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Public Relations Journal — Vol. 4, No. 1

Editor's Corner

Donald K. Wright, Ph.D., APR, Fellow PRSA

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Title: An Examination of Applied Ethics and Stakeholder Management on Top Corporate Websites

Author: Shannon A. Bowen, Ph.D., Associate Professor, S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communication, Syracuse University.

Abstract: A content analysis was conducted using a random interval sample of the 2008 Fortune® 500 list of the largest US corporations to explore their application of ethics and stakeholder management. Seventy-two of the 500 were quantified along the lines of the content of their corporate website related to ethics, communication, stakeholders, relationship measures, community relations, and other qualitative variables. Findings indicate a greater need for identification of stakeholders on organizational websites and linkages to be explicitly made between ethics, trust, and other relationship variables with these stakeholding publics, going beyond the compliance standards of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. Scholarship discussed in the conceptualization of this research concluded that in order to build and enhance relationships, organizations must illustrate their commitment to trustworthy behavior, honest actions, and open communication with publics other than investors. However, less than 30% of the corporations analyzed in this research made efforts to build relationships in that manner. Implications and recommendations for improvement of corporate communication with stakeholders are discussed.

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Title: Lessons on the Big Idea and Public Relations: Reflections on the 50-Year Career of Charlotte Klein

Authors: Diana Knott Martinelli, Ph.D, Associate Professor and Widmeyer Professor in Public Relations, P.I. Reed School of Journalism, West Virginia University and Elizabeth L. Toth, Ph.D., APR, Fellow PRSA, Professor and Chair, Department of Communication, University of Maryland.

Abstract: Called the father of advertising by some, David Ogilvy is credited with coining the phrase “the big idea”: one that gets noticed, remembered, and inspires action. This paper explores the life and career of Charlotte Klein, a 20th century public relations executive who started her career with UPI and the film industry in the 1940s and who went on to work on such accounts as the Ideal Toy Company, French couture and champagne, the government of Israel, and PBS to name a few. Along the way, her self-confidence and early work in Hollywood helped her develop “the big ideas” that served her clients, society, and the profession. Using in-depth interviews and primary and secondary documents, the authors discuss Klein’s big ideas that resulted in such outcomes as creating and promoting the first anthropologically correct black doll, building public support for the young state of Israel, and founding the U.S. Women’s Hall of Fame. In addition, we explore her influence as an early woman leader in PR professional societies and the gender-related challenges she faced in her career. As such, the paper helps document and contribute to our knowledge of a rich but little documented era in public relations history and records successful strategies that remain relevant to practitioners today.

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Title: Industry in Crisis: The Communication Challenge in the Banking Industry

Author:
Marcia W. DiStaso, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, College of Communications, Pennsylvania State University.

Abstract: As the number of high-profile failures and mergers of many large financial companies continues to grow, so does distrust in the industry. This study explores how communication professionals at financial companies are handling the global financial crisis. Although participants believed that communication must be accurate, timely, and transparent, they are greatly challenged by the quantity of communication needed. Many of the participants in this study had unique ways of handling certain aspects of communication needs. Ultimately, the collective of communication professionals at individual financial instructions can lead to the rebuilding of trust and confidence in financial organizations, and this study provides a glimpse into how they are accomplishing this massive feat.

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Title: Confronting Media Nihilism: How Transparency Builds Meaning During Crises

Authors: Robert S. Pritchard, M.A, APR, Fellow PRSA., Instructor and Agency Advisor, Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication, University of Oklahoma and Vincent F. Filak, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Journalism, Ball State University.

Abstract: The traditional roles of the media in a democratic society including informing the public and facilitating social unity are changing rapidly. Factors such as media conglomeration, a “business” view of news, more sources and greater customization of those sources results in news morphing into entertainment and opinion, greater selectivity in our news sources and more conformity in our exposure to ideas.

On top of the changing role of media in a democratic society is a condition we call Media Nihilism, the rhetoric of crisis and failure or the tendency to exaggerate and “spectacularize” an event. This occurs when the media take the crisis out of its original context, give it an importance or impact it doesn’t have and actually help create a crisis where none exists. Media Nihilism robs society of the context needed to make intelligent decisions, creates a common culture of the expectation of failure and fails to inform the public completely of all aspects of the crisis.

We argue that transparency is the public relations strategy that confronts this phenomenon during crisis. Realizing that being transparent demands trust and courage from leadership, we submit that public relations has the functional responsibility for gaining that trust and inculcating in leadership the courage to be transparent.

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Title: Getting Even or Getting Skewered: Piercing the Digital Veil of Anonymous Internet Speech as a Corporate Public Relations Tactic (Vengeance is Not Yours, Sayeth the Courts)

Authors: Samuel A. Terilli, J.D., Associate Professor of Journalism, School of Communication, University of Miami; Don W. Stacks, Ph.D., Associate Dean, Faculty Research and Creative Support and Professor of Public Relations, School of Communication, University of Miami; and Paul D. Driscoll, Ph.D., Vice Dean, Academic Affairs and Associate Professor of Electronic Media, School of Communication, University of Miami.

Abstract: Who said that? Asking that simple question when the vitriol flows across the Web is natural and human, especially when one’s secrets are publicly aired, or when the criticism stings, whether well founded or not. Defamation, interference with business and personal relationships, exposure of trade secrets, business plans and other less business-like information, gossip, and harassing speech by unknown persons with a screen name and Internet connection all occupy “the dark side of anonymous online speech.”

Memorialized and amplified by technology, this dark speech takes on a much longer life and potency than mere rumors spread by word-of-mouth or the occasional letter campaign or pamphlet. The dark speech can traverse the globe, for years, eluding countervailing efforts to correct the record. Responding to the unknown sources of destructive or mischievous speech is the public relations equivalent of fighting a guerilla war. What then is the target to do? Demands to unmask the critics, malcontents, and digital provocateurs are not only understandable, they are logical and even necessary in some cases.

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Title: Toward a Publics-Driven, Emotion-Based Approach in Crisis Communication: Testing the Integrated Crisis Mapping (ICM) Model

Authors: Yan Jin, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, School of Mass Communications Virginia Commonwealth University, Augustine Pang, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information Nanyang Technological University, Singapore and Glen T. Cameron, Ph.D. Professor and Maxine Gregory Chair of Journalism Research, School of Journalism, University of Missouri.

Abstract: Extending current theories in crisis communication, the authors have developed a more systemic approach to understanding the role of emotions in crises and the strategies used to respond. The authors’ Integrated Crisis Mapping (ICM) model is based on a public-based, emotion-driven perspective where different crises are mapped on two continua, the organization’s engagement in the crisis and primary public’s coping strategy. The initial test on the first of the four quadrants in the model suggests theoretical rigor in the model and found that publics involved in crises pertaining to reputational damage, technological breakdown, industrial matters, labor unrest, and regulation/legislation, are likely to feel anxious, angry, and sad. At the same time, they are likely to engage in conative coping and take active steps to restore some semblance of normalcy within their immediate environment. As counter-intuitive as this may appear, evidence shows that organizations embroiled in these crises need only to engage moderately, rather than intensely, in reaching out to the publics. This “strategic holding position” affords a situation where organizations are able to assume a qualified-rhetoric-mixed stance, utilizing a mixed bag of strategies ranging from defensive strategies like excuse and justification as well as accommodative strategies like ingratiation and corrective action to engage their publics. This study is the first of a series of studies to generate what Yin (2003) termed “analytic generalization” for the ICM model. The findings from this study, arguably, represent the imprints of an initial trail that may open up to a possibly new vista of research in crisis communication.

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