Recently, I attended the International Public Relations Research Conference (IPRRC) at the University of Miami. Since 2003, I’ve been participating in this truly international event, attended by leading academics and practitioners from 25 countries. There is no other conference like it. Like speed dating for research fanatics, participants rotate tables every 15 minutes during each one-hour session, choosing from the six papers being presented simultaneously. Presenters share the highlights of their research and invite discussion four consecutive times for 15 minutes during the one hour period. With six one-hour sessions a day for three days, more than 100 papers are presented! That’s both mental saturation and inspiration.
What were these academics and practitioners talking about? Social media was the number one topic. About 25% of papers focused on some aspect of its use or impact in public relations (only two-thirds of the top US PR agencies use blogs, Facebook, Twitter and other social media on their websites). Other social media papers presented how corporations are using social to cultivate relationships (the number one reason people engage with corporate social networks is remuneration like coupons/discounts); the ethics of CEO ghost blogging (79% surveyed say okay if executive gives content ideas and final approval, but split about transparency of authorship); and the development of measurement standards (still on the industry wish list).
Papers on healthcare communications were surprisingly sparse. A meta-analysis of health communication research identified the need for research in mobile /social health communications, especially among teens and young adults. More than 80% of that population accesses the internet through mobile devices, and many get health information about dieting, fitness, drug use and sexual health online.
Return on investment (ROI) for PR was a big debate and the subject of a separate forum. Many advocate for the adoption of a new nomenclature which reflects the intangible value and often non-monetary goals of PR programs. Another proposed that PR should be looking at cost effectiveness analysis (CEA), instead of ROI. One proposal endorsed my approach – using call-to-action as the measure of ROI, where the outcome is not measured in dollars but in whether or not people heeded a call-to-action by visiting a website, downloading materials, entering a contest, donating to the cause, getting a health screening , requesting information, etc.
PR education was addressed by several papers – two focused on the gender gap in PR (one found women study PR because they want to be event planners, and men study PR because they want to be managers). Another explored PR education and practice in China and found the influence of American public relations theory and practice has suppressed the development of one rooted in their own culture.
I will post more about what I learned at the conference, but you can read all about these topics and many more when the conference proceedings are published in May 2012 at http://www.instituteforpr.org/events/iprrc/proceedings/.