Making PR More Than a Jab at the Moon
In the Philippines, we have a phrase, suntok sa buwan (literally, a jab at the moon), which captures part of the humble beginnings of public relations practice in my country. We would churn out what appeared and, indeed, appealed as elegant PR plans. Which, more often than not, worked, after a fashion, and in the generous estimation of clients, who perhaps were themselves in no position to know better. Because we almost never did research, except that of the roughest type, we were jabbing at the moon. In spite of that, we lurched on and made points with clients from year to year.
Now, we are some distance from those days, but we are not quite where we need to be.
I am referring to the kind of research imperative with which PR is practiced in the United States, Europe and in countries where the profession is more mature. In large and advanced economies characterized by competition for markets and the need for sustaining and enlarging them - and winning the loyalty and good feeling of a wide range of important (at times fickle) audiences - which can turn adversarial almost without warning - effective PR continues to gain preeminence.
This kind of PR is to be strived after. Always, it has to be buttressed by solid public relations research. Which way go the feelings and fears of stakeholders that we need to address? Or the biases and prejudices of media in markets where our clients do or plan to operate? What kind of corporate decisions and initiatives do our clients or principals have to make to create meaningful presence in domestic or foreign markets? How might important audiences think or what will they look like five years from now?
Now that PR measurement and evaluation has been at least partly demystified, there are still big areas in PR research that need to be explored, examined, reexamined and, yes, explained. Let me cite just two:
How can PR research consciousness be fostered more widely than in the academy? How can PR research be made affordable, to help practitioners in developing countries create programs directed at markets or audiences in large developed markets?
The Institute for Public Relations has done important pioneering work in raising consciousness and stimulating breakthroughs in PR research. Its work has been influential in generating original thinking in various aspects of PR practice in the U.S., in the academy, in the corporate world and private and government sectors.
One thing it needs to do now is to extend its reach and influence to other countries.
In other countries, like mine, for instance, the Institute can help local institutions organize tie-ups amongst corporations, PR practitioners, the academy, the large NGOs, and selected government PR-oriented agencies that will be dedicated to PR research.
Many PR agencies use market research organizations versus internal talent to conduct research for their programs. Is this correct, wise, or even sensible? Does PR research really need to cost a lot of money?
How can PR practitioners be encouraged to commit to the fact that research, even if it may seem to be costly, is vital to PR practice? That without research, the kind of "success" that we, the ancients, used to reap will be ephemeral?
The Institute for Public Relations would do well to help those laboring in PR's foreign vineyards get a sense of the excitement and actual rewards that modern, research-based PR generates. The Institute can lead in making research a vital and dynamic part of the PR practiced by organizations across the world.
Reaching out globally should not be all that difficult for the Institute. Modern communication technology and the global mindset of thoughtful PR practitioners and academics will make this a more facile and productive enterprise than if it had been attempted in earlier years.
There is not much excitement flailing at the moon when moonbeams pour radiantly on you.
In countries like mine, for instance.
Romeo P. Virtusio
Chairman & CEO
Virtusio Public Relations, Inc. / Context Communications International, Inc.