Vol. 10 ­ 2009

Editorial Note - Amisha Mehta -Special Issue Editor

Public relations in an interactive age: the need for new practices, not just new media - Jim Macnamara

The new frontier: Singaporean and Malaysian public relations practitioners' perceptions of new media - Kate Fitch

Structuring ambiguity: teaching public relations through a 'real world' virtual consultancy - David Wolstencroft and Beth Edmondson

What it means to become a public relations professional: student perceptions of professional identity through real-world learning - Amisha Mehta and Ingrid Larkin

The role of tertiary education in preparing students for a career in public relations - Gwyneth V .J. Howell and Nicole Bridges

The challenge of greenwash: how practitioners should communicate discretionary CSR practices - Bree Devin and Dr Jennifer Bartlett

Telling stories to build reputation - Rob Gill

Getting to the heart of public relations: the concept of strategic intent - Melanie James

Do b2b bloggers believe blogs? PR insights on blogger skepticism - GenÚ van Heerden, Esmail Salehi- Sangari, Leyland Pitt and Albert Caruana


Editorial Note

The practice of public relations is undergoing sizeable shifts as we grapple with tremendous change in the ways we communicate. These shifts are the focus of this issue's suite of research articles, each of which was presented at PRIA's 2009 academic forum held at the Queensland University of Technology. A central theme of the forum was the notion of a 'new age' for public relations research, practice, and training and each of the articles in this issue reflects an aspect of this renaissance.

In the social media theme, Jim Macnamara analyses a range of media training websites to examine how the philosophy of web 2.0 translates into practice. Macnamara's findings suggest that current media training programs retain a focus on control-something that's not often equated with social media. Kate Fitch's study of Singaporean and Malaysian practitioners shows us how practitioners, even those at the top of their field, grapple with the rapid rise of social media and the changes it may mean for our profession. Speakers at the PRIA national conference provided us with a greater understanding of this powerful tool for listening to and engaging with our publics.

Changes in our profession create both challenges and opportunities for educators who are preparing students to begin their careers. The notion of the "real world" of public relations continues to evolve, influenced by the growth of social media and a shifting social consciousness. David Wolstencroft and Beth Edmondson present processes for creating a "virtual consultancy" in which students can navigate through personal and professional ambiguities under the guidance of lecturers. Amisha Mehta and Ingrid Larkin respond to the notion of a creative workforce by training public relations students to enter the dynamic world of work. Gwyneth Howell and Nicole Bridges round off the theme of education by exploring graduate perceptions of a public relations course, highlighting the need to incorporate new and emerging technologies into public relations curricula./

These papers reinforce that research in public relations education is evolving from work that details successful teaching and learning approaches, to a focus on giving both students and teachers new tools for rapidly assimilating changes in the way we communicate and translating these into real-world practice.

Shifting social consciousness also affects the way organisations communicate. Bree Devin and Jennifer Bartlett explore the ACCC greenwash investigations, examining how practitioners should effectively communicate discretionary CSR practices of an environmental nature. Their research focuses on the critical roles of claim, justification and intent in organisational communication. This paper was awarded the best paper of the PRIA academic forum by a PRIA panel.

Moving from external to internal communication, Rob Gill proposes corporate storytelling as an engaging means of communicating with employees and building internal reputation. In the final academic paper presented in this issue, Melanie James argues for the development of public relations theory to accommodate the social construction of meaning and the strategic intent of public relations activities.

Also included in this volume is a paper submitted from GenÚ van Heerden and Esmail Salehi-Sangari, both of Lulea University of Technology, Sweden, Leyland Pitt, Segal Graduate School of Business, Simon Fraser University and Albert Caruana, University of Malta. Their article presents the responses of 333 international active bloggers in the business-to-business (B2B) environment. In particular it looks at the ethics of blogging and is a useful reminder for contributors of the special social media theme for the 2010 APPRJ. Australian public relations researchers and educators are riding the wave of the current challenges and opportunities influencing our profession. The APPRJ provides us with a space to share ideas and create new conversations in advancing public relations research. Please see the call for papers for our special social media edition (June 2010) in this issue.

Amisha Mehta -Special Issue Editor
Subject Area Coordinator and Lecturer in Public Relations
Queensland University of Technology
Brisbane, Australia

Mark Sheehan - Editor
Asia Pacific Public Relations Journal
Deakin University
Victoria, Australia


Public relations in an interactive age: the need for new practices, not just new media

Jim Macnamara

University of Technology, Sydney

Much focus in industry and scholarly research is being placed on 'new' media and how these can be used in public relations practice. However, comparatively little attention is being paid to public relations practices in terms of whether Web 2.0 as a philosophy and way of practising, as well as a loosely described group of communication and media technologies, is being applied. This paper examines one of the major areas of public relations practice, media relations and publicity, and reviews current models and practices within the framework of Web 2.0 described by its leading architects and scholars as a 'philosophy' and a set of principles more than technologies. Analysis reported shows that there is a significant misalignment between public relations practices and contemporary theories and models of public communication, and particularly with conceptual shifts inherent in Web 2.0. It concludes by proposing a number of strategies for realigning public relations with changing public communication practices and the emergent mediascape.

 


The new frontier: Singaporean and Malaysian public relations practitioners' perceptions of new media

Kate Fitch

Murdoch University

Recent research into social media use identified mid-2006 to early 2007 as the period when Singaporean public relations agencies first recognised the need to embrace new media (Fitch, 2009a). This research draws on interviews conducted with ten senior Singaporean and Malaysian public relations practitioners in mid-2006 and offers an historical review of their attitudes to new media at that time. The results reveal that experienced public relations practitioners were fearful of the changing communication environment, even as some embraced the opportunities created by new media. These findings are significant in terms of understanding the implications of new media and changing communication patterns for public relations.


Structuring ambiguity: teaching public relations through a 'real world' virtual consultancy

David Wolstencroft

Monash University

Beth Edmondson

Monash University

Public Relations education has several major challenges, including integrating 'theory with practice', simulating the modern workplace in the classroom, and assisting students in navigating personal and professional ambiguities and transition points. This article presents a narrative and reflection on an attempt to design curriculum that meets these pedagogical challenges. A solution is proposed by the authors in the form of a virtual Public Relations consultancy and learning environment, or interactive educational 'game'. As will be demonstrated, this virtual learning environment or 'game' was inspired by Kolb's learning cycle, and requires student groups to navigate successive waves of ambiguity, often presented in ways that differ from other university subjects and anticipated life experiences. By tailoring learning goals, assessment criteria and tasks to focus on particular elements and phases of Kolb's learning cycle, this semester long curriculum integrates Public Relations theory with practical team-based learning. It is anticipated that this game will assist students to develop traditional academic and vocational skills, while also providing experiences to consolidate substantive cognitive and educational advances. Additionally, we envisage advances in confidence, team work skills, and the capacity to navigate and structure ambiguity.


What it means to become a public relations professional: student perceptions of professional identity through real-world learning

Amisha Mehta

Queensland University of Technology

and

Ingrid Larkin

Queensland University of Technology

Public relations educators need new solutions to prepare students to become tomorrow's practitioner today. Managers and employers in the new creative workforce (McWilliam, 2008) expect graduates to be problem solvers, critical and creative thinkers, reflective, and self reliant (Barrie, 2008; David, 2004). Enabling students to develop these attributes requires a collaborative and creative approach to pedagogy (Jeffrey & Craft, 2001, 2004). A model for the next generation of public relations education was developed to integrate industry partnerships as a way to bridge pedagogy and professional practice. The model suggests (a) that industry partnerships be embedded in learning activities, (b) that assessment items be considered on a continuum and delivered incrementally across a course of study, and (c) that connections between classroom and workplace activities are clearly signposted for students.


The role of tertiary education in preparing students for a career in public relations

Gwyneth V.J. Howell

University of Western Sydney

and

Nicole Bridges

University of Western Sydney

In professional educational programs, such as public relations, students are expected to develop specialised skills to meet the challenges of a demanding workplace Due to the constantly evolving nature of the public relations industry, this paper explores whether today's graduates perceive they have the necessary skills to be an effective public relations professionals. Further, the paper seeks to identify which elements of the curriculum have evolved to assist these graduates in preparing them for the industry in the 21st century. This study explores the perceptions of graduates from an Australian over the past five years, and highlights the need to incorporate new and emerging technologies into today's curriculum.


The challenge of greenwash: how practitioners should communicate discretionary CSR practices

Bree Devin

Queensland University of Technology

and

Dr Jennifer Bartlett

Queensland University of Technology

This qualitative case study considers the ACCC greenwash investigations in order to form an understanding of how practitioners should effectively communicate discretionary CSR practices of an environmental nature. By considering seven greenwash investigations spanning a period from 2006 to 2008, this study proposes that there are four elements which should be used when developing material to communicate a discretionary CSR practice - the vehicle, which is the communication material or display; the claim, which is what the organisation is trying to communicate; the justification, which considers how the organisation justifies the claim; and finally the intent, which refers to the underlying meaning behind the communication. Finally, through analysing how the ACCCC evaluates that an organisation's communication material can be considered greenwash, it is suggested that greenwash is not simply misleading information. More specifically, greenwash can refer to the inaccurate, unqualified, or overstated justification that affects an organisation's ability to create a legitimate environmental claim.

 


Telling stories to build reputation

Rob Gill

Swinburne University of Technology

The characteristics of corporate storytelling make it an excellent medium for an organisation to connect with employees on a more personal level and can aid in the retention of information valuable to building employee engagement. Staff who are more engaged with, and have a deep trust for, their employer are more likely to feel buoyant about their work and conduct themselves in a constructive manner. This can result in employees becoming reputation champions for the organisation through the way they engage with their external stakeholders


Getting to the heart of public relations: the concept of strategic intent

Melanie James

University of Newcastle

This paper suggests that public relations can be understood as the strategic attempt to get the subjects of public relations activities to construct the intended meaning of the employing or commissioning entity rather than any other meaning. The author puts forward that the intentional construction of meaning for strategic purposes may be at the heart of public relations as everything undertaken by practitioners could be framed within a concept of strategic intent. One way of conceptualising this assertion is to consider two key concepts within the field of public relations - strategy and the construction of meaning. This paper suggests that the development of theory to accommodate such a position should be considered and proposes that a broadly social constructionist approach may offer the best prospect of undertaking this. If this view was widely adopted then the debate as to who holds the power and wherewithal to influence and control the meaning construction process, and the ethics of doing so, could take place.

 


Do b2b bloggers believe blogs? PR insights on blogger skepticism

GenÚ van Heerden

Luleň University of Technology, Sweden

Esmail Salehi-Sangari

Luleň University of Technology, Sweden

Leyland Pitt

Simon Fraser University, Canada

Albert Caruana

University of Malta
University of Lugano, Switzerland

Research and practice have given a lot of attention to blogs which illustrates that it is increasingly becoming an important PR tool. When blogs comment on the activities, products, services and technologies of organisations it becomes an important communications tool. Blogs can be used as credible professional communication but it can also be subject to the same type of skepticism that traditional mass media encounters. This article presents the responses of 333 international active bloggers in the business-to-business (B2B) environment. The responses to blogging ethics as well as their skepticism towards blogging are discussed. We adapted a skepticism scale initially used to measure skepticism towards advertising to reflect skepticism towards blogging. We then relate skepticism towards blogging with the blogger's view on ethical issues. We also determine if skepticism varies among bloggers from different regions. The article concludes by identifying managerial implications and avenues for future research.

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