PR Evaluation Essentials: Navigating Ethics (Part II)

This article sheds light on the vital intersection of principles of evaluation and ethical considerations, and emphasizes the critical importance of ethical decision-making for communication and public relations professionals and their practice. An unwavering commitment to ethical principles is fundamental in ensuring effective and efficient professional practice as it not only safeguards the credibility of public relations initiatives but also plays a pivotal role in fostering trust and cultivating positive relationships with stakeholders.


Principles of PR Evaluation


Paul Noble (1999, pp. 19-20) formulated seven principles of evaluation:

  • Evaluation is research. Evaluation is a discipline based on research with the purpose to inform and to clarify. Also, research plays a crucial role in the planning, implementation and measurement of public relations campaigns and programmes.
  • Evaluation looks both ways. Evaluation is a formative activity that strives to enhance programme management. Besides, it can be described as a summative activity assessing the final outcome of the campaign and proves the worth of public relations.
  • Evaluation is user and situation dependent. Evaluation should be undertaken based on the goal and objectives of the campaign that are relevant to the organisation. Moreover, one of the functions of public relations management is to formulate and explain the organisation’s expectations of the public relations activities and to evaluate these activities in a specific context.
  • Evaluation is short-term. Short-term evaluation is mainly based on a campaign or project. In general, such campaigns are concerned with raising awareness about the company or its products and services through the use of media relations techniques.
  • Evaluation is long-term. Long-term evaluation concerns issues management, corporate reputation and brand positioning and operates at a more strategic level. The main issue is to ensure that the evaluation is based on the criteria established in the objectives. Since the campaign or project is long-term, regular feedback from ongoing monitoring and research can help adjust planning, execution and measuring results.
  • Evaluation is comparative. Evaluation makes comparative conclusions with the purpose of encouraging a positive trend rather than hitting random and meaningless targets.
  • Evaluation is multifaceted. Public relations is a multistep process, in which every step requires different evaluation methodologies.



Ethics in PR Evaluation


There are growing discussions by public relations practitioners and academics about widespread awareness of ethics as a key issue and about how to approach professional ethics. In her article about ethics in public relations, Tilley (2005, p.2) claims that multistage modelling of Macnamara’s pyramid is also applicable to the assessment of ethics. A three-staged model integrating ethics with the current campaign activity would enable public relations professionals to clarify, measure, communicate and manage an ethical compliance strategy at all stages, making ethics a standard reporting line alongside all measurable outcomes in a public relations campaign. The generic ethics pyramid, depicted in Figure 6, includes three stages (from the base upwards): ethical intent, ethical measures and ethical ends.


The ‘ethical intent’ stage is concerned with the consensus between public relations practitioners and stakeholders on ethical virtues, behaviour, procedures and outcomes required for the current campaign or project. The ‘ethical means’ stage considers the tools proposed for the implementation of the campaign: a news release, brochure, speech or event. Also, each of these tools should be assessed for ethical characteristics as well as for such attributes as factual information and correct grammar. The ‘ethical ends’ stage deals with the evaluation of the overall ethical performance based on the strategic ethics objectives outlined in the first stage. If the objectives were properly defined (SMART), then this is a relatively simple process of replicating the research insights, comparing the campaign’s data before and after its execution, reporting the campaigns outcomes and making recommendations for future improvements and adherence to ethical compliance policy.

Figure 1: The generic ethics pyramid. Illustration by M. A. Smith, (2005), with acknowledgement to Macnamara (2002)
Figure 1: The generic ethics pyramid. Illustration by M. A. Smith, (2005), with acknowledgement to Macnamara (2002)


This article discussed the critical importance of incorporating principles of evaluation and ethical considerations into the fabric of communication and public relations practices. The exploration of ethical dimensions within the field not only unveils the potential ramifications of actions but also emphasizes the profound significance of ethical decision-making. For communication and public relations professionals, a steadfast commitment to ethical standards is an integral aspect of their effective and efficient professional practice. Such an approach not only ensures the credibility of public relations initiatives but also contributes to the establishment of trust and positive relationships with stakeholders.



Macnamara, J. R., 2005b. Jim Macnamara’s Public Relations Handbook, Archipelago Press, Sydney.


Noble, P., 1999. Towards an inclusive evaluation methodology, Corporate Communications: An International Journal, 4 (1) 14-23.


Tilley, E., 2005. The ethics pyramid: Making ethics unavoidable in the public relations process. Journal of Mass Media Ethics, 20 (4), 1-11.


Written by Liudmila Kazak