Vol 11 No 2 - 2010

Editorial Note ­ Guest Editor Gyneth Howell

Is the media influencing Australia's purse strings? - Gabrielle Foster and Gwyneth V.J. Howell

Reconceptualising public relations in Australia: A historical and social re-analysis - Jim Macnamara and Robert Crawford

PR and web technology: a match made in virtual heaven? - Renae Desai

Reconceptualising undergraduate public relations learning - G. A. Talbot and Andrys Onsman

"I wouldn't have gone out there on my own" - a critical investigation of the benefits and pitfalls associated with compulsory industry placements - Katharina Wolf

Believing the bloggers: implications of consumer scepticism for public relations - Mehdi Ghazisaeedi, Leyland F. Pitt and Peter G. Steyn

Book reviews


Editorial Note

The papers published in the 2010 second edition of the Asia Pacific Public Relations Journal reflect the contemporary diversity of communication practice and public relations education in our region. These refereed academic articles were presented at the Public Relations Institute of Australia National Conference held in Darwin in late October, 2010.

Unlike previous years when academic papers were presented in a forum separate to the conference proceedings the 2010 papers were included in the mainstream conference proceedings. This move has the advantage of exposing academic research to the wider public relations community.

In historical terms public relations researchers are faced with the chicken and egg scenario of PR activities that precede the term public relations. The debate is complicated by organisations, which undertook a variety of communication but did not recognise certain activities as public relations. Macnamara and Crawford have explored this contentious point using the national event of Australia Day and in so doing their research has made a along awaited call for 'a reconceptualisation of PR in historical, political, social and cultural terms.' Recent catastrophes in the Asia-Pacific region have gained considerable media attention. Using agenda-setting in a media context, Howell and Foster explore the connection between media coverage and foreign-aid distribution. This results of their research raises considerable questions and will no doubt lead to further investigation into this area of study.

While it is often assumed that industry placements - internships - are highly sought after by students and valued by future employers, Curtin University academic Katharina Wolf's paper analyses the value of this practice in a professional degree. With the requirement of industry placement removed from PRIA accredited tertiary degrees this paper gives a welcome view of alternatives to the internship placement.

The debate over how big and eventually what role online communication will play in public relations is heated and ongoing. Desai's article argues that the day of the stand alone website is gone. Through highly illuminating examples she demonstrates the 'interdependence of communications, web technology and design'.

Talbot and Onsman's paper is of interest to all those who are responsible for educating future public relations practitioners. Their analysis of local and international research on the area presents challenging outcomes for PR educators. It is always timely to consider the continual balancing act between the academic demands of a tertiary education environment and the skills deemed vital to employability.

Is the Media influencing Australia's purse strings? Finally a paper submitted to the Journal on Blogging examines the level of scepticism publics hold towards this ever-growing tool of public relations communication. This issue also contains a number of reviews of the latest public relations publications from around the world.

It is to be noted APPRJ subscribers received two editions in 2010. The Winter (mid-year) edition for 2010, focusing on social media can be viewed on www.deakin.edu.au/apprj. Both online and printed 2010 editions were guest edited by Dr Gwyneth Howell of the University of Western Sydney's School of Communication Arts. The APPRJ is fortunate to have Dr Howell's expertise in assembling this year's Journals.

In 2011 the Winter (mid-year) online edition will focus on crisis and risk communication. The capacity to spot emerging issues that could threaten the reputation of an organisation or individual and the strategic planning to meet the threat, are recognised as integral to preventing crises and effectively dealing with them when they arise. In a crisis situation, having the right communications skills and techniques are particularly important in managing issues and maintaining the credibility of organisations and individuals. The speed and nature of crises and risks have changed tremendously with the arrival and spread of the internet and new media technologies.

This special issue seeks to critically examine crises affecting corporations, governments, non-governmental organisations, inter-governmental organisations and examine issues emerging from business, health, the environment, technology, culture, politics and globalisation. This special issue welcomes authors to submit manuscripts that will draw on various international cases studies and examples from the Asia-Pacific region.

Dr Gwyneth V.J. Howell
Guest Editor

Mark Sheehan

Is the media influencing Australia's purse strings?

Gabrielle Foster

The University of Western Sydney


Gwyneth V.J. Howell

The University of Western Sydney

During times of crisis, the mass media become a primary source of information and influence in terms of setting the agenda for public and political action. Contemporary mass media possess the innate ability to set the agenda for public opinion on various issues as well as influence what information enters an audience's cognition and how that information is interpreted and acted upon. This study examines the presence of agenda-setting in the Australian media and explores and discusses the influence it can have over political decision making. The results identify a relationship between media coverage and foreign aid distribution as well as highlight a variety of alternative contributing factors that potentially influence political decisions. A number of further questions are also raised from the results of this project that expand on the research conducted and will potentially develop this area of study

Reconceptualising public relations in Australia: A historical and social re-analysis

Jim Macnamara

University of Technology Sydney


Robert Crawford

University of Technology Sydney

Public relations histories have mostly focussed on activities explicitly described as 'public relations' rather than the practices that characterise this field of public communication. This is problematic because the term 'public relations' was created relatively recently, originating in the US around the turn of the 20th century (1897-1905), and gaining prominence in Australia from the mid-20th century. Furthermore, many do not use the term 'public relations' to describe practices identified under this disciplinary label. More broadly-based studies show that the public communication practices used in public relations have a much longer history than documented in US-centric literature, and that they were in use in Australia well before arrival of American 'public relations' practices with General Douglas MacArthur which is widely cited as the origin of PR in Australia. This article reports historical research and analysis of Australia's national day, now known as Australia Day, which illustrates that practices contemporarily described as public relations were used from soon after white settlement and that they have been fundamental in constructing discourses of nationhood and national identity. Findings of this research call for a reconceptualisation of public relations in historical, political, social and cultural terms.

PR and web technology: a match made in virtual heaven?

Renae Desai

Murdoch University

Online communication has become an accepted term amongst Australian public relations practitioners and academics alike. However, effective models by which to research and practice in a virtual environment are yet to be fully developed. Instead, traditional communication techniques have been modified to include new media technology such as websites and corporate blogs and more recently social media, in an attempt to address the ever-growing need for organizations to 'have an online presence' or at least online elements to their communication campaigns (Chia, 2006; Kent, Taylor and White, 2002). This paper will argue that simply modifying traditional public relations techniques is an inadequate approach to developing online community engagement campaigns. It will instead demonstrate the necessary interdependence of communications, web technology development and design in order to show how a website designed for online community engagement, might be created. This is a central theme underpinning the rationale behind the development of the Australian Asbestos Network website, an NHMRC funded public health communication initiative due to launch in November 2010 and designed to engage the Australian community on the issue of Asbestos-related diseases and their various causes.

Reconceptualising undergraduate public relations learning

G. A. Talbot

Monash University


Andrys Onsman

Monash University

Educating the potential communicator who one day will drive social change, solve organisational issues, and launch new ideas to the media arena will always be a challenge because the professional skills required by the industry are as responsive to societal and economic trends as they are instrumental in driving them. The need for undergraduate public relations programs to provide structure, content and theoretical concepts relevant to operate within a competitive industry are as important as the need to equip the graduate with a necessary skill-set for employability.

This paper suggests an approach to educating Public Relations undergraduate students that integrates industry requirements with academic principles. In particular it draws from both findings from both local and international research, and from qualitative research findings from Public Relations Academic Advisory Board proceedings. This paper was written from those who shaped the development of their own university's Public Relations program, thus providing insight into the process of crafting such an undergraduate public relations course.

"I wouldn't have gone out there on my own" - a critical investigation of the benefits and pitfalls associated with compulsory industry placements

Katharina Wolf

Curtin University

How well are students prepared for the day to day challenges of the communications industry by the time they graduate? This study looks at this question in the context of a compulsory professional industry placement unit, by investigating the role work experience plays in providing students with a realistic understanding of their chosen discipline, before entering the employment market.

This study is particularly topical in the light of the recent revision of the Accreditation Guidelines by the Public Relations Institute of Australia (PRIA). Whilst the new guidelines confirm that "the Institute favours those institutions with accredited degrees when providing resources such as guest lectures, teaching materials, scholarships and prizes, work experience opportunities and so on" (Public Relations Institute of Australia, 2009), the compulsory industry placement requirement as a prerequisite for PRIA endorsement has effectively been removed. This resulted in an immediate change to the teaching structure at some institutions, which since have adopted a 'master class' model for the now optional placement unit.

This study sets out to investigate both the advantages and associated challenges of compulsory placements as part of the public relations degree, by taking both students' perceptions and industry feedback into account. The findings re-open the debate surrounding the importance of work integrated learning opportunities, particularly placement units, as an integral element of a communications focused degree.

Believing the bloggers: implications of consumer scepticism for public relations

Mehdi Ghazisaeedi

Luleň University of Technology

Leyland F. Pitt

Simon Fraser University

Peter G. Steyn

Luleň University of Technology

Online blogs, specifically those that offer reviews of products, services and technologies, increasingly attract interest among practitioners of public relations as well as academic scholars. While the literature has addressed the significance of blogs as a public relations tool, limited research has been devoted to the responses of blog readers. This paper focuses on the extent to which online consumers exhibit scepticism towards these blogs. We validated a scepticism scale traditionally employed in advertising research to understand consumer scepticism towards blogs. The survey amongst Australian online consumers confirmed the relationship between selected demographics and blog reader scepticism.

Book reviews

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