- Public Relations
Early in August, two friends of Page Society, Frank Ovaitt, the president and CEO of the Institute for Public Relations (IPR), and Don Stacks, Ph.D., a public relations professor at the University of Miami and a giant in the field of public relations measurement and evaluation were honored by the Association of Schools of Journalism and Mass Communications (AJMC) and the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communications (AEJMC) respectively, in large part for their longstanding commitment to public relations research.
It was a unique moment in that the AJMC and AEJMC have not often recognized public relations or public relations research in the same frequent way they have recognized excellence in journalism.
One of my favorite philosophers, baseball great Yogi Berra, once quipped, "The future ain't what it used to be." Since IPR began in 1956 – even since 1983 when the Page Society was incorporated – there have been great changes in technology, communications channels, and the role we play as lead public relations professionals in our organizations.
The world is much more dynamic and challenging in so many ways. For one, the world is much more social, and I don't mean just social media. People today expect to have a relationship with the institutions they come in contact with. They want to know the source of where their food and clothes come from and how they were made. They have questions and they want answers.
The world is also always on – 24/7 – for organizations on which the sun never sets. We live in a world where a company operating in the U.S. has to think about the repercussions of how an issue in Malaysia might impact business in Mexico or Mozambique or Minnesota. Many of us are even beginning to develop systems and processes to manage such situations even as we sleep.
All you have to do is spend a few moments reading, listening or watching to realize the world is fraught with contention, conflict, misunderstanding and mistrust.
This has created a work environment where our license to operate is challenged every day, and prompts many of us and our organizations to manage for risk first. Yet there are unparalleled opportunities to tell one's story. So organizations that once responded to news inquiries and issued releases, but otherwise were relatively passive, are now engaging even their critics to achieve shared understanding and belief. Organizations are becoming publishers and curators of their own content. Marketers and PR pros are pushing the envelope online with all kinds of tools and mobile activity to prompt sales, behaviors and votes. That may prompt some to ask serious questions about the dividing line between Big Data and Big Brother.
But today's chief communications officer is better prepared than ever to deal with these complex issues than many other management functions – but only when we have a deep understanding of the research base – how to measure and evaluate our work, of course, but also the underlying social science of how people think and form opinions, how communities come together on issues, and how we can at least get partisans to consider other points of view.
That's critical when we think of Page Society's "New Model." It is also why IPR is important to any of us who think critically about the profession. It is where academic inquiry and professional practice meet. IPR not only gathers and makes grants for such research, it also interprets how it can be applied in practice and makes it available for free on its website. With its first Director of Research hired, it also is developing a new online, peer-reviewed journal which promises to deliver serious academic research in ways that are accessible, relevant and important to practitioners.
As George Bernard Shaw once wrote, "The biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place." Page members who are the senior figures of the profession and are among our most respected advocates have a shared responsibility to keep pulling the curtain back on many an illusion. We need insights into what works and what makes our publics tick. That can only be done through research integrated into public relations practice.
Kudos to Frank and Don, to their dedication to IPR's goal of providing the science beneath the art of public relations…and thanks to all of you who are applying research in ways that improve our craft and enhance our reputation as a profession.
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