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Editor’s Column: Public Relations Journal, Vol. 8, No. 2


June 17, 2014

Welcome to the second issue of the Public Relations Journal for 2014. This past several months have been a time of transition, as editorship of the Journal changed from its initiator, Boston University professor Don Wright, to Rob Wakefield, a professor at Brigham Young University.

Working with the PRSA board for seven years, Don guided the Journal with great dedication and expertise. The publication stands as the first scholarly journal in this field that is solely online. Perhaps more important, Don has consistently upheld the mission of the Journal, to take the best scholarly research and make it relevant and interesting for those who practice public relations. Thanks to Don for his great work. I also acknowledge the tremendous ongoing assistance of the PRSA board, the immediate past president of PRSA, Bill Murray, and PRSA staff members Christina Darnowski and Randi Mason for their painstaking efforts to help keep the Journal flourishing.

As new editor, my desire is to keep the Journal at the forefront of thinking, research, and practice in public relations. Having practiced public relations for more than 20 years and researched and published in the field for another decade, I have a pretty good idea of what both scholars and practitioners need. The goal, then, is to help the publication continue to serve both areas of interest—starting with the articles in this issue.

Six articles are contained within Vol. 8, No. 2 (Spring 2014) of Public Relations Journal.

The article by Wright and Hinson summarizes a nine-year longitudinal analysis of how social and other emerging media technologies are bringing dramatic changes to how public relations is practiced. The major finding of their 2014 study saw Twitter narrowly replacing Facebook for the first time as the most frequently accessed new medium for public relations activities. Results also found considerably more support for the suggestions that blogs, social and other emerging media are enhancing public relations practice and that these new media continue to influence traditional mainstream media.

For the past few years, Professor Bruce Berger at the University of Alabama has been heading up major global research, sponsored by IBM, Heyman Associates, and the Betsy Plank Center, on leadership in public relations. Close to 5,000 professionals in 22 nations have been surveyed to assess their attitudes and predispositions around several variables related to leadership in the field. One of the nations in the study was Russia, where 215 practitioners completed an online survey conducted by Erzikova. Her article compares the worldviews of practitioners in Russia to those from other nations. This aspect of the study adds to public relations literature by pondering the possibility of universality as well as essential differences that can affect leadership practices in the field.

Professor Supa’s article provides an examination of the impact of social media on media relations practice through the use of depth interviews with public relations practitioners (n=33) and journalists (n=36) to determine what the impact of social media has been on the practitioner-journalist relationship.  Results show that while the majority of practitioners interviewed were optimistic about the impact of social media, most journalists were not enthusiastic about the changes precipitated by new platforms.  Themes found in previous quantitative research on the impact of social media did seem to hold under qualitative scrutiny, although several new themes also emerged.  

At a time when Americans are struggling with the concept of government sanctioned, universal health care, the study by Pullen and Flynn explored the relationship between a large health care institution in Canada and its stakeholders as a means of understanding how “the community” wants to be engaged in ongoing hospital restructuring and system planning. A mixed-methods research design (focus groups, depth interviews and Q-methodology) was used to assess stakeholders’ perceptions of effective community engagement strategies and frameworks for sustainable community and organizational outreach. Findings show that the community members expect health care organizations to engage in mutually beneficial, two-way symmetrical communication and dialogue. Results provide scholars, public relations practitioners and organizational leaders with insights on the community’s expectations and willingness to engage.

The final two articles examine crisis communication. In the first, Wigley and Zhang conducted an Internet survey of 251 PRSA members to determine how they felt about their organizations’ modes of communication (one-way versus two-way), their CEOs’ abilities to handle crises, and their own capabilities in crisis communication. Results showed that many practitioners are not confident in their own abilities to handle crises—even when their organization seems to have a two-way worldview of communication and their CEO is competent in crisis management. Wigley and Zhang explain why they believe this is the case. The authors also determine that a crisis communication plan rarely guarantees that an organization will actually handle a crisis well if and when it comes; other factors must be present to deal with the crisis successfully.

In the second treatise on crisis communication, Professors Lee, Kim, and Wertz distinguish how CEOs and public relations officers are perceived by stakeholders when they speak on behalf of their companies during a crisis. Using an experimental method with university students—a “universe” which, given the conceived scenario actually makes sense—the authors also compare the credibility of blogs, websites, or media relations channels used by organizations. CEOs seem to be more effective as spokespersons simply because they lend an aura of authority to the situation. The data also show that blogs are more effective than either websites or newspapers in reducing stakeholder perceptions that the organization was responsible for the crisis. 

Public Relations Journal is edited by Robert Wakefield, Ph.D., APR, Associate Professor, Department of Communications, Brigham Young University. The major intention of the Journal is to facilitate the transfer of knowledge from the educational to practitioner communities. Additional information about the publication can be found at www.prsa.org/intelligence/prjournal. Communication about the Journal should be sent to publicrelationsjournal@gmail.com



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