Four years ago, a team of researchers funded by the IABC Research Foundation set out to answer a critical question for public relations and communication management:
How and to what extent does communication contribute to the bottom line of an organization-to making it more effective?
We soon realized, however, that not all public relations departments make such a contribution. Thus, we added a second research question:
How must the communication function be organized and managed if it is to make an organization more effective-i.e., what are the characteristics of an excellent public relations department?
We designed a six-year research project to answer these questions and now are about to enter next to the last year of the work. Like all good scientific research, our project began with a thorough review of theoretical and research literature relevant to the research questions. In our case, we reviewed the extensive research that members of our team had done on roles and models of public relations, strategic management, power, evaluation and women in public relations. We reviewed literature from public relations, management, sociology, psychology, marketing, communication, philosophy and feminist studies. From that literature review, we are writing a book, "Excellence in Public Relations and Communication Management," that will be published by Lawrence Eribaum Associates, publishers, in about a year.
We used the literature to develop a set of three questionnaires that we are administering to a sample of 200 organizations in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. The senior public relations person, the CEO and 20 employees complete questionnaires in each organization. That survey is under way in all three countries and should be completed in late 1990.
From the literature review, we have identified 14 characteristics of excellent public relations programs and three effects of such programs . We are measuring each of these characteristics in our survey. Like most researchers, we believe our results will confirm our expectations. But we stand ready to revise our theory should the results suggest the need for revision. Let's look, then, at some of the preliminary conclusions we have reached based on an analysis of data from about 35 organizations. I must stress the preliminary nature of these conclusions, and a complete analysis may force us to change them. The conclusions do seem reasonable, however; and they are suggestive for the field and for IABC.
The IABC research team began its work by setting forth a normative or prescriptive theory that prescribes how to do public relations in an ideal situation. The team argued that excellent public relations departments will practice public relations in a way that is similar to the normative model, in contrast to the way that public relations is practiced in the typical, less excellent, department.
Our normative theory specifies that organizational communication should be practiced strategically. An organization that practices public relations strategically develops programs to communicate with the publics, both external and internal, that provide the greatest threats to and opportunities for the organization.
Organizations strive for good relationships with the publics in their external or internal environment that limit their ability to pursue their goals. Building good relationships with strategic publics maximizes the autonomy of organizations to pursue their goals, which is important because the literature shows that effective organizations are those that choose appropriate goals and then have the autonomy to achieve them. When public relations helps that organization build relationships, it saves the organization money by reducing the costs of litigation, regulation, legislation, pressure campaigns, boycotts, or lost revenue that result from bad relationships with publics-publics that become activist groups when relationships are bad. …