Archive for the ‘Academic Study Summary’ Category

If you’re in a research methods course, you might be studying qualitative methods and have heard of grounded theory. If you’re interested in performing a grounded theory approach to data analysis (or sharing a fresh example with your class), this blog post is for you.

Or, you might be reading this because I mentioned in my research-in-brief article in Public Relations Review that a list of open codes, properties, and examples of participants’ words from my study about Millennial practitioners are available on my blog (that would be this blog post).

One of the challenges of understanding the grounded theory approach to data analysis results from the abstract nature of the explanation:

Open coding: Basically, you read through your data several times and then start to create tentative labels for chunks of data that summarize what you see happening (not based on existing theory – just based on the meaning that emerges from the data). Record examples of participants’ words and establish properties of each code (see my charts below).

Axial coding: Axial coding consists of identifying relationships among the open codes. What are the connections among the codes? This will be easier to understand when you see the last chart of this blog post.

Selective coding: Figure out the core variable that includes all of the data. Then reread the transcripts and selectively code any data that relates to the core variable you identified. Again, this is easier to understand through the last chart of this blog post.

The study I’m using as an example is about relationship building with the Millennial generation of practitioners who work at PR agencies. The data came from asynchronous online discussions (via Focus Forums) with 50 participants and emailed data from one participant.

Research question one: How do Millennial practitioners who work at public relations agencies describe their generation of public relations practitioners?

Open codes for RQ 1

Open code Properties Examples of participants’ words
Wanting experiential learning Seeking credentials
Feeling ambitious
Seeking excitement
Being eager
Seeking experience
Hungry for responsibility
Want to be the next big thing
Ready to roll
Always looking for a new thrill
Grow quickly
Learn things on our own
Pioneering social media and easily adapting to change Being comfortable with social media
Wanting to lead
Creating and embracing new ideas
Not being afraid of technology
Being fresh
Creating and accepting new ideas
Embracing a rapid fire speed
Being creative
Feeling entitled due to unique qualifications, as compared to previous generations Coming equipped with a public relations education and several internships Mostly PR majors instead of majoring in other fields
Being educated in public relations
Starting jobs with several internships under the belt
Having a great foundation from majors and internships
Craving immediate feedback and being motivated by feeling appreciated Desiring attention
Wanting to impress
Wanting a mentor
Want to feel valued and appreciated
Want to be recognized
Want feedback
Want to be rewarded for good work
Advocating a
work-life balance
Seeking personal fulfillment
Recharging by enjoying a rich personal life
Being raised to believe they could have it all
Don’t want to work our lives away
Want to have room for a life outside of work
Raised to expect excellence in our personal lives
Possessing the personal skills and characteristics needed Getting along well with people
Being intelligent
Valuing ethics
Friendly, sociable
Motivated by friendships at work
Smart, clever, sharp

Research question two: What can be learned about cultivating a long-term relationship with Millennial public relations agency employees based on their own perspectives?

Open codes for RQ 2

Open code Properties Examples of participants’ words
Being groomed Being mentored
Getting to work on new accounts
Getting to have face time with the client
Being included in discussions about personal long-term goals and organization’s long-term goals
Getting funding for graduate school and skills workshops
Trained to specialize in a needed area
Assigned to new accounts
Included in new business planning
Involved in conversations about the long-term outlook of the department
Meeting about long-term goals and incentive packages
Sent to professional development sessions
Paid for graduate school
Face time with the client
Constantly learning Having intriguing work
Developing professional skills
Intriguing work
Constantly learning, training
Receiving verbal encouragement and making observations Feeling appreciated
Noticing low turnover and receiving messages about growing the company from within
Asked if I’m happy
Talk about the future
Get regular reviews
Constant congratulations
Get messages about growing the company from within
Very little turnover
Being cared for as a whole person Caring about personal well being by both the organization and senior management
Encouraging and enabling a healthy personal life
Personal development fund
Lacking a personal touch (negative evidence)
[Senior exec.] like a second mother
Long hours, low pay (negative evidence)
Working in a good environment Working in an organic culture
Feeling like they fit in
Working with great people
Agreeing with the organization’s philosophy and values
Personality of the office
If I fit in
Open and honest communication
I love the environment
Wonderful people
We don’t have titles. My old large agency put so much emphasis on titles and I think it hindered work quality
The organization isn’t as dynamic as other employers (negative evidence)
Having interests and preferences accommodated Getting to choose projects, dress and hours Get to choose my accounts
Get to wear jeans
Flexible hours

Research question three: What irritates or upsets Millennials when receiving feedback on their work?

Open codes for RQ 3

Open code Properties Examples of participants’ words
Getting called out Detesting verbal vomit and being ridiculed
Feeling discouraged
Getting ripped apart
Chewed out
Thrown under the bus
Negative tactics don’t motivate us
Not being heard Having work changed, which results in their voice not being heard
Working so hard makes this frustrating
Believing they don’t have power to say anything
You slave away and they’ve completely changed what you’ve done
My art was changed, which I worked really hard on
People are always going to change what you do. Always!
Co-worker presented my ideas as her own; no way to address those issues
Mind reading and expectations for a miracle worker Believing they have a combination of vague instructions and specific expectations, some of which areunrealistic Vague instructions
Having to mind read
Inadequate explanation
I’m not a miracle worker

Axial codes and selective code based on the open codes

Open codes Axial codes Selective code
Wanting experiential learning; constantly learning; working in a good environment;pioneering social media and easily adapting to change; feeling entitled due to unique qualifications, as compared to previous generations; possessing the personal skills and characteristics needed; being groomed Believing they are ready to be set loose on accounts Wanting to make a difference
Craving immediate feedback and being motivated by feeling appreciated; detesting getting called out; receiving verbal encouragement and making observations Seeking external validation
Mind reading and expectations for a miracle worker;getting called out; not being heard Silently blaming employers for failures
Advocating a work-life balance; being cared for as a whole person; accommodating interests and preferences Wanting a meaningful experience at work and outside of work

For more information on grounded theory, I recommend Kathy Charmaz’s “Constructive Grounded Theory: A Practical Guide Through Qualitative Data Analysis.”

If you’re interested in reading the summary of my study, you can find it here, or you can email me for the full-length study at tgallica@uncc.edu.

Happy researching!

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Huge wall of videos displayed on plasma and LCD televisionsDate disclosure: I’m publishing this blog post on Jan. 27, 2013 (within a week of the publication of the study), rather than Sept. 7, 2012, as the permalink suggests. I had to change the date on my dashboard because I included a link to this blog post in the author note portion of the study when submitting this manuscript last September, and I had to backdate this blog post for the link to work. 

I partnered with UO doctoral student Erica Ciszek to discover how advocacy organizations attempt to influence stigmatizing portrayals of vulnerable populations and how they build exigence among their supporters and the cultural producers they attempt to influence.

I chose a mental health organization, and Erica Ciszek chose an LGBT organization to study, both of which have impressive records of achievement in this area. We interviewed three people for this study and conducted a thematic analysis of the alerts the organizations use to educate, update and mobilize supporters.

Our study was published this week as a “research in brief” in Public Relations Review. It was hard for us to decide whether to cut our research study down to a short summary or whether to take our chances with the full manuscript at another journal. Unfortunately, the journal does not accept visual models for research in brief articles, but the good news is that I can share it freely here: pdf of the cultural byproducts advocacy model.

We call it the cultural byproducts advocacy model because it is a model that describes how advocacy organizations attempt to influence cultural byproducts. Why do we use the term “cultural byproducts?” People who contribute to stigma are not necessarily trying to do so. Often times, the point is to entertain, but the route the cultural producer chooses is one that involves stigmatizing a vulnerable group. Stigma, then, can be an unintentional result of a cultural producer’s creation.

If you’re familiar with the work of Kenneth Burke, you’ll recognize that we have diagrammed the process that organizations use to influence cultural producers by using Burke’s redemption ritual. (Many thanks to one of my mentors at the University of Maryland, Jim Klumpp, for teaching me about Burke.) We have added to the model by noting where public relations efforts fit into the model and what organizations should do at every stage of the redemption ritual.

The cultural byproducts advocacy model
first stage is the social order. Any time there is a social order, people will break the rules. In the context of our study, breaking the rules happens when cultural producers stigmatize a vulnerable population, even if they don’t mean to do so.

When a cultural producer violates the social order by engaging in questionable behavior, an advocacy organization creates pollution by trying to establish that the cultural producer did something wrong. Advocacy organizations can use facework by reaching out to the cultural producer privately and taking an approach as if the cultural producer did not know any better. To strengthen the argument that the producer has violated norms of social responsibility, research, facts and narratives are used to demonstrate the danger of stigma and the vulnerability of the group.

The advocacy organization’s goal at this point is to get the cultural producer to experience guilt. If no guilt is experienced, the advocacy organization will create a call to action and alert its supporters, who will express their thoughts to the cultural producer (and sometimes the corresponding advertisers) through petitions, emails, phone calls, or some combination of these avenues.

If there is sufficient pollution, the cultural producer will experience guilt. Guilt results in the next stage, which is purification. The cultural producer needs to deal with the guilt through purification, and a cultural producer will do this through one of two ways.

As explained by Burke, someone can deal with guilt through victimage by blaming outside forces for the problem. In the context of this study, victimage would include blaming the organization and its supporters for being hypersensitive (i.e., I didn’t intend it that way, and you shouldn’t be taking it that way).

An advocacy organization’s use of facework and a strategic construction of the vulnerable group will hopefully result in Burke’s other way to achieve purification, which is through mortification. A cultural producer uses mortification to achieve purification by taking responsibility.

If the cultural producer achieves redemption through mortification, he or she will be an ally. Some cultural producers have become financial contributors, and some have shared scripts in advance for the organizations’ feedback. If the cultural producer achieves redemption through victimage, a further distancing with the advocacy organization occurs, and the producer becomes more insulated from future audience complaints.

Why this topic matters, insights from other organizations and parts of our discussion section
We had to cut our introduction and literature review, as well as major parts of the discussion from the research in brief, but the upside to that is we get to include these parts of the study here.

Why the topic matters
Eight recent studies concluded that the media’s negative portrayals of people with a mental illness influence other people’s opinions (Edney, 2004). In fact, news media depictions can be so compelling that they can be a stronger source for opinions than people’s personal interactions provide (Edney, 2004). Some entertainment media producers also generate stigma. Research reveals the destruction that can result from stigma in the media. Half of the participants in a survey of people with a mental illness indicated that the media harmed their mental health, and 34% reported that this effect amplified their anxiety and depression (BBC News Online, 2000). Furthermore, watching negative depictions of mental illness can erode a healthy self-concept: “It is difficult to feel good about yourself when confronted by constant messages that people such as yourself are flawed, disapproved of, and disliked” (Wahl, 1997, p. 106).

The lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community has also struggled for accurate visibility in the mainstream media. For much of history, representations of LGBT people in the mainstream media had been virtually absent, which rhetorically diminished the identity group and cast them as outsiders (see Rossman, 2000). In the 1960s, the silence was broken by spotty, hostile coverage; for example, a front-page headline in The New York Times read, “Growth of Overt Homosexuality in City Provokes Wide Concern” (Gross, 2001). During the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the late 1980s and 1990s, negative news coverage about the LGBT community increased (Gross, 2001). Because of negligent coverage of AIDS and due to the homophobia of some reporters, the AIDS epidemic contributed to a moral panic and stigma of the gay community (Bell, 2006; Goh, 2008). However, the coverage of AIDS brought an end to gay invisibility in the mainstream media (Gross, 2001). Most recently, scholars have been interested in the effects of the polemic discourses in the media during LGBT marriage debates (Rostosky, Riggle, Horne & Miller, 2009).

The media present social constructions of reality (L’Etang, 2012) that can harm members of vulnerable identity groups. Several studies have documented the link between media representations and stigma, particularly pertaining to the gay and lesbian community (e.g., Corrigan & Matthews, 2003; Herek, 2009; Herek, Gillis & Cogan, 2009; Meyer, 2003) and the mental illness community (e.g., Caputo & Rouner, 2011; Corrigan, 2005; Henson et al., 2009; Klin & Lemish, 2008; Thompson, 2010; Wall, 1997).

Thus, it is important for advocacy organizations to focus on changing stigmatizing representations by the media and by other cultural producers. It provides a significant contribution to the public relations literature by providing a general model that advocacy organizations can use to influence cultural producers. In addition, this study documents the ways in which advocacy organizations have successfully convinced mass communicators to change their stigmatizing representations.

Mental illness, LGBT and language
Language provides the vehicle through which meaning is constructed and carried out. Therefore, the way cultural producers represent mental illness and topics involving the LGBT community can influence the meaning that is generated. Blumer’s (1969) symbolic interactionism provides a framework for understanding the way meaning emerges out of social interaction. According to a basic tenet of the theory, meaning is derived from the social interaction that one has with others and society. In this way, meaning is a social product that is created and “grows out” of the ways in which “other persons act toward the person with regard to the thing,” and it is precisely these actions that “operate to define the thing for the person” (p. 4). Through images and discourses in the media of particular individuals and groups, cultural producers establish and spread representations that are then ascribed meaning. While cultural content affirms worldviews, it simultaneously subverts alternatives (Burke, 1966). “By its very nature as a terminology it must be a selection of reality; and to this extent it must function also as a deflection of reality” (Burke, 1966, p. 45).

Efforts to change cultural byproducts in the media
Many social organizations have concerned themselves with monitoring and mediating representations of their publics in the media. The legal system is not an efficacious approach for influencing media content (Heinke & Tremain, 2000); however, organizations have successfully used public relations methods (e.g., Aoki, 2000; Montgomery, 1989; Rossman, 2000).

In 1999, ABC, CBS, FOX, and NBC signed a memorandum of understanding with the Multi-Ethnic Media Coalition to advance the cause of diversity in the entertainment industry (National Latino Media Council [NLMC], 2009). The Multi-Ethnic Media Coalition is comprised of the National Latino Media Council (NLMC), the National Association of the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the National Asian/Pacific American Media Coalition, and the American Indians in Film and Television. As part of the memorandum of understanding, the networks developed programs to assist individuals and promote diversity in the areas of acting, writing, directing, and production (National Latino Media Council [NLMC], 2010). The advocacy organizations that are a part of the Multi-Ethnic Media Coalition utilize a common set of strategies and tactics to influence cultural production.

Build coalitions. One strategy is to engage in coalition building (Aoki, 2000; Charren, 2000). For example, the Media Action Network for Asian Americans (MANAA) engaged in coalition building to protest “Rising Sun,” a movie that portrays Japanese businessmen as unethical people who are focused on conquering the United States both economically and politically (Aoki, 2000). MANAA’s coalition included 16 civil rights organizations and community groups, including Asian American organizations and non-Asian American organizations. The president explained, “Our feeling has always been that our cause gains credibility when non-Asians join us in our fight” (Aoki, 2000, p. 31). Coalition building is especially important given the following comment from a vice president of program practices at CBS:

The advocacy group universe is so fragmented and splintered that just when you think you have come to an agreement, a different “chapter” or “region” decries the settlement, arguing that its membership was not consulted. …We cannot listen to every fragmented and splintered entity that calls something to our attention, each of which requires – or demands – a different response. (Altieri, 2000, p. 126)

Empower supporters. A second strategy is to help supporters engage in advocacy. Organizations using this strategy can issue a call to action to supporters in which tactics such as boycotts and letter writing are employed (Montgomery, 1989; Rossman, 2000; Watson & Corrigan, 2005). At minimum, a count is made of the letters, and some are read (Johnson, 2000). An example of a boycott occurred when the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) and the NAACP promoted a two-week viewing boycott of national television in response to the release of the major networks’ fall television line-ups in 1999 (National Association of the Advancement of Colored People [NAACP], 2009).

Pekurny (2000) argued, however, that boycotts are no longer effective due to the fragmented nature of television audiences and because media companies are diversified with their holdings. The Southern Baptist Convention’s boycott of Disney/ABC due to the corporation’s same-sex domestic partners policy and media content has failed to affect Disney’s economic performance, as shown through Disney’s quarterly earnings reports. Boycotts can actually improve ratings, which occurred when a television viewer organized a boycott campaign against “Married With Children.” A head of policy and standards for ABC who had 35 years of industry experience added that the negative publicity that can result from a boycott mattered more to ABC than the actual boycott itself (Schneider, 2000), and a former FCC commissioner expressed the same opinion (Johnson, 2000).

Organizations can also encourage supporters to target a media shows’ advertisers, which can be effective (Montgomery, 1989; Watson & Corrigan, 2005). In addition, organizations can use the strategy of empowering supporters by inviting them to report problematic media representations. For example, MANAA has a 24-hour hotline for supporters to report media representations (Aoki, 2000).

Assess media representations. A third strategy is to evaluate and critique the status of media representations of the organization’s public (Aoki, 2000; Rossman, 2000). A tactic for employing this strategy is a state of the media report. Such reports provide a benchmark and assessment of the climate in the media as it pertains to representations of the organization’s public. For example, the National Latino Media Council’s TV Network Report Card (2010) is an annual diversity report that serves as a barometer of the current state of Latinos in the media. Recently, the NLMC “lauded the networks for incremental progress in diversifying their workforces in front and behind the camera”; however, one year later, the report revealed that the networks are “in need of reaffirming their commitments to including Latinos in creative positions and procurement opportunities” (para 1). These assessments provide feedback to supporters regarding the effectiveness of the organization’s efforts in influencing cultural production, and the assessments can be used to reward and pressure media networks.

Another tactic that represents the strategy of assessing media representations is to post negative reviews about a media product and influence media coverage. For example, the MANAA president posted negative reviews in his newspaper column about “Rising Sun” (Aoki, 2000). MANAA was also successful in influencing media coverage about the film. Before the movie debuted, news coverage suggested the movie was racist, and the interviews with the stars of the movie when the film debuted were focused on the controversy (Aoki, 2000). The movie cost approximately $40 million and grossed $62 million; in fact, it only made a profit through overseas movie consumption and home video rentals and sales, which MANAA considered to be a great success (Aoki, 2000).

Collaborate with cultural producers. A fourth strategy is to work with cultural producers, which is not always effective (Aoki, 2000; Rossman, 2000). For example, Fox repeatedly cancelled meetings with MANAA regarding “Rising Sun,” and an inside source told MANAA’s board of directors later that the studio’s strategy was to continue to hold up meetings with the advocacy organization, believing that the issue would then disappear (Aoki, 2000). MANAA formed a coalition with other civil rights groups and asked Fox to include a statement at the film’s beginning that would discourage hate crimes, hire consultants for future films about Asians or Asian Americans, and hire additional Asian Americans in influential positions at Fox; however, Fox refused these demands (Aoki, 2000). Nevertheless, meetings can be an effective tactic for working with cultural producers (Baehr, 2000; Charren, 2000; Montgomery, 1989; Pekurny, 2000; Schneider, 2000). Lunch meetings work well because they do not significantly cut into media executives’ time (Pekurny, 2000). As described by Montgomery (1989), organizations should follow the approach used by the Gray Panthers Media Watch Task Force, which is a social justice organization focused on aging issues. This organization approaches cultural producers as if they do not know any better.

There are several approaches advocacy organizations should consider for meetings with network executives. One approach is to encourage media executives to sympathize with the advocacy organization’s supporters by helping them to see the effect of the portrayal on individuals: “Arguing about masses of generic, unspecified viewers whose faces and lives the writer cannot conjure up in his or her mind will have less effect than painting a picture of one individual reacting as a human being” (Pekurny, 2000, p. 111). Another approach is to attempt to convince executives during meetings that requested changes can improve the media’s market position by increasing the audience size (Rossman, 2000). In addition, advocacy organizations can make appeals based on what would be the most dramatically effective or comedic. In one case, a group of writers for “Happy Days” agreed to spend five minutes coming up with a better joke than one that was potentially harmful, and the group succeeded in doing so (Pekurny, 2000). Action for Children’s Television (ACT) discovered that adapting appeals to the executives’ beliefs and values was a successful approach (Hendershot, 1998).

A friendly approach during meetings with executives tends to result in more changes to media programming than a hostile approach for several reasons, as described by Rossman (2000). Media executives do not like being told what to do. Also, a hostile approach tends to result in an artistic freedom defense; plus, there is pressure by media executives’ colleagues to not “cave in” to an advocacy group’s demands for fear of being viewed as “spineless” by their peers (p. 95). Some experts advise advocacy organizations to compromise with executives (Pekurny, 2000; Montgomery, 1989).

When an organization expresses concerns persuasively, networks sometimes invite the organizations to provide script consultation, which is an action that the National Education Association effectively used for portrayals of teachers (Montgomery, 1989). Panels of the organizations’ members reviewed every script for the show Mr. Novac, which was about a young teacher. However, sometimes script consultations do not work because networks are not willing to make major compromises, and even when consultations do work, sometimes publics still react negatively to episodes. For example, The Gray Panthers Media Watch Task Force defended an episode of Lou Grant about abuses in nursing homes because it had provided script consultation, although some members of its key public were offended by the episode.

Another method for working with cultural producers is to cultivate individual relationships with people who are sympathetic to the organization’s cause and are willing to reveal internal information. For example, MANAA received secret copies of the “Rising Sun” script and received script revisions, which enabled MANAA to engage in media relations four months ahead of the movie’s release (Aoki, 2000).

In addition, advocacy organizations can work with cultural producers by providing a media guide for how to handle language and stereotypes that are related to the group (Montgomery, 1989; Rossman, 2000). They can also offer workshops and seminars, and they can send mailings to the Writers Guild of America membership or the Caucus for Producers, Writers and Directors (Altieri, 2000; Pekurny, 2000). Another outreach method is to provide contact names and numbers for representatives of the advocacy organization who can quickly answer questions when consulted by phone (Pekurny, 2000).

Reward cultural producers. A fifth strategy that is used by some organizations is to recognize cultural producers after moments of production (Aoki, 2000; Montgomery, 1989; Hendershot, 1998). Some organizations, such as MANAA, involve their supporters by inviting them to report praiseworthy depictions (Aoki, 2000). A tactic used by the Christian Film and Television Commission (through its Movieguide subsidiary), MANAA, and NAACP is to hold award ceremonies for “those specific media portrayals that are exemplary in reflecting the world in a way that is in sync with an advocacy group’s ideology” (Rossman, 2000, p. 93). Some writers and producers can be motivated to include certain content in their programming with the hope of obtaining an award (Pekurny, 2000). For example, an entry-level staff writer might aim for an award because an agent could use it to negotiate a better package on a current or different television show (Pekurny, 2000). Organizations can also send letters of praise to cultural producers (Rossman, 2000).

More needs to be learned about how advocacy organizations can influence cultural producers. This study contributes to the literature by investigating how advocacy organizations influence cultural byproducts.

(Here, you can read the parts of our discussion section that we couldn’t fit into the research in brief version.)

RQ 1: Process for influencing representations. The first research question contributes a process for understanding how to successfully influence cultural byproducts, including the presentation of criteria for determining whether and how cases of cultural byproducts should be prioritized. Although the process does not always result in an apology and behavioral change by the cultural producer, it has resulted in many changes to the cultural landscape regarding mental illness and LGBT issues. The organizations’ process and resulting successes provide empirical support for recommendations that call for advocacy organizations to initiate contact and lead with symmetrical strategies, followed by pressure tactics if the cultural producer does not cooperate (J. E. Grunig & L. A. Grunig, 1997). In this way, both organizations appear to adopt the same approach that is recommended in the literature (see Baehr, 2000; Charren, 2000; Montgomery, 1989; Pekurny, 2000; Schneider, 2000). This study contributes to the literature by providing insight into the process of partnering with cultural producers as a strategy for changing portrayals.

Asking an organization to change its ways before generating bad press and approaching an organization as if it doesn’t know any better also reflects the application of facework, which is a strategy for cultivating relationships. Facework involves helping people protect their image, which is casually known as saving face (Huang, 2001). The fact that most cultural producers change what they are doing without the use of pressure tactics demonstrates the importance and effectiveness of giving organizations a chance to respond to problems before resorting to publicity, and this approach saves time and energy that can be focused on targeting uncooperative cultural producers.

Recognizing cultural producers for good portrayals is another key part of the relationship building process, and both organizations give awards for portrayals, which is a tactic described by several authors (Aoki, 2000; Montgomery, 1989; Hendershot, 1998). The LGBT organization also rewards media networks (and punishes others) through its annual media responsibility report, which is the same tactic that the NLMC (2010) uses, and it is a tactic described by Montgomery (1989). This study also reinforces previous findings by demonstrating the effectiveness of empowering supporters to engage in advocacy when a cultural producer does not cooperate (also see Montgomery, 1989; Rossman, 2000; Watson & Corrigan, 2005), as well as the importance of prevention efforts, such as distributing guidelines to the Writer’s Guild of America and issuing an annual media reference guide (also see Altieri, 2000; Montgomery, 1989; Pekurny, 2000; Rossman, 2000).

This study contributes new insight to the literature by showing that an outcome of effectively working with targeted cultural producers can be the successful recruitment of new event sponsors, which provides much-needed energy to advocacy organizations. Advocacy organizations depend on energy, such as money, to maintain themselves and prevent entropy (Katz & Kahn, 1978). Also, this study contributes new details to the literature by recommending that local advocates address local issues. Thus, if a national organization is outraged by a local issue, it should work through local leaders.

RQ 2: Communication strategies. (The discussion for the second research question is included in the research in brief, so I can’t duplicate the discussion here, but I have summarized it at the beginning of this blog post.)

Applications of research. The process and strategies described in the research questions have broad applications for a non-violent method for responding to problematic representations perpetuated by cultural producers. In both cases, the process and strategies used by the advocacy organizations usually result in success for the organizations in this study, meaning that the producer complies with the organization’s requests, such as issuing an apology, removing the offensive communication, and avoiding future transgressions. Findings from the research questions can be used to provide insight regarding how a maligned culture (e.g., based on religious beliefs, geography, class) could change its toxic media environment through non-violent advocacy. The cultural byproducts model presents a general framework that can be used by mainstream advocacy organizations in future work with cultural producers.

Citation for the research in brief
, E. L., & Gallicano, T. D. (2013). Changing cultural stigma: A pilot study of LGBT and mental illness organizations. Public Relations Review, 39(1), 82-84. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0363811112001828

, C. (2000). Advocacy Groups Confront CBS: Problems or Opportunities? In M.Suman & G. Rossman (Eds.), Advocacy groups and the entertainment industry (pp. 125-129). Westport, CT: Praeger.

Aoki, G. (2000). Strategies of the Media Action Network for Asian Americans. In M. Suman & G. Rossman (Eds.), Advocacy groups and the entertainment industry (pp. 29-36). Westport, CT: Praeger.

Baehr, T. (2000). How Church Advocacy Groups Fostered the Golden Age of Hollywood. In M. Suman & G. Rossman (Eds.), Advocacy groups and the entertainment industry (pp. 37-39). Westport, CT: Praeger.

Bailey, T. (2010, August). Effect of message type in strategic advocacy communication:Investigating strategies to combat ageism. Paper presented at the meeting of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, Denver, Colorado.

BBC News Online. (2000, February 9). Media unfairly stigmatises mental illness. Retrieved from http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/low/health/635415.stm

Bell, J. (2006). Framing the AIDS Epidemic: From “Homo”genous Deviance to Widespread Panic. In L. Castaneda & S. Campbell (Ed.), News and sexuality: Media portraits of diversity (pp. 95-109). New York, NY: Sage.

Bitzer, L. (1968). The rhetorical situation. Philosophy and Rhetoric, 1(1), 1-14.

Blumer, H. (1969). Symbolic interactionism: Perspective and method. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Burke, K. (1966). Language as symbolic action: Essays on life, literature, and method. Berkeley, CA: University of California.

Burke, K. (1989). On symbols and society. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.

Campbell, R., Martin, C. R., & Fabos, B. (2010). Media & culture: An introduction to mass communication. Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin’s.

Caputo, N., & Rouner, D. (2011). Narrative processing of entertainment media and mental illness stigma. Health Communication, 26(7), 595-604. doi:0.1080/10410236.2011.560787

Charren, P. (2000). Principles for Effective Advocacy from the Founder of Action for Children’s Television. In M. Suman & G. Rossman (Eds.), Advocacy groups and the entertainment industry (pp. 9-11). Westport, CT: Praeger.

Corrigan, P. W. (2005). On the stigma of mental illness: Practical strategies for research and social change. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Corrigan, P. W. & Matthews, A. (2003). Stigma and disclosure: Implications for coming out of the closet. Journal of Mental Health, 12(3), 235-248.

Edney, D. R. (2004, January). Mass media and mental illness: A literature review. Ontario: Canadian Mental Health Association. Retrieved from http://www.ontario.cmha.ca/docs/about/mass_media.pdf

Goh, D. (2008). It’s the gays’ fault: News and HIV as weapons against homosexuality in Singapore. Journal of Communication Inquiry, 32(4), 383-399. doi:10.1177/0916859908320295

Gross, L. (2001). Up from invisibility: Lesbians, gay men, and the media in America. New York, NY: Columbia University Press.

Grunig, J. E., & Grunig, L. A. (1997, July). Review of a program of research on activism: Incidence in four countries, activist publics, strategies of activist groups, and organizational responses to activism. Paper presented at the Public Relations Research Symposium, Lake Bled, Slovenia.

Heinke, R. S., & Tremain, M. H. (2000). Influencing Media Content Through the Legal System: A Less Than Perfect Solution for Advocacy Groups. In M. Suman & G. Rossman (Eds.), Advocacy groups and the entertainment industry (pp. 43-52). Westport, CT: Praeger.

Hendershot, H. (1998). Saturday morning censors. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Henson, C., Chapman, S., McLeod, L., Johnson, N., McGeechan, K., & Hickie, I. (2009). More us than them: Positive depictions of mental illness on Australian television news. Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 43(6), 554-560. doi:10.1080/00048670902873623

Herek, G. (2009). Hate crimes and stigma-related experiences among sexual minority adults in the United States: Prevalence estimates from a national probability sample. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 24(1), 54-74. doi:10.1177/0886260508316477

Herek, G., Gillis, J., & Cogan, J. (2009). Internalized stigma among sexual minority adults: Insights from a social psychological perspective. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 56(1), 32-43. doi:10.1037/a0014672

Huang, Y.-H. (2001). Values of public relations: Effects on organization-public relationships mediating conflict resolution. Journal of Public Relations Research, 13(1), 265-301. doi:10.1207/S1532754XJPRR1301_4

Katz, D., & Kahn, R. L. (1978). The social psychology of organizations (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Wiley.

Klin, A., & Lemish, D. (2008). Mental disorders stigma in the media: Review of studies on production, content, and influences. Journal of Health Communication, 13(5), 434-449. doi:10.1080/10810730802198813

L’Etang, J. (2012). Public relations, culture and anthropology — Towards an ethnographic research agenda. Journal of Public Relations Research, 24(), 165-183. doi:10.1080/1062726X.2012.626134

Meyer, I. (2003). Prejudice, social stress, and mental health in lesbian, gay, and bisexual populations: Conceptual issues and research evidence. Psychological Bulletin, 129(5), 674-697.

Montgomery, K. C. (1989). Target: Prime time: Advocacy groups and the struggle over entertainment. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. (2009). Diversity in Hollywood. Retrieved from http://www.naacp.org/index.php/pages/diversity-in-hollywood

National Latino Media Council. (2009). NLMC Diversity Report Card 2009. Retrieved from http://nalip.org.nalip/documents/NLMC_Diversity_Reportcard_2009.pdf

National Latino Media Council. (2010). 2010 NLMC Network Diversity Report Card Narrative. Retrieved from http://www.nalip.org/nalip/documents/2010-NLMC-Network-Diversity-Report-Card-Narrative.pdf

Pekurny, R. (2000). Advocacy Groups in the Age of Audience Fragmentation: Thoughts on a New Strategy. In M. Suman & G. Rossman (Eds.), Advocacy groups and the entertainment industry (pp. 105-113). Westport, CT: Praeger.

Rossman, G. (2000). Hostile and Cooperative Advocacy. In M. Suman & G. Rossman (Eds.), Advocacy groups and the entertainment industry (pp. 85-103). Westport, CT: Praeger.

Rostosky, S. S., Riggle, E. D. B., Horne, S. G., & Miller, A. D. (2009). Marriage amendments and psychological distress in lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) adults. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 56(1), 56–66. doi:10.1037/a0013609

Schneider, A. R. (2000). Dealing With Advocacy Groups at ABC. In M. Suman & G. Rossman (Eds.), Advocacy groups and the entertainment industry (pp. 131-138). Westport, CT: Praeger.

Thompson, M. (2010). Race, gender, and the social construction of mental illness in the criminal justice system. Sociological Perspectives, 53(1), 99-126. doi:10.1525/sop.2010.53.1.99

Wahl, O. F. (1997). Media madness: Public images of mental illness. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers.

Watson, A. C., & Corrigan, P. W. (2005). Challenging Public Stigma: A Targeted Approach. In P. W. Corrigan (Ed.), On the stigma of mental illness: Practical strategies for research and social change (pp. 281-295). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

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(In the video, Frank Ovaitt invites PR scholars to share useful, practical findings with the IPR audience.)

This year’s IPRRC included exciting studies. Since it is safe to mention conference findings without disqualifying anyone from having their studies considered in an academic journal, I’d like to highlight one of the many presentations I am thinking about from IPRRC.

We know from Tina McCorkindale, Marcia DiStaso and Hilary Fussell-Sisco’s research that a “like” on an organization’s Facebook fan page doesn’t equal engagement.

Considering Groundswell’s social technographics, we know that even spectators can be engaged (i.e., people who do not “like” or comment).

So how do we measure engagement in a way that includes spectators and excludes people who might click “like” but do not have a real connection with the organization?

Minjeong Kang offers an answer with her public engagement scale, which has three components (alpha=.91).

1. Affective commitment (alpha=.89)

  • Feel emotionally attached
  • Feel like part of the family
  • Feel a strong sense of belonging

2. Positive affectivity (alpha=.89)

  • Interested
  • Attentive
  • Excited
  • Enthusiastic
  • Proud

3. Empowerment (alpha=.89)

  • Can make differences
  • Determined to develop the organization
  • Have a control over the organization’s decision making
  • Confident about the ability to improve the organization
  • Collaborate with the organization

There were many other great studies! You can see highlights from a handful of them, thanks to Constantin Basturea, who has aggregated highlights from the #IPRRC Twitter feed.

Also, you might enjoy reading my highlights from IPRRC two years ago.

IPRRC attendees, what was one of the studies that interested you at the conference?

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I know of a public relations agency that had a client that did secret CSR. The client had a bad history with a particular issue and gave the PR agency funds to do awareness prevention campaigns that were related to the issue, and it never wanted itself to be identified as the sponsor.

I don’t know why the client decided to keep its identity a secret, but one possible reason is that news stories about the CSR efforts could publicize the bad things the company used to do – things that most people probably don’t associate with the company today.

I wouldn’t be surprised if there were many professional communicators today who avoid publicizing their companies’ green efforts, and of course we know from research that companies get substantially better results when their stakeholders are aware of their CSR efforts (Bhattacharya & Sen, 2004; Sen, Bhattacharya, & Korschun, 2006).

Some practitioners might avoid promoting their green efforts because they are concerned about being accused of greenwashing. As identified by scholars such as Bivins (2009), companies take a risk when they promote their CSR efforts because the act of promoting the efforts can make the efforts look disingenuous.

As you probably know, “greenwashing” refers to misleading environmental communication, and the term developed as people identified inconsistencies between companies’ actual behavior and claims about being green.

The term was coined in the 1980s by Jay Westerveld who saw the inconsistency in hotels that didn’t have recycling programs but encouraged the reuse of towels (Romero, 2008).

Through my research, which is available in the current issue of PRSA’s Public Relations Journal (vol. 5, No. 3), I investigated the fairness of online greenwashing accusations against Starbucks.

Highlights From the Study
In summary, most of the reactions to Starbucks’ environmental communication efforts that I analyzed were positive. Even the critical public tended to applaud Starbucks’ green initiatives while asking for more change, asking critical questions, or making a jab about Starbucks’ environmental impact.

When Starbucks was criticized, the arguments used were nearly always based on facts, observations, the need for more information, and requests for change, as opposed to deep-seated cynicism against corporate America.

Nevertheless, most of the criticisms I analyzed were technically unfair because they asked Starbucks to do things that Starbucks is already doing or they criticized Starbucks for advertisements that were actually student ad projects that had been posted to YouTube.

Starbucks did not post any comments to the criticisms I analyzed, not even to the greenwashing site where its efforts had been labeled as greenwashing.

This illustrates a drawback to Starbucks’ strategy for online engagement. A Starbucks representative explained that the company focuses on the zeitgeist of conversation on its own website. There is a benefit to driving conversations to your home turf; however, organizations should also consider participating in vibrant conversations about themselves on other sites, especially given the results of a study by Lariscy, Avery, Sweetser, and Howes (2009). In their survey of public relations practitioners, most respondents reported that they had found inaccurate information about their organizations in online chatrooms.  Starbucks is missing out on vibrant conversations that are regularly occurring on Starbucks fan blogs. There are many Starbucks employees and former employees who anonymously participate on these blogs who offer both vigorous defense of the company’s practices and behind-the-scenes criticism about environmental practices.

Given the lack of trust in companies and traditional media today, these informal word-of-mouth online channels should not be overlooked. The study I conducted points to the importance of building on Jeong-Nam Kim and Yunna Rhee’s (2011) recent study in the Journal of Public Relations Research about megaphoning, scouting, and microboundary spanning.

Their concept of megaphoning refers to employees’ positive or negative communication about their organization to external audiences.

They defined scouting as employees’ voluntary communication efforts to bring relevant information to the organization.

The term microboundary spanning refers to “employees’ voluntary communication behaviors to

(a) disperse positive information for one’s organization,

(b) search and obtain valuable organization-related information from internal and external constituencies, and

(c) disseminate acquired information internally with relevant internal personnel and groups” (p. 249).

It would be interesting for future research to investigate the perceived credibility of online comments that are posted by people claiming to be employees and former employees.


Bhattacharya, C. B., & Sen, S. (2004). Doing better at doing good: When, why, and how consumers respond to corporate social initiatives. California Marketing Review, 47(1), 9-24.

Bivins, T. (2009). Mixed media: Moral distinctions in advertising, public relations, and journalism (2nd ed.). New York: Routledge.

Kim, J-N., & Rhee, Y. (2011). Strategic thinking about employee communication behavior in public relations: Testing the models of megaphoning and scouting effects in Korea. Journal of Public Relations Research, 23(3), 243-268. doi:10.1080/1062726X.2011.582204

Lariscy, R. W., Avery, E. J., Sweetser, K. D., & Howes, P. (2009). Monitoring public opinion in cyberspace: How corporate public relations is facing the challenge. Public Relations Journal, 3(4), 1-17.

Romero, P. (2008, September 17). Beware of Green Marketing, Warns Greenpeace Exec. Retrieved from https://abs-cbnnews.com/special-report/09/16/08/beware-green-marketing-warns-greenpeace-exec

Sen, S., Bhattacharya, C. B., & Korschun, D. (2006). The role of corporate social responsibility in strengthening multiple stakeholder relationships: A field experiment. Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, 34(2), 158-166. doi:10.1177/0092070305284978


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When I taught the principles class at UMUC during a summer of graduate school, I partnered with Teresa Heisler (who was an exceptional undergraduate student at the time) to study the effects of organizational structure on relationship outcomes. Our manuscript, titled “Relationship Outcomes in an Organisation With a Mechanical Structure,” is  available in PRism. Teresa starts graduate school at Johns Hopkins next spring.


An organic structure, as opposed to a mechanical structure, enables employees to personally influence an organization’s decisions and policies, and it provides them with the autonomy to make decisions about their work that don’t need to be cleared with people at higher levels of the organization (L. A. Grunig, J. E. Grunig, & Dozier, 2002).

Research supports the importance of establishing an organic structure for effective internal relations (e.g., Boshoff & Mels, 1995; J. E. Grunig, 1992; Kim, 2007; Schminke, Ambrose, & Cropanzano, 2000).

Our Question

We wanted to find out if effective employee relations was possible in the context of an organization that has a mechanical structure.


  • Study of a rural Air Force base located in the South Central region of the United States
  • 18 in-person interviews with military members, spouses who were stationed on the base, public affairs officers and the medical commander
  • Four-person focus group with military members and spouses
  • Follow-up interviews with seven military members to explore emerging conclusions

Key Findings

  • This study demonstrated that contrary to previous theorizing (e.g., Kim, 2007), a mechanical structure alone does not result in low control mutuality, trust, commitment or satisfaction among employees in every context.
  • Although previous theorizing about organizational structure held true for family members’ relationship with the Air Force base, military members were satisfied with the military’s mechanical structure.
  • Most military members who were interviewed thought they had little influence in decisions affecting them and did not think that decisions were made with their individual interests in mind; however, they were supportive of this arrangement due to the significant normative commitment they experienced with regard to their moral motivation to serve in the organization.
  • Although Boshoff and Mels (1995) found that participation in decisions increases commitment to an employer, the desire to participate in decisions was not an issue for participants, aside from problems with the healthcare facility.
  • Likewise, although job satisfaction is associated with an organic structure where employees are empowered with significant responsibility (Hage, 1980; Peters, 1987), the extent to which the military members in this study were satisfied with their jobs had nothing to do with the amount of autonomy they had in their roles.
  • The study provides empirical evidence to support J. E. Grunig’s (2002) statement that control mutuality can be high despite a low amount of control in the relationship when trust is high.
  • The study also provides evidence for symbolic interaction theory (Blumer, 1969) by showing a case in which people tended to view occurrences that could affect the relationship through the lens of what they already thought about the organization.

The study can be read here.


Blumer, H. (1969). Symbolic interactionism: Perspective and method, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Boshoff, C., & Mels, G. (1995). A causal model to evaluate the relationship among supervision, role stress, organizational commitment and internal service quality. European Journal of Marketing, 29(2), 23-35.

Grunig, J. E. (2002). Qualitative methods for assessing relationships between organizations and publics. Retrieved from http://www.instituteforpr.org/research_single/qualitative_methods_assessing

Grunig, L. A., Grunig, J. E., & Dozier, D. M. (2002). Excellent public relations and effective organizations: A study of communication management in three countries. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Hage, J. (1980). Theories of organizations: Form, process, and transformation, New York: Wiley.

Kim, H-S. (2007). A multilevel study of antecedents and a mediator of employee-organization relationships. Journal of Public Relations Research, 19(2), 167-197. doi:10.1080/10627260701290695

Peters, T. (1987). Thriving on chaos. New York: Knopf.

Schminke, M., Ambrose, A. L., & Cropanzano, R. S. (2000). The effect of organizational structure on perceptions of procedural fairness. Journal of Applied Psychology, 85(2), 294-304.

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Pat Curtin
, Kelli Matthews and I conducted a survey of the Millennial generation of employees who work at public relations agencies.

We explored our participants’ opinions about the usefulness of Shannon Bowen’s model of ethical decision making. Here is the model we explored:

This Kantian model and an explanation of it can be found in the following source:

Bowen, S. (2005). A practical model of ethical decision making in issues management and public relations. Journal of Public Relations Research, 17(3), 191-216. doi:10.1207/s1532754xjprr1703_1

Highlights From the Study

  • We found through our pretest that we needed to update some of the language used in the model so it would resonate with Millennials. You can see the updated wording in our study.
  • Most Millennials found the revised six questions in the model to be very useful. The next step in this research is to explore the actual use of the model by an organization. If your organization is interested in adopting the model and engaging in further testing of it with us, please contact me at derville(at)uoregon(dot)edu.
  • Minorities reported significantly more constraints from job security and personal ambition than did non-minorities, which suggests that employers can do a better job of relationship building with minority employees. More research is needed to parse out differences among races and ethnicities to avoid broad dichotomies of minority versus non-minority.
  • Millennials expressed that they have far better relationships with their agencies when they are empowered to make their own decisions regarding ethical dilemmas.
  • About 75 percent of participants disagreed with the model’s assumption that job security, personal ambition and workplace politics would interfere with their ability to make ethical decisions. Qualitative research is needed to explore why participants answered in this way.
  • For more findings, you can read our study in PRSA’s PR Journal (volume five, issue two).

This research was supported by the Public Relations Society of America Foundation and the University of Oregon. This study won the Jackson-Sharpe Award, sponsored by Jackson, Jackson & Wagner and Likely Communication Strategies, at the 13th annual International Public Relations Research Conference. We thank Shannon Bowen for her feedback on this study.

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Windy is seeking a job with a nonprofit organization in the Portland, Ore., area where she can share her skills and passion for development and public relations. She can be reached at  linkedin.com/in/windyhovey.

She is knowledgeable about nonprofit development and social media, she is strategic, she is an excellent writer, and she has an incredible work ethic. I strongly recommend her without reservation.

By Windy Hovey

A thesis. You spend so much time planning for it, nurturing it, and making it the best it can be. When you finally set it loose in the world, you hope that all your effort and sleepless nights will provide valuable information for both scholars and practitioners. It was also  my wish that the crowning achievement of my two years in graduate school would arm me with knowledge I could apply in a nonprofit development and communications position.

Over the past three decades, scholars have built theories about how an organization can manage relationships with its publics. My study adds to this body of scholarly work by providing insight into strategies an organization uses to build relationships with its publics and outcomes for those relationships. It examines social media in the rich context of a nonprofit dance center with unique strengths and challenges in its community. Fortunately, the director and volunteers were willing to share their use of and opinions about the organization’s social media sites. By the final chapter, my academic research demonstrates a practical way for nonprofit managers to assess ROI of social media. It also presents both good and bad aspects of using social media that might surprise nonprofit managers:

  • How can an organization’s volunteers on Facebook help nonprofit managers who are limited on time and resources?
  • How might using Flickr jeopardize the outcome of an organization’s relationship with its publics?
  • What are some barriers to two-way dialog on an organization’s blog or Facebook page?
  • What roles can social media play in an organization’s strategy to be a good neighbor and community steward?

Discover answers to these questions and more by downloading my full research article — at no cost — published in the latest issue of the Public Relations Society of America Public Relations Journal.

Acknowledgments: This study’s success was secured by my thesis committee members Dr. Mark Horney, Dr. Pat Curtin, and Kelli Matthews; professors in the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication and the Department of Planning, Public Policy and Management; and Dr. Tiffany Derville Gallicano, who was the most marvelous graduate adviser and thesis committee chairperson in every way. They gracefully balance and blend academia and community. They are outstanding researchers and professors who prepare their students for the rapidly changing worlds of public relations and nonprofit management.

Additional sources of information: Learn even more (than you ever thought possible!) about nonprofit social media use by following Beth Kanter (@kanter) and Allison Fine (@Afine) — two excellent sources to start with.

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There were many insightful presentations today. I’ve summarized a few of the great ones. Feel free to join us tomorrow on Twitter at #IPRRC2010. Many thanks to the Institute for Public Relations, the University of Miami, and our other conference sponsors for this incredible experience.

Pretty charts didn’t matter to analysts:

  • KDPaine & Partners examined analyst reports about whether to buy or sell a particular company’s stock; one conclusion was that the company’s charts and tables had no impact on the tonality (e.g., positive, negative, neutral) or valuation (e.g., outperform, buy/medium risk) of analyst reports.

Three top companies spent 81% of Twitter time building one-on-one relationships:

  • Gee Ekachai and Amanda Stageman from Marquette University studied three Fortune 100 companies and found that 81% of the tweets they examined were replies to people or were addressed to people, which shows strong engagement efforts.

Shifts occurred on the social media scene following the recent gift disclosure law:

  • Kelli Burns from University of South Florida studied “momfluentials” (mom bloggers with a large following). Her participants noticed that some companies have sent fewer free products for review since the passage of the law requiring disclosure. Momfluentials also observed that some companies have been more insistent about disclosing free gifts. Several momfluentials have responded to the law by not only adding disclosures to blog posts but also having disclosure policies as separate sections on their blogs.

Kelli also described various approaches momfluentials adopt with regard to negative evaluations of free products, such as

  • checking with the company to see if the company would even want them to post a review because the review would be negative
  • writing a negative review while finding some good things to say
  • writing a negative review and warning all gift givers in advance that a negative review will be posted if the product is disliked

What do you think about these approaches?

For conference attendees: Feel free to share one of your research highlights from today.

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jprr-pic1From time to time, I will highlight academic studies that I think are particularly interesting.

Tim Penning started a discussion on PR Open Mic about whether undergraduates should read academic public relations studies. Barbara Nixon, Gareth Thompson, and I expressed agreement that upper-level students should read academic journal articles. Here is a summary of an interesting study.

For this first academic feature, I am summarizing the findings from a study about the effects of labeling video news releases (i.e., “Video supplied by [organization name]”).

This study was conducted by

  • Michelle Wood, University of Minnesota
  • Michelle Nelson, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
  • Lucy Atkinson, University of Wisconsin-Madison
  • Julie Lane, University of Wisconsin-Madison

and was published in the Journal of Public Relations Research.


  • 151 undergraduate students participated in exchange for receiving extra credit in their journalism and mass communication courses for participation.
  • Nearly half of the participants planned to become public relations or advertising professionals, which suggests that they could be more favorable to VNR messaging.
  • Students were assigned to one of four conditions:
  1. reading about VNR practices and then watching a labeled VNR during a newscast
  2. reading about VNR practices only
  3. not reading about VNR practices and then watching a labeled VNR during a newscast
  4. not reading about VNRs or watching a newscast with a VNR (the control group)

Participants then answered questions about

  • the credibility of the newscast
  • the credibility of the VNR story
  • who the source was of the VNR story (e.g., the company, the news station)
  • attitude toward the VNR message
  • attitude toward the featured company

Findings (people who did not read about VNR practices first)

  • Participants who did not read about VNR practices and then watched the labeled VNR story did not think the newscast or VNR message was less credible than the participants who viewed the unlabeled VNR.
  • Participants who did not read about VNR practices and then watched the labeled VNR story did not have more negative attitudes toward the VNR message or the VNR company than the participants who viewed the unlabeled VNR.
  • Labeling the source of VNR stories slightly improved people’s ablity to remember who the VNR company was.

This means that for people who have not read about VNR practices,

  • labeling VNRs helps the VNR organization by slightly improving people’s ability to remember the organization.
  • labeling VNRs does not hurt the credibility of the VNR sponsor or attitudes toward the VNR sponsor.
  • labeling VNRs does not hurt the credibility of the newscast or attitudes toward the newscast.

Findings (people who read about VNR practices before watching the VNR)

  • Participants who read an article about VNR practices and then watched a newscast with a VNR thought the VNR was less credible than participants who had not read an article about VNR practices.
  • Participants who read an article about VNR practices and then watched a newscast with a VNR thought the newscast was less credible than participants who had not read an article about VNR practices.
  • Labeling the VNR intensified the loss of credibility for participants who had read about VNR practices.
  • However, participants who read an article about VNR practices and then watched a newscast with a VNR did not have more negative attitudes toward the VNR company or VNR message than participants who had not read an article about VNR practices and watched the newscast.

This means that for people who have read about VNR practices,

  • a VNR message will not have a lot of credibility, especially if it is labeled.
  • use of a VNR lowers the credibility of a newscast.
  • a VNR will not necessarily hurt attitudes toward the sponsoring organization.

Guidelines to Which the Authors Refer

  • Public Relations Society of America: Use of footage or VNRs provided by organizations other than the station or network should be labeled by the media outlet when aired.
  • Radio-Television News Directors Association: Reporters should “clearly disclose the origin of information and label all material provided by outsiders.”
  • Federal Communications Commission: News stations are only required to label VNRs when the subject matter is a contested issue of public importance, a political topic, or a topic for which stations receive payment for airing.

My Take

  • Professional communicators are responsible for providing audiences with information that is needed to make an informed decision about the message. Thus, professional communicators should label VNRs.


Wood, M. L. M.,  Nelson, M. R., Atkinson, L., & Lane, J. B. (2008). Social utility theory: Guiding labeling of VNRs as ethical and effective public relations. Journal of Public Relations Research 20(2), 231-249. doi:10.1080/10627260801894405

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With Peter Debreceny and Toni Muzi Falconi

With Peter Debreceny and Toni Muzi Falconi

Cross-posted earlier to the Institute for Public Relations blog, Conversations.

An academic version of the following content can be found here:

Gallicano, T. D. (2009). Personal relationship strategies and outcomes in a case study of a multi-tiered membership organization. Journal of Communication Management, 13(4), 310-328.

Last October, I had the extraordinary experience of participating in the EUPRERA Congress in Milan.

At the conference, I presented a paper and gratefully accepted the award from IPR for “Best New Research on the Personal Influence Model of Public Relations.” (Another aside is that I recommend signing up for IPR’s listserv.)

I have outlined below the strategies that the advocacy organization I studied uses to cultivate personal relationships. Feel free to request my research paper to learn more. You can reach me at derville(at)uoregon(dot)edu.

Facilitate relationship building among members of your publics. A common strategy involves focusing on building relationships between an organization and its publics – this research also points to the value of establishing and encouraging relationships among members of publics, such as employees or customers. Facilitating relationships among employees or among customers can contribute to a strong sense of community with your organization and brand, which can affect retention among employees and brand loyalty among customers. I call this strategy peer linking.

Create an identity for your publics within your communication.
Macintosh’s “I’m a Mac; I’m a PC” advertisements exemplify this strategy because they send messages about the kind of person a Mac user is and the kind of person a PC user is. In the rhetorical criticism literature, Stein (2002) wrote about the 1984 Macintosh commercial that created an anti-establishment identity for Macintosh users.

When deciding how to create an identity for employees or users of your brand, ask yourself, “What kind of employee works for my organization,” or “What kind of a person uses my brand?” Then narrow your list to a core message. Applying insight from Jim Collins’ “Good to Great” book, make sure this core message is something that your employees or brand can be the best at and make sure that it is profitable to position yourself in this way. I use the original term for this strategy that was presented in the rhetorical criticism literature by Charland (1987), which is constitutive rhetoric.

Help your publics achieve their goals.
Helping people resolve problems and achieve goals can result in strengthened relationships and social capital. This strategy was introduced by Hon and Grunig (1999) as task sharing.

Train staff to respond to questions and concerns when possible rather than referring someone to others. Generally speaking, people appreciate receiving a direct response to their inquiries rather than being passed around to several people within an organization. In some cases, organizations might consider empowering their front-line staff with greater decision-making authority to decrease the need to appeal to higher levels of command. Although referral is sometimes necessary, organizations should look for opportunities to reduce this. I call this strategy direct engagement.

Invest in the local level and frontline staff. Relationships are built locally, so organizations need to invest in their local offices and the staff who work there. Furthermore, organizations should evaluate satisfaction with the performance of their local offices.

Interviewees in this study who had only worked with the organization’s local level evaluated their entire relationship with the organization based on their local experiences. In many cases, the strength of the relationship and the benefits that accompany strong relationships hinge on the local level’s performance. I refer to this strategy as local investment.

Diversity Strategies for Grassroots Advocacy Organizations

Use the hat-in-your-hand approach.
This term represents a four-step process for cultivating relationships with diverse communities. The first step is to get to know as much as possible about the desired outreach community. The second step is to partner with a member of the desired community and humbly approach community members together. This person could already be a member of the organization, or this person could be found through associations that are based on aspects of people’s identities, such as gender or race. The third step is to listen to the needs of desired communities. The fourth step involves sustaining efforts, even when improvement is not readily attained. Of course, evaluating unsuccessful efforts is also wise.

Target aware affiliates. If you would like to personally help local affiliates of your organization with their diversity outreach programs but cannot work with all of them, consider focusing on the “aware” affiliates who are interested in engaging in diversity outreach but are stopped by constraints. The organization in this study found that the affiliates who were actively interested in diversity outreach and who were not impeded by constraints were going to engage in diversity outreach anyway.


Charland, M. (1987). Constitutive rhetoric: The case of the peuple Quebecois. Quarterly Journal of Speech, 73, 133-150.

Hon, L. C., & Grunig, J. E. (with Anderson, F. W., Broom, G. M, Felton, J., &
Gilfeather, J. et al.). (1999). Guidelines for measuring relationships in public relations. Retrieved from the Institute for Public Relations Web site: http://www.instituteforpr.com/measeval/rel_p1.htm

Stein, S. R. (2002). The 1984 Macintosh ad: Cinematic icons and constitutive rhetoric in the launch of a new machine. Quarterly Journal of Speech, 88, 169-192.

What strategies do you use to cultivate personal relationships in professional contexts? What benefits or drawbacks do you see from cultivating personal relationships in professional contexts?
On the PR Profs blog, Mihaela Vorvoreanu talks about a potential drawback of cultivating personal relationships — see her discussion here.

What do you think about the personal influence model as a research direction for public relations?

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