Writing this book has made me as mindful as anyone of how fast the field is changing. New technologies, new news, new cases, new faces—I’ve tried to keep the content fresh with all sorts of cases ranging from student experiences and small-but-meaningful exchanges between organizations and publics to incidents of international diplomacy and global crisis. More importantly, however, I’ve tried to make sure the underlying concepts are sound so that the lessons can be applied to the next big app, meme, crisis, or event to fill our ceaseless newsfeeds.
As anyone listed in the acknowledgements section below can attest, I write slowly. I first pitched the idea for this text more than four years ago:
“I am now looking to write an introductory text that aligns in both content and format with the new and changing landscape for public relations while still offering students a sound foundation in the body of knowledge of public relations on which most college curricula build.”
One thousand, five hundred and forty-eight days have passed between that email and my writing this preface. But it’s not just me. Academic publishing in general moves slowly. I’ve learned to accept that as a blessing. Time forces us to check how our understanding of the concepts and the lessons from yesterday’s cases and examples can be applied in the present, and how we can use that knowledge to analyze unfolding trends and news. Unlike a status update, snap, tweet or post, the content of this text has to be evaluated on the knowledge it delivers more so than on the momentary trends it taps.
Look at the citations and links in the references. There are hundreds of referrals that lead to countless additional resources—almost all of it freely available on the internet. My goal has been to offer a structure to work with so students can climb the pyramid of Bloom’s taxonomy from recall to understanding to application to analysis to evaluation. For the most part, I’ve left the top of the taxonomy—creation—to students and their professors. Courses in public relations writing, multimedia production or campaigns will focus more on that part, and students will turn to other texts, trainings and online resources as they delve deeper into creating public relations tactics and programs on their own.
In any case, I am grateful for the time I’ve had to tweak the material and test its resilience. In a way, each of the case studies and examples is a little test. Does the moral of the story still resonate? Does the key point still hold? I have no doubt that some of the examples will eventually crack under the pressure of history as the field changes, and I look forward to adapting. But my highest hope for Public Relations is that it offers a cohesive enough foundation, such that teachers, students and professionals can explore the changing world of public relations with mutual understanding and a common vocabulary.
Public Relations has four sections: I) Foundations, II) Strategy, III) Tactics, and IV) Contexts.
The Foundations section starts with Chapter 1, Principled Public Relations, which presents classic definitions of public relations alongside the crowdsourced PRSA definition. Arthur Page’s principles of public relations management provide a framework for introducing ethical practice. Professional organizations and codes of ethics are also introduced. The rest of the Foundations section identifies concepts that have always been core to good public relations and discusses how many of these concepts have become more pronounced with the rise of social media. Chapter 2, Public Relations Models through the Ages, covers public relations history with Grunig and Hunt’s models and Lamme and Russell’s taxonomy of goals of public relations. The next two chapters outline hot topics for today’s newsfeeds, but they build from a long tradition of scholarship on Convergence and Integrated Communication (Chapter 3) and Relationship Management (Chapter 4).
The Strategy section includes all of the elements of the traditional four-step, R-P-I-E process. The section starts with Research (Chapter 5) and includes a discussion of formative and summative research to highlight the cyclical nature of strategy. Next is Planning (Chapter 6), followed by Implementation (Chapter 7), which covers action and communication in strategic programs and campaigns. The last chapter in the Strategy section, Evaluation (Chapter 8), returns to the importance of research with a focus on measurement and metrics for success in digital communication.
The Tactics section includes three major skill and technology areas: Writing (Chapter 9) and Multimedia and Mobile (Chapter 10).
The Contexts section (Chapters 11-14) addresses the forces influencing the practice of public relations as emerging sociotechnical trends challenge public relations people to confirm, rethink or in some cases abandon past practices and ideas. Chapter 11, Legal, discusses law and policy. Chapter 12, Issues, Conflicts and Crises, covers the issues lifecycle and cases of conflict and crisis management. Chapter 13, Global, covers global contexts that are broadening today’s practice of public relations. Finally, Chapter 14 delves into public relations careers, addressing different areas of specialization, different types of employers and the progression from entry level to senior management.