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Public relations research priorities: a Delphi study

Tom Watson (The Media School, Bournemouth University, Poole, Dorset, UK)

Journal of Communication Management

ISSN: 1363-254X

Article publication date: 9 May 2008




The purpose of this paper is to identify and rank the most important topics for research in the field of public relations. An associated outcome was to propose the research questions most closely linked to the prioritised topics.


An international Delphi study on the priorities for public relations research, conducted in 2007 amongst academics, practitioners and senior executives of professional and industry bodies was used to investigate expert opinion on research priorities for public relations. This choice of qualitative methodology replicated earlier studies by McElreath, White and Blamphin, Synnott and McKie, and Van Ruler et al.


The role of public relations in the strategic operation of organisations, and the creation of value by public relations through social capital and relationships were ranked most highly. Some outcomes were comparable with earlier studies; for instance, evaluation of public relations programmes ranked third in this study and was amongst the leaders in the Synnott and McKie study. Only the topic “management of relationships” was wholly new, whereas “impact of technology on public relations practice and theory” ranked much lower than a decade ago.

Research limitations/implications

The Delphi study method is a small scale qualitative process which limits generalisability, unless the choice of “experts” and their active participation can demonstrate that there is validity in its outcomes.

Practical implications

The research gives valuable insight into the main public relations research areas and will allow academics and practitioners to work closely together to improve understanding of public relations.


This is the first completed Delphi study into public relations research priorities since Synnott and McKie.



Watson, T. (2008), "Public relations research priorities: a Delphi study", Journal of Communication Management, Vol. 12 No. 2, pp. 104-123.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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