PR Evaluation – “teach ’em early”

Posted on: September 6, 2008

This week I was back at Charles Sturt University (CSU) in Australia where I was Head of the School of Communication from 2003 to the end of 2006.

The PR course team invited me to give guest lectures on the evaluation of programmes to second year PR students who are studying a unit on public relations campaigns. It’s really important that students see evaluation and measurement as an integral part of campaign objective-setting, planning and management – and that’s what this unit fosters. The unit teaches them good habits for the future.

In addition to their lectures, the students work in groups to plan and manage campaigns for local and regional community groups. This gives them real-world experience and the opportunity to put learning into practice. It’s also a very good example of work-based learning that aids their future employability.

CSU had Australia’s first studies in public relations in 1971 (Thanks to Prof David Potts) and is still a leader in the field. My thanks go to Donald Alexander and Sharon Shoonmaker for letting me loose on their students.


2 Responses to "PR Evaluation – “teach ’em early”"

It has to make sense for Charles Sturt to use your academic skills and your former consultancy experience to lecture to them and I wish more universities did this.

But do the students really “get” the importance of evaluation, or is there a sense that it is a tick box carrying so many points in their final Dissertation?

You will suspect the reason behind my question that based on UK experience, evaluation is currently something of last resort for consultancies, assuming that we regard AVE’s as irrelevant.

If Charles Sturt University believes in evaluation, we can do worse than share HOW they got people to look at it for what it is, a fundamental part of public relations practice.

Barry – The CSU approach (and that of Bournemouth University) is to teach that evaluation is an integral part of the process of designing an effective, well targeted programme. Students at both universities (and I’m sure many others) put the learning into practice with projects for clients or in campaign plannning exercises. At CSU, for instance, it is with local organisations. At BU, students have a whole year placement where they can use this knowledge.

The problem is that despite decades of university education that emphasises the setting of measurable objectives, graduates run into poor practices almost as soon as they enter the PR business. Anne Gregory and I have a paper on this issue coming in the next edition of the Journal of Marketing Communication.

The universities world-wide teach about evaluation and research methods. Somehow, that knowledge is not put into practice.

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Tom Watson

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