At 50, IPR still advancing industry

Fiftieth birthdays should provide a time for reflection and recreation. So it is with the Institute for Public Relations (IPR), which celebrates its 50th in October.

Fiftieth birthdays should provide a time for reflection and recreation. So it is with the Institute for Public Relations (IPR), which celebrates its 50th in October.

The IPR was created by a visionary group of PR leaders who believed that our profession needed a nonprofit to support research and education. Today we call this "the science beneath the art of PR." But our purpose is still building research-based knowledge and mainstreaming it into practice.

So, having survived five decades - and thriving today as never before - it is natural to ask: What have we learned over 50 years?

Dr. James Grunig, accepting the IPR's Alexander Hamilton Medal for lifetime contributions to the profession, identified three kinds of PR research. Some is used in the practice of PR to identify publics, set strategies for cultivating relationships, and measure the results. There's research on the practice of PR to critically identify and assess trends, best practices, etc. And there's research for the practice of PR to develop broad knowledge about what works, when, and why.

We've learned a great deal about research before and measurement after the PR program. The wide range of Commission on PR Measurement & Evaluation papers on these topics are among the most popular offered on the IPR's free Web site. Research tools and methodologies have exploded in number and sophistication. There is no debate that we must use "fact-based argument" to take our place among other management functions at the decision-making table.

But when we move beyond day-to-day research conducted within the practice, the academic journals in our field (among them, Public Relations Review, started by the IPR when it was known as the Foundation for Public Relations Research and Education) make no apologies for the fact that they are written by scholars for scholars.

One of the IPR's goals is to help bridge the gap between academics and practitioners. That partnership has been critically important in helping other occupations become true professions. We must make scholarship more accessible and compelling for practitioners while providing practitioner feedback to direct scholars toward highly useful areas for research.

Ensuring that our educational systems conduct relevant research and move that knowledge into practice represents a huge challenge in a field where barriers to entry remain low and the amount of available information continuously expands. You don't need a PR degree, and you certainly don't need a license to practice PR. But the best practitioners fully understand the underlying theoretical bases for what they do, and apply the power of research and academic learning to drive their work.

We recognize that no occupation attains the status of a profession without certain things in place. Among these are a substantial body of codified professional knowledge, educational systems to help create and disseminate that knowledge, and a commitment to lifelong professional learning. The IPR has played a major role in all these areas in the past 50 years, thanks to the unflagging support of our field's pro and academics in our field. And in these areas, we'll keep driving for substantive, rapid progress in the years ahead.

Peter Debreceny is VP of corporate relations for Allstate Insurance and chairs the IPR's board of trustees.

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