My Three Cents

Since the day that public relations first emerged as a profession, there have always been journalists — albeit significantly fewer today — who considered journalism a higher calling.  

Although the two are decidedly different, with public relations a business consulting function and journalism purely content delivery, they were and are compared.  Why?  Largely because they both have the media in common.  

I believe I am safe in saying the following:   journalists see what they do as collecting, writing and reporting news and other factual information.  They see public relations as shaping a story directed at stakeholders in the self-interest of the client and then employing the media as a channel.  Purity vs. alleged impurity.  

While the internet has changed stakeholder engagement and the role of the gatekeeper (e.g., traditional media), public relations has evolved into far more than media relations.  Today it stands for the alignment of a company’s goals, policies, actions and messages with all of its stakeholder needs and communicating to them through a variety of channels.

But some of the old myths live on and maybe they always will.  That is why it was so thrilling to see an academic association whose roots go deep into traditional journalism, recognize public relations professionals and academics at a new level.   

Frank Ovaitt, president of the Institute for Public Relations (IPR), the leading industry public relations research organization, received the Gerald Sass Distinguished Service Award from the Association of Schools of Journalism and Mass Communication.  Don Stacks, IPR Trustee and chair of the measurement commission and a Professor of Public Relations at the University of Miami, received the Dorothy Bowles Public Service Award.  Both awards are based, in part, on connecting the work of academics and communications professionals.

Interestingly, the Institute for Public Relations is the perfect bridge for bringing journalism and public relations together. Why? Because of the IPR’s belief – via research – in the integrity of our entire communications process.  Its very tagline emphasizes this point:  “The Science Beneath the Art of Public Relations.”  The IPR conscientiously endorses that it is the facts gathered from research, and the accurate interpretation of the facts, that get us to home plate. IPR stands for the principle that through proper research, a company can establish the communications alignment, as noted in the fourth paragraph above.

Significantly, the members of IPR are involved in three kinds of research, as Ovaitt noted in his acceptance speech:

  • Research in public relations, to guide and evaluate communications programs (in other words, planning research and measurement). 
  • Research on public relations, to understand what we do and how we do it (e.g., benchmarking best practices, the talent pool we attract, and the business of public relations). 
  • And research for public relations – the social science underpinnings of our work.

No occupation, Ovaitt emphasized, attains the status of a profession without a substantial body of codified professional knowledge – research-based knowledge – and educational systems to help create and disseminate that knowledge. This is as true of public relations as it is of medicine, law, accounting or teaching. In each case, there is science underlying the art, and it is the working knowledge of that science, combined with creativity, that marks the best professionals.  “You may want relatively more creativity from your public relations counsel than your accountant, but the principle is the same,” he added.

This evolution of public relations, symbolized by the IPR as the advocacy function that it is and the estimated $10+ billion business it has grown into, was recognized by the journalist community.  It has taken many years to get there, but it sure feels good.

thought leadership


228 East 45th Street
New York, NY 10017


1101 Connecticut Avenue NW, Suite 450
Washington, DC 20036