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Discussion Questions

Chapter 1

  1. Why do you think public relations is so difficult to define? Which of the existing definitions seems most useful to you?
  2. The launch of a Hollywood summer movie might involve: billboard posters, promotional T-shirts, the organisation of a première in the West End of London, guest appearances by stars on TV chat shows,articles about the use of special effects in film or general media, and trailers from the movie on websites and mobile phones. Which of these are public relations? What are the others?
  3. Do you think it matters if you can’t tell whether a webcam link to a new band has been made in a bedsit and uploaded by the artist(s) or made to look like that by the PR department of a multinational music corporation?
  4. Why do you think some people accuse PR of being the same as propaganda? What arguments would you present against this point of view?
  5. Can employees be equally committed to their employer’s interests and to those of wider society?
  6. Is there any kind of company you wouldn’t work for/have as a client? Why?
  7. Why do you think writing is ranked so highly as a key PR skill?
  8. Look at some of the adverts on the PR vacancy pages of the Guardian or PR Week. How many different job titles can you find? When you look at the details, are they all so different from each other? What do they have in common?
  9. You are looking for a PR agency to handle the promotion of a new fragrance for older women. Would you prefer a specialist agency that focuses on this age range or one that has more experience of promoting perfumes across all ages?
  10. Do you think it will be harder to tell the difference between PR, marketing and advertising in social media – and does it matter?

Chapter 2

  1. How helpful are communications models in understanding the media? Which one best explains the role of public relations in mass communications?
  2. What kind of noise might affect the following communications?
    1. Web page
    2. Magazine read at home
    3. Newsletter read at work/college
  3. Are the media a powerful influence on society or just another source of information? Is the influence direct or indirect?
  4. How does the growth of social media sites affect these communication models? In particular, look at their impact on the gatekeeper role in the Westley-McLean model and the idea of feedback in linear models.
  5. What is the key difference in the role of the audience between the Shannon and Weaver model and the Uses and Gratifications approach?
  6. How might the study of semiotics improve PR practice? Look at the logos of three leading organisations and see if you can detect the meaning they intend to convey.
  7. What is the main difference between one-way and two-way communication? Can you find examples of both?
  8. Do you think persuasion is always wrong? How much of PR work is normally persuasive communication?
  9. Why do you think Grunig updated the four models between 1984 and 2001? What are the key differences?
  10. Using the Uses and Gratifications approach, consider what you look for in a:
    1. Local newspaper
    2. Student newsletter
    3. Fanzine
    4. Favourite TV soap
    5. PR textbook

Chapter 3

  1. What are the key media management strategies used by governments in democratic societies?
  2. ‘All political parties and all governments spin. And there is nothing wrong with it’ (Finkelstein, 2003). Do you agree with Finkelstein’s assessment?
  3. Do you agree with Fairclough (2000) that democratic dialogue is being replaced with a ‘managerial and promotional’ approach to the political process in the UK?
  4. How useful is the concept of the ‘public sphere’ in the context of government communication and PR?
  5. Examine a media campaign surrounding a current policy initiative by the British Government. In what ways have politicians and their media advisors attempted to ‘manage’ the British media to achieve the maximum favourable coverage of their policy?
  6. Does lobbying of political elites subvert the democratic process?
  7. Why should public affairs practitioners pay attention to ‘language frames’, ‘narratives’ or ‘discourses’ in the policy sphere?
  8. Should lobbyists in the UK be more tightly controlled? Would you favour statutory regulation similar to that which exists in the US for the UK lobbying industry?
  9. In response to the fuel price campaign in 2000 Tony Blair said ‘No government, indeed no country, can retain credibility in its democratic process or its economic policy-making were it to give in to such protests. Real damage is being done to real people.’ Is pressure group grass-roots campaigning a legitimate public affairs activity?
  10. Examine a current public affairs campaign in relation to a key policy issue. Which strategies are utilised by those advocating the policy, or policy change and how do they frame the language or discourse in public policy debates?

Chapter 4

  1. How helpful are the strategic management or systems approaches in explaining public relations as a strategic activity? What are their strengths and weaknesses? Are there other more appropriate approaches?
  2. What information resources might you use to enable you to undertake a comprehensive EPISTLE analysis for your organisation?
  3. Which research techniques might you use to find out what your target publics think of your organisation?
  4. Sometimes public relations practitioners are also called risk managers. What contribution do you think practitioners can make to risk management?
  5. What training do you think practitioners need to be equipped to analyse information accurately?
  6. What personal skills do you think a boundary-spanner requires?
  7. What are the business environment and sectoral influences that would affect Easy Jet airlines and Routledge, the book publisher?
  8. What factors might turn a stakeholder into a public? Give three examples.
  9. Why do you think public relations is undervalued in some organisations?
  10. What do you think is the most powerful contribution public relations can bring to an organisation?

Chapter 5

  1. Should the professional public relations associations in the UK merge to increase their representation of the industry?
  2. Do you feel that 10 years’ experience is equivalent to the completion of an academic course in public relations? Should the CIPR drop this option to qualify for membership?
  3. Has chartered status for the CIPR improved the image of public relations?
  4. Would mandatory licensing improve the reputation of public relations?
  5. Is the Global Protocol on Ethics realistic?
  6. What are the benefits of membership of a professional association to public relations practitioners? To their clients or employers?
  7. Does a voluntary system of CPD address the need for practitioner competency? If not, how might that need be addressed?
  8. How does the Chartered Practitioner designation affect the perception of public relations? Do the requirements allow for the demonstration of competency in practice?
  9. Discuss Farrington’s opinion that we all know what behaving professionally means. What do you think constitutes professional behaviour?
  10. How might professional behaviour be promoted within the industry?

Chapter 6

  1. How does corporate communication differ from consumer public relations?
  2. What constitutes a ‘good’ reputation?
  3. To what extent can HBOS build or erode social capital?
  4. What is the role of communication in establishing legitimacy?
  5. Why is a stakeholder perspective important? Can it be used cynically?
  6. How can PR practice damage or benefit the democratic process?
  7. Draw a stakeholder map for HBOS.
  8. Should an organisation-centric view of stakeholders be avoided?
  9. What criteria should be used to measure a company’s ‘contribution to society’?
  10. Bearing the attitude behaviour gap (Boulstridge and Carrigan, 2000) in mind, does ‘A good reputation enhance profitability because it attracts customers to the copmpany’s products..’? (Fombrun 1996: 81)

Chapter 7

  1. Can a carefully managed corporate identity affect a strategically important corporate image?
  2. What ethical issues should be considered when formulating and managing corporate identity?
  3. How can stakeholders be involved?
  4. Critique the assumption that corporate identity can be ‘wholly managed’.
  5. What is the effect of a marketing centred perspective of corporate identity management as opposed to a public relations centred approach?
  6. To what extent is issues management part of CI management?
  7. Specify how an existing corporate identity can be audited.
  8. Critics such as Christensen and Cheney consider CI management to be the domain of a small elite within organisations who become self-absorbed and deluded about the role and importance of identity: ‘In a world saturated with symbols, where there is a great demand for every organisation to keep communicating, it is easy to think that each message and every campaign are taken seriously and received in the ways designed. But such meanings are often malleable, unstable and of only ephemeral interest. In fact in many cases, cynicism may be the most prominent outcome’ (Christensen and Cheney in Schultz et al. 2000: 267). How could this view influence approaches to CI management?
  9. How would you justify the resources necessary for the introduction of a CI management programme to a sceptical CEO?
  10. To what extent is consistency important to managing corporate identity and how can multiplicity and diversity be facilitated?

Chapter 8

  1. What are the primary arguments for the jurisdiction of public relations in risk, issues and crisis management?
  2. How is risk identified and managed in your organisation – and what role does public relations play in this?
  3. Consider an area of risk that could impact on your organisation – what would factors would make it develop into an issue?
  4. Why do you think commentators use the term ‘PR disaster’ and what impact does seeing organisational problems in this way have on the occupation of PR?
  5. Are there any differences in how activists and other organisations use mainstream and online media to address risk, issues and crisis situations?
  6. Why are the ideas of power imbalance and disputation important in addressing issues or crisis situations?
  7. What are the benefits and drawbacks of establishing ‘best practice’ rules for risk, issues and crisis management?
  8. Why do organisations often ignore warning signals that could indicate the potential for a crisis situation?
  9. How could PR operate as an internal activist in your organisation to challenge management decisions?
  10. What challenges does an increasingly complex world present for the involvement of public relations in this area?

Chapter 9

  1. Assess Milton Friedman’s claim that ‘there is one and only one social responsibility of business – to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits’ (1993: 254).
  2. Assess the practicalities of achieving Evan and Freeman’s view that stakeholder groups have ‘a right not to be treated as a means to some end, and therefore must participate in determining the future direction of the firm in which they have a stake’ (1993: 255).
  3. In what ways may CSR highlight a dilemma (L’Etang 2006) at the heart of PR practice?

    The remaining questions require you to research your own case study example of CSR practice. Chose a company and analyse the documentation - its website is a good place to start - which outlines and explains its CSR programme.
  4. Does the company tend to adopt the language of ‘utilitarianism’ or the language of ‘deontology’ when explaining and justifying its CSR initiatives?
  5. What independent reporting indices does the organisation use in its CSR reporting? Does its report, for example, reflect recognised indicators from the United Nations Global Compact (2001), the Corporate Citizen Communication Index (2004), the Global Reporting Initiative (2006) or the UK/Ireland Business in the Community (BITC) guidelines?
  6. Assess the overall standard of reporting and evaluation of the company’s CSR activities. Is this clear, detailed and transparent?
  7. Does the CSR report include research on stakeholder feedback? If so, how is this reported? Which stakeholders are cited?
  8. How does the company use its website to measure stakeholder views on CSR issues? Does the website include evaluation tools such as online opinion forms?
  9. Does the website incorporate interactive feedback tools (e.g. chat rooms, forums, blogs, etc.)? Is there evidence that Web 2.0 capabilities are being utilised to their full potential?
  10. How are stakeholders included in corporate governance in respect to CSR? Does the organisation explain how their views ultimately feed into decision making surrounding policy and practice?

Chapter 10

  1. Is evaluation essential in helping PR to gain credibility as a profession?
  2. Could ‘goal-free’ evaluation be applied in the PR context?
  3. How can senior management/clients be persuaded to invest in evaluation?
  4. Will AVE ever be replaced as an evaluation method?
  5. How could PR be evaluated at the societal level?
  6. Are professional judgement and experience acceptable forms of evaluation?
  7. What is the main reason for low levels of impact evaluation in PR?
  8. What can be done to encourage more evaluation among practitioners?
  9. Do the Barcelona Principles represent a significant step forward for PR evaluation?
  10. Does online evaluation differ from evaluating offline PR?

Chapter 11

  1. Do social media make the reality of globalisation of public relations practice more likely? 
  2. To what extent has the acquisition of business and brands in Europe and America by businesses from emerging economies been made easier by public relations? How has public relations supported dialogue with different publics?
  3. What instances of different cultural sensitivities to time have you experienced? How were they resolved?
  4. Is country of origin more important than place of work? Do you agree with Holden’s view that organisational culture is more influential than societal culture?
  5. How do you see ‘western public relations practice’ adapting to achieve an organisation’s objectives in countries with an aural tradition and high penetration of mobile phones but limited access to the net?
  6. Think of a successful PR message disseminated in the UK by a global company. How might this be received in China? In India?
  7. What research would you need to carry out to implement a successful campaign across the US, the UK and Australia? What similarities and differences would you expect to find?
  8. How would you improve the image of the US in Arab countries? Could this be done by communications alone?
  9. How would you respond to the norm of paying for editorial coverage in India, China, Russia or the Ukraine?
  10. To what extent do you think that the Karen Hughes model for public diplomacy with a country’s multi-national businesses taking responsibility for promoting the country’s image abroad is integral to global public relations?

Chapter 12

  1. Should PR students study practical journalism?
  2. Should PR students still learn to produce a traditional ‘news release’?
  3. Has the arrival of digital media meant PR needs to rethink the term ‘journalist’?
  4. Do former journalists make good PR practitioners?
  5. Is the growth in ‘Churnalism’ claimed by Nick Davies good or bad for PR?
  6. Why don’t young people read newspapers? Does it matter?
  7. Who cares if Freddie Starr didn’t really eat a hamster? Why should PR be concerned if facts get in the way of a good story?
  8. How valuable is third party endorsement when readers don’t trust the endorser?
  9. Why do the vast majority of all news releases end up in the recycle bin?
  10. Should a news release be balanced, fair and accurate?

Chapter 13

  1. Thinking of an organisation you know, why do they undertake internal communication?  Can you see the connection between IC and organisation success?
  2. Thinking about an organisation you know, how would you segment the internal publics?  How might different employee groups react differently to a current issue?
  3. How would you go about gathering intelligence in an organisation?  What data might be currently available about employee attitudes and what information might you want to collect?
  4. Thinking about an internal campaign in an organisation, perhaps about safety, customer service or diversity, what objectives might you set for your communications?
  5. What channels exist for communications in a workplace with which you are familiar – what types of communication do they work well for? 
  6. How well prepared are line managers in your organisation to communicate?  Using the five questions asses how you might help line managers become more effective as communicators?
  7. Thinking of a communication campaign you have seen at work, how might you go about evaluating its effectiveness?
  8. Thinking about Quirke’s descriptions of the generic roles of IC practitioners, what type of people do you think are needed in a workplace that you are familiar with?
  9. What obstacles can you imagine might get in the way of a line manager or supervisor being an effective communicator – and how might you overcome those obstacles?
  10. Looking at Dewhurst and Fitzpatrick’s model of competencies – which do you think are strengths that you have and which could be personal development areas for you?

Chapter 14

  1. Identify some financial blogs and discuss how they could influence investment in a company.
  2. Analyse what impact communicating detailed financial data has on the communications narrative.
  3. Analyse the Investor Relations page of a major publicly quoted company and examine the sources of information available to an investor.  
  4. Do you think financial communications employs asymmetrical or symmetrical communications in mergers and acquisitions?
  5. Analyse the Kraft takeover of Cadbury in a shareholder and stakeholder perspective and its influence on communications strategy.  Are stakeholder perspectives becoming more important in communications around takeover bids? 
  6. Discuss the importance of traditional print media and compare with that of online and social media.
  7. What information about a company most influences investment decisions?  
  8. Compare a company’s financial results announcement with the press coverage it receives the following day in the print and online media.
  9. Evaluate communications problems in a hostile takeover. 
  10. Join a fantasy share-trading scheme such as www.bullbearings.com.  How do you choose the companies you invest in?

Chapter 15

  1. What are the challenges of working in public relations in the public sector?
  2. What are the differences between the types of public relations used in local government compared to police services?
  3. Should councils be allowed to publish their own magazines or newspapers? Do they represent unfair competition to local commercial media or are they fulfilling an unmet need for information about what councils do?
  4. What skills are important for a public relations practitioner in local government today compared to those that would have been important ten years ago?
  5. Read your local newspaper and note the stories about your local council. What could be done to improve the number of positive stories about the council in the local media?
  6. How is social media affecting the model of public relations undertaken by the public sector?
  7. What does the government’s drive for public sector transparency mean for the practice of public relations within the sector? Will it make public relations simpler or more difficult?
  8. In the age of financial austerity in the public sector should local councils have public relations departments at all?
  9. What does the drive to increase patient choice in the provision of healthcare mean for public relations in the health sector?
  10. One of the reasons corporate reputation is important in the private sector is to differentiate a company from its competition. Why is corporate reputation important in the public sector when often there is no competition among providers?

Chapter 16

  1. How do public relations and marketing overlap in the area of consumer public relations?
  2. Should all campaigns be carried out from an integrated marketing communications viewpoint?  What challenges does this present?
  3. How has the balance of power changed between brands and their consumers?
  4. What are the consequences of new technologies and social media channels on consumer PR?
  5. What is your reaction to the T Mobile ‘Dance’ campaign?  Are you aware of any other similar engagement activities?
  6. Investigate the range of tools and techniques deployed by Talisker whisky in its PR programme.  How did these bring the brand personality to life?
  7. Think of three common brands.  How is their brand personality conveyed through their communications?
  8. When might it be advantageous NOT to use an existing brand name when launching a new product?
  9. Which corporate brands are the most respected in your opinion? What qualities make them respected?
  10. What part has ‘place’ in consumer PR? Which companies have used this to their advantage?

Chapter 17

  1. What is the main difference in the audience for B2B and consumer PR?
  2. How are B2B and consumer public relations similar and in what ways do they differ? (You may want to refer to Chapter 16, which covers consumer PR.)
  3. Why is targetting considered to be easier in B2B PR?
  4. How could the media relations techniques discussed in Chapter 12 be applied to B2B PR?
  5. Earlier in the chapter, it was said that when dealing with trade journalists, it is important to assume expertise.  If you worked for a PR agency and were selling a story about a firm’s groundbreaking rennovation project to an architectural trade publication, how would you prepare? 
  6. Look at the lead headline story in a national newspaper.  Consider how a thought leader could give a new perspective or angle on the story to generate media attention.
  7. If you were responsible for the PR for an aircraft manufacturer, how would you go about organising a campaign targetted at trade journlists that involved a facility visit?  How could you ensure there were enough exclusive stories or angles during the visit to maximise the breadth of coverage?
  8. Identify the potential characteristics of members of the DMU responsible for purchasing a piece of high-technology machinery for a large organisation. How you would raise awareness of the product amongst all members of the DMU, through PR?
  9. If you were a food manufacturer that had just launched a new product and you wanted to gain the attention of distributors, how would you use social media to create a buzz around the campaign?
  10. Examine the case studies. Consider alternative ways in which the campaign objectives could have been set and the how the outputs, outtakes and outcomes could have been measured.

Chapter 18

  1. How can a charity communicator help to shape and maintain the purposes of the charity?
  2. At what point, if any, do commercial interests outweigh the communication of charity purpose?
  3. How can a charity’s PR function help to overcome ‘compassion fatigue’?
  4. At what point is the line crossed between opportunity and opportunism where charity communication is concerned? 
  5. What expert prescriber skills are required to keep communication within the Opportunity Box?
  6. What moral or social panics are currently providing communication challenges to the charity sector?  Which charities might be involved?
  7. Are there examples where Third Sector organisations have significantly influenced the media agenda?
  8. How do communicators ensure their charities remain relevant?
  9. What is the role of a charity communicator in shaping an organisation’s digital strategy?
  10. How do you maximise the positives and minimise the risks of a relationship between a Third Sector organisation and a celebrity?

Chapter 19

  1. Is it important to improve the reputation of PR? Who are the target audiences whose opinions need to be changed?
  2. How can the value of public relations be demonstrated to board level management?
  3. What skills are lacking in the curricula of public relations qualifications in higher education?
  4. What forms of evaluation of public relations programmes are you familiar with? How could evaluation of public relations be improved?
  5. Is social media a help or hindrance to public relations?
  6. Is good PR essential to a good reputation? What else contributes to this?
  7. PR can only give you the reputation you deserve. Do you agree?
  8. How can the link be made between communications and strategic planning?
  9. How might Moloney’s subsidised PR resource work? Is this still necessary as social media becomes more prevalent?
  10. What other issues affect the future of PR?