The evolution of evaluation

Public relations measurement and evaluation has evolved over at least two centuries.

Photos: Wikimedia Commons/BMK/CC-BY-SA


The evolution of public relations measurement starts more than two centuries ago, with some suggesting that media monitoring practices can be identified from the late 18th century onwards, even involving staff of the first US president, George Washington. The measurement and evaluation of public relations activity has long been an important subject of discussion and debate.

Measurement practices can be identified from the beginning of the 20th century, when ‘public relations’ began to be widely used as the description for a set of communication activities. Some methods used in the first decade of the century would be familiar to practitioners over a century later. One of these, ‘The Barometer’, was used by the first known publicity agency in the US, The Publicity Bureau of Boston. It was a card index of the attitudes of editors and media usage of publicity material. This allowed the agency to judge “whether a paper is ‘Good’ or ‘Bad’ from the standpoint (of its clients)”. Historian Scott Cutlip commented on The Barometer, with considerable irony, that “public relations research is not as new as some think”.

Tom Watson

Tom Watson is professor of public relations in the Media School at Bournemouth University in England, having been associate professor in communications and head of the School of Communication at Charles Sturt University in his native Australia. He started his career in corporate PR in 1978 before setting up a consultancy business in 1984. He is the chair of the International History of Public Relations Conference.

Paul Noble

Paul Noble is an independent public relations and communications trainer, consultant and facilitator. He is an e-learning specialist and CIPR examiner.