Thought provoking ideas from PR research conference

The bane of many a university PR course admissions officer’s existence is the bright young thing who says they want to get into PR because a careers advisor told them they “were good with people”.

Now there is some interesting research on the real reasons why people want to get into PR. And it’s not for the glamorous lifestyle, the fascinating people or the cocktail parties – it’s because they want to become managers and get on in corporate careers. The finding is from a research paper by Christopher Wilson of the University of Florida presented at the March 2013 International Conference on Public Relations Research. The full set of conference proceedings is available at  Thanks to Tony Jaques for drawing their publication to the blog’s attention.

Among a huge variety of topics the blog was drawn to a number of papers. One, by Melissa Dodd of SUNY Oswego and Dustin Supa of Boston University, looked at questions about how corporate social advocacy affected consumer purchasing attention, looking at: “What are consumer attitudes regarding corporate social responsibility and organizational stances on social-political issues; and, what is the relationship between organizational stances on social-political issues and consumer purchase intention?” The specific political/social issue used to frame the research was gay marriage.

The authors found that: “Overall….. participants indicated that they generally purchase products from organizations they consider to be socially responsible and those that share their beliefs, taking the ethical behavior of the organization into consideration for everyday purchases. In fact, the strongest agreement by participants was indicated in response to the item regarding paying higher prices for products that support causes the consumer believes in. At the same time, however, participants indicated strong agreement to the item suggesting that companies should focus on making a profit for shareholders, a concept that often runs counter to notions of CSR (both ideologically and practically).”

So far so predictable in terms of conventional views of CSR and, in terms of agreement about CSA, “participants did not indicate either strong agreement or disagreement that companies should take stances on social-political issues.” Nevertheless the research also indicated that “organizational stances on social-political issues impact consumer purchase intentions (and) Ultimately, CSA has been demonstrated to be a significant contributor for consumers’ purchase intention; suggesting a more tangible benefit, perhaps, even than CSR research has led us to believe. Therefore, organizations may look to adopt CSA on certain issues that resonate with publics”. The proviso – it’s no good faking it as consumers search for authenticity. The experience of Disney with gay partner benefits (in the face of conservative opposition from religious groups) some years ago and since might also be a good case study of how attitudes have developed in this area.

Another paper, by a practitioner Fraser Likely, looked at what information CEOs truly need, presenting a “theoretical model for the reporting of requisite information from the PR/C department/CCO to the CEO, by adapting Peter Drucker’s five dimensional Information Executives Truly Need framework. The identification of information possibilities in the construct of the model comes from a review of four relevant streams of PR/C research: roles; leadership; strategic management; and valuation, evaluation and measurement.” Tied in with Professor Ann Gregory’s research on what senior PR people actually do (see elsewhere on the site) it provides some practical advice about what PR people should focus on.

Tom Watson, the doyen of PR history research presented a paper on how PR faced the challenge of the ‘information superhighway’ between 1977 and 1996. The paper is based on an analysis of International Public Relations Association papers published and prepared in the time. The blog tends to think IPRA is perhaps the most conservative of the various PR organisations around the world (it still argues about whether PR is a profession) but the quality of work from members is often very high. Watson’s analysis finds that: “overall, public relations practitioners are portrayed as slow to understand the benefits of the rapid technical advances in communication and holding doggedly to models of mediated communication. They also failed to foresee that information would be available for more people through IT developments, rather than fewer. The very evident reticence displayed by the IPRA publications sample may indicate why the digital communications sector was able to form outside the purview of the public relations sector and became a competitor to it.” It’s also why a lot of PR people are frantically scrambling to catch up.

But on the other hand everyone – not just PR – is still scrambling to catch up as a paper by Sean Williams from Communciation AMMO and Kent State University which looks at the literature on measuring influence in social media indicates. It finds that we still don’t know that much about the subject except in some marketing areas. Other papers look at Starbucks reputation management in its recent UK tax crisis; an excellent paper on issues management within the US Navy which suggests how we might start to revise traditional issues lifecyle models; community building as part of PR practice; best practices in creating Twitter content; and, international strategic communication with investors on the web. This last by Ansgar Zerfass and Kristin Koehler from Liepzig University aims to provide a global benchmark study of financial communications in the US, UK, Germany, France and Japan. Incidentally, while there was a wide cross-section of papers from around the world (including a good one on social media use in Turkey) sadly there were no Australian papers presented at the conference.