PR is always changing and as technology grows, so does its capacity to measure the effectiveness of different strategies and tactics. As measurements and evaluations get easier so too does it hold PR professionals to a higher standard. “Joining abstract promises of accountability with concrete evaluation initiatives” (Brock, 1986) `Evaluation is not just the act of determining success, but it also allows for PR professionals to evaluate how they will go about solving similar problems in the future. Evaluation is not just reflective, it is also predictive.of future events.
PR does not exist in a vacuum and people generally tend to act the same way, evaluation is the step in the process where you can look back and see what worked, but you can also look at the publics that you interacted with, what (if anything) was successful about the campaign, and then draw (hopefully) meaningful conclusions about the work that was done and how it could be improved or changed for the future. Evaluation also of course allows for the chance to reflect on work that was already done and give non biased reflection on this work.
However, this can lead to an ethical problem. PR firms are only useful if they are improving some aspect of their clients lives. If during the evaluation process, it is discovered that a main goal was not reached, or that evaluative statistics do not shed positive on a campaign, then the PR firm may be inclined to report either false or tampered evaluations out of vanity (Place, 2015). Obviously, best practices would indicate that to achieve long term honest success, lying about the evaluation ends up hurting everyone and it only contributes to tainting the field and lowering the standards for PR professionals everywhere. Although it may not be ideal, reporting accurate evaluation results and making conclusions based off those accurate results is the key for reflection and transparency. The world of PR is constantly evolving and if an individual is reporting false data then they are refusing to evolve and change with the improved methods and avoiding the dreaded self reflection.
Although it may be easier to ignore the innovations and continue to work the same way, it is the only way to be effective in the world of PR. When a strategy is not working, it either needs to be tweaked or replaced, if that conversation never happens, then it is dishonest and in direct contrast to PR best ethical practices. Even in the event that a PR firm reports false information to a client then does a private critical self evaluation, how do they then justify making any changes to any strategies? Why would a client want to tweak or trash a strategy if it is already working? Even in this situation where ideas are being generated, it is impossible for the firm to test them out to see if they are of any kind of real value. Without useful insights and a platform to test out the conclusions, evaluation isn’t worth doing (Kazokiene, Stravinskiene, 2011).
Brock. T. C. (February 1986) Public relations for evaluation. American journal of evaluation. 7(1) 57-62.
Kazokiene, L. Stravinskiene, J. (February 1, 2011) Criteria for the evaluation of public relations effectiveness. Engineering economics 22(1) 91-105.
Place, K, R. (March 12, 2015) Exploring the role of ethics in public relations program evaluation. Journal of public relations research. 27(2)