From the Journals–Defining ‘Public’, Social Media Influencers, Employee Relations

Periodically I write a blog post about the latest articles and research in public relations journals. Too often, professionals disregard theory and academic research as too abstract to be practical. I find the opposite to be true—theory and practice are far more grounded in reality than isolated experiences, however valuable experience can be. Journal research represents the scientific examination of multiple experiences and/or deep and well-reasoned conceptual thought and can help us explain and predict phenomenon in the public relations field.

Here then is a brief recap of some recent journal articles I found particularly useful (some articles may require subscription or university library access to see full text):

What is a public?

In Looking back and going forward: The concept of the public in public relations theory by Magda Pieczka, in the September 10, 2019 Public Relations Inquiry, the old issue of defining “public” in public relations is addressed and extended. For more than 100 years, intellectuals and public relations professionals have debated the concept of “public” as a group of people. Is it a public or the public? John Dewey and Walter Lippman debated the nature of public and public opinion in the context of journalism and democracy in the 1920s, about the time “public relations” was first being used to describe the field. Pieczka’s article redefines the public in three ways: an audience as a public of shared spaces, a self-organized public of shared attention, and the public as a political and social imaginary. Going beyond defining publics by their relationship to an organization (eg employees, customers, investors, etc.) can expand public relations theory and practice in terms of both strategy and ethics in communicating to build and maintain relationships.

Social Media Influencers

A special issue of The International Journal of Strategic Communication is devoted to social media influencers. Articles look at the key groups within the process of strategic influencer communication: (1) influencer clients, e.g., client organizations and agencies; (2) social media influencers themselves; and (3) audiences. Takeaways include the need to be authentic, strategic, and ethical to avoid crisis and actually achieve objectives that go beyond attention.

Employee Relations

With an increasing number of public relations professionals focused on internal or employee communications, a study of leadership and message styles is helpful. In Relational Communication Messages and Leadership Styles in Supervisor/Employee Relationships (October 2019, International Journal of Business Communication), authors Alan C. Mikkelson, David Sloan, and Colin Hesse show that both for “intimacy” and “dominance” forms of messages are needed whether a leader is task- or relationship-oriented in style. For PR pros in employee communications, this can affect how to counsel managers and the tone of communications written for internal audiences.

A related topic in an article in PR Journal titled Employee Perceptions of CEO Ghost Posting and Voice: Effects on Perceived Authentic Leadership, Organizational Transparency, and Employee-Organization Relationships by Tom Kelleher, Rita Men and Patrick Thelen tackles the issue of PR pros ghost writing posts for CEOs on social media. The authors found that employees expected and tolerated CEO ghost posting, but the voice in those posts was more related to their perceptions of authentic leadership, which inb turn led to better perceptions of organizational transparency, and employee-organization relationship. In other words, employees assume CEOs approve of messages even if they don’t write them. Specifically, when CEO communication on social media was perceived as natural, engaging, personal, conversational, and relationship-oriented, employees tended to perceive the CEO as more authentic, truthful, and genuine and the organization as more transparent. The lesson for PR professionals is that the issue is not whether or not to ghost write, but to work on how you write CEO social posts in an appropriate voice.

A Reading List for People Making Transition to PR

A local broadcast journalist recently contacted me via social media and asked if I could recommend a book on PR because they were considering making the transition into the field.
OK, first of all, never ask a professor to recommend “a” book J But I have to say the instinct is good to do some research and not make assumptions about the field. I have written before on this blog that journalists do have some assets they can carry over into PR: http://gr-pr.blogspot.com/2012/01/assets-laid-off-journalists-can.htmlBut there is also a lot to learn.
So to answer the question, here is a list of several books—and some other resources–by category and some other resources useful to potential and current PR practitioners. This is only partial (I just ordered another book today that is not on this list). So, anyone else who has suggestions feel free to note them in the comments. To be concise I list titles and last names of authors only, but they should be easy to find at any online book site.
Introductory PR Books
There are several introductory PR books used in college courses. The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) also has a list of recommended texts for those thinking of studying to take the exam to become accredited in public relations (APR): http://www.praccreditation.org/resources/recommended-texts/index.html. Here are some intro texts that I recommend.
  • THINK Public Relations. By Wilcox, Cameron, Reber and Shin.
  • Today’s PR. By Health and Coombs.
  • PR Strategies and Tactics. By Wilcox and Cameron.
  • The Practice of PR. By Frasier Seitel.
  • Strategic Public Relations: An Audience-Focused Approach. By Diggs and Brown
  • PR: A Values-Driven Approach. By Guth and Marsh.
  • Cultip and Center’s Effective Public Relations. By Broom and Sha. (an update of a classic)
  • This is PR: The Realities of Public Relations. By Newsome, Turk, and Krukeberg.

Research
Research is a fundamental skill of PR professionals. It has to be more than basic interviewing skills that a journalist has. There are several possible texts, but the one standard I would recommend is:
  • Primer on PR Research. By Stacks.

Writing
Journalists know how to write, and how to write in AP style. But PR writing is varied, and includes persuasive as well as objective writing. There are several good books on PR writing.
  • Public Relations Writing and Media Techniques. By Wilcox and Reber.
  • Becoming a Public Relations Writer. By Smith.

History
Every day in the blogosphere I read some bloviating blowhard carry on about some “new” vision in PR. And I grin, shudder, and roll my eyes. If only they knew their history. Several books and resources can help a new practitioner—or a veteran one—understand PR’s past to make better sense of the present and future.

Crisis
Journalists may have reported on a crisis or two, but that does not mean they know how to handle one as a PR person. Several good books on crisis communication offer practical and theoretical information:
  •  Lukaszewski on Crisis Communication. By Lukazsewski  Ongoing Crisis Communication. By Coombs
  • Crisis Communications. By Fearn-Banks
  • Crisis Communication. By Zaremba

Evaluation
Measuring the results of PR efforts has long been advocated and taught, and more recently it has been asked for by clients and management. But it still is not done w
ell or completely by many. There is one great book I would recommend on the subject, this one updated to included social media measurement.
  • Measure What Matters. By Paine

Social Media
Social platforms have been around a while, and lots of people assume they know how to use social media. But using them for personal communication or as a journalist is different than managing social media for a brand or organization. There are many books on social media use, but these are the ones to start with. I’ll also add some online links that are helpful.

Law
There are many areas of law that affect the practice of PR. You don’t need to be a lawyer, but you do need to be informed.
  • Digital Media Law. By Packard
  • Advertising and Public Relatons Law. By Moore, Maye and Collins


Ethics
The PR profession gets a bad rap in the news and entertainment media, as I’ve written about countless times. Ironically, some of the big ethical blunders are made by former journalists. To be a “professional” PR practitioner means to practice ethically. PRSA offers a helpful Code of Ethics http://www.prsa.org/AboutPRSA/Ethics/#.VQIaTSkmXeM. There are also several good books on PR ethics.
  • Ethics in Public Relations. By Fitzpatrick and Bernstein
  • Legal and Ethical Constraints on Public Relations. By Gower
  • It’s Not Just PR. By Coombs and Holladay (This is a good one to give friends who criticize PR as only “spin”)

Consider searching major publishers for additional books on topics of interest or relevant to a specific area of practice. For example, here’s a shameless plug for a book I wrote a chapter in called Public Relations in the Nonpfofit Sector http://www.amazon.com/Public-Relations-Nonprofit-Sector-Routledge/dp/1138795089
You can also go directly to publishers and search for public relations books, such as Routledge, which has a special series on public relations: http://www.routledge.com/books/series/RNDPRCR/; or Sage http://www.sagepub.com/home.nav There are several other academic publishers as well.
In addition to books, several academic journals are available for free (vs through association membership or an academic library). These include:

Finally, there are various trade publications and reports that are useful to practitioners (some content requires subscription or membership; but some email newsletters are free):

Whew! That’s a lot. But there’s a lot to know.

From the Journals–Latest Research on Investor Relations, PR Ethics, PR Law, Communication Management

From time to time I catch up on reading a batch of academic journals and like to share a quick overview of some of the articles I find most interesting. Many PR practitioners can benefit from being aware of this research but lots of academic publications are hard to access other than through a university library. Here then are some interesting points from recent research. (Citations provided in case you want to seek out the full article for yourself).

Investor Relations:
Matthew W. Ragas, Alexander V. Laskin, (2014) “Mixed-methods: measurement and evaluation among investor relations officers”, Corporate Communications: An International Journal, Vol. 19 (2), pp.166 – 181
The results indicate that IROs strongly (80 percent) believe that mixed-methods (i.e. both quantitative and qualitative methods) should be used to measure the success of investor relations. Mixed-methods advocates place significantly more importance on measurement than IROs that prefer quantitative- or qualitative-only approaches.
Matthew W. Ragas, Alexander V. Laskin, Matthew Brusch, (2014) “Investor relations measurement: an industry survey”, Journal of Communication Management, Vol. 18 (2), pp.176 – 192
Respondents strongly rebuked using share price as a valid measure of investor relations performance. A factor analysis revealed that IROs use four factors to measure program success (listed in order of stated importance): first, international C-suite assessment; second, relationship assessment; third, outreach assessment; and fourth, external assessment. IROs at large-cap companies place significantly more importance on both C-suite assessment and relationship assessment than their peers at small-caps.
Ethics:
Patrick Lee Plaisance (2014) “Virtue in Media: The Moral Psychology of US Exemplars in News and Public Relations,” Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, Vol 91 (2), pp. 308-325.
This study looks at journalists and public relations professionals who exemplify good moral character and virtue to construct a profile of ethical professionals in these fields. Findings show that they scored higher than peer professionals on the personality traits of extroversion, agreeableness, openness, and conscientiousness. As a group they rejected situational or utilitarian ethical reasoning in favor of a moral absolute approach. Overall, an ethical professional can be described as one who places value on concern for others,  professional duty, and proactive social engagement, all of which demonstrate higher order ethical reasoning.
Steve Mackey (2014) “Virtue Ethics, CSR, and ‘Corporate Citizenship’”, Journal of Communication Management, Vol 18(2), 131-145.
Mackey critiques the PR concept of CSR (corporate social responsibility) and corporate citizenship through the ethical theory of Alasdair MacIntyre, who favors the ancient Greek or Aristotelian notion of character as the only foundation for ethics. He criticizes CSR as being done for strategic reasons and personal corporate benefit rather than as an extension of character. He suggests that PR professionals need to respect and respond to existing social norms and democratic discourse rather than trying to influence them. His points are well laid out, however he tends to have a shallow anti-corporate bias and an assumption of the actual intentions of PR practitioners and collective corporate attitudes and reasons for conducting CSR programs. He cites several PR scholars but does not acknowledge that the notions of two-way symmetrical communication or mutual adjustment based on research in fact are the form of practice he encourages. He also rather naively puts forth government and nonprofit institutions as exemplary of the type of social engagement that would be favored from an ethical standpoint, even though human actors in both of those sectors can lead to greed, selfishness, corruption and unethical behavior as well.
Law:

Cayce Myers and Ruthann Lariscy (2014), “Corporate PR in a post-Citizens United World,” Journal of Communication Management, Vol 18 (2), pp. 146-157.
This is a very interesting and helpful historical review of case law that led up to the Citizens United case, which is in the long line of debate about corporate vs. commercial speech and the recognition of corporations as “persons” in terms of speech rights. In addition to the back and forth arguments and decisions of precedent cases at both lower courts and the Supreme Court, the paper identifies the practical impact of Citizens United on PR practice: 1) corporate PR can now legally include political relations; 2) corporate political issues may take on a more nuanced structure; 3) key publics and tactics will change to include voting blocks, special interest groups and others in the political arena; 4) a changing relationship of public relations departments with the press, particularly an added strain because of the increase in opinion journalism or punditry in political issue coverage.
Communication Management:

Catrin Johnson, Vernon D. Miller, and Colange Hamrin (2014) “Conceptualizing Communicative Leadership: A Framework for Analyzing and Developing Leaders’ Communication Competence,” Corporate Communication: An International Journal, Vol 19 (2), pp. 147-165
Since PR is supposed to be a “management” function, this paper is interesting for identifying four essential communication behaviors of leaders as well as eight principles of “communicative leadership,” a Swedish concept. This is a form of leadership that may or may not be evident in CEOs and other managers, thus making the case that part of a PR professionals role is to counsel management on their communicative leadership, not just their communication. A communicative leader is defined in the paper as: “one who engages employees in dialogue, actively shapes and seeks feedback, practices participative decision making, and is perceived as open and involved.”
Andreas Schwarz and Alexander Fritsch (2014), Communicating on Behalf of Global Civil Society: Management and Coordination of Public Relations In International Nongovernmental Organization, Journal of Public Relations Research, Vol. 26 (2), pp. 161-183.

Most studies of excellent PR management are about corporations, especially in the international context. This paper takes an interesting look at non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and determines that “excellent” NGOs assign more resources to PR and more frequently consider the cultural context in their communication. More specific characteristics of well-managed PR in NGOs include: communications department contributes to strategic planning and decision making, the head of the communications department is part of the senior management team, the communications department reports directly to the most senior manager, and employees from different gender or race have equal opportunities.

From the Journals: Search Ads, Mobile Politics, Online Sources

Search ad impact, mobile political discourse, and online news source credibility are some of the interesting subjects in current academic journals. Public relations and advertising practitioners don’t have the time, and often the access, to academic journals, so I periodically give a brief summary of articles I find interesting. I provide source information for anyone who wants to access them via an academic library.

Incremental Clicks: The Impact of Search Advertising. Journal of Advertising Research, 51(4), 643-647.
A meta-analysis of several hundred studies revealed that 89% of visits to advertisers’ web sites were the result of search ad campaigns. Obviously this shows the value of search advertising as part of an effective campaign in which an objective is to drive traffic to a product page or other site.

Political Involvement in “Mobilized” Society: The Interactive Relationships Among Mobile Communication, Network Characteristics, and Political Participation. Journal of Communication, 61(6), 1005-1024.
This study looked at how mobile-mediated discourse is related to political participation. Essentially, political participation increases in large networks of like-minded individuals, but decreases when mobile technology is used in smaller homogenous networks. This would indicate that a strategy to increase mobile networks would be effective in efforts to get out the vote.

Source Cues in Online News: Is the Proximate Source More Powerful Than Distal Sources? Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, 88(4), 719-736.
Readers have lots of sources of news online–a media site, an aggregator, a bookmarking page, shared links via Twitter or Facebook, and so on. This study showed that highly involved (i.e. deeply interested in subject, more seriously considering content) will consider both proximate and distal sources, or those that are close and identifiable as well as distant or second-hand sources. Meanwhile, readers of low-involvement are primarily influenced by a proximate source. This has interesting implications for messaging as well as a social media delivery strategy to reach and resonate with intended publics.