Week 8 Blog Journal: Evaluation Techniques

Chapter 12 of Richard Stanton’s Media Relations book focusses exclusively on the use of evaluation methods in media relations and public relations. As the scope of PR campaigns are only limited by one’s creativity, there can be all manners of activities and passivities which can be construed as public relations. As such, no one evaluation method can be applied universally across all strategies or campaigns. Adaptation, combination, and derivation and hence the keys to formulating useful and sound evaluations.
Stanton starts the chapter by introducing the state of public relations within an organisation. In particular, he focusses on the function of PR within the context of the corporation, and the perception thereof. He cites the low prioritisation of PR activities within corporations as part of a dialectic process through which the concept of public relations grew to include its own distinct forms of evaluation. Stanton notes that, historically, PR was considered as a form of marketing. He claims that media relations activities were considered as a grey area of  business and, in hard times, were culled first. He attributes this to a lack of attachment of success to media relations activities, as opposed to other organisational functions such as sales and marketing. Therefore, according to Stanton, the lack of such success indicators led to the low priority assigned to media relations.

Throughout this exposition, Stanton quotes neither statistic nor circumstantial evidence. As such, I find this entire argument quite dubious. There is therefore no justification that the premises of the perceptions of low priority and lack of success indicators are valid. Furthermore, the burden of proof of causation has not been met.Therefore this argument is unsound and invalid. The only thing stringing along this weak argument of a raizon d’etre for evaluation methods is the voice of the author, which is inherently insufficient for useful academic purposes.

Setting aside this logical problem, my own previous research suggests that there is sufficient perception of PR being a form of marketing activity. Indeed, the organisation of media relations, as per my earlier entry, appears centred around the structures of marketing. In particular, the transmission of messages and language used in engagement have much similarity. Hence this entry cannot discount the possibility of the present arrangements of factors of production being, universally or on occasion, superior to a separate PR division.

Putting aside this tangential point, the raizon d’etre for having evaluation, is instead, to simultaneously justify and bring it into the PR department/firm’s dialectical process. Only with key performance indicators appropriate for the strategies and stakeholders involved can media relations argue for its own existence. This is in line with the adaptation, combination, and derivation this entry started with axiomatically. Thus while this entry does not agree with the logical and empirical standing of Stanton’s justification, the conclusion is coincidentally in line with the logic.

Stanton goes on to suggest a typology of evaluation into formative(initial/at onset), process(during campaign and/or in-situ), and summative(post-campaign or after planned activities). He contextualises these to the measurement of goals and objectives, and suggests ways to link these to probable objectives. He further categorises evaluation methods into metrics(psychoanalysis with regard to the receipt of messages), exposure(quantitative measurement of appearance of the issue/event in the media) and media impressions(qualitative analysis of content of mentions used to estimate the number and quality of transmission to stakeholders).

On top of these, Stanton suggests various additional evaluation methods which go beyond the scope of just evaluating media relations activities but also other forms of PR and organisational function. These can include the usual methods of surverying, focus groups, interviews, requests for information, attendance numbers at events, view points for web pages, et cetera. The  most interesting of these is systematic tracking. This involves software that measures market penetration, the type of publication, tone of coverage , sources quoted, and main copy points. This gathering of data is very interesting because it can be then fed into a qualitative data analysis program that can further “mine” data. One example of such a program is QDA Miner. This qualitative analysis tool uses complex algorithms to seek out relationships in words and phrases found in a document, establishing correlations between certain words and phrases. The resulting reports provide comprehensive insight into the links between language and interests. This research tool is used in all manners of socio-scientific research but I believe it has great potential as an evaluative tool in media mentions for PR.

I have made many criticisms of the present conduct of  PR in the world today, and my position on these issues has not changed. However, I believe that evaluation and analysis, particularly the qualitative sort, present the most enlightened and valuable service that a PR practitioner can render upon his client. This is particularly true in the case of organisations with small PR budgets, like Small and Medium Enterprises(SMEs) and non-profit organisations, because the costs of such software can enter into the thousands for a one-off purchase. Therefore this is an area of evaluation, at process, formative, and summative levels which I feel media relations/PR should place more effort in. This would also serve to give more a more accurate or insightful look into stateholders.

Stanton then goes on to develop an argument on the epistemology of evaluation, namely that it uses epirical results of a positivist paradigm. I personally lean more towards a constructivist construction, as the PR practitioner cannot divorce his own influence from the resulting knowledge. Nonetheless, it is within Stanton’s prerogative to define the dominant paradigm in PR as he sees fit, without comment on the actual validity of the paradigm employed. He then explores the social-scientific and psychoanalytical methodologies employed in the practice, with a review of primary and secondary sources, a distinction between qualitative and quantitative methods, and a summary of content analysis. This mixture of analytical methods is in line with my previous case study of a Google Australia PR campaign by SpectrumLife, which used both surveys of primary sources and researched secondary sources on past campaigns.

In the majority of the chapter, Stanton restricts himself to a positive argument, rather than comment on any potentially normative issues such as ethics and ideals. As such, this entry does not find any major points of contention other than the description of the dialectic process leading to the requirement of evaluation mentioned above. This chapter has made me re-explore the idea of qualitative data mining within a new context, and was a good read because of that. In conclusion, evaluation methods are one of the chief areas of PR function and should not be handled in an tangential or exclusive manner from part or whole of the PR process.

References

Provalis Research. (2010, February 7). QDAMiner. Retrieved November 3, 2011, from Provalis Research: http://www.provalisresearch.com/QDAMiner/QDAMinerDesc.html

Stanton, R. (2007). Measuring Successful Relationships. In R. Stanton, Media Relations (pp. 211-299). Melbourne: Oxford University Press.

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