By now, you have probably figured out something about me: I like learning about history. I’ve always enjoyed looking back in time to better understand the context surrounding events. The Bible states that “there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9, New International Version). That’s true in public relations, too. For as much as we communicators believe we are doing something no one has ever seen or done before, history tells us that’s not true. We can be inspired by examples from the past! That’s why Modern Retro PR has been such a treasure to me over the first few entries.
As I think about my profession, I believe school public relations is a way for me to serve my community. There are never enough people who serve. From teachers to nurses to those in the military, many times those working to serve others have to take the time to find the next generation of public servants.
The test of the work in these instances is drawing others into service. That’s where evaluation comes in. There is a difference between outputs and outcomes, both of which can be measured. Outputs are the tactics taken to achieve a campaign’s goal, i.e. number of posters printed or clicks to a website. Outcomes should be our bread and butter as public relations practitioners–did we motivate someone to take action? In this week’s Modern Retro PR, find out why measuring your work can help you determine what’s a win.
Retro: Creel Commission
You’ve seen the “I Want YOU” poster many times in your life, but chances are, you may not know how it came to exist. Uncle Sam’s piercing blue eyes, his stern look, and pointed finger called a nation to action in a time of war.
James Montgomery Flagg’s illustration first appeared in Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly in 1916 as cover art above the caption “What Are You Doing for Preparedness?”. A year later, it was the centerpiece of a United States Army recruitment poster–the image you’ve seen time and time again.
Flagg’s artwork, along with that of other noted artists of the day, was part of George Creel’s Commission on Public Information (CPI). The sole charge of the CPI was to gain public support for World War I, work that incorporated the use of speechmakers, known as the Four Minute Men, and an “army of artists” (Creel, 1972, p. 134). From a public relations standpoint, this marked an early moment in the history of the profession where the trends of the day used patriotism as part of its publicity efforts.
According to Christopher Capozzola’s Uncle Sam Wants You World War I and the Making of the Modern American Citizen, more than four million posters were printed (2008, p. 4). A huge output considering the era and available technologies!
Even Creel noted the success of an overall strategy featuring posters, such as the iconic one with Uncle Sam in his autobiography, How We Advertised America: “Posters were effective and we used them freely. Care was taken to phrase them tersely and simply” (1972, p. 312).
This is significant when you consider that in this era, not all people could read English. A key factor in developing an effective campaign: know your audience!
Modern: Johnson & Johnson’s Campaign for Nursing’s Future
In 2002, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released a 22-page report outlining a projected shortage of nurses that would only grow in the following two decades. One line stood out:
“If not addressed, and if current trends continue, the shortage is projected to grow to 29 percent by 2020.”
Shortly afterward Johnson & Johnson, maker of first aid products like Band-Aids, launched the Campaign for Nursing’s Future. In the company’s campaign highlights, Johnson & Johnson noted its “leadership position” in addressing the issue:
The Campaign is a multi-year, $50 million national initiative designed to enhance the image of the nursing profession, recruit new nurses and nurse faculty, and help retain nurses currently in the profession.
Using a multi-faceted approach, the health and beauty aid giant implemented strategies to connect with audiences largely grouped as prospective nurses, current nurses, and customers to rebrand a profession . Further, a comprehensive website was developed encouraging each of these audiences to Discover Nursing.
As the campaign evolved and new technologies emerged, the company branched out into social media. The Campaign for Nursing’s Future has a Facebook page, Twitter account, Pinterest account and a YouTube Channel.
More than five years after this video was first uploaded to YouTube, it has racked up more than a half million views–and that doesn’t begin to count the number of times it’s aired on television.
It’s not enough to simply produce a large number of outputs, especially when clear goals have been established. Converting people to action is what was necessary here to address the deficit of nurses. With videos like this, it’s easy to see why the campaign could be successful. Johnson & Johnson claims:
“Campaign television commercials have successfully motivated more young people to think about nursing as a career option, including 24 percent of 18 to 24-year-olds (Source: 2002 Harris poll).”
In school administration circles, there is the saying: what gets measured, gets treasured. That’s true in PR, too. In short, how do you know if your work, worked? Rice & Atkin detailed three functions of evaluation in Public Communication Campaigns (2013):
- Determine expected impacts and outcomes of a program
- Determine why a particular program did or didn’t work
- Provide information for planning of future activities
Something that stood out to me as I studied for the Accreditation in Public Relations was the idea that “behavior change is usually considered the ultimate sign of public relations effectiveness” (Study Guide, 2016, p. 24).
In both cases, the behavior sought was a call to service. Regardless of the era in which a campaign was produced, the evidence of a solid and effective campaign should still be visible to this day. Those of us who work in governmental public relations understand the accountability required as part of our work. Creel detailed all of the committee’s work in the Complete report of the chairman of the Committee on public information:
As a for the outcomes of CPI’s work? “More than 1.3 million men and more than twenty thousand women volunteered to serve in the armed forces abroad.” (Capozzola, 2008, p. 7).
That work shaped the future of America and the outcome of the war. However, the effort to draft enough nurses to care for the nation’s citizens continues today.
A campaign overview published by Johnson & Johnson highlighted the successes of the campaign’s efforts since 2002, including outputs and outcomes. Despite the 32 million pieces of recruitment/retention materials in both English and Spanish and other outputs, the company cites the American Academy of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) in saying the campaign has led “more than 750,000 people into the profession.”
Ensuring the strength and the health of our nation is certainly something to treasure.
Capozzola, C. J. N. (2008). Uncle Sam wants you : World War I and the making of the modern American citizen. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Creel, G. (1972). How we advertised America (International propaganda and communications; International propaganda and communications). New York: Arno Press.
Rice, Ronald E., and Charles K. Atkin, eds. Public Communication Campaigns. 4th ed. N.p.: Sage Publications, 2013. Print.
Study Guide for the Examination for Accreditation in Public Relations. (2016). http://new.praccreditation.org/resources/documents/apr-study-guide.pdf