Chat with us, powered by LiveChat Post on the Discussion Board a maximum 1000-word ?on the meaning, role, and value of public relations in global society. Provide robust analysis of the place of ethics in the practice of p | Wridemy

Post on the Discussion Board a maximum 1000-word ?on the meaning, role, and value of public relations in global society. Provide robust analysis of the place of ethics in the practice of p

Post on the Discussion Board a maximum 1000-word ?on the meaning, role, and value of public relations in global society. Provide robust analysis of the place of ethics in the practice of p

 Discussion Post: Post on the Discussion Board a maximum 1000-word  on the meaning, role, and value of public relations in global society. Provide robust analysis of the place of ethics in the practice of public relations. Do not merely summarize the various ethical approaches; try to apply them. In other words, what does ethical action look like in PR? What should it look like? Why? Cite course readings in your response. 




It’s Not Just





It’s Not Just

Whether one sees it as unwelcome, underappreciated, or unnoticed, public relations has an important infl uence on modern society. In the second edition of their award- winning book, W. Timothy Coombs and Sherry J. Holladay provide a broad and thorough look at the fi eld of public relations in the world today and assess its impact on society’s values, knowledge, and perceptions.

The authors show how public relations aff ects society – both positively and negatively – and use a range of global, contemporary examples from multinational corporations through to the non-profi t sector to prove their point. The authors have thoroughly revised and updated the book with discussion of new issues, including the search within the profession for a defi nition of PR; the role and limitations of social media; the emergence of issues management; how private politics is shaping corporate behavior; and the rise of global activism and the complications of working in a global world. The authors also provide a nuanced and balanced discussion of ethical concerns for professionals in the fi eld that doesn’t rely on oversimplifi cation of the issues. Well organized and clearly written by two leading scholars, this is a must-read for students and professionals in strategic communication.

W. Timothy Coombs and Sherry J. Holladay are Professors in the Nicholson School of Communication at the University of Central Florida. They are co-authors of Managing Corporate Social Responsibility (Wiley Blackwell, 2011) and PR Strategy and Application (Wiley Blackwell, 2009), and co-editors of The Handbook of Crisis Communication (Wiley Blackwell, 2010).

ISBN 978-1-118-55400-5

“Concise and thought-provoking examination about ‘what counts’ as public relations and the fi eld’s impact on society; an excellent discussion primer about the issues facing the profession today and in the foreseeable future.”

Michael J. Palenchar, University of Tennessee

“This is an engaging introduction to PR. I like its quick overviews of key authors, ideas, and debates, its easy style, but, most of all, that it makes the reader think.”

Magda Pieczka, Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh


It’s Not Just PR

For Megan, Molly, Ben, Martha, Matthew, and Brandon who are the future.

About the Authors

W. Timothy Coombs is Professor in the Nicholson School of Communi­ cation at the University of Central Florida. His books include the award­ winning Ongoing Crisis Communication (2007) and Code Red in the Boardroom (2006). With Sherry J. Holladay, he is co­author of Managing Corporate Social Responsibility (Wiley Blackwell, 2011) and PR Strategy and Application (Wiley Blackwell, 2009) and co­editor of The Handbook of Crisis Communi­ cation (Wiley Blackwell, 2010). He has worked with consulting firms in the U.S. and Europe on ways to improve crisis communication efforts for their clients.

Sherry J. Holladay is Professor in the Nicholson School of Communi­ cation at the University of Central Florida. She teaches courses in public relations and corporate communication and her research interests include corporate social responsibility, crisis communication, reputation manage­ ment, activism, and stakeholder relations. Her work appears in the Journal of Public Relations Research, Public Relations Review, Management Communi­ cation Quarterly, Journal of Communication Management, and International Journal of Strategic Communication.

It’s Not Just PR Public Relations in Society

Second Edition

W. Timothy Coombs Sherry J. Holladay

This second edition first published 2014 © 2014 John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Edition history: Blackwell Publishing Ltd (1e, 2007)

Registered Office John Wiley & Sons Ltd, The Atrium, Southern Gate, Chichester, West Sussex, PO19 8SQ, UK

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The right of W. Timothy Coombs and Sherry J. Holladay to be identified as the authors of this work has been asserted in accordance with the UK Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, except as permitted by the UK Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, without the prior permission of the publisher.

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Library of Congress Cataloging­in­Publication data is available for this book.

9781118554005 (paperback)

A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.

Cover image © noolwlee / Shutterstock Cover design by Simon Levy

Set in 11/13.5pt Dante by SPi Publisher Services, Pondicherry, India

1 2014


Acknowledgments vi

Introduction to the Second Edition 1

1 Does Society Need Public Relations? 4

2 Ethical Implications of Public Relations 36

3 Who Practices Public Relations? 60

4 Public Relations Influences Society 90

5 Shifting the View of Public Relations 123

References 141

Index 159


We would like to thank Elizabeth Swayze and Wiley Blackwell for their support of this book over the years. The book was a bit of a risk given its topic and format but it seems to have worked for all involved, including its readers. We also would like to thank Allison Kostka and Julia Kirk for their patience and help with the revisions, and to thank those reviewers who provided feedback to the revision plan. It takes a team to publish a book, and we are happy to be part of such a great team.

It’s Not Just PR: Public Relations in Society, Second Edition. W. Timothy Coombs and Sherry J. Holladay. © 2014 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Published 2014 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Introduction to the Second Edition

When we had the opportunity to write the first edition of this book, our task of developing a title was challenging due to the book’s unconven­ tional approach and topic coverage. But the title, It’s Not Just PR: Public Relations in Society, seemed to capture our ideas quite well. The title was designed to reflect the frustration of many academics and practitioners who feel the term “public relations” is trivialized, misunderstood, and misused. Its colloquial use tends to be tainted with negative connotations as critics lament the substitution of “public relations” for facts, substance, or the “real story.”

We welcome our opportunity to broaden readers’ understanding of public relations by offering a perspective designed to “complicate” public relations by addressing corporate uses and limitations of a corporate­ centric view of public relations but also presenting alternative views and analyses to expand our thinking about “what counts” as public relations.

Public relations activities continue to be equated with distortion, manipulation, and stonewalling, and depicted in negative ways. The pub­ lic’s dependence on the media, coupled with the media’s misuse of the term, translates into a lack of understanding of the practice. Unfortunately, there are far too many incidents where corporations have used public rela­ tions in unethical ways to pursue economic self­interests at the expense of the public interest, thereby reinforcing its tainted image. In spite of reports

It’s Not Just PR: Public Relations in Society


of activist actions that positively impact on society, such as those of Greenpeace, Labour Behind the Label, UK Uncut, and PETA, the public is unlikely to identify these as examples of public relations. Negative con­ notations of public relations may lead people to wonder if society would be better off without public relations.

Consistent with the vision of the first edition, the second edition of It’s Not Just PR invites readers to develop a more complex and complete understanding of the practice of public relations. Societal developments, including the increasing effects of globalization and communication tech­ nologies on business and activist practices, as well as events that spotlight both ethical and unethical uses of public relations, are well represented in this new edition. New extended examples that illustrate the use and grow­ ing importance of social media as a communication tool are included.

This second edition of It’s Not Just PR should help readers understand why society benefits from the practice of public relations. The new edition expands our examination of the role of power in public relations and the use of public relations by non­corporate entities. At the time the first edition was written, the concern with power along with critical and post­ modern approaches to public relations were underdeveloped, especially within the United States. We are proud to have helped introduce readers to these perspectives and are gratified with the positive responses we receive to our presentation of these ideas. In many ways we were well ahead of the curve in exploring these ideas, which is not always the most comfortable position for publishers. We hope that the increasing interest in power and activism, along with greater acceptance of more “radical” ideas in the published academic literature, confirms the value of our vision that guided the development of the first edition.

This edition examines both the microlevel and macrolevel (societal, global) processes and outcomes of the practice of public relations. The microlevel examines what defines and constitutes public relations. We focus on the relationship between organizations and their stakeholders, people who are affected by and can affect the organizations. The issue of power is central to our exploration of the relationship dynamic. People often think of corporations, especially multinational corporations, as very powerful compared to average citizens. Sources of power for stake­ holders and organizations are discussed with an eye to demonstrating stakeholders’ potential for influence on corporations and society. As sug­ gested by stakeholder theory, stakeholders can develop power resources



to participate in the marketplace of ideas. However, in most cases the power advantage lies with the corporation. The interdependence between organizations and stakeholders is central to our appreciation of power dynamics and ethical practices in the web of relationships.

The macrolevel focuses on how public relations can impact society by influencing laws, behaviors, and values. A macrolevel examination exposes limitations of a purely corporate­centric approach to public relations. We address how the practice of public relations extends well beyond corpora­ tions and national borders and must be considered within the global con­ text. Global public relations as a form of transnational activism and public diplomacy has been growing. Its expansion and effectiveness has been aided by the Internet. Case studies illuminate how activists, including PVOs, use the Internet and public relations practices to influence corpo­ rate and governmental practices around the world.

We are not so naive as to believe that public relations is not used to pursue or to obscure courses of action that harm stakeholders and society. Public relations is not all­powerful, exclusively corporate, or always harm­ ful to stakeholders and society. Nor is it only used by activists and non­ profits to benefit stakeholders and society. The reality is that public relations is a complex mix of all these factors and more. Our goal is to complicate your thinking about public relations by peering behind the misuses of the term to examine its role in society. In the end, we hope this book demonstrates how public relations does have a place in and can be beneficial to society.

It’s Not Just PR: Public Relations in Society, Second Edition. W. Timothy Coombs and Sherry J. Holladay. © 2014 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Published 2014 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Does Society Need Public Relations?


Conceptualizations of what constitutes public relations cast a wide net and demonstrate a lack of consistency. And when something is labeled by the media as a “public relations” action, it seems to be with a negative, disparaging tone (e.g., “mere public relations,” “PR spin,” “PR hype,” “PR rhetoric,” or “a public relations stunt”). As described in the media, virtu­ ally anything that a corporation or its representatives does may be labeled as “public relations” and treated with suspicion. Activities as diverse as attempts to explain a negative financial report, launch a new product, encourage employees to volunteer in the community, and donate money to a charity, have all been identified as “public relations.” What, then, is not public relations?

Critics of public relations tend to focus attention on what they call public relations efforts involved in defending the most obvious and egregious violations of the public trust: cover­ups (such as Enron, Tyco, and HealthSouth), CEO/CFO scandals, the spokesperson who deceives the public in order to defend the actions of the organization, and illegal dumping of toxic chemicals. Attempts to minimize or conceal these scandalous actions often are cast as “PR ploys” designed to deflect the negative impacts of questionable corporate actions including suspicious financial reports, management misbehavior, dubious environmental

Does Society Need Public Relations?


records, or human rights violations. Public relations becomes equated with stonewalling. Stonewalling is the attempt to hide information or delay its release. The public relations practitioner becomes a barrier to the truth, not the bringer of truth.

Scandals attract attention. Good deeds and the mundane are less likely to generate media exposure. What go unrecognized are the more com­ monplace and typical PR efforts that characterize the daily existence of organizations (e.g., employee communication, community relations, etc.). Examples include announcements about promotions, recognition of awards won by an organization, or efforts to support local charities or community groups. These more accurately characterize the PR efforts of most organizations. Very few PR practitioners are ever in the position of managing major scandals like those generated by News Corporation, Lance Armstrong, and Olympus. Public relations is the subject of heavy criticism in a number of cultures. Upon learning of these criticisms, peo­ ple are often left to ponder if society needs public relations. Without it, would society be better or worse off ? Both professionals and academics have tried to defend the practice. Often the defense attributes to public relations very lofty pursuits, which seem rather unrealistic. By reviewing the good and bad of public relations we can better appreciate its place in society.

The first half of the chapter examines the negative effects of public relations. We start by reviewing media portrayals. Most people learn about the practice of public relations through media coverage of the field and use of the term. Hence, the media help to construct people’s percep­ tions. Public relations has some individual vocal critics as well. We exam­ ine the main critics and the reasons for their disdain. As a corollary, some of the popular press books on public relations are surveyed. Public rela­ tions can be its own worst enemy by emphasizing the aspects most despised by its critics.

The second half of the chapter considers the utility of public rela­ tions in a democratic society. Practitioner and academic defenses of public relations are presented. The chapter ends by offering our concep­ tualization of public relations. We provide a definition of public relations that highlights the role of communication, relationship management, and mutual influence between organizations and stakeholders. This provides the basis for understanding where public relations fits into the needs of society.

It’s Not Just PR: Public Relations in Society


Media Use and the Term “PR”

In late 2012, Internet reports began to appear that Instagram, an applica­ tion for sharing digital images, intended to sell any photos flowing through the application to advertisers. In other words, Instagram could sell any of your pictures that you posted through Instagram without your consent or compensation. The CEO of Instagram, Keven Systrom, quickly began blogging and backtracking on the idea as people began canceling or threatening to cancel their accounts. One media outlet characterized the CEO’s response as “more spin than anything else” (Adhikari 2012). In December of 2012, the Armed Forces of the Philippines released a state­ ment saying the organization would celebrate National Human Rights Consciousness Week with a variety of events designed to show their com­ mitment to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. A news story, critical of the Armed Forces, said the statement “is pure and simple PR spin” (Legaspi 2012, para. 10). These examples illustrate how the media often report on public relations as actions that are style with no substance or even a type of deception.

Although we frequently hear people refer to public relations, the practice of public relations is not well understood. The media may be at least in part to blame for the public’s lack of understanding because they tend to use the term “public relations” inaccurately and to focus on some types of PR practice while ignoring others. It is important to con­ sider seriously these portrayals of the uses of public relations and its professionals because they shape people’s perceptions of what PR is, when it might be used, and what PR professionals do. The unfortunate part is that, as is shown by systematic research into media portrayals of public relations, comparing them with the reality, these portrayals are negative (for instance, they equate PR with deception) as well as quite limited. They fail to capture the full range of PR activities and focus mainly on publicity functions. Additionally, the media often label com­ munications and actions as “mere PR” when they really are not what PR professionals would consider public relations. Overall, the media’s use of the term “PR” seems fraught with negative connotations. Empirical research has established the extent of distortion in these portrayals. In 1988, Bishop discovered PR was equated with “publicity” in the newspa­ per coverage in a sample of three newspapers. Keenan (1996) found

Does Society Need Public Relations?


nearly half of the references to public relations in major network media coverage reflected the press agency model. Public relations was por­ trayed as nothing more than trying to generate media coverage. Julie Henderson (1998) examined the use of the term “public relations” in 100 popular press media articles. In about 5 percent of them the term PR was used accurately, in ways that would be acceptable to the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), the professional association. This is problematic because the media are a key source of cues for building reputations when people have little interaction with an entity (Dowling 2002). Most people learn about public relations from the media, not from practitioners.

The problem of limited or inaccurate conceptions of public relations is compounded by the negative use of the term itself, as in the Instagram example, and by negative comments about PR. Henderson’s (1998) research found that in only about 7 percent of the articles could the references to PR be considered “positive.” Spicer (1993) found the majority (83 percent) of references to public relations in print media were negative.

Scrimger and Richards (2003) explored Canadian journalists’ uses of  metaphors of violent conflict to describe communication between organizations and the public. They examined articles where journalists used the term “public relations battle” or “public relations war.” They found these phrases were invoked even though the reality of the situa­ tion often did not justify the use of inflammatory metaphors. In more than one­half of the cases (55 percent), the terms were used in the first paragraph of the story. In all cases the choice of word was the journal­ ists’; no sources were directly quoted as using either of the two phrases. Thus, their research demonstrates that journalists are prone to frame situations as “violent confrontations” (PR wars or battles) in spite of the fact that the participants do not describe their situations in this way. The media coverage offered a conflict frame even though there could be areas of consensus or agreement between the parties. These types of portrayals could lead the public to misperceive typical PR practices as involving disputes rather than collaboration. Research consistently demonstrates a negative portrayal of public relations and/or use of the term in the media. Media treatment of public relations is an indirect form of criticism. Others have been more direct in their disdain for public relations.

It’s Not Just PR: Public Relations in Society


Criticisms of Public Relations

It is not difficult to locate critiques of the practice of public relations. Critics of public relations are numerous, vocal, and profess allegiance to a variety of disciplines. Critiques can be found in popular press books and in journalistic discussions of public relations. These sources are now reviewed to understand why public relations is considered by some to be a pariah in society.

Popular press attacks on public relations

Two popular press books stand out for casting a critical eye on the practice of public relations: PR! A Social History of Spin (1996) and Toxic Sludge is Good for You! (1995). Popular press books, in contrast to more academically oriented books, are aimed at a wide, general audience. It is noteworthy that there is little agreement in them on what constitutes public relations. These popular press books reflect an attitude that seemed particularly prevalent in the 1990s, a time that corresponds to the growth of corporate power. An underlying theme in both books mentioned above is that large corporations are dangerous and that public relations is one of the tenta­ cles on this dangerous octopus.

Often popular press books present examples from the history of public relations, select dramatic illustrations to reveal its “unethical nature,” and focus on how contemporary businesses (or governments) use PR to pur­ sue economic objectives at the expense of the public interest. The exam­ ples serve to represent the whole. Synecdoche is used as an argument. If part of what public relations does is bad, then everything public relations does is bad. A part comes to represent the whole.

Stuart Ewen’s PR! A Social History of Spin, recounts the development of the practice of public relations by focusing on the commonly recognized pioneers of public relations, Edward Bernays (the “father of public rela­ tions”) and Ivy Lee, and identifies scholars who influenced their thinking (e.g., Walter Lippmann, Gustave Le Bon). He also contextualized various public relations efforts conducted by private industry and government within various historical, economic, social, and corporate periods. Ewen writes that his book focuses on “the social and historical roots that would explain the boundless role of public relations in our world” (1996: 3). Interestingly, Ewen

Does Society Need Public Relations?


does not define a key word in his book’s title, “spin” (nor does it appear in the index), perhaps because he assumes the savvy reader will assume that PR and spin are synonymous. (From the title alone, how is the prospective reader supposed to know that this is a book about public relations?)

Near the end of the book Ewen writes that public relations is designed to “circumvent critical thinking” and is “rarely intended to inform the population about the intricacies of an issue” (p. 412). He expresses con­ cern over the fact that the techniques used have become increasingly “sophisticated” and “pervasive” (p. 409). A theme of this work is that PR poses a real threat to democracy because it undermines open, public dis­ course. Powerful corporations can hire skilled PR professionals and gain access to the media in order to advocate their policies and points of view; they thus exercise enormous influence, which the average person cannot match. He suggests that the general public is untrained and ill­informed in sophisticated PR methods, and not equipped to assess PR output.

In the final section of his book he advocates education in media literacy in order to equip citizens with the analytical tools needed to critically ana­ lyze media messages and images; this education should begin in primary grades. We believe that media literacy is a laudable goal, and people should be discriminating consumers of mediated messages. However, public relations is not the sole force responsible for its need. Ewen’s book reflects a distrust of corporations: people must be wary of the deceptions enacted by corporations. And, as he says, public relations is a perfect mechanism for corporate deception.

John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton’s Toxic Sludge is Good for You! Lies, Damn Lies and the Public Relations Industry, offers a highly critical view of PR which focuses on how it is used to deceive the public. Their goal is to enlighten the masses: “We want the public at large to recognize the skilled propagandists of industry and government who are affecting public opin­ ion and determining public policies, while remaining (they hope) out of public view” (p. 16). They argue that the democratic process has been railroaded through the use of PR techniques. When we think corpora­ tions are doing something that is socially responsible or for the good of the public, we had better look more closely because we are merely being fooled. We should remain suspicious and scrutinize their PR actions to unmask what corporations gain from seemingly noble acts.

The book is comprised of interesting, lively­written case studies designed to reveal PR’s role in influencing public opinion and policy.


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