Archive for October 2008

The History of Public Relations Special Issue of the Journal of Communication Management was flagged up on DummySpit back in October 21 last year. It has been this blog’s single most visited posting and shows the great interest in this subject.


The History of Public Relations Special Issue will be formally published by Emerald as Journal of Communication Management volume 12 issue 4 in late November but you can go online to read abstracts and, if you are a subscriber through a university library or personally, the articles can be read in their EarlyCite form.


The Special Issue has been a rewarding activity. It has met a pent-up demand by scholars for an opportunity to publish research collectively and has helped create a community of scholars who will increasingly co-operate and discuss their research. Here is a pen picture of the articles:


Public relations historical scholarship has been largely pioneered by researchers in the United States, with the notable exception of Jacquie L’Etang in the United Kingdom. Amongst the outcomes of this Special Edition has been a reinforcement of the depth of US scholarship in articles by Karla Gower, Timothy Penning and Patricia Curtin, which also challenge the “great man” model that for so long has posited Ivy Lee and Edwards Bernays as being responsible for evolution of public relations as a practice.


Historians will benefit from Jacquie L’Etang’s conceptual paper on Writing PR History which is based on her experiences and the theoretical and methodological challenges she has faced. Robin Croft, Trevor Hartland and Heather Skinner look back in history to 10th Century and the start of the planned manipulation of the Glastonbury myths in creating the national brand of England and of Englishness. Natalia Rodriguez Salcedo brings to light the history of public relations in Spain from the late 19th Century onwards. Tony Jaques from Australia spotlights the role of Howard Chase in the creation of ‘Issue Management’ and its adoption as part of contemporary practice.


This Special Issue also plays its part in supporting the community of public relations historians by assisting the launch of, a clearing house for scholars, which is funded by the Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations at the University of Alabama. The wiki is introduced by Margot Lamme and Jennifer Land.


But not all papers could be included in this Special Issue. Articles by Alexander Laskin on the evolution of models of public relations, Suzanne Horsley on women in North American PR and Klement Podnar and Ursa Golob’s tracking of the development of public relations theory and practice through the pages of Public Opinion Quarterly will follow in forthcoming editions of JCOM.


The Special Issue is available at, click Table of Contents, and click issue 12.4.  Everyone can see abstracts and subscribers can see full EarlyCite content of full articles.  If you want subscription information or a free online trial, contact the Journal’s publisher Martyn Lawrence by email at


One observation in my recent blog on the AMEC awards, Measuring Evaluation, was that the statistical term, correlation, was both misunderstood and misused.


I wrote: “There needs to be much greater understanding of statistical terms such as “correlation”. To imply that a distributed message is correlated with behaviour, such as product purchase, is the old problem of the “substitution game” in which outputs are presented as outcomes. If evaluators claim correlation, then they have to show the reliability and validity of their methods.”


Since then, I have had blog comments and feedback which demonstrated that some folks in the PR evaluation business don’t understand what correlation is. So I have turned to the bible of PR evaluation, the Dictionary of Public Relations Measurement & Research, produced by the Institute for Public Relations, which defines it as:


Correlation – statistical test that examines the relationship between variables (may either be categorical of continuous).


Correlation coefficients – a measure of association between the direction and strength of a linear relationship between two variables, usually measured at the interval or ratio data level. Measures include Pearson Coefficient, r. For nominal or ordinal level, the coefficient would be Spearman-Rho.


OK, some of that language is technical but essentially correlation is a recognised statistical test which uses long-established measurements to gauge the association between variables. It’s not a guess or the assumption of a relationship without any basis. In the media analysis business with its very strong computing skills and equipment, it should be relatively easy to test for correlations and come up with verifiable measurement. In these days of management and marketing sciences, it is surprising that clients and employers don’t demand it.


While looking at these terms, here’s the definition for Causal Relationship – “a relationship between variables in which one variable forces, causes or brings about a change in another variable; the result of a significant interaction term in an analysis of variance or regression; often displayed in path analyses or sequential equation models.” That’s another test for those (unverified) claims that PR activity has caused change.


The Dictionary of Public Relations Measurement & Research (2007 edition) was edited by Prof Don Stacks of the University of Miami, with contributions from leading PR evaluators, corporate communicators and academics. It’s a Gold Standard paper from the Institute for Public Relations “for its expert contribution to the theoretical structure of measurement and evaluation”. Everyone interested in the evaluation and measurement of public relations should have a copy.

It’s Black Friday and if you’re running a PR business, you’ll be consulting a bottle of red wine (Australian, of course) as to how to keep the business going in the coming recession.

There’s no doubt that there will be casualties in the PR business and so you need to prepare your business for the times ahead. It’s going to be a long, tough time.


I ran a PR agency for eighteen years, which included three big economic downturns, and kept the show on the road. So I’d like to share my experiences with you. Obviously, take professional advice but consider this recession management action list.


1)      Do business with clients who pay their bills on time. Cashflow is everything to do with survival.

2)      Trust your instinct when negotiating with a new client. If you have worries about their business ethics or financial situation, don’t take them on.

3)      Take time to negotiate the commercial aspects of any appointment. Who signs off your invoices? When do they have to be submitted by? What is the payment date? Arrange payment direct to your bank account. Avoid the “the cheque is in the post” excuse.

4)      Monitor your creditors and debtors ledgers assiduously. Make account managers responsible for commercial relations with clients.

5)      Be prepared to do fixed price projects. Retainer fees dry up in a recession as clients want to limit their costs. They are thinking short term, too.

6)      Concentrate on fees. Let clients pay for print, vision, graphics and websites direct. If they go under and you’ve done the purchasing, it could break your business.

7)      It’s tough to say this, but if you have to cut staff costs to keep afloat then do it. Entrepreneurs not only have to gear up for growth but also manage in the downturn. Survival is, sadly, more important than sentiment.

8)      If times are hard, bolt expenditure to the floor but make sure staff get paid on time. No more gesture spending. Negotiate or renegotiate all consumables and fixed costs like rent, photocopiers, car leases.

9)      Use freelancers for specialist advice or when you need to grow the account team until the business environment gives you confidence to recruit.

10)    In a recession, clients want advice and action from experienced senior professionals. You may employ entrants into PR but make sure the experienced advisors lead accounts until the client has confidence in younger staff.

11)    Ensure programmes have outcomes that can be evaluated. Objectives should be measurable, so get savvy on evaluation techniques. Clients will want assurance that targets are being reached. AMEC members can advise.

12)    Build relationships with clients. In a recession, you really get to know them, their ambitions and concerns. You’ll be a valued advisor.

13)    It does get better in the end, so don’t borrow heavily to survive (that’s if you’ll find a bank to provide working capital). The cost of repayments could cripple you on the upturn.

14)    Join your national PR consultancy trade organisation. Yes it costs money to subscribe but they are great value for mutual support, business advice and marketing. PRCA in the UK and CPRF in the USA are excellent examples. Check the ICCO website for the organisation where you operate.

My travels took me to Ireland this week where I am external examiner for the Master of Arts in Public Relations at the Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT). In the Emerald Isle, this is the only public relations programme offered at undergraduate or postgraduate level.


The programme team, led by John Gallagher, has the enviable option of choosing the best candidates from the hundreds of applicants from the Republic of Ireland and overseas. As a result, they have some very good students for the one-year course.


John, Tom Clonan, Kevin Hora and colleagues run a very professionally-focused course which has both theoretical and work-based elements in it. As DummySpit readers know, I am a big supporter of placements and industry experience as an important element in delivering an excellent public relations education.


The MAPR students undertake two units that illustrate this – they prepare a communication strategy for a client, based on research and discussion, and later in the year do a placement with a major organisation. Amongst the examples that I reviewed were projects undertaken with the European Union’s Dublin office and the Football Association of Ireland. Both organisations offered the student teams of two or three hands-on experience to organise strategies using real events and to deliver them. The results have been excellent and the students were able to align their studies with the real world. The clients were very pleased, too.


As Dublin is a relatively small capital city, students often work with senior politicians in the Irish legislature and with MEPs, too. For John, who has also established a MA in Public Affairs and Political Communication, these political and governmental links have given excellent placement opportunities for students. And the placements frequently lead to the students’ first PR employment when they graduate.


When I speak on public relations education at the IPRA Congress in Beijing in mid-November, I’m going to focus on the role of authentic learning and will be certain to cite DIT as an example of best practice.

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Tom Watson

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