Help us evaluate this blog!

3 06 2009

Are you reading this blog?

If so, we’d like to know who you are and what you look for in a blog written by PR professors.

As we’re trying to decide whether to keep the blog and what direction to work towards, your input would be most helpful.

Please fill out this 4-question form (anonymous responses) to help us out!

Thank you very much,

Blog editor Dr. Mihaela Vorvoreanu


Can PR Save a Company?

3 06 2009

by Mihaela Vorvoreanu. Cross-posted at PR Connections

There’s some discussion in the blogosphere about GM’s social media and crisis communication strategies these days, when they just filed for bankruptcy.

The arguments motivated me to finally start a new series of posts, For the Love of Theory.

In response to the question: Can PR save a company? I’d like to offer and overview of a “classic” PR theory, that of Issue Management.


PR can save a company, but not if it’s used to “get the message across”: If it’s used to listen, monitor and analyze issues, to enable the organization to adapt to its environment in a timely manner.

This is exactly what GM failed to do, and what the theory of Issue Management explains:


The theory posits that any issue in society (i.e. environmentalism, vegetarianism, etc.) has a lifecycle that revolves from dormant (no one thinks about it) to potential, as a few selected people start considering it, to imminent, when it starts picking up speed and media attention, to current, when it’s in the center of the public’s and the media’s attention, to critical, when the issue is demanding a solution. After being “resolved,” the issue goes back into the dormant stage, but it can wake up again at a later time.

The Issue Management function of public relations (which is thought of, at least in academic circles, as much more than media relations & publicity) is to continuously:

– scan the environment

– identify issues that can affect the organization

– analyze these issues to determine if action is necessary

– bring the issues to the attention of higher management, along with action recommendations

– design, implement, evaluate communication strategies around the issue (you often see companies taking positions on social or political issues)

Depending on how late/early a company identifies the issue and takes action, it can follow a reactive strategy (implementing actions imposed by others), an adaptive, dynamic, or even catalytic strategy – in this one, the company wakes an issue up from the dormant stage and moves it through the entire life cycle.

Of course, the earlier the company intervenes, the more power it has to frame the issue and to influence public discussion.

Can you see now how the issue management function of PR could have saved GM?

Many rhetorical scholars‘ view of PR is:

The good organization speaking well*

PR is widely understood as the “speaking well” part, but if the PR function is used strategically, and is given a seat at the management table, it is its job not only to speak well, but to help the organization be good.

Ultimately, the PR function can help an organization adapt to its environment (and change the environment to suit it better).

For GM, it’s a bit late. But I hope you can see now how PR can help an organization adapt, survive, and thrive. It’s just time we moved past the “free publicity” paradigm of PR and catch up to a bigger picture understanding of what PR can do for an organization.

If you’re interested in reading more:

Chase, W. H. (1977). Public issue management: The new science. Public Relations Journal, 32(10), 25-26.

* Cheney, G.D. (1992). The corporate person (re)presents itself, in: E. Lance Toth, R.L. Heath (Eds.), Rhetorical and Critical Approaches to Public Relations, Lawrence Erlbaum, Hillsdale, NJ, p. 167.

Crable, R. E., & Vibbert, S. L. (1985). Managing issues and influencing public policy. Public Relations Review, 11(2), 3-16.

Heath, R.J., & Palenchar, M.J. (2008). Strategic Issues Management 2. Sage.

PR students on learning Twitter

25 05 2009

by Mihaela Vorvoreanu. Cross-posted at PR Connections and on PROpenMic

I place a lot of emphasis on Twitter in my PR courses, but were not sure whether that was such a good idea – from their perspective. So I asked my PR students from the Spring 09 Stakeholder Communication class to respond anonymously to a survey about learning twitter. Their answers are below: Do you believe it was beneficial for you to learn how to use Twitter? Please explain why or why not.

  • Yes. Twitter is a good example of a social media tool and the only way to truly know about these tools is to use them. It was good for us to use because it was not too demanding, yet still allowed us to get a feel for how these different tools work.
  • Yes I do. There are many social norms and things about twitter that I learned from this class and I think its great to show a potential employer that I understand those things. I also think it was great to teach us to be active when you get on twitter because its annoying if you just get on and don’t do anything with it!
  • Yes. I think that we kind of “jumped onto something” much earlier than a lot of other people. I think it was beneficial because it helped us learn how news can spread really quickly and network with others.
  • I do believe it was beneficial to learn twitter, especially since it has become so prevalent in today’s society. People ask me what Twitter is and it eels good to know that I can explain it to them because I learned it through class. It’s becoming more and more mainstream everyday and I’ve enjoyed learning how to use it.
  • Yes. I liked that I already knew what Twitter was all about and how to use it before it became such a hot topic. Since I had already learned about the professional value of Twitter, it prevented me from getting caught up in the hype. I think this is allowing me to be a more constructive Twitter user.
  • Yes. Not only is Twitter a necessary tool for PR practitioners, but it is becoming mainstream for all people involved in social media. Within a year or so Twitter may be the equivilent of Facebook, and it is important that PR students stay ahead of the trend.

Has Twitter helped you learn in any way? How has it helped (or not)?

  • Yes it has helped me learn about social media. Basically the general rules of using o twitter are applicable to most social media tools. For example, you have to be consistent with using it- you can’t just create an account and then forget about it. You have to interact with people – not just broadcast random things. Twitter has a culture about it, just like other social media tools – and it is important to be able to tap into the culture of the various tools.
  • It has helped me learn more about social interaction with PR people. I think urging us to get on to communicate and teaching us to tweet during class helped us learn it. Especially when you told us how to interact with professionals.
  • yes. When we used it in 301, I thought it was kind of pointless, but I completely see how useful it has been in a PR class. You always have said that social media is becoming more and more important and it really is. You have showed us how jobs are hiring people to just do social media so I think that it has helped us learn to get to know other people and be less shy when it comes to networking and see how a problem can occur very quickly over Twitter, etc.
  • Yes it has helped. It’s helped me become more comfortable with contacting people I don’t know, expressing myself, learning more about others, and become more connected.
  • I like being able to connect with people from all over.
  • Following the conversations of PR professionals has helped me get insight into what their world is like on a day to day basis. It also helped me to make a few connections for myself.

Do you feel you “get” Twitter? What about it do you (not) understand?

  • I do feel that I get Twitter, but I feel that I am not using to my full capacity. I understand what is valued in the community, but I feel that I don’t always bring that value because I feel I don’t have the time to go out and find the interesting thought provoking news – I feel that I am on more of the receiving end of what’s going on – and that’s fine with me…
  • I think I “semi” get twitter. I still don’t completely understand retweets and stuff like that. but I understand how to search for things from what you taught us.
  • Yes very much so.
  • I do “get” Twitter. I still have a lot to learn, and I need to become better about posting original thoughts and putting more depth into what I saw, but overall I do eel that I “get” it.
  • It took a while, but I think I get it now. Sometime I think I get it too much because I get so frustrated with the whole fad aspect of it.
  • I understand Twitter, but I feel like you have to almost become addicted to it to become a full-fledged user. You have to be constantly engaged with someone else in conversation and understand all of the lingo and special tools (i.e. RT, #) to use Twitter to its full potential. Sometimes its unnerving to try to start/join a conversation rather than just give updates on what you’re doing, which most people won’t reply to.

Aything else you’d like to tell me about Twitter in PR classes?

  • Twitter is good for PR classes. Regardless of what people say. 🙂
  • This was great for communication with you as well. I think it helped us be able to interact and I think its great to keep the lines of communication open with you!
  • I like being able to Twitter about class…during class. It’s nice to be able to bounce ideas off of other classmates.
  • I would recommend giving students a few contacts outside of the classroom to follow when starting. For instance, offer students the names of PRSSA mentors to follow first who can springboard them into conversations with other professionals.

What has your experience been learning or teaching Twitter?

PRSA Health Academy and Social Media

16 05 2009

I spent the last few days at the PRSA Health Academy Conference and had a great time. For more information here is the website:

Much of the conference revolved around social media.  My favorite session was the Plenary Session conducted by Jennifer Martin, director of PR for CNN.  Jennifer gave the audience many great tips for working with social media by explaining what CNN has done.  She told us many things about CNN’s coverage of Obama’s inauguration and how used Facebook connect to enhance the efforts.  It was amazing to see just how many people logged on to watch the event.

She also gave some useful suggestions for anyone thinking about getting his/her feet wet in social media.

1.) Know your audience.  You need to find what’s right for you and your public.  And, you need to put your public first

2.) Try to connect your efforts to something pro-social.  Jennifer talked about CNN’s and Ashton Kutcher’s race to get to 1 million twitter followers.  CNN didn’t win, but the organization did make donations of nets and money to a relief organization in Africa, which helped CNN to get some good press.

3.) Nothing is one-size fits all.  You’ll need to experiment.  What works for one person or one organization may not work for you.  Be willing to try and try again.

4.) Expect to make mistakes.  Don’t let the mistakes paralyze your efforts; learn from them.

Brigitta R. Brunner

viral video assignment in PR writing

9 05 2009

This semester in my PR writing class at the University of Georgia, I tasked my students to create videos which we hope would “go viral.” The purpose of the assignment was put the students’ ability to:

  • identify their audiences
  • determine the correct appeal
  • create a message that would resonate.

To ensure this wasn’t just a “cool YouTube assignment,” I had students turn in storyboards which I graded as an assignment & gave feed back on publics, appeal and messaging.

In preparation of this month-long team project, we welcomed Converseon‘s Paull Young into our classroom via Skype to tell us the secrets of making videos so good that they just can’t help but go viral. (watch here and here.)

I invited our client for the project, UGA Admissions, to come in to talk about their admissions recruiting process, the distinctly different audiences (parents, high school students, transfer students, etc.) and what they’d like to achieve with the video project. I asked the NOT to tell us the content of the videos they’d like — let us creatively see what we can come up with — but focus on an end-project goal with us instead.

Student were promised bonus points if UGA Admissions picked their video for use in the recruiting efforts. I also held a “viral showdown” where all the videos competed against one another and the top two most popular videos (videos with the most views) got bonus points as well. Interestingly, there was some difference in the make-up of the winners for the Admission-selected videos and the most viewed videos.

In grading the viral videos, I created a standard rubric looking again at publics, appeal and message. Given Paull’s advice to the students, I also looked for whether there was a call to action. Additionally, I looked at the technical quality – could you hear the dialogue, were the transitions adequate, etc. All copyrighted material (music, images) was both acknowledged in the credits of the film and students provided me proof of permission for use for everything. (We don’t believe in stealing music or photos here & that was another lesson I wanted to teach.)

Because these videos were posted on my YouTube account, I was able to look at the YouTube InSights data for each video. Along with the graded feedback from the rubrics sheets, students received print outs of the InSight data on who was looking at their video (gender, ages, location), how they found the video (referrers & search terms) as well as the neat “hot spots” graph which I annotated to show where people might have rewound the video or at which point they abandoned watching it.

In the end, the students loved the project and I feel it showed the professional approach PR can take with making social media content. Just because it is on YouTube does not mean that you can steal music to play in the background or that you should forget everything you learned about messaging.

I gave students a month to work on it outside of class. They were in teams of 3-4 people, self-selected. They were given full creative control of their content for the video & just received consultation-type feedback from me. They checked out my flip cams to record the videos (2-day check out for each of my 2 flip cams) & most of them taught themselves how to use iMovie to create the video. While I offered some level of tech support, few asked me any questions at all.

If you’re curious, UGA Admissions selected:
#1: Lessons Learned: Katherine Durham, Danielle Sender, Devin Zimmerman
#2: My UGA: Kristin Ballard, Ryan Barnes, Magan Cowart, Meredith Schneider

The viral showdown winners were (views as of April 28, 2009):
#1: My UGA: Kristin Ballard, Ryan Barnes, Magan Cowart, Meredith Schneider (1,922 views)
#2: There’s no place like home – UGA: Staci Dale, Katie Brown, Katie Holcomb (1,369 views)

You can watch all the videos, some admittedly better than others, at this YouTube playlist.

Dr. Kaye D. Sweetser, APR, is an assistant professor of public relations in the H.W. Grady College of Journalism & Mass Communication at the University of Georgia. She blogs at, and can be reached via e-mail at sweetser[AT] This was cross-posted at the so this is mass communication?.

free webinar on transparency in PR social media

9 05 2009

Shel Holtz to deliver free webinar on transparency

Shel Holtz to deliver free webinar on transparency at noon EST on May 20.

Thomson Reuters is sponsoring a free webinar featuring Shel Holtz dealing with online transparency in brand-building and stakeholder communication.

You can read more info on their site, but the webinar is at noon EST on May 20.

In touching on this ethical issue in PR, they promise to “share practical techniques and case studies on how you can (and why you should) deliver your communications with greater openness and authenticity.”

And now a note about webinars.

There are very few webinars out there that end up being worth the time, let alone the price tag, it costs to “attend.” That said, I’ve had consistent success with webinars sponsored by Thomson Reuters. Their webinars are specific with case studies and real how tos on “how to do X” — not just generalized “isn’t it great to do X” information.

Dr. Kaye D. Sweetser, APR, is an assistant professor of public relations in the H.W. Grady College of Journalism & Mass Communication at the University of Georgia. She blogs at, and can be reached via e-mail at sweetser[AT]

Message Design Recommendations Based on Risk Communication Research

28 04 2009

doctorBy Tiffany Gallicano, University of Oregon
(Cross-posted to The PR Post and PR Open Mic)

The swine flu outbreak is an opportunity to talk with students about basic principles of risk communication. Risk communication includes encouraging people to take preventive measures in the face of risk (anything from evacuating before a flood to taking daily vitamins) and helping people cope with risks, such as terrorism. Below are guidelines for risk communication.

1. Think through your word choice. Does the situation warrant the label of “pandemic,” or would “outbreak” be appropriate? You don’t want to scare people unnecessarily or have the opposite problem of leaving people unprepared.

2. Look for aspects of the risk to highlight, depending on whether you want to heighten or ease the sense of risk. If you want to increase public concern about global warming, your message strategy would differ from what you would do if you were developing message points about the swine flu outbreak. Based on Peter Sandman’s research, people feel more comfortable with risks that have the following features:

  • People choose their chances of exposure to the risk (e.g., whether to travel to Mexico).
  • The risk is naturally created, rather than resulting from human actions.
  • The risk is easy to detect, such as an illness that has identifiable symptoms.
  • The problem can be eliminated.

3. Acknowledge uncertainty when speculating. For credibility, risk communicators needs to be accurate in their communication, which usually involves using tentative statements. Also, for situations like the swine flu outbreak, Peter Sandman shared the following sound bite with reporters: “Everyone needs to learn how to say, ‘This could be bad, and it’s a good reason to take precautions and prepare’ and ‘This could fizzle out.’ They need to simultaneously say both statements.”

4. Give people something to do to lower their risk. However minimal it might be, give people something to do to reduce their risk (see here and here for examples). When the Washington, D.C., snipers were in my area in 2002, I followed police recommendations featured in The Washington Post to walk briskly in a zig zag pattern. Even though I felt silly walking zig zag, I felt like I had some measure of control in reducing my risk. Also note that people tend to feel more comfortable with risk when they choose to expose themselves to it. Even providing the threat level for air travel gives people some amount of choice in deciding whether the risk is worth the trip. For more information about the importance of this guideline, see Kim Witte’s extended parallel process model.

5. Give frequent updates and repeat core messages through various forms of media. An example of this is CDC’s Twitter account (hat tip to the In Case of Emergency blog). Here is a quote from a communication expert I interviewed for my dissertation: “Nowadays, you have to over-communicate… The information doesn’t filter. We have nine or 10 ways of communicating.”

6. Consider cultural barriers. At the University of Oregon Conference on HIV/AIDS in Africa, Pauline Peters, a lecturer at Harvard University, discussed cultural considerations for HIV/AIDS prevention campaigns in Malawi. Simply telling people to wear condoms to protect themselves would not work well in this environment. Many people there viewed condoms as poisonous and associated condoms with illicit sex. A best practice in developing messages is to partner with representatives of the community to determine message design and delivery.

Interested in teaching a risk communication class?
Feel free to use my course schedule for graduate students as a resource, which includes a list of journal articles and other resources. We are reading two books for the class, which I strongly recommend:

I reviewed many risk communication books before selecting these two, and I also paid attention to book cost when making these selections. These books as a combination work well; their different approaches can result in rich class discussion.