Professor Tom Watson of Bournemouth University in England has been researching public relations measurement and evaluation since the early 1990s. Recently, he presented a paper on the evolution of public relations evaluation to the International History of Public Relations Conference (http://historyofpr.com) which he organizes. (Read more about the conference on the IPR website here.)
The paper, entitled The evolution of evaluation – the accelerating march towards the measurement of public relations effectiveness, tells how PR evaluation developed over more than 200 years, right up to the Barcelona Principles of 2010. Says Professor Watson:
“I'd like to say that it's a story of continuous improvement in public relations practice and its measurement and evaluation, but that’s not the case. I find that the emphasis on consumer and marketing-led PR since the 1950s has fostered poor practices, although major corporates have moved ahead. However, since the late 1970s, research and discussion have burgeoned, which is good news.”
This is Professor Watson's first paper on the history of PR measurement and evaluation and he’ll be publishing more in the coming years. “I'm always looking for new material, archives and insights from industry veterans, so please contact me.”
Here is the Introduction:
Public relations measurement and evaluation has long been a major practice subject. From the late 1970s onwards it has been identified as an important issue for research and practice implementation (McElreath, 1980, 1989; Synnott and McKie, 1997, Watson and Noble 2007; Watson 2008). The evolution of public relations measurement starts much earlier, with some suggesting that media monitoring practices can be identified from the late 18th century onwards (Lamme and Miller, 2010). It is, however, from the beginning of the 20th century, when ‘public relations’ began to be widely used as the description for a set of communication activities, that measurement practices can be identified. This paper traces that development which parallels public relations’ holistic beginnings through to its transformation into a communication practice which has strong publicity influences. Along the way, there has been the worldwide expansion of public relations practices, services and education; the growth of measurement and evaluation services; and the influence of academic thinking.
The paper uses a timeline narrative to describe and discuss the evolution of public relations measurement and evaluation over more than a century. In many ways this evolution has similarities to the development of public relations as an emerging and then extensive communications practice. Like public relations, it starts with elements of both social science research, especially opinion polling, which was used in planning of activities and of a practice emphasis on publicity through media channels. By mid-20th century, the emphasis had moved more towards a publicity-led practice. Media analytics became far more important than social science methods. However, by the beginning of the 21st century, the balance was moving back towards greater sophistication in measurement and the wider alignment of public relations communication objectives with organisational objectives, especially in corporate public relations where new techniques such as scorecards (Zerfass, 2005) are being used. Ironically, this area of public relations is adopting whole-of-organisation (holistic) approaches to organisational communication similar to those promoted in the 1920s and 1930s.