I told her that public relations is more of an art than a science. But, I now wonder if the actual answer to this question is: When it's done right, it can truly be considered both.
My initial thought (and point of view) was that because no one can guarantee if a specific product, service, corporate story or entire campaign will be of interest to reporters or any other target audience, it's really difficult to prove that science is involved.
Plus, there are always so many outside (hard to plan) factors that come into play in our campaigns that impact success or failure. For example, try generating a lot of broadcast coverage for a client's great growth story announcement on the same day that a major scandal rocks the White House. Any and all interest will immediately vanish as the networks and cable channels use every resource to cover the ‘more important’ news of the day.
No, factors like breaking controversial news coming to bear, personal preference of stories or even other problems that could be impacting a client's larger reputation make it hard to predict with any scientific odds as to whether the media, digital world or larger public relations campaign will pick up traction. This is because, our world is so focused on subjective, human nature (how well do we tell our stories and will they resonate with key constituents?).
Where the science should come in is how we can leverage real facts, statistics and truths to create impressions and persuade audiences that our story should be believed. The other clearly scientific part of our work is our ability to measure results. The right measurement approach is not arbitrary or subjective at all. Just the same way an accountant would measure the results of how well a company fared financially in any given year, PR professionals can provide real numbers on how well particular components of a campaign worked. Just as importantly, we can show whether a campaign or program demonstrates objective outcomes that are worthy of the investment put in.
So, what do you think now? Art or science? I'm still stuck in the middle, believing it can be both. Now, I'm going to call my client to change the answer...