Vol. 8 ­ 2007

Editorial Note - Guest Editor Gyneth Howell

Guanxi, astrology and symmetry: Asian business and its impact on public relations practice.- Chandni Gupta and Jennifer Bartlett

Asking the Insiders: An investigation into areas of meaning and perception convergence and divergence on practitioner and academic definitions of public relations in Australia - Kate Byrne

How can the corporate sector concepts of 'reputation' and 'trust' be used by local government? A study to establish a model of reputation management for local government - Barbara Ryan

Motivating students to write well - Alison Theaker

The good the bad and the blogger, the public relations challenge of the Noughties ­- Karl Herger and Gwyneth VJ Howell

Footprints in the sand: insights into the public relations profession in Queensland Jennifer Bartlett and Heather Hill

Public relations no longer on the backburner - Sylvia Geaitani and Gwyneth VJ Howell

A review of the impact of new media on public relations: Challenges for terrain, practice and education - Melanie James

Second Life first hand: A teacher perspective - Deirdre Quinn-Allan and Bronwyn Kirby

Failures and successes of press releases sent to suburban Melbourne press - Debra Truin

The birth and growth of an information agency - John M Flower

Obituary ­ John M Flower


Editorial Note

The 2007 edition of APPRJ profiles eight selected papers of the Public Relations Institute of Australia (PRIA) Academic Forum held in Sydney in October 2007.
In addition are academic articles from Quinn-Allan and Kirby, Truin and a practitioner piece from the late John Flower.

This year’s PRIA academic forum was chaired by Noel Turnbull, Director of Growth Solutions Group and Adjunct Professor in Communications at RMIT University. In his opening remarks, Noel suggested that forum provided an opportunity discussion between academics and practitioners on current issues confronting all in the profession, generated by academic research. This discussion was enhanced with four of the papers from the Forum being presented in the main stream of the PRIA National Conference, thereby exposing this academic research to the wider public relations community.

Alison Theaker’s paper presents some fascinating comparisons between the student’s perceived writing skills and their actual written work. The study
found that several skills were held in common by all groups, but one significant difference was that academics and practitioners rated writing skills far more highly than students. Her research highlights issues that all educators now confront in the new media age - “How to motivate students write well”.

Chandni Gupta and Dr Jennifer Bartlett’s paper explores guanxi, astrology and symmetry and its impact on Asian business and on public relations practice. With the dominance of Western-based public relations models and theories, non- Western practitioners across the globe instinctively attempt to implement them, often unsuccessfully, regardless of their surrounding environment. This study compares and analyses differences between Asian and Western approaches to business and therefore public relations.

The Web is a worldwide network of information resources and a powerful communication tool; information on virtually any subject is available on the Web. Considerable ambiguity exists in the literature regarding the online practice of corporate public relations. Two papers explore the impact of new media on public relations. Herger and Howell’s paper examined of blogs in an organisational context. And Melanie James reviewed the impact of new media on public relations in terms of practice and education.

Professional practice is an issue that all educators confront in terms of how best to prepare students for practice. The existing discussion of professionalisation in the public relations literature has focused on a trait-based approach to the sociology of the professions. Heather Hill and Dr Jennifer Bartlett’s study of
public relations practice in Queensland showed that while public relations professionals reported a number of traits that are hallmarks of professionalisation, much practice is technical rather than strategic. Kate Byrne’s research vii undertook an investigation into areas of meaning and perception convergence and divergence on practitioner and academic definition of public relations in Australia. While Syliva Geaitani’s paper explores the impact of public relations
on the marketing landscape and how the profession is now at the forefront of marketing programs.

Finally, Barbara Ryan presented her research to establish a model of reputation management for local government, and explored how can the corporate sector concepts of ‘reputation’ and ‘trust’ are used by local government. Thank you for your continued support of the Asia Pacific Public Relations Journal in 2007.

Dr Gwyneth Howell -Senior Lecturer and Area Coordinator - Public Relations
MPRIA (NSW Board Member) l MPRSA
School of Communication Arts l University of Western Sydney


Guanxi, astrology and symmetry: Asian business and its impact on public relations practice

Chandni Gupta

Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Australia

and

Jennifer Bartlett

Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Australia

With the dominance of Western-based public relations models and theories, non-Western practitioners across the globe instinctively attempt to implement them, often unsuccessfully, regardless of their surrounding environment. This study compares and analyses differences between Asian and Western approaches to business and therefore public relations. While the Western practitioners predominantly practiced symmetrical communication models, the Asian practitioners only idealised these models but depended upon press-agentry/publicity and the public information model. Other models such as the personal influence and cultural interpreter models were heavily used in Asia.

A review of business practices revealed that in Asia, the line between business and personal relationships is extremely blurred. Further analysis revealed that cultural dimensions and topois were even more varied between the two regions. While the Western region adulates individualism, the Asian region sees it as an act of selfishness and prefers collectivism and hierarchy to maintain harmony within the community. A strong connection exists between culture and business practices, which in turn directly affect public relations practice, making the use of generic Western-based public relations models complex and unsuitable for the non-Western society. This paper highlights a research opportunity to empirically analyse and understand the Asian business and the implications for models of public relations.

 


Asking the Insiders: An investigation into areas of meaning and perception convergence and divergence on practitioner and academic definitions of public relations in Australia

Kate Byrne

University of Canberra, Australia

This paper forms part of wider doctoral research examining areas of meaning and perception convergence and divergence among Australian public relations academics and practitioners. While research has been conducted into how those outside the profession view public relations, very few have asked those within the industry (practitioners and academics) about their understanding of public relations in Australia, nor compared these findings to locate and analyse spaces of convergence and divergence of meaning. Where empirical research into the field has been conducted, researchers have tended to solely focus on the views of the practitioner. Comparative research between academics and practitioners in business related disciplines is justified due to the potential tensions that can arise between these sub-cultures.

Hutton asserts that public relations as a practice is suffering from an identity crisis. The primary intent of this paper is to present empirical definitional data gathered via administration of two online questionnaires and discuss findings in the context of related work by, among others, Gordon (1997) and Hutton (1999). Findings indicate that there is a significant gap between what people within the field say and what they do. Furthermore, this paper argues that claims of public relations as dialogic, where the central organising theme of public relations is ‘relationship management’, are due to the perceived ethical superiority of such models, and are not legitimate operational descriptions of the field in Australia.


How can the corporate sector concepts of 'reputation' and 'trust' be used by local government? A study to establish a model of reputation management for local government.

Barbara Ryan

University of Southern Queensland, Australia

Over the past 20 years, the concept of corporate reputation management has emerged as a credible holistic management technique in the private sector. At the same time, corporate management practices have been implemented in the public sector, not always successfully. Local governments still struggle to develop good reputations and take advantage of their unique public sector position as socially and geographically close to stakeholders.

This paper will examine the increasing importance of stakeholder relationships to local government and will present a reputation management model for improving and maintaining these relationships. It will discuss, from a theoretical perspective, how effective reputation management can improve a council’s ability to operate within its own community with decreased transaction costs.

The model approaches reputation management from perspectives presented by Fombrun and Dowling and considers each of the following dimensions from a municipal point of view: organisational culture, financial management (which in the local government model becomes corporate governance), product and service, vision and leadership, social and environmental responsibility and emotional appeal.

Differences between the corporate and municipal reputation models are discussed. The local government version is discovered to be a more rigorous and potentially effective model than that currently used in private enterprise, particularly in the field of corporate governance.

While the model is yet to be empirically tested, it has implications for local government communication practitioners and senior managers in its emphasis on stakeholder relationships within corporate governance activity.


Motivating students to write well

Alison Theaker

College of St Mark & St John, (Marjon) Plymouth, UK

Original research by Alison Theaker, College of St Mark & St John, UK and Dr Suzanne Fitzgerald, Rowan University, USA, into team skills needed in public relations investigated differing perceptions of academics, students and practitioners. Questionnaires were sent out by post and email, analysed by SPSS. Several skills were found to be held in common by all groups, whether they resided in the US or UK. One significant difference was that academics and practitioners rated writing skills far more highly than students. Anecdotal evidence suggested that this was common to colleagues across all disciplines at the UK college. Theaker built on these findings to investigate this disparity in perceptions. Firstly, student teams were asked to fill in work logs for a team project, noting which skills were used. The next stage of the research used focus groups with students across a range of disciplines. Students were first asked to self assess their writing and communication skills, then take part in a discussion about how important they perceived writing skills to be, and what would motivate them to improve. The findings are to be used in the design of a college wide induction programme to tackle the problem of poor writing skills.


The good the bad and the blogger, the public relations challenge of the Noughties

Karl Herger

University of Western Sydney, Australia

and

Gwyneth VJ Howell

University of Western Sydney, Australia

Technological advances such as the printing press, telephone, radio, television, facsimile machine and now the World Wide Web (the Web) have been the catalyst for changes in business operations throughout history. The Web is a worldwide network of information resources and a powerful communication tool; information on virtually any subject is available on the Web. Considerable ambiguity exists in the literature regarding the online practice of corporate public relations.

The authors assert that public relations is central to the examination of blogs in an organisational context. Organisational blogs have been viewed by many as changing the role of corporate public relations— specifically the manner in which companies are now engaging with their publics. The Web has given those already in power (not just ordinary citizens) even greater potential to distribute filtered information to a mass readership. In many ways the Web presents publics with an overt sense of democracy. However, the filtering capabilities of the medium are not nearly as publicly understood or acknowledged as editorial regulations used in traditional, physical media.

Although the vast library of theoretical public relations models are grounded in physical reality, they should not be ignored, but rather, used as platforms to develop theoretical models for an understanding of organisational weblogs. It is misguided to assign organisational blogs too much communicative power without first considering the theories that should underpin their use, and be used to develop frameworks for their strategic implementation. Blogs’ role in the corporate landscape is still ambiguous and unclear. This paper explores the impact of organisational blogs on public relations practice, academics and practitioners alike are yet to devise methodologies or a consistent approach to handle the future implementation of this new communications tool.

 


Footprints in the sand: insights into the public relations profession in Queensland

Jennifer Bartlett

Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Australia

and

Heather Hill

Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Australia

This paper presents some early findings from an Australian study into understanding professionalisation in public relations. Existing discussions of professionalisation in the public relations literature have focused on a trait-based approach to the sociology of the professions. Another approach, suggested in this paper, is that professions emerge through shared meanings as communities of practice. This recent study of public relations practice in Queensland showed that while public relations professionals reported a number of traits that are hallmarks of professionalisation, much practice is technical rather than strategic. Another finding was that less than 4% of public relations professionals had a job title that included the words ‘public relations’ despite the fact that almost 90% were members of the PRIA and more than 50% had tertiary education in public relations. These findings contribute to the ongoing discussion about the role for education, and the professional association in the move to professionalise public relations and suggest opportunities for further research.

 


Public relations no longer on the backburner

Sylvia Geaitani

University of Western Sydney, Australia

and

Gwyneth VJ Howell

University of Western Sydney, Australia

Today, audiences and consumers live in a message-saturated society where they are constantly exposed to messages urging the purchase of a particular product or service. As a result, marketers are finding it increasingly difficult to successfully reach their audiences and consumers. This issue is increasing in significance due to the heavy proliferation of media that are causing audiences and consumers to become fragmented. To combat this, marketers must employ public relations in the vanguard of their marketing plans as it is more effective than advertising, marketing’s traditional communication tool, in reaching audiences and consumers and persuading them to the purchase path.

In an attempt to validate this, a literature review is conducted to present the theoretical rationale for the study, to explore the practical implications for using public relations ahead of advertising in marketing plans, and to compare and contrast the views of the experts in the subject area in an effort to provide a conceptual framework for the study. A set of research questions is developed to address a number of factors that contribute to the effectiveness of public relations in persuading consumers to purchase a particular product or service. In addition to this, two in-depth interviews were conducted to assist in responding to the research questions and providing further insight into the role that public relations currently assumes within organisations who utilise public relations.

Essentially, it was found that public relations is more effective than advertising as it possesses several overarching and distinct advantages that belittle the presumed supremacy of the latter profession. Therefore, marketers should review the current position allocated to public relations within marketing plans and shift it towards the vanguard as it is palpable that public relations is effective in combating the current issues faced by marketers.


A review of the impact of new media on public relations: Challenges for terrain, practice and education.

Melanie James

University of Newcastle, Australia

This review paper brings together key findings from across the recent literature to enhance overall understanding of current and future challenges posed by new media to public relations. It remains unclear whether current theoretical frameworks can fully accommodate new media and evidence suggests that many public relations practitioners are struggling with the impact of new media, and especially the Internet, on their practice. Public relations educators may need to review course curricula in light of new media developments and industry responses. Possible threats and opportunities presented by new media for public relations are explored and directions for further research in this area are suggested.

 


Second Life first hand: A teacher perspective

Deirdre Quinn-Allan

Deakin University, Geelong, Australia

and

Bronwyn Kirby

Deakin University, Geelong, Australia

The professional landscape in public relations is changing as new communication and social networking technologies are integrated into day-to-day professional practice. Whilst adoption of such technologies by public relations practitioners is certainly on the increase, their use can still be regarded as limited and application experimental to some degree. However, few could argue that these technologies will be increasingly important to public relations practice in coming years. In this context, public relations educators must strive to deliver a contemporary curriculum reflective of industry expectations and best practice principles but which also provides students with exposure to new communication contexts and technologies.

The advent of persistent virtual worlds generated by Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs) and Collaborative Virtual Environments (CVEs) offer new realms for public relations practitioners and educators alike. Virtual worlds potentially provide public relations educators with novel but relevant training grounds for their students. These 3D worlds offer dynamic and authentic learning environments which have the capability to foster deep learning and engender a sense of community within a student cohort in a way that many computer-mediated classrooms sadly lack.

This paper will present the experiences of two tertiary educators’ journey towards a conceptual understanding of the persistent virtual world, Second Life, from a teacher perspective. The paper argues that the successful adoption of new online technologies like Second Life need not be inhibited by preferences for technology or prior ICT skills as long as teaching staff are given the necessary support and training by their institutions coupled with opportunity for familiarisation and experimentation.

 


Failures and successes of press releases sent to suburban Melbourne press

Debra Truin

Deakin University

The purpose of this report was to examine why many of the press releases sent to suburban Melbourne newspapers are not used to produce stories. A technique using two closely matched sets of questions was designed. One set of questions was used to reveal what journalists and editors like and dislike and the other was used to reveal what public relations practitioners are currently providing. The methodology involved a fifteen minute phone interview comprised of 41 questions.

Five were open ended questions. Respondents were asked to rank on a Likert scale of one to five whether they agreed strongly to strongly disagreed with each statement. Eighteen journalists and editors (50% journalists and 50% editors) and eighteen public relations practitioners were interviewed. For the journalists/editors systematic random sampling (every third) from a suburban list in Margaret Gee’s Media Guide were selected. Public relations practitioners were purposively chosen from each of the sub-groups of Government (3), Non-Profit Organisations (3), Small Public Relations Organisations (3), Large Public Relations Organisations (3),Public Relations Departments from Large Organisations (3) and Public Relations Departments from Small Organisations (3). Journalists/editors do not believe that public relations practitioners understand what is newsworthy, while public relations practitioners believed that they are usually quite aware of what is newsworthy for each individual newspaper. Editors said that public relations practitioners do not observe newspaper deadlines, while public relations practitioners believed they are definitely aware of deadlines. Editors believed that embargoes make a press release more difficult to use while public relations practitioners gave a neutral to negative response. Of editors and journalists editors most strongly disliked consumer product/services style press releases, however public relations practitioners were neutral as to whether they would usually send these types of press releases. Announcements of Events and Human Interest style press releases were both very popular for journalists/ editors, which was understood by public relations practitioners. From comments it appears that public relations practitioners are sending too many generic press releases and they are using too much hype in the language. Public relations practitioners also saw themselves as very ethical and usually very factually accurate, however journalists/editors believed that only about one half of practitioners were.


The birth and growth of an information agency

John M Flower

FPRIA, Melbourne

This paper concerns a public relations organisation that a major industry created in 1951 and then funded. Twenty-five years later, it transferred the organisation’s functions to a new body.


Obituary

JOHN MATTHEW FLOWER
Australian public relations executive

 

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