Sliding doors: Italian PR

By Toni Muzi Falconi

68 per cent of Italian respondents feel responsible for business strategies

Way back in 1983, the young Italian sociologist, Emanuele Invernizzi (current president of the European Public Relations Education and Research Association (Euprera), carried out on behalf of the Italian Federation of Public Relations (Ferpi) his first research project in the public relations domain, titled “Terziario Avanzato e Nuove Professioni: il caso delle rp,” published by Franco Angeli Editore. (The English translation is “Advanced tertiary sector: the case of PR.”)

He researched a representative sample of PR professionals and reported that:

  • fifty-seven per cent believed that the progress of public relations was delayed because of the backwardness of entrepreneurial culture, but 70 per cent said that delay was caused by the improvisation of professionals. Not surprisingly, 70 per cent also expressed a great need for professional training and 81 per cent for more specialization.
  • additionally, 38 per cent stated the need to achieve operational objectives, 33 per cent to participate in operational decisions and 29 per cent to participate in strategic decisions.
  • according to interviewees, 54 per cent of companies had implemented some form of PR, but only 18 per cent had a dedicated department.

Twenty-five years later (in 2008)—see Invernizzi’s paper at the Euprera congress in Milano—that figure of 18 per cent of companies who (in 1983) had a dedicated department, had since become 78 per cent and reporting to organizational leadership.

Also, while it was demonstrated that in 1983 47 per cent of professionals admitted to having followed some sort of specific training, in 2008 that number has risen to 96 per cent.

Again, in 1983 there were only 10 private courses in PR; in 2008, 63 universities offered167 undergraduate and 164 graduate PR courses.

Finally, in 1983 74 per cent of PR professionals were male, whilst in 2008 63 per cent of professionals were female.

More doors slide at Ferpi conference in Milano

These and other data were presented a few weeks ago at a conference in Milano, Italy, organised by Ferpi.

Following Invernizzi’s keynote detailing our past PR history, the young scholar, Stefania Romenti, presented an interesting perspective on Italian public relations professionals in the present, compared to those of other European countries, elaborated from the recent Euprera-led 2010 European Communication Monitor.

To understand where the profession is now and where it will likely be in the next couple of years, it is certainly useful to look through all the attached PowerPoints (provided here in English).

As to the future, the third keynote session [by the author of this post, Toni Muzi Falconi] dwelled on macro trends. The communicative organization, I said, is like Janus (or from a less ethnocentric perspective, yin/yang): on one face the hard cycle, on the other face the soft narrative cycle.

These two are interdependent, interrelated reports on the organization’s leadership. While the first aims at being more efficient, the second aims at enhancing its licence to operate. In this scenario, public relations intended as stakeholder relationships has a major and crucial role to play…but only if we are capable of ensuring that professionals learn how to communicate with rather than to their stakeholders.

To better understand the Italian situation, I will cite a just-finished piece of research, once more promoted by Ferpi, which has yet to be published and presented to the public.

Its title “Beyond,” clearly expresses the substance of the findings: basically, most communication professionals today dismiss the traditional distinction between “above the line” and “below the line.”

These professionals believe that some 70 per cent of communication budgets in the next couple of years in the small- and medium-sized enterprises (the backbone of whatever remains of the Italian economy) will be invested in stakeholder relationships, while at least half of those investments will deal with stakeholder relationships in the large and huge enterprises.

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7 Replies to “Sliding doors: Italian PR

  1. Heather, I have asked prof. Invernizzi and Romenti to eventually express their view about the issue you raise.

    As for me, I hope you and readers of this blog will agree that we together call for a ‘moratorium’ on academic and professional associations research efforts aimed at listening to professionals, rather than focusing their efforts on listening to stakeholders (i.e. clients, employers, active citizenship groups, locale communities, mainstream and social media representatives, public policy makers, intellectuals, academics….).

    I am aware that the point you raise is different but in my view this turn of attention from our very navel to our intelocutors has more priority than adopting a different methodology.
    Yet, of course the option you suggest is important.

    Let me add one more point:
    another research priority for me is that we shift the focus from collecting opinions to observing behaviours.
    I am more and more convinced that, for many many reasons I won’t dwell on here, opinions constantly change thus giving the researcher much less relevant information to analyse and interpret than they used to only ten years ago.

    Your opinion?

    1. Toni, I’m very happy to try to answer to Heather’s comment, even though I don’t think the issue should be qualitative vs quantitative research.

      In principle qualitative research is not better (or worse) of quantitative research. It’s different: we should use the first to understand and describe and the second to measure and to test what we have understood and described.

      What I mean – generally speaking and also regarding Stefania’s and my data commented by Heather – is that any “number” is interesting and useful only if it is used, and presented, to support an hypothesis. This cannot happen when “numbers” are presented just as numbers, as in the case of slides without any comment.

      What I suggest, and personally try to do, is to use both, qualitative (first) and quantitative research. I don’t think we should decide which is better, instead we should use both synergetically, precisely the same way we should (Toni) observe behaviours and collect opinions.

      Integration not opposition, when thinking to different methodological approaches: I believe we should be against only, and very strongly, to methodologically week research. What do you think?

      1. Toni and Emanuele – thank you for your comments. My issue wasn’t specifically one of qualitative versus quantitative research, although I do believe that a lot of the aims of research regarding PR practitioners does not seem best realised with the type of (primarily quantitative) research we see. For example, asking practitioners what they do using simple surveys is not going to deliver the richness (or indeed, accuracy of understanding – hence this is weak research) that would be achieved by observation as Toni notes. I have supported the call by L’Etang for ethnographic research for example.

        I do agree that quantitative methods can be used to “test” ideas that emerge from qualitative or depth research. I also believe a variety of methods can be used to give a more holistic perspective of any phenomenon.

        Unlike Toni’s call for a moratorium, I believe there is much about PR practice and its conceptual underpinning, that remains to be better understood. As such, I would like to see fewer simplistic “counting” studies of practitioner opinion and more originality to get to the essence by other methods of research.

        My own interest also lies in career aspects of public relations and so I tend to be frustrated by studies that simple report on PR as an occupation, which tends to omit the individual experience.

        1. I agree Heather.
          My call for a moratorium is to dissuade researchers to investigate what pr professionals think of themselves and give their own coordinates (what they do, who they report to, how much they earn, that say their work is strategic even when they pee….etc…) without any reality check…..
          This is true for many of our widest cited and acclaimed researches.
          A similar argument also goes for many opinion analysis in which you ask people over survey monkey or on the telephone….
          What is fantastic is that not only do they mislead their clients but that we also show to believe what they say…..

          1. Toni – I agree with you over many poorly conceived, constructed and executed surveys in public relations. Of course, these are not only used in respect of describing the occupation but in the development of PR campaigns (often with shocking lack of concern about validity etc).

            Interestingly, I have been teaching Consumer & Audience Psychology to first year PR University students this term. This has involved looking at various theories to understand people, and undertaking relevant research, primarily using qualitative research techniques.

            Throughout the students have been resistant to this as they seemed to feel that qualitative research was not representative and therefore a waste of their time. They simply wanted to ask people a few survey questions and hence develop understanding of the audience. They were particularly hostile towards the techniques (eg ZMET picture analysis and Mihály Csíkszentmihályi + Eugene Rochberg-Halton’s “meaning of things”) which involved getting inside individual consumer’s minds without direct linkage to the product/company being investigated.

            However, we have just started their presentations for assessment – and they have finally got the point of this more subtle research. They have gained really useful insight and informed their creativity in a more imaginative way. It has been great to see and hopefully they will be a little less inclined to survey automatically.

  2. Toni, This is all very interesting research, however I am struck by the fact that such studies continue to seek in effect, to define the occupation and study practitioner roles and competencies (primarily through quantitative research).

    What such an approach does is limit our understanding of the richness of individual practitioners’ experiences of working in PR, and even more importantly, it ignores the developmental aspects for individuals working in PR.

    Of course, it is useful to see how the occupation has changed, but as Super noted in 1969, this focus of research (common in career literature from the first half of the 20th century), treats people as only a data source – where developmental studies from the individuals’ perspectives (which emerged in career literature from the 1950s) would enable us to consider the etiology of such changes rather than just its categorisation.

    Do you have any views on why the focus continues to be on quantifying the occupation itself rather than considering in more depth developmental aspects of a career in PR?

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