research bodies—the Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communication Management; the Association for Measurement and Evaluation of Communication (AMEC); the Institute for Public Relations; and the International Communications Consultancy Organisation (ICCO), as well as a number of national PR bodies including the Public Relations Society of America—agreed to seven key undertakings in relation to research in signing the Barcelona Declaration of Research Principles.
In addition, last June practitioner leaders from around the world met at the World Public Relations Forum in Stockholm and agreed to a broad set of principles to guide ethical public relations practice. These Stockholm Accords include a clause calling on practitioners to “promote and support efforts to reach an ongoing integrated reporting of financial, social, economic and environmental [impacts].”
Following these decisive global leadership initiatives, professional institutes in many countries have issued their own public statements. These support the use of rigorous research to measure PR outcomes and encourage the avoidance of “shonky” methods such as Advertising Value Equivalents. (That’s another Aussie-ism, meaning “dubious and underhanded.”)
The time of PR practitioners paying lip service to measurement is passed. The issue of measurement is now a global public issue and those practitioners and firms that do not engage will be left behind in the new decade.
2. Relationships Rather than Information Transmission
Jim Grunig, Linda Hon, John Ledingham, and others said it more than a decade ago: Public relations at its core is or should be about relationships, not transmitting information or producing stuff. The latter are processes of “cost centres” in management terms, not expressions of value or return.
PR missed the relationship marketing trend. It missed the customer relationship management (CRM) trend. Both of these have ended up being seen as largely self-serving, focused mostly on selling more products and services rather than engaging in real relationships.
The opportunity for creating and cultivating genuine organization/public relationships remains wide open, waiting for public relations to match the rhetoric of its two-way theories. Relationship cultivation and maintenance is the organizational and societal need in which PR can make a unique contribution and add value.
3. Join the Social Media Revolution
A number of research studies show that, despite considerable hype about PR 2.0, public relations practitioners in the main are slow adopters and still relatively poor users of social media. There are notable exceptions and good for them—they shall inherit the Earth.
While Deirdre Breakenridge heralded PR 2.0 in her 2008 book of that title, and Brian Solis and Breakenridge say in their 2009 book that social media are “putting the public back in public relations,” the reality does not match the rhetoric. A landmark 2009 survey of PR practitioners by Donald Wright and Michelle Hinson found that “meaningful gaps exist when measuring differences between what is happening and what should be happening,” particularly in relation to what are considered the most important social media. Wright and Hinson identified the social media and social networks most used by practitioners as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. But another 2009 study by Porter, Sweetser & Chung reported that PR practitioners mostly use LinkedIn for job hunting and maintain mostly personal blogs, using blogs as a professional communication medium at low levels.
In yet another 2009 study, Tom Kelleher found that the production of corporate blogs is “distributed” within organizations and performed “by a wide range of people representing an organization” who “do not think of themselves as public relations people.” So, while organizations are engaging in social media, PR practitioners are often not the people involved.
Even more alarming, Wright and Hinson found that less than 40 percent of respondents’ organizations measure what members of external strategic publics communicate about them in blogs or other social media, and only a quarter measure what employees communicate about their organizations in social media.
I strenuously endeavour to avoid and avow the hype and hyperbole that surrounds much discussion of Web 2.0 and social media. However, my analysis, based on interviews worldwide and several empirical studies, published in my book The 21st Century Media (R)evolution (Peter Lang, New York, 2010) clearly indicates that social media is the next ‘big thing’ in media and public communication.
PR has come a long way, and is on the brink of more great progress. It has to cross these three thresholds to embrace the future.
Jim Macnamara PhD, FPRIA, FAMI, CPM, FAMEC became Professor of Public Communication at the University of Technology Sydney in 2007 after a 30-year career working in journalism, public relations and media research which culminated in selling the CARMA Asia Pacific franchise which he founded to Media Monitors in 2006. He worked as Group Research Director with Media Monitors - CARMA Asia Pacific following the sale and continues as a Consultant with the Group.
Jim Macnamara's new book, The 21st Media (R)evolution: Emergent Communication Practices is published by Peter Lang, New York. For details, reviews and orders go direct to the Peter Lang sales site, or order through www.amazon.com.