Thursday, March 17, 2011

What I Learned at the International PR Research Conference

I attended the 14th International Public Relations Research Conference in Miami March 9-12. The conference is coordinated by faculty and graduate students at the University of Miami and is associated with the Institute for Public Relations. Check out the web site if you never have before—it’s a great resource for PR practitioners and scholars alike, especially the archived research. See this recent IPR blog interview with BYU Professor Brad Rawlins about the importance of research.

At this year's conference there were PR faculty and students, as well as PR practitioners, from the U.S. as well as other countries, including England, Germany, Turkey, Spain, Brazil, Japan and Korea. More than 100 presentations were given in roundtable format, also called the “speed dating” version of academic research presentations. Each hour participants can visit four of six tables to hear and briefly discuss current research in public relations.

I’m giving a rapid fire, bullet list rundown of only some of the key research reported. I would hope this is interesting for my PR students as well as PR professors and professionals who may be interested. You can check for the proceedings of the conference—i.e. full copies of all papers presented—on IPR’s web site in a few months.

  • A representative from Determinus explained their Metric Model for measuring engagement and influence on a simple 1-5 scale;
  • Work is being done to automate trust and relationship measurement, but more refinement is needed and it only works for organizations with lots of social media conversations;
  •  Practitioners have very vague and mixed notions of what ROI (return on investment) means for PR. Writing guidelines for ROI measurement standards supported by best practice models was suggested;
  • Katie Delahaye Paine was present with her new book “Measure What Matters” which is infused with social media concepts.

  • PR professionals fall into three main groups in terms of their views about their role in handling ethics: managers of organizational values, autonomous and principled decision makers, advisors on the public interest.
  • In Brazil, where practitioners must be licensed to do what is defined as “public relations,” those with a license were no more ethical than those without a license. Personal standards and the organization where they work were larger influencers of ethics.
  • An examination of the government response to the BP oil spill crisis shows government communicators perceive ethical responsibilities in terms of accountability, reciprocity and social responsibility.

Crisis Communications
  • There is a natural tension and paradox of organizations wanting to be autonomous but also being dependent on their publics for success. Organizations should be authentic in their relationships—especially in crises when that tension is heightened--to recognize and understand this paradox rather than seek to suppress it.
  • An examination of the Toyota crisis found that blog coverage was more negative, less civil, and tended to blame Toyota more than newspaper coverage.
  • A positive reputation prior to a crisis, defensive response to the crisis, and CEO visibility in first response to a crisis led to the best stakeholder attitudes and purchase intentions.
  • Another study found that an initially negative reputation was actually improved during a crisis, which may be explained by sympathy (if not human error caused) and is called a “crisis bounce” in reputation.
  • Several studies called for more research and refined practice in international and multicultural aspects of crises.
  • A review of Robert Gibbs statements to the press show that the role of press secretary has evolved from journalistic/public information approach to one of continuous image maintenance or repair.

Social Media
  • One study identified five “tribes” of PR professionals in terms of how and why they are using social media: information gatherers, information promoters, social networkers, organizational outreachers, internal communicators.
  • Communal (vs exchange) relationships are more likely to increase the behavioral communication intentions of a public toward an organization. Interactivity also had a positive effect.
  • Corporations often want social media separate from corporate site because they fear complaints and open dialogue on their site. Also, they see staff time and capacity for required dialogue to be limited.
  • Most corporations talk about importance of social media measurement but only one-third do and it is mostly output vs outcomes measurement.
  • A PR pro’s years of experience in PR, years with an employer, a manager role, and being top level all lead to more relational vs promotional content in organizational blogs.

Sports PR
  • Attitudes toward a team and behavioral intentions (ie game attendance) were not affected by severity of a crisis or exposure to negative media coverage. This is especially true for those with high initial team identification.
  • The success of global team brands such as Real Madrid come from players creating content, segmenting publics, and turning regular events into massive spectacles.

International PR
  • Cross-border product PR requires intercultural thinking, local knowledge, and contextualized strategies.
  • Teaching international PR is enhanced when using a virtual model of learning (VMOL) in which classes from two countries collaborate to do campaigns for organizations in each others’ countries.

PR Education
  • A study of employers and young professionals largely confirms that we are teaching what should be taught in PR programs—more than tactics, criticial thinking, writing, video, research, knowledge of the workplace (business, nonprofit, or government), hands-on experiences as well as deep theoretical understanding.
  • Entrepreneurship is a “missing chapter” in fundamental PR courses. PR students need to know how to help entrepreneurs and also how to be entrepreneurs.
  • Teamwork needs to be formally taught within classes, particularly upper level campaigns courses.
  • Employers expect it, and there is ample literature on teamwork and small group communication.

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