Implied third-party endorsement and source credibility in public relations
Howes, Pauline Ann
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One of the ongoing challenges facing public relations practitioners and scholars is measuring and validating the communications value of public relations activities over advertising or other controlled communications. This study investigated one commonly mentioned advantage of public relations, the implied third-party endorsement effect of news coverage, in the context of business-related news conveyed to a business audience. Qualitative research included interviews with 10 public relations practitioners and 10 business people on their beliefs and attitudes toward media, the implied third-party endorsement effect, and the use of media in their work. The quantitative research involved an experiment with 514 subjects, who were exposed to one of 14 treatments reflecting seven different types of independent or controlled media channels and quoting either an independent or company spokesperson. The independent media channels included newspaper article online, independent research article online with spokesperson photograph, independent research article without spokesperson photograph, and financial message board posting. The company-controlled media channels included a press release posted on a company Web site, advertorial online, and a customer testimonial posted on company message board, quoting either an independent or company-controlled spokesperson. The experiment tested research hypotheses predicting the effects of media channel, spokesperson, and media channel and spokesperson in combination on dependent variable measures related to media credibility and spokesperson credibility, attitude toward a company and product, and behavioral intention (purchase intent for a company’s stock and product). A covariate, business expertise, was also used to explore possible effects. Findings of the experiment showed limited support for the presence and positive impact of the implied third-party endorsement effect. Only the press release on a company Web site was viewed as significantly less credible than any other media channel used in the study. In general, those with a low-level of business expertise found media and spokespersons as more credible than those with a high-level of business expertise.