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“Public Relations Research is Not as New as Some Think”: An Historical Perspective on the Evolution of Public Relations Measurement and Evaluation Practice.

Watson, T., 2012. “Public Relations Research is Not as New as Some Think”: An Historical Perspective on the Evolution of Public Relations Measurement and Evaluation Practice. In: World Public Relations Forum 2012 Research Colloquium, 18 November 2012, Melbourne, Australia, 135 - 138 (4).

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Scott Cutlip’s ironic comment about the Publicity Bureau of Boston’s “The Barometer” media analysis card index of 1905-6 was that “public relations research is not as new as some think” (Cutlip, 1994, p. 21). It sets the scene for this investigation of the history of public relations measurement and evaluation. Cutlip identified that systematic measurement of public relations activity, which was practiced as press agentry and publicity, could be evidenced in the first decade of the twentieth century. Lamme & Miller (2010) posit that media monitoring practices can be identified from the late eighteenth century onwards in the United States of America. This paper traces two distinct paths in the development of measurement and evaluation methods and practices. In the first, US pioneers like Bernays and Page, influenced by political and social scientists, used and promoted opinion research as the basis for planning campaign and monitoring the attitudes of publics. They were later followed by as academics (in date order) such as Cutlip, Robinson, J. Grunig, Broom, Dozier and Stacks who researched and promoted the use of social science methods in public relations (Watson 2012a). The second path was closely aligned to press agentry and publicity, which favoured media monitoring and clippings measurement (Daniels & Gaunt 2009). These methods remain the most widely used measures of public relations effectiveness. They include the methodologically dubious Advertising Value Equivalence (AVE) (Watson 2012b). Recent data (Daniels & Gaunt 2009) found that AVE was used by 35% of a large international sample of practitioners, despite six decades of criticism by academic researchers and industry leaders (Watson 2012b). The emphasis on clippings and media counts has fostered the growth of the international media measurement service sector which evolved from clippings bureaux in many countries (Watson 2012a). A timeline narrative that draws on contemporary publications, archives, and practitioner correspondence and interviews will critique the development of the two paths of public relations measurement and evaluation. It will be argued that, based on a century of evidence, public relations has evolved into two discrete forms – strategy-led organisational and corporate communication, which uses research for planning and evaluation; and publicity-PR, which is predominantly a tactical approach that relies on measurement of media outputs, including social media, to demonstrate effectiveness. Many methods currently used for public relations measurement and evaluation, including opinion research, media monitoring, clippings and coverage measurement are recognisably similar to those identified by Cutlip (1994) and other authors as being in use 80 to 100 years ago. In the example of media monitoring, they may hark back 230 years. All help justify Cutlip’s observation that “public relations research is not as new as some think”.

Item Type:Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Uncontrolled Keywords:Evaluation ; History ; Measurement ; Practice ; Public relations
Group:Faculty of Media & Communication
ID Code:20533
Deposited By: Symplectic RT2
Deposited On:26 Nov 2012 11:11
Last Modified:14 Mar 2022 13:45


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