Putting academic research to use

The attitude of many PR practitioners to PR academic research has always been puzzling. While a practitioner myself I was always glad that others neglected it because it was often a source of competitive advantage which those who didn’t use it missed out on.

 In contrast, the legendary and sadly late US practitioner Pat Jackson had two claims to fame. He worked from an office in New Hampshire which had to be the most attractive PR office in the world; and, more importantly, he was the first practitioner to think systematically about how PR and other social sciences research could be applied to doing PR. Indeed, the world’s most famous PR academic, Jim Grunig, once mused (perhaps a tad sadly) to me about how successful Pat had been in applying his, and other academic ideas, to how he did business. His firm Jackson Jackson & Wagner still exists (http://www.jjwpr.com/JJW-Patrick-jackson.html) and his former partner, Isobel Parke, is still involved. Both were great influences on my thinking about the PR business and successful consultancy.

 Pat sprang to mind when Professor Tom Watson, a PR educator and researcher who has had significant impact on research into how the industry developed and where it is going, recently blogged (http://fiftyonezeroone.blogspot.co.uk/) a brief summary of some of the papers given at last week’s annual International Public Relations Conference in Miami.

 To give a small sample of the papers: a study which suggested a positive relationship between corporate social activism and customer purchase intentions; an analysis of what CEOs want to know about PR performance; some challenging data on the size and scope of the US industry; results of an eight year study of social media evaluation; the effectiveness of immediately releasing data about crises before regulators and stakeholders respond and its impact on public perceptions of the severity of a crisis; and some evidence that research and discussion on PR ethics has been declining in the past 13 years.

 It is difficult to imagine how a consultant couldn’t make money out of some of this research, or how an in-house operator couldn’t end up with a very positive annual performance appraisal simply by implementing a couple of the ideas discussed at the conference.

 Tom’s blog also throws some light on the growing division between marketing communications PR people and strategic communications which is very suggestive in the light of the number of marcoms firms in Australia which are leaving the Public Relations Institute of Australia and linking up with marketing and ad agency groups. Tom suggests “let them go” but I have always thought that marketing communications PR is sometimes a lot harder than, for instance, investor relations. Given that, we ought not be backward in thinking about what we can learn from them.