In response to Tom Watson’s post in IPR’s Research Conversations blog on May 28, I agree that reputation resides in the minds of one’s stakeholders and it is they who grant the benefits of a good reputation based upon their direct and indirect experiences with the organization in question. For PR, I wonder about the reputation of the profession among our most important stakeholder group: we who practice public relations.
Let me share a revealing experience: In 1992, I led a research team to assist PRSA’s efforts to generate “PR for PR” by evaluating the reputation of public relations. There were two phases to the study:
We based the first phase of the study on a media content analysis of US-based opinion-leading consumer, business and trade media outlets in which we tracked the volume and tone of coverage about PR in terms of its key attributes including “career choice,””ethics,””value,” “quality,” and “tactics” among others. We also compared the public relations profession to the legal, accounting and medical professions. The findings revealed that 85% of all coverage about PR was positive/factual and that while the legal and medical professions generated more coverage than public relations, the quality of their media performance was no better than PR’s.
The second phase of the study was a survey among PRSA members in which they were told about the premise of the study but not the results. When asked to predict the outcome, the overwhelming majority of respondents ranked PR at the bottom of all professions. When the study results were revealed, the overwhelming majority were amazed that only 15% of the news coverage skewed negative.
Granted, media analysis and the survey had limitations; the study was conducted 21 years ago and the accepted scope of public relations has grown in the interim. At the same time, public relations education is much more widespread now which leads me to speculate that more university graduates pursue PR as their primary career choice than in the past and may have a more positive opinion. Perhaps attitudes have changed.
1992 seems like a long time ago but I continue to wonder about professional self-perception among PR people and our attitudes towards the career we’ve chosen. Does the PR profession lack self-respect? If so, it’s not necessarily a bad thing if it sparks introspection, self-evaluation and sustainable positive change. The betterment of PR’s reputation is a challenge to all practitioners but we must believe in ourselves before we can ask the same of others.
Mark Weiner is CEO of PRIME Research Americas and a founding member of the Institute for Public Relations Measurement Commission. Mark can be reached at email@example.com.