Defining a Process for Public Relations Research Standards: What You Can Do
Chair, Institute for Public Relations Measurement Commission
Last month, three major steps toward standards for public relations research and measurement were unveiled by the Coalition Public Relations Research Standards (CPPRS), a collaborative effort of the Council of Public Relations Firms (CPRF), the Global Alliance, the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), the International Association for the Measurement and Evaluation of Communications (AMEC), and the Institute for Public Relations (IPR). Initial deliverables and essential first steps consist of proposed interim standards for social media measurement, traditional media analysis and ethical principles for public relations research. There will shortly be a proposed interim standard for measuring the communications life cycle (building awareness, knowledge, interest or relevance, intent and advocacy), measuring return on investment (or alternatives) and program measurement.
This will be a multi-year process; we have been working for six to twelve months, depending on where you put the starting point. Right now, the working groups are addressing issues given high priority by their clients. They will be moving on to higher level and more challenging standards in the future.
Now is a good time to describe the rationale and the process of setting standards. Fortunately, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) has laid out the principles and the process. The Coalition is committed to following this process (http://www.iso.org/iso/standards_development.htm) .
Standards are developed according to the following principles (adapted from the ISO web site):
- Consensus. The views of all interests are taken into account. For public relations, this includes corporations and other client organizations, agencies and research/measurement providers. Our Coalition process is designed to solicit input from start to finish.
- Industry wide. Standards should satisfy industries and customers worldwide.
- Voluntary. International standardization is market-driven and therefore based on voluntary involvement of all interests in the marketplace.
Standards are developed using the following process adapted from the ISO (see http://bit.ly/x3Hveo for more ISO information):
- Proposal stage. The first step is to identify areas where standards are needed.
- Development stage. The Coalition identifies a working group of technical experts to develop a first working draft, or what we may call proposed interim standards. This group will be large enough to bring in diverse ideas, but small enough to get things done. The work group can bring together a larger group of individuals and organizations as needed to assist in developing the first draft.
The working draft will be circulated and posted on a new standards microsite for review and comment. The working group will be responsible for reviewing and taking account of comments. This is where we stand today in the social media standards, traditional media standards and ethical standards. The drafts posted are initial steps and will be broadened, deepened and revised through the rest of the year.
Successive drafts may be considered until the working group is satisfied that it has developed the best technical solution to the problem being addressed, and has received favorable input from the professional community. At this stage, the draft is forwarded to the parent organization, the CPRRS, for submission to the customer panel for review and approval. Note that this is an iterative process. Teams may start with the low-hanging fruit and move to more complex areas later.
- Customer approval. As the ISO emphasizes, standards are market-driven, therefore customers are the final arbiters of when a proposed standard is ready to move forward. The CPRRS is developing a customer panel will include about six corporations that are major purchasers of public relations research and measurement services. Initial members include Jackie Matthews, communications researcher at General Motors, Molly McKenna Jandrain, external communications manager at McDonald’s USA, and Linda Rutherford, vice president, communication and strategic outreach, Southwest Airlines.
- Publication. Once draft standards have passed review of industry experts and customers, the next step is to adopt and publish them as interim standards. This is typically where application of the standards begins even though the process continues.
- Validation. Most research standards will require some sort of validation. Research is conducted to validate the relevance and effectiveness of the standards, at which point they can be published as final standards.
- Review and revision.
- Most standards require periodic revision due to changes in technology and in the public relations business. We expect that the standards will be reviewed and expanded on an annual basis.
Where are we and how can you get involved today?
Social media measurement standards (SMMS) raditional media measurement standards
On June 15 at the AMEC Summit. Katie Paine and Tim Marklein presented the current status in six priority areas: (1) content sourcing and methods, (2) reach and impressions, (3) engagement, (4) influence and relevance, (5) opinion and advocacy, and (6) impact and value. The presentation is available at http://amecorg.com/downloads/dublin2012/The-March-to-Social-Standards-.pdf
- The SMMS team released a proposed interim standard on content sourcing and methods. The team also released a transparency grid to standardize reporting of measurement methods.
- The team will continue discussions and intends to release proposed interim standards standards on reach, impressions and engagement after a meeting in early October.
- The team will release additional proposed interim standards at the PRSA International meeting in October 2012.
- How can you be involved?
- Track updates via smmstandards.org.regular feedback on the discussion and the proposed interim standards.
- Start using the “Sources & Methods Transparency Table” in all your reports.
- Share #SMMStandards updates with your clients.
- Participate in Coalition member events to comment, link and share.
Traditional media measurement standards
- A team led by Marianne Eisenmann has issued a paper containing proposed interim standards for measuring traditional media. This is available for comment and use on the Institute for Public Relations web site at http://bit.ly/LJrx3l. This discussion document tackles fundamental issues that have been requested by corporate clients of media measurement firms and agencies.
- The team will be broadening and deepening this document, issuing updates over the remainder of the year.
What you can do
- Track updates on the Institute for Public Relations web site.
- Provide feedback on the proposed interim standards in the paper.
- Start using the proposed interim standards in your work, RFPs and proposals.
- Participate in Coalition member events to comment, link and share.
Ethical guidelines and standards for public relations research and measurement
Do we have to make ethical decisions as we design, implement, analyze, and report on research and measurement in public relations? Yes, we do indeed. A team lead by Prof. Shannon Bowen, a leading expert on ethics in public relations, provides an initial outline of ethical standards and guidelines. This will be developed over the remainder of the year. These can be found at http://bit.ly/N3BdqZ.