Priorities for public relations research – Responses and Round 2

Posted on: May 1, 2007

On April 20, I asked DummySpit readers for comments on a list of research topics for public relations. Some 24 were listed and you could nominate up to ten of them for a prioritisation of the topics that practitioners and academics consider should be investigated.

Here is the first round of results that have come from Australia, Canada, India, Ireland Switzerland, United Kingdom and the United States. Respondents were practitioners, academics and industry people. They worked in consultancies, government, universities industry, non-profits and suppliers.

1 The impact of technology on public relations practice and theory
2 The measurement and evaluation of public relations, both offline and online
3=  Integration of public relations with other communication functions; the scope of public relations practice; discipline boundaries
3= Management of corporate reputation; measurement of reputation
5= Client understanding of public relations strategy and tactics
5= Ethics in public relations
7= Research into standards of performance among PR professionals; the licensing of practitioners
7= Professional skills in public relations; Analysis of the industry’s need for education; Theories of practice
7= The place of “word-of-mouth” and buzz marketing in public relations practice
10= Strategic planning of public relations programmes
10= Quality of public relations services
10= Crisis management and communication; issues management

Just outside this top group, which numbers twelve and not ten, were: Management of relationships, stakeholder approaches, negotiation and conflict resolution; The definition of public relations; International issues in public relations; Cross-cultural public relations; The expectations of users of public relations; The client: consultancy/adviser interface; and the role of PR in community/social responsibility programmes.

It is sad but not surprising that the old chestnut of measurement and evaluation ranked second, despite the welter of widely available information and research on the subject. In Delphi studies in 1994 and 1997, it ranked as top priority for research. Not much has changed in a decade.

In addition to the topics that were originally proposed, several others were suggested, including:
– The place of communication and PR professionals in the boardroom
– Recruitment of better quality entry into the profession
– Public relations as a fundamental management function
– The role of public relations in contributions to strategic decision-making, strategy development and realisation, and organisational functioning
– The part public relations plays in the creation of value for organisations, through building social capital, managing key relationships and realising organisational or competitive advantage
– Social media and its role in public relations
– Identification of the areas of cross-over with, for example, HR, social marketing and especially the management function

Or is a more global view needed, such as “looking ahead ten years, PR will need to have a number of over-riding elements to survive. We have to be able to manage uncertainty (notably in communications channels), change, risk and opportunity. We will need a portfolio of relationship capabilities to hone research, skills and technologies.”

Now for Round 2 – Would you replace any of the top priorities with one or more of these additional topics? Please join in the discussion with your comments on the first round of ranking of the topics and suggest the research questions that should be asked on these topics. For example, 65% of respondents agreed that “the impact of technology on public relations practice and theory” was one of their priorities but what are the questions that we should be asking? That question can also be applied to all those priorities.

Over to you and your feedback.


4 Responses to "Priorities for public relations research – Responses and Round 2"

Hey Tom

I was lax in not responding to round one. My work has been in developing a theoretical model for public relations in the frame of legitimacy being the central rationale for what we do. This model allows us to accommodate a number of the issues raised – how the suite of practices contribute to organisational success in a way where our contribution is integral to ongoing implications for the org reputation. Implications also are for the way we evaluate what we do once our practices are framed as the organisation’s legitimacy rather than activities with behavioural level implications. So, would love to explore these areas with others seeking to address similar questions to those that triggered my research.

Hi Tom

Ditto for not responding to round one. My research on the roles of public relations practitioner in organizational values development may be covered across a few of the topics on your list. But what I further suggest public relations research should explore are the issues of diversity and globalization. Diversity does not necessarily mean just cultural diversity but may also include professional, generational and social (family composition, sexual orientation, etc). To respond to this, I am arguing for a multiple perspectives approach to research.

Hmmmmm. The diversity issue is even more important that most would believe because there is also an online dimension. I have heard a lot of practitioners criticise blog writing and content. They have commented on people in their own (if public) social groups. They have made judgements and that have quite often been very rude.

In a global/local cultural soup the language, social environs, economic and political values both on and offline of somewhere like Canary Wharf can be as different as between Bournemouth and Bagelkhand.

hi Tom, I would just add one point in terms of questions to be asked. I think for the no. 1 theme on impact of technology I could imagine questions such as: how is technology (i.e. internet, mobile and social media) affecting the priorities (and budgets)of PR?; Are technologies making measurement activities easier and more accessible for practitioners?; new media has contributed to the fragmentation of publics – but has it facilitated accessability to publics? Just some ideas…

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