PAUL HOLMES: What many in PR view as "progress" merely highlights how far the industry still has to go

Here's the "good news" from the first paragraph of a press release issued by the International Association of Business Communicators: in a July 2003 poll, almost two-thirds of respondents said "yes" when asked whether they currently used any formal measurement tools to evaluate their communications programs' effectiveness.

Here's the "good news" from the first paragraph of a press release issued by the International Association of Business Communicators: in a July 2003 poll, almost two-thirds of respondents said "yes" when asked whether they currently used any formal measurement tools to evaluate their communications programs' effectiveness.

Two-thirds! The IABC is excited. "Interest in measurement tools has risen," says its president. Yikes! More than a third of professional communicators still don't bother to figure out whether what they're doing has any impact at all, and we're excited about our progress. Who knows, maybe this measurement thing is catching on. Some day soon, two out of every three PR professionals might be able to say with confidence, "I earn my paycheck." One of the frustrating things about writing for the PR industry is the constant sense of déjà vu. On the one hand, you don't want to write another column about the importance of evaluation, or counseling companies on a strategic level, because you've written 176 already. On the other hand, clearly the message still hasn't sunk in, so it bears repeating, because until it does, the industry will never live up to its potential. Well, at least most PR people don't believe the measurement problem has been solved. That's not the case with the diversity issue, if the results of a recent PRWeek poll are to be believed. Four out of five corporations and three out of four agencies say they're satisfied with the diversity of their communications staff, a sad reflection on the industry. I'm in the middle of an annual survey that ranks the best PR firms to work for. So far about 3,800 agency employees have responded. Just 3% of the respondents are black; another 3% are Hispanic; another 3% are Asian American - and for some companies, that includes support staff. In other words, if these respondents are remotely representative, the industry looks nothing like America, nothing like the world of customers, employees, and communities to which it's supposed to help companies relate. Diversity is another subject that I've been talking to PR pros about for more than a decade. Much like they do with measurement, they all nod and agree that something has to be done. But here we are heading into 2004 and the diversity discussion today isn't substantively different from that of more than a decade ago. So if the industry is looking for a New Year's resolution, how about this: Let's make 2004 the year we stop paying lip service to these and a host of other issues and actually do something about them. Force me to come up with some fresh material.
  • Paul Holmes has spent the past 16 years writing about the PR business for publications including PRWeek, Inside PR, and Reputation Management. He is currently president of The Holmes Group and editor of www.holmesreport.com.

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