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Proving a Point: Understanding the Complexities of Evaluation in Public Relations Work

Evaluation is one of the most contentious steps of the public relations process. PR professionals are often pushed to prove that their work is actually increasing their client’s success, and not just to their clients. The issue of the “legitimacy” of public relations work often stems from the fact that practitioner’s effort may not directly relate to monetary objectives (Pieczka 2000, pp. 214). Instead, PR campaigns aim to fulfill communication objectives, which include “concepts from communication theory and psychology such as knowledge, attitude, and behavior” (Pieczka 2000, pp. 213). One of the problems with these objectives when it comes to evaluation is that they are “virtually impossible to measure in a truly meaningful way” (Firefly Communications 2014, pp. 3). Of course, that hasn’t stopped PR pros from trying: from measuring AVE  to the Barcelona Principles, finding ways to properly address the value of public relations to business through measurement a major issue facing practitioners today.

One of the best ways to make evaluation easier is to focus on developing strong objectives. By creating goals that are both measurable and meaningful, determining success or failure during the evaluation stage is simplified. Meaningful objectives will align with an organization’s goals (“Statement of best practice…” 2015). Aligning objectives with these goals is important because they “[affect the] methods of measurement and definitions of success” of decision-makers (Friedman 2013, para. 3). Working with a client when developing objectives makes measuring success more straightforward, and can help clarify the value of public relations practice to those who are a bit wary.

However meaningful they are, objectives are useless unless they are also measurable. This is the part where it gets tricky for PR practitioners. According to the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) guidelines, published in 2015, there are four types of measurables in public relations work, listed from least to most important: input, output, out-takes, and outcomes. In evaluation, it is often much easier to measure outputs such as media placements, because there results are quantifiable and “can analyse the degree of exposure and audience reach” (“Statement of best practice…” 2015, para. 6). However, outputs are hardly an accurate measure of how well a campaign has worked to reach a client’s goals. This is why measuring outcomes is so important. Outcomes focus on “awareness, opinions and behavior,” which are more difficult and expensive to quantify effectively (“Statement of best practice…” 2015, para. 10). To add another layer of complexity, changes in a consumer’s opinion or behavior can be difficult to link back to public relations activities: “If a customer or prospect ventures on to an organisation’s website, PRs haven’t been able to prove whether this was due to what they had been doing—either directly or indirectly” (Firefly Communications 2014, pp. 7). For web traffic, the use of Google Analytics can be immensely helpful, but in the brick-and-mortar world, there is nothing quite as advanced.

Combating the problems associated with PR evaluation requires knowing how to evaluate qualitative and quantitative data (Friedman 2013). By using both types of information, PR professionals can demonstrate how different communication practices can contribute to business objectives.


Firefly Communication. (2014). High definition PR evaluation. Web. 

Friedman, E. (2013, October 11). Measuring the success of your PR campaign. [Web log post]. Fresh Ideas.

Pieczka, M. (2000). Objectives and evaluation in public relations work: What do they tell us about expertise and professionalism? Journal of Public Relations Research, 12(3), 211-233. DOI: 10.1207/S1532754XJPRR1203_1

Statement of best practice in measurement and evaluation. (2015). Chartered Institute of Public Relations. Web.


Public Relations and Diversity: How can PR Pros make a difference?

The United States Census Bureau predicts that by 2060, non-Hispanic whites will comprise 43.6% of the total population, and no single group will comprise a majority of the population by the year 2044 (Colby and Ortman, 2015).  While these numbers are several decades away from realization, recent events such as #OscarsSoWhite and the backlash against JK Rowling “Magic in North America”  reflects how important it is to recognize and embrace diversity or face backlash from neglected publics.  Racial and Ethnic minorities are not the only groups demanding to be heard. As the Critical Media Project illustrates, many traditionally ignored voices have raised their expectations for how they are acknowledged by the media. For public relations practitioners, understanding how to communicate with these publics is a necessity for staying successful and avoiding potentially catastrophic missteps.

One of the best ways to successfully reach diverse audiences is to have a diverse team. There are many studies conducted that investigate how having a diverse workforce can be beneficial. As Steele and Derven (2015) explain: “a diverse mix of people can generate innovations in products, services, processes, or other solutions that might not be apparent to individuals enmeshed in the status quo or to more homogenous groups” (para. 3). For public relations teams, working with others from diverse backgrounds helps eliminate the risk of “groupthink” and helps each member of the team hone their intercultural communication skills. In these situations, it is important to address the risk of tokenism and pushing minority members to be representatives by “assuming one minority can speak for all members of his or her race” (Hon & Brunner, 2000, pp. 335). Placing value on group members for their abilities and understanding the variety of experiences that contribute to developing personalities and opinions for all people can help manage these issues.

Another key to communicating with diverse audiences is taking the time to do thorough research instead of relying on relying on what we think we know. As Just (2013) explains: “many of us may believe we understand complex cultures outside of our own, truth of the matter is, we probably know less than we think” (para. 3). Taking the time to understand the background of the targeted audience requires much more than just general knowledge, and will require confronting our own assumptions and biases, typically an uncomfortable but necessary process.

When developing a plan for communication, Just also recommends, “[identifying] similarities before pointing out differences” (2013, para. 4). Understanding that there are shared needs that all human beings have, regardless of their background, can help communications appeal to a more universal audience and avoid seems trite or tokenistic. As Just points out, “a sense of belonging is at the core of human motivation” (2013, para. 4). This need is one of the reasons that the battle for quality representation means so much to marginalized community, many of which have been typically ignored by the media. By identifying the ways that different target audiences are similar, PR practitioners can create more inclusive communications, and then tailor the communications to the nuances of each audience (Just, 2013, para. 5).


For Public Relations practitioners, understanding how to adapt to diverse audience is a skill that will become increasingly necessary as minorities gain influence. One of the best ways to adapt to this rapidly changing environment is to have a team that reflects the diversity of the rest of the world. Tossing aside stereotypes and embracing similarities are two methods that will improve the way public relations practitioners reach audiences from different backgrounds. Without taking these vital steps, Public Relations practioners and the companies they work for will not be able to take advantage of diverse markets, and will be faced with stagnantion.


Just, E. (2013). Five tips for communicating effectively with diverse audiences. [Web log post].

Hon, L. & Brunner, B (2000). Diversity issues and
public relations. Journal of Public Relations Research, 12:4, 309-340, DOI: 10.1207/

Steele, R., & Derven, M. (2015). Diversity & inclusion and innovation: A virtuous cycle.Industrial and Commercial Training, 47(1), 1. Retrieved from ProQuest Research Library


Cutting Ties: Subway’s Problematic Response to Jared Fogle’s Arrest and Conviction

After a raid on his home, Jared Fogle was “charged with traveling to other states in order to pay to have sex with underage minors” (Chapell, 2015). Fogle agreed to a plea deal, and was sentenced to 15 years in prison (Chapell, 2015).  The raid occurred two months after Russel Taylor, executive director of the Fogle Foundation, a charity Fogle founded in 2008, was arrested on child pornography charges (Morrison, 2015). Subway quickly responded via twitter to the raid and Fogle’s subsequent arrest, but tweeted only sporadically in the several weeks leading to Fogle’s sentencing (Mudd, 2015). The company “did not begin to remove Jared’s name, image, and other attributions from their stores and digital media until the charges were filed” (Sisco, 2015, para. 7).  In September, Subway released information that it had found a “serious complaint” about Fogle from 2011, although it was not sexual (Associated Press, 2015, para. 1).

The situation that Fogle has created for Subway poses a lot of questions, many of which were left unaddressed by Subway’s responses. Continue reading “Cutting Ties: Subway’s Problematic Response to Jared Fogle’s Arrest and Conviction”

The Necessity of Research in Public Relations

The Necessity of Research in Public Relations

My dad, a tool and die worker, constantly relies on a familiar saying: “measure twice, cut once.” In his job, the line between failure and success is measured in thousandths of inches.

In public relations and other less mathematically-oriented professions, this bit of advice might only seem to rely or home improvement or other DIY projects. I don’t think this is the case at all.  Research is the “measuring twice” of these professions. Research protects professionals from embarrassing and costly errors. Poor research skills, or a lack of research, can cost people their jobs and reputations. So the question really isn’t about why research is important, but how to use it in the most effective way. Continue reading “The Necessity of Research in Public Relations”