Vol. 6, No. 2 ­ 2006

Editorial Note - Mark Sheehan

Tracking organisation-public relationships over time: a framework for longitudinal research - Elizabeth Dougall

Exploring strategy: what public relations strategy means in practice - Robina Xavier, Kim Johnston and Amisha Patel

Positioning public relations as an academic discipline in Australia - William Hatherell and Jennifer Bartlett

Cardinal rule of the media release - get your facts straight! - Gwyneth Howell, Rohan Miller and Nicole Bridges

Pushing the river upstream: two-way public relations and how to do it - Anne Lane

Perceiving is believing: How consumers´ attributions about the cause of the Ansett Airlines´ safety crisis impacted outcomes - Lynette McDonald

Public relations evaluation in Australia: practices and attitudes across sectors and employment status - Peter Simmons and Tom Watson

Editorial Note

Fast on the heels of the Volume 6 No 1 of the APPRJ comes our on line edition. As previous subscribers will know the second issue of the Journal is published in an on line format to facilitate the speedy publishing of the papers of the Public Relations Institute of Australia (PRIA) Academic Forum.

In addition to the 2005 PRIA academic forum papers we have included a paper by a previous contributor Elizabeth Dougall. Subscribers will recall her previous joint paper in 2002 with Fox and Burton on Interactivity, Influence and Issues Management: The Impacts and Implications of Computer-Mediated Communication. Formally at USQ, Dougall is now teaching at UNC at Chapel Hill. Her paper Tracking organisation­public relationships over time: a framework for longitudinal research is based on case studies of Australian banks and the role of relationship-signaling with activist publics.

This year’s PRIA academic form was chaired by Robina Xavier of Queensland Univeristy of Technology(QUT). Dr Xavier in her opening remarks stated that the forum “provides a tremendous opportunity for academics and practitioners to come together and discuss important topics.” These topics were as varied as crisis management and public relations evaluation through to the positioning of public relations as an academic discipline and the impact of government policy on PR education.

Among the papers published in this issue of the APPRJ are Lynette McDonald’s thoughtful analysis of consumers’ perception of an airline safety crisis using Weiner’s attribution theory and Anne Lane’s practical view of two-way symmetrical public relations. In her presentation Lane cleverly used a river and its flow as an analogy.

Peter Simmons and Tom Watson presented a highly informative paper on PR evaluation using cluster analysis technique. It examines evaluation practices of consultants, government commercial and nonprofit practitioners. Xavier, Johnston and Patel explored the vexed question of strategy versus tactics. Confusion reigns among many practitioners as to the difference. This paper is welcome as so much has been spoken about the crucial role of strategy in PR planning but little written especially in the Australian context.

The remaining papers by Hatherell and Bartlett of QUT and Howell, Bridges and Miller will be of great interest to public relations educators as they confront the 2006 academic year.

Co-editor Chris Galloway of Monash University will be taking on editorial responsibilities for 2006 so contributors please note the change of manuscript submission address. Manuscript submissions sent to me will of course also be considered for publication.

In 2006 we are pleased to welcome to the editorial board Dr Jamilah Ahmad of the Faculty of Communication, Universiti Sains, in Pulau Pinang, Malaysia.

Thank you for your continued support of the Asia Pacific Public Relations Journal over 2005 and the last five years.

Tracking organisation - public relationships over time:
a framework for longitudinal research

Elizabeth Dougall

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Organisational relationships are almost exclusively analysed using the data that captures the perceptions of the parties in the relationships. While useful for describing the state of a focal organisational relationship at a single point in time, or over a short period, this approach has limited utility for research involving multiple relationships over an extended timeframe. The perspective that organisation­public relationships can be described and studied as objective phenomena, separate from the subjective experiences of individual participants with properties other than the perceptions of those involved, underpins the framework for tracking organisation­public relationships proposed in this paper.

Acknowledging the unique and potentially powerful positions held by activist publics in relation to the organisations with which they share issues of mutual concern, I argue that organisations and activists signal the state of their relationships using observable relationship processes, that is, information flows, specifically public statements about their shared issues of concern as reported by the news media. It is from these published relationship­signaling statements that the state of the focal relationships is interpreted using a conflict continuum. I report the findings of three case studies which incorporate the analysis of relationship­signaling statements made by Australia’s major banks and their activist publics and published by the media from 1981 to 2001. The relationship data were extracted from the content analysis of more than 6, 500 newspaper articles.


Exploring strategy: what public relations strategy means in practice

Robina Xavier

Queensland University of Technology


Kim Johnston

Queensland University Technology


Amisha Patel

Queensland University Technology

In public relations planning, strategy plays a critical role in determining how organisations respond to and manage environmental relationships and demands. However, despite extensive international research into the planning elements of research, objective setting, and evaluation techniques, research into practitioner application of public relations strategy is limited. This exploratory study seeks to provide an empirical foundation for understanding practitioner use of public relations strategy in campaigns by analysing Public Relations Institute of Australia Golden Target Award submissions from 1997 to 2001. Common components of strategy descriptions are identified and implications for further research and practice are discussed.


Positioning public relations as an academic discipline in Australia

Dr William Hatherell

Queensland University of Technology


Jennifer Bartlett

Queensland University of Technology

Academic public relations in Australia appears to be entering a new phase in its relatively short history. The early model, in which tertiary courses were confined to teaching-focussed institutions and conducted largely by teacher-practitioners, is being supplanted by one in which the discipline is now offered in most Australian universities, is increasingly embracing research, and is being taught by staff following more traditional academic career paths. Despite the formal association with the communication discipline through Australian and New Zealand Communication Association, public relations academics have increasingly asserted the independence of their discipline and in reality have very little dialogue with other strands of the communication discipline. These developments call into question the most appropriate knowledge base for public relations as an academic discipline in Australia and its proper relation to the profession (and the Public Relations Institute of Australia as the professional body).

One danger associated with the assertion of disciplinary independence lies in the risk of excessive reliance on a relatively narrow body of work emanating from the more established United States public relations academy, in the process ignoring much richer work in surrounding disciplines such as social theory, rhetoric, organisational communication, and business and society. The emphasis on disciplinary demarcation also seems curious during a time of growing ‘interdisciplinarity’ in the humanities and the social sciences. This paper critically reviews the construction of public relations as an academic discipline in Australia, drawing on some of the literature on academic disciplinarity to propose a repositioning of the discipline, one that is less focussed on asserting difference than on finding connections with other bodies of knowledge while maintaining close links with professional practice.


Cardinal rule of the media release – get your facts straight!

Gwyneth Howell

The University of Western Sydney


The University of Sydney


Nicole Bridges

Media relations accounts for approximately 40% of a practitioner’s time (Macnamara, 2005). According to Tymson and Lazar (2002, p. 500) ‘issuing a media release is the most popular method of communicating with the media’.

In 2004, a Special Commission of Inquiry into the Medical Research and Compensation Foundation was convened by the government of the Australian state of New South Wales. The aim of this Special Commission of Inquiry was to investigate James Hardie Industries’ conduct in the separation of its asbestos producing companies from its new Dutch­based entity James Hardie Industries NV. The company’s conduct in relation to its public relations activities was closely examined.

Utilising the James Hardie case study as a point of reference, this paper analyses a media release issued by James Hardie Industries in February 2001. Further, this paper examines the effects of communicating less than the whole truth, and discusses the implications to the profession of public relations when management withholds information, which can lead to the organisation communicating misleading information to key publics.


Pushing the river upstream: two­way public relations and how to do it

Anne Lane

Bond University

Much has been written about two­way symmetric public relations and its role in the creation, maintenance and enhancement of relationships between organisations and publics, but the majority of this literature presents the concept from an abstract, academic perspective. Very little has been written from a practical point of view about how to actually ‘do’ two­way symmetric communication. Specifically there seems to be a dearth of discussion about how the public relations practitioner can adequately represent external concerns to management in a persuasive and effective manner. Using the RACE framework as a guide, this paper looks at examples and case studies on the subject of reaching, persuading and influencing publics to see if any of this is relevant to the conduct of ‘balanced’ communication with management. How can organisational public relations practitioners present stakeholder arguments in a positive way; and ultimately perhaps even get management to incorporate elements of these arguments in organisational attitudes and behaviour? In short – to continue our fluvial analogy – how can we make the river flow uphill, upstream and in both directions at once; and can we go even further and actually impact upon the source of that flow?


Perceiving is believing: How consumers’ attributions about the cause of
the Ansett Airlines’ safety crisis impacted outcomes.

Lynette McDonald

Griffith University

In 2001, the now defunct airline, Ansett, was enmeshed in a major safety crisis when its fleet of 10 Boeing 767s was grounded by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) after safety checks revealed engine pylon cracks. The grounding caused flight cancellations, mass disruptions of passengers, reputation damage and multi­millions of dollars in lost market share for Ansett.

A series of focus groups held soon after the groundings revealed three sets of consumer perceptions about the crisis cause: that Ansett was at fault for the safety crisis due to poor maintenance; that the government agency, CASA and, in part, the media, were to blame for scapegoating Ansett and blowing the crisis out of proportion; and that maintenance problems were endemic to the Australian airline industry due to cost-cutting following deregulation, with the Federal government also held to blame for the situation.

Using Weiner’s (1986, 1995) attribution theory, this paper describes how participants’ three different attributions about the cause of the Ansett crisis determined different emotional and behavioural reactions to the company. They also affected consumers’ judgments about the company’s crisis management, attitudes towards a $20 million advertising campaign and, ultimately, may have contributed to the company’s path to ruin.

The results indicated that, as part of a crisis management strategy, companies need to monitor, not only media communications about the crisis, but consumers’ perceptions of these stories, and their attributions about crisis cause in order to correct misconceptions and mitigate crisis damage.


Public relations evaluation in Australia:
practices and attitudes across sectors and employment status

Peter Simmons

Charles Sturt University


Dr Tom Watson

Charles Sturt University

In 2004 the authors presented their initial findings of a national survey of evaluation practices amongst Australian public relations practitioners who were mostly Public Relations Institute of Australia members. They found a media relations-centric focus. There was an increase in research and evaluation activity, compared with Walker’s study in 1993, but the focus remained on outputs, not outcomes of communication. The analysis showed that measurement of public relations causes anguish for many practitioners. This investigation used a cluster analysis technique to examine differences between consultant, government, commercial and non­profit practitioners, the effect of budget size, and the influence of management responsibility on evaluation attitudes and practices. In particular, it compared responses to clusters of questions on evaluation of outcomes and outputs, belief in the measurability of evaluation, and perceptions of barriers to evaluation. It found that all sectors focus on the evaluation of outputs more than outcomes, although government was less likely to evaluate outcomes than the other workplace sectors. Senior managers/directors were more likely to measure outcomes than practitioners with lower level responsibility. Commercial practitioners reported higher levels of pressure from employers to demonstrate results.

The data suggest a commonality of attitudes and practices on evaluation issues across budget size, employment categories and operational sectors that may signify a consolidated picture of Australian attitudes and practices. The attitudes expressed show that industry calls for improved evaluation have been heeded and accepted as important by public relations practitioners, but not generally acted on. Consequently it is argued that further industry attempts to improve evaluation should focus on the value of outcomes rather than outputs, and be supported by a program of support for improving understanding of public relations evaluation among employers and clients.



Back to top

Back to top