Archive for March 2009

I have been involved in discussion recently on the formation of an Evaluation Standard for government PR. It has brought together PR consultancies, evaluation providers and government communicators to seek consensus on the subject.

My role as the token academic has been to prepare discussion papers and facilitate discussion. To set the basis for discussion, I asked everyone to agree definitions for key metrics of PR evaluation such as Opportunities to See, Prominence of Mention, Reach, Tone, Effectiveness and Results. We used the IPR’s Dictionary of Public Relations Measurement and Evaluation, edited by Prof Don Stacks, for this. Despite its cross-Atlantic pedigree, everyone agreed with the definitions.

The reasoning behind this initiative is that government, in its many forms, is a major purchaser of media analysis from commercial suppliers. It wants a ‘level playing field’ of metrics so that comparisons can be made between campaigns and also between methods of communication. For advertising and direct marketing, it has a bank of common metrics used but, for PR, media evaluation suppliers provide different bases of analysis either via algorithms or ‘PR value’ calculations. The dreaded Advertising Value Equivalence is also used in some circumstances, which is an interesting concept suggesting that governmental communications is related to revenue generation. So it is a bit of a muddle.

The first stage of discussion has been positive and we await the next stage. So my question is what would you include in a set of standard PR evaluation benchmarks?

Have we already identified the key terms or should measurements like ‘volume of articles’, ‘event attendees’, ‘behaviour change metrics’ and ROI be included? There are many other factors that could be considered at Output, Out-Take or Outcome levels. Your views are welcomed!


Coming from England where walking and cycling are widely encouraged, Miami is a shock as it’s designed for the car. On Sunday, I went for a walk to see how the folks who live in the Coral Gables and South Miami areas, near to the  PR research conference I was attending.

The first challenge was to cross any road of substance. Where there are pedestrian crossings (and that’s not often), it takes three or four changes of lights before you can step off the curb in safety offered by a green pedestrian light. In many places there was no path for the walker to follow; when crossing a waterway near the opulent Biltmore golf course there was no pedestrian area on the bridge over it. You had to spot a gap in the traffic and run.

The other surprise for me was that in the extensive suburban areas, there are no local shops. If you want milk and bread, you must get in the car and drive for at least a mile and probably two or three. I’m told that this is common across the country. Now, I’m sure that American readers can remember quaint English villages with sidewalks and no local shops, but that’s different to the designed suburban areas of Miami. Without a car, you must be really isolated as there’s not much public transport to fill the gaps.

Apart from a taxi driver who lamented that work had dried up badly in the past six months, there’s no immediate evidence that the Miami/south Florida economy has hit the buffers. There are reports of 30%+ drops in house prices from their peak but my two hour perambulation found some evidence of houses for sale but none with the much-televised bank foreclosure signs on them. Also, a couple of nights in South Miami restaurants indicated that the locals are still out enjoying themselves in large numbers. It was also spring break for students who have traditionally flocked to Miami for sun, sand and non-scholarship. Colleagues who went to the famed South Beach area at the weekend said it was very busy and very noisy. Outside the sunny south east of the US, colleagues said that because their house prices hadn’t inflated like Florida, there has been less of an impact from housing defaults but that manufacturing and service employers are cutting jobs extensively.

At the conference, there were academics from all over the US. Some reported that universities are cutting staff as income from investments and alumni has fallen rapidly. That’s not happening in the UK yet, although budgets are tight and being squeezed down. We aren’t as exposed to financial markets; it’s government funding that is critical.

I was going to make a snide comment that there are a lot of very overweight people in this part of the world (although most PR academics are lean and slim, a factor of high workloads) and then I joined the queue for my BA return flight to London. It made me realise that there were lot of overweight Brits who had just waddled off their cruise ships. So it’s back to the diet and away from gratuitous comparisons.

Finally, I did enjoy myself in Miami. The mainly American PR academics who came to the conference were kindly, courteous, collegial, great company and very bright. Also, it was warm and sunny which was a real benefit after the coldest winter in England for a decade or more. It was a great time.

“Those aware of the social media research landscape know that several studies have indicated social media has overtaken pornography as the number one use of the internet,” is a headline from the fourth annual study on the impact of social media on the practice of public relations by Prof Don Wright of Boston University and Michelle Hinson for the Institute for Public Relations.


When presenting this finding at the IPRRC in Miami, the audience collapsed into laughter but it got the essential message that social media is here to stay and of rapidly increasing importance. The study researches opinions of PR practitioners, mostly in the US and Canada, but also from four other continents.


Other headlines were:


§  Traditional news media receive higher scores from PR practitioners than blogs and social media in terms of accuracy, credibility, telling the truth and being ethical

§  73% of practitioners believe blogs and social media have changed the way their organisations or clients communicate

§  85% believe social media complement traditional news media

§  92% think blogs and social media influence coverage in traditional news media.

§  88% believe blogs and social media have made communications more instantaneous

§  93% of this year’s respondents spent part of their average workdays with some aspects of social media.


All these results are increases from last year’s report.


For a longer discussion of the paper and the full report, go to:


More news from IPRRC Miami – Prof Mary Ann Ferguson of the University of Florida is a well known researcher on corporate social responsibility (CSR). She and colleagues have built up a database of all the awards – national and international – that are given for best practice in CSR.


In a beta form, it can be found at and is fully searchable.


One research outcome from their review of awards is that companies which have received at least one award for CSR have profits that are on average $1 billion a year greater than those which have not. The winner’s revenues are $13 billion greater than those without. Does this mean that CSR really is “business effective” or a factor of the size and management performance of the companies? A correlation is implied but CSR is only one factor in a corporation’s performance.


Companies winning most awards are PepsiCo, Marriott International, Texas Instruments, Microsoft, Kraft Foods, Nike, Cisco Systems, Novartis, Principal Finance and Citigroup (!). Nike, in particular is under constant activist criticism for its behaviour and Citigroup is a financial basket case at present.


Sectors most likely to win CSR awards are accommodation and food, electronics, professional and scientific, information and manufacturing. The laggards are construction, utilities, management of companies and transportation.

This blog started life after the 2007 International Public Relations Research Conference in Miami, so it’s about to celebrate its 2nd birthday. It’s a really enjoyable conference and this year, around 40% of presentations were from non-US academics and practitioners (but only two from the UK).


This year, there has been increasing emphasis on social media and its relationship with public relations and interpersonal communications. Tina McCorkindale reported on a survey of Facebook pages run by or linked to major US corporations.


Of 100 Fortune 100 companies, there were 55 Facebook sites, of which 52 could be regarded as ‘positive’ in their content (The ‘anti’ sites were for Wal-Mart, Verizon and ExxonMobil).


The ‘fan’ numbers for some sites were quite spectacular with the retail giant Target scoring 191,000 as No.1, followed by Verizon’s own site at 150,000 and Microsoft at 68,000.


Some sites were employee run, others by corporate communications staff. The retailer Lowes’s employees have an embarrassing ‘Lowes Hos’ area (with female and male staff identified). Ford and Microsoft look to be heavily managed. The carmaker was described by Tina as “positive heavy” while Microsoft has many deletions of postings on it, possibly taking out negative comments.


The Dell site, perhaps scarred by the “Dell Hell” controversy of several years ago, had rapid responses to questions with ‘Janet’ offering solutions to problems, including phone numbers to call.


Other phenomena observed included headhunters posting job information on corporate sites to attract staff from them; a low level of information on corporate social responsibility activity; and many sites without recent news on them.


Overall, Tina observed that there was “a lot of lack of engagement” which may indicate that corporate comms people see Facebook as another type of corporate website and not an opportunity to engage with customers, enquirers and staff.


Mihaela Vorvoreanu of Clemson University has also made an initial investigation into the inter-relationship between Facebook culture and PR efforts, and what is appropriate and inappropriate engagement between corporations and ‘Facebook natives’.


Using focus groups with PR students, she found:


§        Students didn’t like the loss of exclusivity when Facebook moved away from its original student base and allow access to everyone (including corporations).


§        The initial attraction of Facebook was to ‘digitally hang-out’ in which you can keep up with friends, but corporates “are just trying to sell and they have other motives”.


§        Facebook natives like to recognise things they like and become fans – “it can be a way to show off what you are”.


§        There was a strong belief that Facebook was ‘personal’ and that you should be able to post pictures without fear of potential employers using the site to vet applications. [It appears that many students tidy up sites before they enter the workforce, which they resent.]


§        Facebookers don’t mind supporting small businesses and hearing from them as “they have a face” but they don’t want to hear from Sony or “something big and obnoxious like Microsoft”.


Mihaela ended her presentation with the rhetorical question – Can relationships (between organisations and stakeholders) be protected by staying out of the conversation? That is, leave the Facebookers alone in their own space for fear of annoying them? It’s a relevant question and links with Tina’s view that the corporates’ own Facebook presences lacks engagement.




It was hot and sticky in Miami when I presented the results of a study on best practices in communication by charities and NGOs at the International Public Relations Research conference. Based on the hard work of my co-author Anna-Marie White, the paper was delivered in the very first session of the three-day conference. Talk about ‘first night nerves’ at 8.30 in the morning!


We had a really good turnout with lots of big names coming to our session. They liked what they heard and made great suggestions for further research. Even Vince Hazleton said the model we proposed “made sense”. That’s a real accolade from a leading PR theorist.


The study looked at how charities manage their reputation for ‘good works’ while undertaking commercial activities. It was based on research into a charity in the UK through document analysis and interviews with supporters. Our main findings were:


1)    Donors are overwhelmingly supportive of commercial activities, and communication about them, which are aligned with the charity’s mission.

2)    What donors perceived to be the charity’s intentions greatly impacts how they interpret the messages received from its communications

3)    Neither commercial activities nor revenue generation of any kind should distract from mission attainment.

4)    Communications on commercial activities should emphasise the ‘service’ that will result from rather than ‘marketing’ benefits of the products.

5)    Donors are annoyed with over-communication from the charitable sector as a whole. But they invite communication from charities they care about.

6)    The ‘giving paradox’ (you make yourself poorer in order to benefit others) complicates the exchange process within the donor-charity-beneficiary relationship.


The feedback we had was that these findings, with further testing, can be a real contribution to the under-researched area of communications by charities and NGOs. With extra advice from renowned PR academic Prof Doug Newsom, we’ll be pressing on with further investigations and revisions to our paper.

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Tom Watson

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