A PR Program That Doesn’t Teach Communication Research?

OK, I’m going to rewrite the definitions of malpractice and malfeasance in this post. My point is to address a concern / question posed by Alan Chumley, Vice-President for Business Development at Cormex Research, in his post – “Why do so few PR programs have research courses? at his blog Measurement PRoponent / PRomulgator.

Chumley notes the differences in PR education programs, particularly higher education, between different countries and, I am projecting my own thoughts, different business cultures.

First, let us note that Chumley’s observation is, in his own words, unconfirmed and perhaps based upon anecdotal (or unreferenced / linked to) observations. So, my premise is more along the lines of , “What if it is true?”

Chumley writes:

… (an individual) and some colleagues, as part of a group project, had looked at how many PR diploma or post-grad certificate programs in Ontario included a formal course on research. Surprisingly few was the answer.

Now, I don’t want this to turn into a “beat up on Canada post” because I’m pretty confident this situation likely exists in other countries, and perhaps even in some programs in the U.S. Also, Canadians are nice. I like them.

How widespread it is, I don’t know. However, I believe when I get to the office I can find references to the accreditation requirements for U.S. higher education programs. I am confident that a course in research is required. But, I’ll have to check first. The AJEMC site is down right now. Sorry, I don’t keep these things on file in my mind.

My take would be the following:

  • All successful communication starts with an understanding of your audience.
  • A coherent and relevant understanding of your audience starts with research of said audience.
  • So, any effort to teach how to communicate successfully must include a course in research.

Come on, these are basic tenets of communications – “the discipline that studies the principles of transmitting information and the methods by which it is delivered (as print or radio or television, etc.).” (Source)  

To not provide that fundamental basic understanding in your curriculum would be a case of malpractice and malfeasance.


the performance, by an educator, of an act that is unjustified, in principle, and harmful, or contrary to the principles of communication study; wrongdoing (used esp. when referring to an act in violation of a student’s, client’s, or the public’s trust).

My point? To not teach students how to properly research before initiating any form of business and/or organizational communication activity would be an act of malpractice.


failure of an educator to proffer instruction through reprehensible ignorance or negligence, esp. when injury or loss follows – or a stupid press release goes out 🙂 or a PR campaign destined for failure (and wasted client funds) is initiated

This is a perfect example of the failure of public relations practice today. It is more widespread than you may believe.

Evidence this PR Week story, citing that the “2006 PRWeek/Cymfony Corporate Survey reveals that communicators on the corporate side are grasping the importance of new media and measurement – but not everyone has jumped in with both feet.” (Subscription required)

This particular survey cites that “only 51.1% of respondents have allocated some of their 2006 budget for measurement, and of those who did, more than half only allocated 1% to 5% of their budget.”

Please note that the “2006 PRWeek/Cymfony Corporate Survey polled 219 in-house professionals, drawing primarily from the technology, consumer products and service, and financial and professional service industries. Nearly half had revenues from $100 million to more than $1 billion, and half had between one and five employees in the communications department.”

Well, if this is the case, there may be justification for claims of malfeasance and malpractice among practitioners, too.

Too often you will hear practitioners state that they act on gut feelings, or what has worked for them before in other situations. Well, the latter may have relevance, but the former is just lunacy. Sure, some will say there are lies, damn lies and statistics. But, properly conducted research is essential in the practice of public relations.

The sad reality is, on the first day of our course in Survey Research, I tell the students three things.

  • The good news is – we’re going to do research.
  • The bad news is – for some of you, this may be some of the last research you will ever do.
  • Finally, if the latter is true – do your part and push forward the ideal of research in all of your communication planning. To not do so will be a disservice to those you serve and those you wish to reach.

So, what should those programs that are not teaching research do to remedy the situation? Either revise their curriculum and start teaching research or … close their doors. Of course, I would prefer that they do the former.

Too harsh? No. More like, too little – too late. Think about it. How may graduates have they already unleashed upon the world?

I am confident that any argument attempting to justify not teaching research is – indefensible.


0 thoughts on “A PR Program That Doesn’t Teach Communication Research?

  1. Alan Chumley


    I absolutely agree with you on the importance of a significant research component of a curriculum. I soapbox on the topic as often as anyone will listen. 🙂

    I suppose I should reiterate that my obersavtion was indeed only anecdotal and that I was focusing on 2-3-year community college-level diploma programs and/or 1-year post-graduate certificate schools in Canada.

    There is one full 4-year undergraduate honours degree in PR in Canada and I suspect that they do offer a research course. By all accounts it is an excellent program. I can think of only 2 graduate level PR programs (an MBA in PR from Royal Roads University and a forthcoming Master’s in Communications Management from Syracuse/Newhouse & McMaster/Degroote.) Whether or not those programs inluce a course on research is not clear.

    But I suppose this all comes down to the fact that Canada, compared at least to the U.S. (I won’t profess to have any sense as to the situation in other countries) is a much smaller ‘market.’ That means fewer students, seeking fewer specialized degrees in fewer schools with fewer resources. That plus the unfortunate view that PR trianing sa vocational and not so much theoretical has relegated (largely but not entirely) PR education in Canada to the community colleges.

    Keep up the measurement fight! 🙂

  2. Jill Pyle

    I’m a PR student from Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. In the third year of the program students are required to take a research methods course. For this course, I worked with a group of my peers in an attempt to answer the questions: are MSVU PR students ready to practice “new PR”? I blogged the results here here.


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