Oral Histories

Don Wright

Interview Segments on Topic: Marketing/Advertising/Branding

Don Wright Biography

Don Wright is the Harold Burson Professor and Chair in Public Relations at Boston University. His areas of specialization include crisis management, employee communications/internal relations, reputation management and social responsibility. Professor Wright has worked full-time in corporate, agency and university public relations, and has been a corporate communications consultant for three decades.


INTERVIEWER: This is March 22, 2012 and we are interviewing Donald Wright, the Harold Burson professor of public relations at Boston University. This is for the Page Center’s oral history project. Thanks for taking time out of your day to do this Don, we appreciate it.

WRIGHT: Well it’s a pleasure to be here with you. I’m a huge fan of the Arthur W. Page Society, and the Page Center so my pleasure, it’s an honor to be asked to do this.

INTERVIEWER: Great. As editor of Public Relations Journal, PR Journal, you’ve had a good perspective on current research in the field, what is the direction of research in public relations today, and what issues can we expect to see explored in the future?

WRIGHT: Well, the very nature of Public Relations Journal, the fact that it’s an online refereed, lined, reviewed journal. So essentially…certainly the nations and probably the world’s first public relations scholarly journal only published online. The turnaround time for an article to be accepted and then published within Public Relations Journal is very short. We’ve had situations where an article has been good enough and timely enough that maybe within a month after receiving it, it’s been published. And when you look at the other scholarly journals in public relations, it can take four, it can take five—I know of one situation with a piece of research that I was the author of, took six years to get published, so public relations is changing more dramatically than a situation where we can wait 3, 4, 5, 6 years. And authors know this, so particularly, things like social media studies, things that are related to the new technologies or the emerging media, since we started in 2007, we’ve had a lot of social or new or emerging media articles. But there’s other things too that I think are shaping the landscape of the scholarly literature. Not just in Public Relations Journal, but in the rest of the studies that are out there. And clearly the ROI question, and everybody is looking for the return on investment (ROI) situation, what’s the magic formula. And of course whoever finds it is going to be sitting on an island very rich because…but that’s one of the big wannabes. We’re seeing some very interesting things relative to measurement, that for far too many years, much of the measurement in public relations was related to advertising value equivalencies, AVEs. I’ve often said that it’s really unfortunate that AVEs don’t come with an additional letter, so then we could call it a four-letter word and we could sort of say, we will not use that word. But the whole concept of advertising value equivalencies as measurement for public relations is beyond ludicrous, and the problem is that the other methods are, in some cases emerging and in most cases much more expensive to implement than the simplicity of the AVEs. So we have that situation. Furthering along the measurement line, we have the question of standards. What are the appropriate standards of measurement, how should these be implemented and so forth and so on. And then the other area that I see is ethics. I can remember back 25-30 years ago when I was publishing some of the first articles that dealt with social responsibilities and ethics in public relations. A lot of people were critical of those studies. Not necessarily critical of their logical approach or anything that I was writing, but the fact that somebody would assume that there would be ethics within public relations or any aspect of corporate communication. Of course, we’re in a different world today. Transparency is crucial. We saw a decade ago with the situations involving organizations such as Enron, Global Crossing, Tyco and HealthSouth, and a number of Arthur Anderson and other organizations like that. So ethics¸ I would add to that list as well.