Public Relations Online: Lasting Concepts for Changing Media

Books

Tom Kelleher

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  • Front Matter
  • Back Matter
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  • Copyright

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    Preface

    Note to Students

    Sitting down to write this book, I was reminded of countless textbooks I've read that start with some variation on the following, “[Insert field name here] is everywhere you look.” In elementary school, math was everywhere I looked. In middle school, geography surrounded me. Physics moved me and biology made me in high school. Language defined me in my early years of college. And when I chose communication as a major, I learned that communication was, well, everywhere I looked.

    Yes, online communication seems to be almost everywhere you look in public relations. And like the better texts in math, geography, physics, and language that use theory to help us make better sense of things we see every day, I hope this book helps you make sense of the public relations in front of you every time you go online.

    Note to Teachers and Professionals

    I've written this book to help us look at online public relations like public relations scholars do, which means taking an excited interest in the Internet, but also taking care not to overstate its implications. Theory and context are crucial to helping us make sense of why and how public relations people choose and use rapidly emerging technological innovation.

    “Questionable Claims” boxes throughout the text take alternative perspectives on sometimes-taken-for-granted cyber-declarations. I'm certain that time (and reviewers) will find me guilty of some “questionable claims” myself. In any case, I hope these cases serve to help us all sharpen our critical-thinking skills. (I just did a Google search for critical thinking and syllabus and public relations—it yielded 8,690 results in 0.11 seconds.) Furthermore, the questionable claims are not all straw men—some hold up better than others after critical review.

    Text Overview—Seeking Lasting Concepts

    Blogs were barely on my academic radar when I started writing this book, and I certainly had never seen a corporate blog posted by a CEO. My iPod mini wasn't set up for automatic downloads of weekly pod-casts of my favorite news shows. In fact, Apple hadn't even introduced the iPod mini to the market. U.S. corporations filing financial reports were not yet required to comply with the more stringent disclosure requirements of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which was passed to improve accuracy, reliability, and ultimately trust in corporate America. So XBRL (extensible business reporting language) as an online technology for keeping in compliance with the act had not been tested. (The implications of XBRL, discussed in Chapter 7, are still yet to be determined.) In a very observable way, technology and policy have moved faster than the speed of book writing.

    Yet relative to iPods and XBRL, systems theory, two-way communication, and relational approaches to public relations are sources of lasting concepts. These theoretical ideas are not immutable, but they do give us relatively stable lenses through which to explore online public relations. Perhaps the greatest test of the validity of these concepts is how well they stay grounded as the media landscape changes. I've tried to write this book as a model for how such lasting concepts can be discussed and applied in a changing media environment.

    In general, this text moves from more theoretical discussion in earlier chapters to more practical lessons in later chapters, with the idea that useful theory informs effective practice even as the media landscape changes. Chapter 1 establishes the optimistic but cautious tone of the book by juxtaposing historical accounts of mass media effects to often-overstated claims about the Internet. Examples of online media are offered and a theme is developed for the text—online public relations is more a matter of what people are doing with online media technologies than what these technologies are doing to people.

    Chapter 2 reviews systems theory as it can be used to describe online public relations processes. Chapter 3 discusses online public relations in terms of “server-side” practices in which organizations deliver information to their publics. Chapter 4 contrasts the server-side metaphor with a peer-to-peer model in which organizations and publics are involved in a more balanced online exchange of information and resources.

    Chapter 5 offers an overview of relational approaches—the “relations” part of public relations online. The next three chapters (6, 7, and 8) shift to more specific practical issues of online relationships: news-driven relationships, commerce-driven relationships, and issue-driven relationships.

    Chapter 9 builds on familiar concepts of strategic planning, discussing how goals and objectives can be met through online action and communication. Online research and evaluation tie together the ends of the loop-like process of online public relations. Chapter 10 concludes the text by discussing some of the ways public relations people can do research online to assess the outcomes of their work.

    Acknowledgments

    I'd like to thank all my friends and colleagues in the School of Communications at the University of Hawai'i and in the School of Journalism & Mass Communication at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for their support while I wrote; the editors and staff at Sage for guiding me through from proposal to print; my teachers at the University of Florida for guiding my intellectual interests; and above all, my parents and family for their endless support.

    In addition, Sage Publications and I wish to thank the following reviewers:

    W. Timothy Coombs, Eastern Illinois University; Kirk Hallahan, Colorado State University; Robert L. Heath, University of Houston; Edward J. Lordan, West Chester University of Pennsylvania; Bonita Dostal Neff, Valparaiso University; and Jim Pokrywczynski, Marquette University.

    Dedication

    For Robin and Miles

  • About the Author

    Tom Kelleher rejoined the School of Communications at the University of Hawai'i at Manoa in fall 2006 after two years on the faculty at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He started at Hawai'i in 1999 after earning his PhD from the University of Florida. He has taught courses in introductory public relations, public relations writing, advanced public relations, online communication, communication campaigns, media effects, honors research, and communication theory.

    Kelleher has published in Journal of Public Relations Research, Public Relations Review, Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, Journal of Mass Media Ethics, Journal of Communication Management, and Teaching Public Relations. He has worked in university relations at the University of Florida; science communication at NASA in Huntsville, Alabama; and agency public relations at Ketchum in Atlanta. He also has consulted for various university-related organizations in Honolulu, Hawai'i. His research interests are online public relations, public relations theory, campaigns, ethics, and teaching and learning with online media.

    He likes surfing in the ocean more than surfing online, but still manages to do some of both.


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