Please note: This piece originally appeared as a free article in the late March 2016 edition of The Measurement Advisor newsletter.

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This three-day idea fest that takes place in Miami every spring is organized by Don Stacks of the University of Miami. Within these three days, there are so many ideas presented that your brain needs a week at the spa to process it all. Over the next few months we’ll be digging deeper into many of the research papers that were presented and their implications for the industry. In the mean time, here are my top 10 takeaways from this year’s conference:

1) Paper That Will Be the Most Read and Referred To:
“What’s Wrong With PR…And How It Might be Fixed”

This paper by David Dozier and Lou Williams, two of the most respected men in public relations, sets the stage for a hearty discussion about the profession. They state that “the general public considers PR as one of the least valuable occupations, below politicians and bankers. Within organizations, top managers regard PR as a low-level communications support/output function.”

They go on to lay the blame firmly at the feet of PR practitioners, educators, and professional associations by claiming “we are our own worst enemy.”

Williams and Dozier

Williams and Dozier

Their basic premise is that the ideal for PR is:

  • PR should be a management function, not just a support function.
  • PR should be the eyes and ears of an organization, not just its mouthpiece.
  • PR actively seeks to modify organizational behavior before the organization acts (rather than cleaning up “fecal matter after it hits the fan”).
  • The ideal practitioner is not afraid to evaluate the impact of the PR programs he/she executes.
  • PR performs an ethical function for society by advocating the public’s interests to top management when decisions are made.

Dozier and Williams argue that practitioners lack the ability to intelligently use research to listen to their constituencies, mostly because they are afraid that measuring the effectiveness of their programs will show them to be failures (and on top of that, many folks believe their creative role is more important than their evaluative role).

They place equal levels of blame on educators who aren’t teaching the right things and PR associations, for having codes of ethics that lack any way to enforce themes.

(By the way, a good follow up to this paper is “The PR of Public Diplomacy and Nation Building/Branding”  by Dr. Roger Hayes, Senior Counsellor at APCO Worldwide.)

2) Paper Most Needed By the Industry:
“How Changing Media Formats Impact Credibility and Drive Consumer Action”

Researchers and members of the IPR Measurement Commission have been arguing for years that there is no such thing as a “multiplier” effect. Don Stacks and Don Wright proved a decade ago that there was no statistical difference in the impact of paid advertising and earned media (PR). Of course the naysayers who continue to cling to the multiplier madness questioned whether maybe now, in the era of social media, there might be a multiplier (or a divider) that could be applied to owned or shared media.

So this year, the redoubtable team of Marianne Eisenmann (inVentiv Health PR) and Julie O’Neil (Texas Christian University), updated previous research to test whether there is greater credibility inherent in paid, owned, earned, or shared media content. And…guess what? There’s still no evidence of a magic multiplier.

O’Neil and Eisenmann

3) Paper With the Biggest New Thought:
“The Impact of Perceived Authenticity and Employees’ Empowerment on Communicative Behavior: An Integrated Model of Positive Megaphoning”

If you haven’t yet heard of “megaphoning” you will. It’s the latest buzzword in internal communications. Alessandra Mazzei, Yeunjae Lee, Gianluca Togna, and Jeong-Nam Kim dug into the phenomena and found that employees can and will act as a “megaphone” for your messages under certain conditions. For example, if employees perceive that your organization’s behavior is authentic and they feel empowered, they are much more likely to “megaphone” your messages, which can be particularly helpful during a crisis.

4) Bleedingest Edge Paper:
“Dissecting the Root of Vaccine Misinformation on Pinterest”

Jeanine Guidry and members from Virginia Commonwealth University (Caroline Orr and Marcus Messner) and the University of Georgia (Sungsu Kim, Michael Cacciatore, and Yan Jin) examined the use of Pinterest to disseminate misinformation about vaccines.

VCU crew

In their paper, they argue that opponents to vaccination use images on Pinterest to promulgate fear and frame the issue. Considering 48% of the Pins studied contained a fear image, they found that scary photos on Pinterest were used to solidify opposition and polarize the discussion. As for a solution? They recommend focusing on social media users who have not solidified their feelings towards vaccines.

5) Best Dressed Presenter(s):
See picture below

By now, readers of this publication and followers of the IPRRC are used to expecting great things from San Diego State. For years, David Dozier and his students have shown up with great ideas and great research. But this year, they also showed up in spectacular style. Theresa Donnelly, Dave Hecht, Michael Larson, and Frederick Martin delivered their excellent research in “Full Dress White” uniforms:

SD presenters IPRRC 2016

Image credit: Theresa Pickard Donnelly

Even if you didn’t get turned on by the uniforms, the implications of the research they presented was enhanced by their sartorial spender. It turns out that that a spokesperson in uniform is more credible than a spokesperson without. They tested newsroom receptivity to information provided by Public Affairs officers in uniform and without, compared to a fictitious spokesperson from a cruise line. Of the three, newsrooms were more likely to use information from U.S. Navy personnel than civilians spokespeople even if they were in uniform.

6. Best Dressed Paper:
“Emerging Standards for Measuring Internal Communication”

This paper took the delivery of information at IPRRC to a whole new level, adding color and sleek design to a 4-page synopsis of a boatload of work. This is the cover of it:

emerging standards cover pic

7. Paper With the Best News for Standards:
“Emerging Standards for Measuring Internal Communication”

sean williams

Sean Williams

Sean Williams and his international team of the biggest names in internal communications essentially boiled an ocean of thought on the subject of standards for internal communications measurement. Their proposed standards go beyond defining the overused buzzwords like “employee engagement” to explicitly measure the feelings and behaviors that make up “engagement” such as advocacy, empowerment, collaboration, etc.

Ultimately they headed in the direction for which I’ve been advocating for years, which is to measure the impact of engagement on productivity, innovation, continuous improvement, reputation, and organizational authenticity – all of which have financial benefits to an organization.

The next step in this process, according to Williams, will be to test the assumptions with a Delphi Panel of senior-level professionals followed by a broader survey of the Internal Communications profession. We’ll keep you posted.

Another Herculean standards effort was presented by Fraser Likely who for the last year has been heading up a task force that is trying to standardize a single model for PR and communications evaluation. The initial premise is that the industry is full of frameworks, models, and doctrines on what the measurement and evaluation process should look like. This proliferation of theories, the task force argues, is bad for the industry and fosters confusion. So Likely assembled a team that included representatives and experts from around the world who have documented all the known frameworks and are working towards a single model. Their initial findings identified more than a dozen different frameworks. The committee divided into 3 task forces:

  • A task force focused on measuring the “senders” of information.
  • A second one focused on the “receivers” of information.
  • A third one focused on cognitive and organizational change.

Their task is monumental, but if they reach their goal, they will have taken about 75% of the confusion out of most measurement discussions.

8. Paper Most Likely to Make People Think Twice:
“Twibel Litigation: How U.S. and U.K. Social Media Defamation Laws Affect PR Practice”

Cayce Myers, Assistant Professor at Virginia Tech, presented his research into the dangers of heading to social media to air grievances. His contention is that the number of people heading to court charging defamation in 140 characters is on the rise (he calls them “Twibel” cases).

Cayce Myers

Myers argues that “just having a legitimate gripe is not a defense against defamation.” For instance, when Courtney Love took to Twitter to complain about fashion designer Dawn Simorangkir, it ended up costing her $430,000. The court ruled that the designer only had to prove that Love was negligent (not that she knew the statements to be false).

And don’t think your privacy setting will help you. It only takes one person seeing your tweet to win in court, according to Myers, adding that the law recognizes the right to sue both the first publisher of defamation as well as the indviduals who republishes it (i.e., be careful what you retweet).

In the end, Myers cautions that the courts move slowly, and it may be more effective and certainly faster to combat negative messaging with more positive content.

9. Paper With the Best News for Measurement:
“Measuring the Value of PR? An International Investigation at How Practitioners View the Challenge and Solutions”

Michael Cacciatore, Juan Meng (both from the University of Georgia), and Bruce Berger (University of Alabama) conducted a global online survey of PR measurement practitioners in 5 different countries. The good news is that overall measurement was ranked third in terms of “most important issues facing PR”  and using business outcomes to measure effectiveness seems to come out on top as the preferred strategy  (although the old-fashioned strategy of counting media was the most common).

10. The ‘Duh’ Award (things we probably knew already but it’s better if we can put research and numbers around it):
“Tracking Social and Digital Media Use in PR Practice”

For 11 years, Michelle Hinson (University of Florida) and Don Wright have been surveying PR people on their use of social media. They’ve been rigid in the consistency of their questions, providing one of the longest on-going studies of the use of social media anywhere.

Wright and Hinson

Wright and Hinson

This year’s big news? (which may not be news to everyone): The amount of time PR practitioners are spending working with digital media jumped 9 percentage points to 38% compared to last year – yup, we’re hanging out on Facebook a lot more than we used to. Even more interesting, less than half of those responded actually measured the impact of all that time wasted invested.

Now that you’re at the end of this article, how does your brain feel? See what I mean about needing a week at the spa to recover? 🙂

Furthermore, if you want to see how much fun PR research types have together, check out the photos here.

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