PR Evaluation and Ethics

Posted on: August 15, 2008

I was reading Shannon Bowen’s paper on public relations ethics on the Institute for PR’s site at about the same time that I was judging entries for PR industry awards.


Some recent award entries have very dubious strategies for evaluation that come up against the ethical buffers. Check these out:


“Objective 1: demonstrate the value of the public relations operation to senior management”.


“Measure how little unfavourable coverage [the organisation] has had compared with the competition”


“Demonstrate the high return on investment resulting from (a media relations action)”


Proving an organisational function like PR/CorpComms/Marcomms provides value is, of course, part and parcel of business life. But is it ethical to use corporate funds to engage a third party like a media analysis firm to do that job? Surely the evaluation objectives are about measurement of the impact of PR activity. In the case of the second and third examples, the objectives are skewed so that the supplier of evaluation information has a near-directive to come up with positive results. I think that’s downright unethical as well as being stupid.


Of course, these are errant examples and many award entries have sound, rational objectives but isn’t this the type of slipshod ethical approach that gets the PR industry into trouble with its reputation. To me, it is flackery that does us no good.


As a coda, I am amazed/appalled by PRistas’ dogged devotion to the ‘hypodermic model’ of communication. That’s the magic bullet model which says that a targeted message is directly received and fully accepted by the target. It had its heyday in the 1930s with the Nazis and has been succeeded by other models that give targeted messages rather less impact, which makes them harder to analyse. But in entry after entry, there it is in full glory with unsubstantiated claims that a direct causal connection is proven. Isn’t time to move on and accept that communication is a complex matter that doesn’t have simple metrics?


1 Response to "PR Evaluation and Ethics"

I’d say the first one can be attributed to desperation and/or poor presentation of an objective. I wouldn’t question the ‘ethics’ of using a 3rd party analysis company in that case, but rather how poor internal processes and communications are that the stated objective was even needed! Proving the worth of PR internally isn’t award-worthy, it’s something that should just be done!

I really don’t see how the 3rd statement is in any way linked to the 2nd. Your analysis for the second is spot on, but I have no issue with trying to demonstrate ROI… or I don’t see how your analysis of #2 has any bearing on #3. If my client spends $10 on a MedRel program and one article directly leads to a new business win of $100, then I’d say the ROI for the MedRel program is pretty darn compelling. It indicates that not only was the message received but it altered perception/inspired a buying decision. And that’s not an insignificant part of Media Relations/PR.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 17 other followers



Subscribe in NewsGator Online


Tom Watson

Error: Twitter did not respond. Please wait a few minutes and refresh this page.

%d bloggers like this: