Monthly Archives: August 2020

Lifescale: How to Live a More Creative, Productive, and Happy Life

Amanda J. Weed, Kennesaw State University

Lifescale: How to Live a More Creative, Productive, and Happy Life
Author: Brian Solis
SBN: 9781119535867
Wiley, 2019

As one of the most prominent thought leaders in digital and emerging technologies, Brian Solis is well-known for his evangelical advocacy for the integration of digital media strategies into innovative business practices. In Lifescale: How to Live a More Creative, Productive, and Happy Life, Solis looks at digital media through a more pragmatic lens to examine how those technologies can have unforeseen impacts on our daily lives.

As digital media becomes interwoven into our media consumption habits, it dramatically impacts our productivity and our relationships. We become chained in a perpetual cycle of responding to app notifications, emails, social media posts, and text messages. When we look at the clock, we can often be left scratching our heads, wondering where the day went. Solis addresses research-based insights into the “addictive” nature of digital technology and empowers the reader to rethink their media consumption to improve productivity and spark creative potential. 

Organization of the Book

Solis presents the chapters of this 304-page book as a journey of self-discovery, complete with a visual roadmap at the very beginning of the book. He begins this exploratory journey by identifying how digital media is intertwined into our daily activities, why we are motivated to engage so frequently with digital media, and how digital is designed to keep us “hooked.” According to Solis (2019):

Every day we do our best to navigate life and keep up with our personal and professional responsibilities, but at the end of each day, we’re still fighting to complete our self-imposed to-do lists, both at work and at home, a hamster-wheel process that detracts from our longer-term goals and dreams. (p. 14)

As the chapters unfold, Solis continues the journey by leading the reader through various paths of self-discovery (or re-discovery) that focus on personal values, goals, and childlike dreams. What does that have to do with digital media, you might ask? The underlying thread throughout this book is that we often conform to the expectations of digital media (especially social media) as our internal measuring stick to determine our values and behaviors, rather than heeding our inner voice. 

In the final chapters, Solis shares how disconnection from our inner purpose can be the Achilles heel that allows distractions, multitasking, and nagging self-doubt to derail us from our goals. He reminds the reader to be mindful and live in the moment to understand we are part of something larger, and to reflect on what we want our contribution to be in this world.

He describes the concept of the “pillars of purpose,” how those pillars should be the compass to the roadmap of self-discovery, and tapping into those pillars to focus personal energy in positive directions. Solis (2019) explains:

Harder than making change is recognizing and accepting our need for it. Doing so requires us to acknowledge that so much of what we’ve been doing has gotten us off course. Deep down, we know that there are ways in which we have not been helping ourselves, or have even been shooting ourselves in the foot. (p. 178)

Strengths and Weaknesses

Solis’ writing style is conversational and welcoming.  Each chapter feels like having coffee with a cherished mentor. Solis shares self-discovery exercises and unique tools to guide the reader through self-awareness and maximizing creative productivity. Lifescale is full of examples that fulfill the three Rs: recognizable, relatable, and relevant. From personal anecdotes to stories of well-known corporate leaders, this book places advice and tips into a real-world context.  That strength doubles as a weakness, though. While there are many examples and anecdotes about well-known public figures, there is a lack of representation of the average person. By blending examples of public figures and everyday people (especially young professionals), it might increase the sense that the advice imparted by Solis is accessible to everyone, not just those who have already achieved success in their field.

Contributions of this Book

While not a textbook in the traditional sense, Lifescale is an excellent addition to the public relations curriculum because it encourages the reader to “know thyself.” This is one of the most important lessons students need to be successful in school, in their careers, and in life.

This book would make an excellent addition to the public relations curriculum in an introductory course, a portfolio or capstone class, or even as a recommended read for PRSSA chapters.  The advice, exercises, and tools shared by Solis will enhance students’ ability to create a personal brand, effectively balance the demands of student life, and successfully navigate their first industry jobs.

© Copyright 2020 AEJMC Public Relations Division

To cite this article: Weed, A. (2020). Lifescale: How to live a more creative, productive, and happy life. [Review of the book Lifescale: How to live a more creative, productive, and happy life, by B. Solis].  Journal of Public Relations Education, 6(2), 205-207.

Synthesizing Primary and Secondary Research to Drive Strategy: A Final Project for a Strategic Communication Research Course

Editorial Record: Submitted to AEJMC-PRD GIFT Competition by Feb. 21, 2020. A blind copy was peer reviewed by the PRD Teaching Committee, led by Chair Chris McCollough, and selected as a Top GIFT. Top GIFT winners were notified on April 1, 2020. First published online on August 15, 2020.


Danielle LaGree, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, strategic communications
Kansas State University


The ability to sort through data to find insight and opportunity, and determine what is meaningful and meaningless, is critical for PR graduates entering the profession (Lum, 2017). Additionally, conducting research and developing strategy informed by data is the bedrock of the PR process (Commision on Public Relations Education, 2018). Students’ success in PR is dependent on their ability to not only conduct primary and secondary research but also synthesize what this data means relevant to the organizational context, challenges, opportunities, and goals. 

A research white paper, the final project for a strategic communication research course, allows the opportunity for students to leverage what they have learned throughout the semester, synthesizing data from a broad perspective to drive strategy. Students are provided with a hypothetical scenario about a real organization, as well as a fictional data set. They must confidently convey their conclusions and recommendations in an easy-to-read, visually appealing report functional for busy executive decision-makers. This project helps students understand how research comes full circle, illustrating its role in PR planning and execution.

Student Learning Goals

  1. Demonstrate understanding of how research data benefits and informs PR strategy and tactics
  2. Demonstrate ability to interpret data as it relates to organizational context, challenges, opportunities, and goals
  3. Successfully utilize research from credible secondary sources to further synthesize primary data and support/justify recommendations
  4. Confidently communicate research conclusions and strategic recommendations using the written word and visuals, such as charts, graphs, and images

Connection to Public Relations Practice

This assignment connects to the PR process known as ROPES (Page & Parnell, 2018) because it emphasizes research as a necessary starting point for producing effective, strategic PR initiatives. It provides the experience today’s PR graduates need to confidently recommend sound strategy informed by data. 

Assessment of Student Learning

  • Since implementing this assignment as the final project (in addition to other course changes), students’ self-report of “confidence handling research and data” moved from the bottom four rankings of student learning outcomes to the top four.
  • “I liked that I could see how everything connects and how it would be presented to a client. There were no gaps, and I wasn’t left asking how it would actually work in the ‘real world.’ I appreciated the challenge of having primary and secondary research to synthesize into recommendations. It was difficult at first, but I realized it made our presentation so much more credible and interesting. Before this class, I could not confidently connect data back to suggestions I was making. This project was challenging because I was forced to do just that.” – senior female
  • “I never thought I would say this about a research class, but this final project has been one of my favorites… I feel like the white paper really does a great job of incorporating everything we’ve learned this semester. We had to come up with a creative way to communicate our insights so that anyone could understand them, whether they’re an expert in this topic or not.” – senior male


Commission on Public Relations Education (2018). Fast forward: Foundations + future state. Educators + practitioners: The Commission on Public Relations Education 2017 report on undergraduate education.

Lum, E. (2017). Bridging the talent disconnect: Charting the pathways to future growth. The ANA Educational Foundation. Retrieved from

Page, J. T., & Parnell, L. J. (2018). Introduction to strategic public relations: Digital, global, and socially responsible communication. Sage.

Appendix: Final Research White Paper Assignment

Client: National Park Foundation*

*This is a real organization but a hypothetical scenario

Background and Situation

The National Park Foundation (NPF) has made significant strides developing modern communications that have increased awareness about the organization. However, its most recent campaign, “Find Your Park,” is underperforming. Although it boosted awareness, it did not significantly increase national park visits. Additionally, the communications team believes there is a lack of understanding of what NPF actually does.

Your team was hired to conduct a nationwide survey, analyze and communicate the results, and recommend three creative strategies for NPF’s next targeted campaign. NPF wants this campaign to increase understanding of what NPF does, ultimately cultivating long-term support for and appreciation of NPF’s efforts.  

Your results analysis should reveal insights about the following:

  1. Understanding and perceptions of the National Park Foundation
  2. Perceptions of national parks as a travel destination
  3. Media use behaviors related to the outdoors/travel

Assume you already distributed the survey and a statistician ran the data (see results in section titled “Survey Results”). You will interpret the data and communicate results in a visual and meaningful way to the client, meaning that you should clearly make the connection between insights, how the insights are relevant to the client’s situation, and how the insights inform your creative strategies. 

Deliverables: White Paper

“A white paper is a persuasive, authoritative, in-depth report on a specific topic that presents a problem and provides a solution” (HubSpot, 2018, para. 5). Click here for more information on white papers. 

There are a lot of free resources to make your white paper visually appealing. I recommend using Canva to design your white paper or Adobe InDesign if you are comfortable. 

Your white paper should be no more than 8 pages in length and consist of the following sections:

  • Cover Page: Title your white paper and include author information.
  • Executive Summary: An executive summary is a brief snapshot of the entire white paper. In two to three paragraphs, explain the purpose of the white paper; in three to four paragraphs, identify the most important findings and provide a brief overview of your creative strategies.
  • Survey Results: Use charts, graphs, icons, or other visuals. (as well as words to support the visuals) to visually communicate the survey results. This means that the client can skim the report and easily understand key information. Additional commentary should support the “hard data” to explain what it means/how it is relevant to the client’s situation.
  • Supporting Insights: Use secondary research from at least three different sources to provide additional information you think would be valuable for the client, given the survey results. This section should include three to five key insights.
  • Creative Strategies: In this section, you will recommend three creative strategies that are informed by your survey data and secondary insights. These are strategies (not tactics), which means they should be broad ideas that align with what the client wants to accomplish.


10 pts. Executive Summary | Provides a snapshot of the entire white paper and includes the following information: purpose of the report, three to four of the most important findings, and a discussion of how the client can move forward. Persuasive argumentation is evident.

25 pts. Survey Results | Visuals clearly and appropriately illustrate all survey results; attention to question type and standard deviation is demonstrated; results are communicated in a way that reflects what the client wanted to learn from the research and why the data is relevant/meaningful.

25 pts. Secondary Insights | Insights come from established, credible sources; relevant and meaningful in light of client’s situation and goals; necessary details are included (e.g., survey population); sources are cited appropriately.

25 pts. Creative Strategies | Three clear strategies are provided that align with the client’s situation and challenge. Strategies are appropriate given primary and secondary data.

10 pts. Design and Formatting | Visually appealing, creative, reflects the brand’s look and feel. Entire white paper flows well from start to finish; is no more than 8 pages in length (excluding cover page); different sections are easily recognizable; cover page is professional yet creative.5 pts. Writing Technicalities and Tone | No spelling/grammatical errors; professional and confident tone.

National Park Foundation Survey Results (note: fictitious data)

SURVEY DATA (N = 1,500)

I understand that the National Park Foundation serves all national parks by protecting them for generations to come.  (yes/no) AGE21-30: Yes = 72%; No = 28%31-40: Yes: 37%; No = 63%41-50: Yes = 44%; No = 56%51+: Yes = 87%; No = 13%  
Which of the following efforts do you most associate with NPF? (check all that apply)
__ Protecting the wilderness__ Connecting children to the outdoors__ Supporting local communities__ Inspiring the next generation of park stewards and enthusiasts
(41%) Protecting the wilderness(17%) Connecting children to the outdoors(5%) Supporting local communities(8%) Inspiring the next generation of park stewards and enthusiasts
The National Park Foundation:*is an apolitical organization (i.e., not affiliated with any particular political group)is essential for protecting public landshelps me understand how I can contribute to protecting public landsis successful in advocating for all national parksis a good resource for planning trips to national parks(*Likert scale 1 = strongly disagree; 7 = strongly agree)is an apolitical organization
(M = 2.3; SD = 0.5)is essential for protecting public lands
(M = 6.2; SD = 0.7)helps me understand how I can contribute to protecting public lands
(M = 4.5; SD = 1.4)is successful in advocating for all national parks
(M = 3; SD = 1.8)is a good resource for planning trips to national parks
(M = 1.5; SD = 0.5)
To me, visiting national parks as a travel destination with family and friends is**:Easy – – – – – – ComplicatedAppealing – – – – – – Not appealingTime consuming – – – -Not time consumingAffordable – – – – – – Expensive
(**Semantic differential scale 1-7)
Easy-Complicated (M = 6.1; SD = 0.3)Appealing-Not appealing (M = 2; SD = 0.6)Time consuming-Not (M = 1.4; SD = 1.8)Affordable-Expensive (M = 1; SD = 0.5)
I would like to learn about the following regarding travel planning to national parks (check all that apply):__Places to stay in/near national parks__Community events/festivals in/near national parks__Live entertainment in/near national parks__Immersive outdoor experiences in/near national parks
Places to stay in/near national parks (80%)Community events/festivals in/near national parks (22%)Live entertainment in/near national parks (15%)Immersive outdoor experiences in/near national parks (95%)
Which of the following forms of communication/media do you prefer to learn about outdoor travel destinations? (check all that apply)FacebookInstagramPromotional emailsRecommendations from friends and/or familyOther (please specify)________DATA BY AGE GROUP21-30:Facebook (40%)Instagram (89%)Promotional emails (50%)Recommendations from friends and/or family (70%)Other (please specify)________
Google search; travel bloggers; Insta stories

31-40:Facebook (51%)Instagram (78%)Promotional emails (62%)Recommendations from friends and/or family (80%)Other (please specify)________
Netflix documentaries/features; Google search; mom bloggers on Instagram

41-50:Facebook (67%)Instagram (54%)Promotional emails (75%)Recommendations from friends and/or family (91%)Other (please specify)__
Tripadvisor; Google search; magazines (Family Circle, Parents)

51+:Facebook (85%)Instagram (15%)Promotional emails (27%)Recommendations from friends and/or family (78%)Other (please specify)__
Tripadvisor, Yelp, Google search

© Copyright 2020 AEJMC Public Relations Division

To cite this article: LaGree, D. (2020). Synthesizing primary and secondary research to drive strategy: A final project for a strategic communication research course.  Journal of Public Relations Education, 6(2), 142-149.

Media Literacy Among Public Relations Students: An Analysis of Future PR Professionals in the Post-Truth Era

Editorial Record: Original draft submitted to JPRE September 10, 2019. R&R decision December 17, 2019. Revision submitted February 7, 2020. Manuscript accepted (with changes) for publication April 25, 2020. Final changes received June 30, 2020. First published online August 15, 2020.


Jami A. Fullerton, Ph.D.
Peggy Welch Endowed Chair and Professor, Strategic Communications
Oklahoma State University
Stillwater, OK

Lori Melton McKinnon, Ph.D., APR
Associate Professor, Strategic Communications
Oklahoma State University
Stillwater, OK

Alice Kendrick

Alice Kendrick, Ph.D.
Marriott Endowed Professor of Advertising
Southern Methodist University
Dallas, TX


This study assesses various aspects of media literacy among a national sample of 727 public relations students from 115 U.S. colleges and universities. Student definitions of media literacy transcended basic interpretation of messages and extended to higher-level concepts such as understanding and vetting messages and how media organizations operate. PR students considered themselves to be fairly media literate, including their ability to consume media content critically. Implications for public relations educators are discussed.

Keywords:  news media literacy, student attitudes, media effects, disinformation, public relations

Media Literacy Among Public Relations Students: An Analysis of Future PR Professionals in the Post-Truth Era

The previously obscure term post-truth gained so much message momentum over the past several years that in 2016, the Oxford Dictionary declared it Word of the Year (Oxford Dictionaries, 2016).  Post-truth, which often is used to refer to political discourse and mediated messages—including fake news—places the goal of persuasion above the need to be accurate and truthful. The recommended antidote-of-choice to combat post-truth communication in today’s fast-paced society and against today’s fragmented media horizon is media literacy, which is itself a complex phenomenon, but one that is believed to hold promise for an optimally informed citizenry and functioning democracy.   

U.S. President Donald Trump did much to popularize the term “fake news” when he used it to describe negative news coverage of him during the 2016 presidential campaign and after his election. For example, after Trump’s inauguration ceremony, the media disputed whether the actual audience size was accurately reflected in Trump’s description of the enormous crowd (Robertson & Farley, 2017). According to an NPR story, Keith (2018) reports that from January 2017 to August 2018, Trump’s tweets about news information that he deems “fake,” “phoney,” or “fake news” increased over time both in scope and frequency. He has tweeted about “fake books,” “fake dossier,” “Fake CNN,” and “fudged news reports.” An NPR analysis of Trump’s tweets found that he included the words “fake news” in 389 posts during this time frame (Keith, 2018). Not only has media content been called into question, but trusted news organizations also have been labeled as “fake news” providers. 

According to the Edelman Trust Barometer (Ries et al., 2018), 63% of Americans indicate they have trouble distinguishing “real news” from “fake news.” The fake news label not only confuses the public but also raises critical questions for educators preparing students to enter the media industry. In response to the recent emphasis on fake news, some scholars have suggested that media literacy training is imperative (Hobbs, 2017; Silverman, 2018). To answer this call, the current study investigates levels of self-reported media literacy found among a national sample of public relations students, examines their attitudes toward news media literacy, and explores their definition of media literacy in the context of fake news.  

Literature Review

Understanding students’ notion of what news is and what news is not will help PR educators better prepare future practitioners to work in this new and rocky media landscape. Thus, it is important to consider the existing framework of fake news, post-truth communication, and media literacy.

Fake News

Regardless of whether the news coverage of Trump is accurate, the connotative meaning for audience members of the term “fake news” is likely associated as false, untruthful, or misleading information. Although “fake news” is a decades-old term, issues of media trust and credibility have experienced renewed societal emphasis (see Allcot & Gentzkow, 2017). Rini (2017) discovered that fake news is more than just intentional lying. The motives are often complex, and intent may vary. Rini (2017) offered the following definition of fake news: 

A fake news story is one that purports to describe events in the real world, typically by mimicking the conventions of traditional media reportage, yet is known by its creators to be significantly false, and is transmitted with the goals of being widely re-transmitted and deceiving at least some of its audience. (p. E45)

In the era of yellow journalism, journalism and politics often were intertwined, and the line between editorial content and promotion was blurred. So-called yellow journalism (Office of the Historian, n.d.), which favored sensationalism over well-researched facts, was the norm. In his history of the New York press, Sidney Pomerantz wrote that late 19th century New Yorkers were sick of fake news (Pomerantz, 1958). In 1910, the first journalism industry code of ethics was created in New York (McKerns, 1976) and similar codes eventually were adopted by the press nationally. These codes emphasized the journalistic values of truth, accuracy, and objectivity. Ultimately, the press would serve a fourth-estate duty as a check on government. 

Today, the convergence of media allows for quick dissemination and re-dissemination of both “truthful” and “fake news” stories, which affects the veracity of information (Conill, 2016). According to Samuel (2016):

The internet may have made fake news a bigger problem, and it certainly has made it a more complicated problem to tackle, but there is a longstanding tension between a public interest in conscientious reporting and private interests in salacious headlines and easy profits. (para. 25)

Online, the “fake news” problem is compounded due to a number of factors that make it difficult to determine source accuracy, including the ability to self-publish, sponsored posts, personal blogs, lack of bylines, promoted stories, and native advertising. Click-bait and headlines that often lead to sensationalized stories earn advertising revenue (Perloff, 2020). “Fake news” stories often are unknowingly (and sometimes knowingly) shared by the public on social media. A BuzzFeed analysis found that during the 2016 presidential election, the “Top 20 Fake News” stories received more engagement than the “Top 20 Legitimate News” stories from 19 trusted news outlets (Silverman, 2016). Recent news media scandals may point to a shift in news values. Stories of news outlets involved in plagiarism, leaked information, propaganda, lack of fact checking, and fabricated sources contribute to public distrust of the industry. 


Many scholars contend that fake news is a function of the post-truth political era in which we now live (see, for example, Andersen, 2017; Davies, 2016; Lewandowsky et al., 2017). In post-truth politics, campaign information feeds the sensational nature of news and is framed by appeals to emotion over policy details. Politicians tend to focus on talking points, even when contradiction or questioning by the media occurs. Twenty-four-hour news outlets and the ambiguous nature of social media have helped to create a post-truth culture. Harsin (2015) penned the phrase “the regime of post truth” to describe the many contributing variables, including microtargeting with strategic use of false information or rumors; media gatekeeper fragmentation; news media scandals; information overload; user-generated content; lack of trusted authorities; and algorithms governing social media rankings and searches (p. 327). This study examines a generation of students that have come of age during the post-truth era and examines their ability and understanding regarding news media literacy.

Media Literacy 

Simply defined, media literacy is the ability to access, analyze and evaluate communication (Aufderheide, 1993; Hobbs, 2006). News media literacy is a subset of the broader field of media literacy (Ashley et. al, 2013) and also intersects with digital literacy and civic literacy (Maksl et al., 2017). Malik and colleagues (2013) stated that the definition should include understanding the role that news plays in society, the motivations consumers have to seek out news, the ability to find and recognize news, the ability to critically evaluate news and the ability to create news.  Austin et al. (2007) found that media literacy training can impact attitudes and reduce risky behaviors. They also noted that media literacy training can change the way individuals consider media portrayals and can increase awareness of advertising efforts.

According to Schilder et al. (2016), researchers across many countries have taken widely different approaches to assess aspects of media literacy among various populations. Instruments include those that test news knowledge and current events, gauge attitudes toward media and media organizations, explore how media messages are created and disseminated, and probe “higher order” issues regarding the role and importance of media and news in a democratic society (Schilder et al., 2016). Specialized tests of media literacy have included those about health media literacy (Bergsma & Carney, 2008; Harper, 2017), alcohol media literacy (Eintraub et al., 1997), and other subjects. The instrument used in the current study was itself an example of a specialized media literacy test, having its origins in a study by Primack et al. (2009) of consumer media literacy about smoking. The smoking media literacy framework contained the core concepts of authors and audiences (AA), which included items about consumer targeting and the profit motive; messages and meanings (MM), which addressed points of view, message interpretation and the effect of messages; and representation and reality (RR), which included items about media filtering of information and omission of information.  

In an attempt to validate a media literacy scale proposed by Ashley et al. (2013) and to expand its scope, Vraga and colleagues (2015) tested a 27-item 7-point Likert scale across two samples (undergraduate communication students and adults). Their scale contained five underlying dimensions based on prior work (Ashley et al., 2013; Vraga et al., 2015), including dimensions that measure individuals’ self-perception of media literacy and dimensions that measure opinions about the value of news media literacy for society.  

The study by Vraga et al. (2015), which is partially replicated in this study, involved mostly first-year college students enrolled in either a public speaking course or an interpersonal communication course. The study revealed that the value of media literacy (VML) was a good predictor of news media knowledge, knowledge of current events, and skepticism toward the news media as a whole. Those who more strongly valued news media literacy were more likely to have greater news media knowledge and greater knowledge of current events, as well as more skepticism toward the news. Understanding of AA was positively related to news knowledge, while MM, RR and self-perceived media literacy (SPML) showed no effect on news media knowledge, current event knowledge, or skepticism.  

Kendrick and Fullerton (2018) conducted a national survey of American Advertising Federation student members to assess their media literacy using Vraga’s (2015) scale. Students in the advertising study exhibited higher degrees of understanding and interest in the MM and AA dimensions than they did in the VML. Students with higher grade point averages and access to internships placed a higher value on media literacy than other groups of advertising students.  

Scholars who attempt to measure media literacy often include scales intended to assess how literate their respondents are in terms of media consumption separate from media prosumption, which involves producing consumer messages (see Lin et al., 2013).  Toffler (1980) used the term prosumption to highlight the blurring of roles between consumers and producers, and media researchers among others have perpetuated the term in studies involving consumer production and co-production of media content. Using a sample of more than 1,200 Turkish adults, Koc and Barut (2016) applied a 35-item new media literacy instrument that differentiated between abilities to consume content versus create content and also between the presence of digital media skills and the use of critical thinking. The result was an instrument that included items about functional consumption, functional prosumption, critical consumption, and critical prosumption of digital media messages. The current study utilizes the Koc and Barut (2016) critical consumption sub-scale to further understand how public relations students consume and understand digital media content.

For future communication professionals, media literacy is important not only for critically analyzing messages, but also for learning to create public relations messages, advertising copy, audio recordings, video packages, and multimedia content. According to Wyatt (2006), media literacy has the potential to serve as a trust builder for professionals. With the audience at the mercy of the fake news/post-truth environment, tools for helping the public distinguish between truthful and misleading content are needed, and public relations practitioners play an important role in this service to civil society. 

Research Questions

Recognizing that public relations education has a key role to play toward resolving what some have called a fake news crisis (Lévy, 2019), PR instructors need to know more about the levels of media literacy among their students. By way of a survey of PRSSA members from across the United States, this study provides insights about how current PR students understand, perceive, critically consume, and define news media by way of the following research questions: 

  1. What levels of media literacy are held by public relations students in U.S. colleges and universities?
  2. Do levels of media literacy vary among students according to demographic or other variables, such as political orientation?
  3. How do public relations students define media literacy?


This study employed a national online public relations student survey via the SurveyMonkey platform. The survey was funded by a grant from the Arthur W. Page Center for Integrity in Public Communication at Pennsylvania State University. Two methods of data collection were employed. On April 25, 2018, the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) sent an email invitation to 360 student chapter (Public Relations Student Society of America or PRSSA) presidents with a link to the survey, asking them to complete the survey and share the link with chapter members.  This collection method resulted in 331 responses. On May 1, 2018, a second email invitation was sent to an additional 3,000 randomly selected PRSSA members via the internal SurveyMonkey email invitation system. This method resulted in an additional 624 responses. Data collectors were configured to prevent students from taking the survey more than once. Both invitations included an incentive for a $5 Starbucks gift card for completing the survey. While 955 students responded, only 727 students from 115 schools completed the survey and received the Starbucks electronic gift card.  The 727 completed responses make up the sample for this study.  

The questionnaire was designed to gather information about students’ academic year, career preferences, demographic profile, internships, mentoring, and plans after graduating college. Using three validated instruments, the current study also measured multiple aspects of media literacy among U.S. college public relations students. By way of an instrument from studies by Vraga et al. (2015) and Ashley et al. (2013), public relations students’ news media literacy was assessed, along with an instrument from Koc and Barut (2016) measuring critical consumption of digital media. Taken together, the measurement of public relations students’ self-perceived media literacy, value of media literacy, and critical consumption of digital media provided a first-of-its-kind look at the ability of an arguably media-sophisticated audience to differentiate and categorize various media content.


Respondent Profile

The national sample was predominantly female (90.6%), which is in line with estimates of gender representation in specific U.S. public relations programs (Morgan, 2013). Most of the students in the study (87.8%) identified as public relations/strategic communication majors. Their age ranged from 18 to 52 with a median age of 21 years. The average self-reported overall GPA was 3.50 on a 4.0 scale. In terms of year in school, 34.9% were seniors, 34.3% were juniors, 21.9% were sophomores, and 8.9% were first-year students.

Participants were asked with which race they most identified and were allowed to choose more than one. In response, 80.2% of the students indicated they were White non-Hispanic, 11.0% Hispanic, 6.3% African American, 5.9% Asian American, .6% Pacific Islander and .4% Native American.  About 1% indicated they were international students (non-U.S. citizens). Only 6% of the students worked on the annual Bateman national case study competition (Public Relations Student Society of America, n.d.).

RQ 1: What levels of media literacy are held by public relations students in U.S. colleges and universities?

Four scales were used to evaluate media literacy. The first was a 13-item scale developed by Ashley and colleagues (2013), which measured news media literacy by focusing on three latent dimensions: how authors target audiences, the values and production techniques that appeal to different viewers, and how the filtering of information in the media affects perceptions of reality.  In this study, the scale was used in total by combining the 13 items into one news media literacy variable.  The sub-scales—authors and audiences (AA), messages and meanings (MM), and representation and reality (RR)—were not individually analyzed in this study because their internal reliability was weak. The researchers determined that one holistic scale of news media literacy, which achieved an acceptable alpha score of .78, was the most appropriate level of analysis. The news media literacy variable produced an overall mean score of 4.19 on a 5-point Likert scale with 5 for strongly agree and 1 for strongly disagree (see Table 1), indicating that the sample, as a whole, felt fairly adept at news media literacy. 

Self-perceived media literacy (SPML) and value of media literacy (VML) were measured using Vraga and colleagues’ (2015) adjusted scale, which allows researchers to measure notions of self-efficacy and competence related to media literacy. SPML produced an alpha score of .70 and a mean score of 3.87 on a 5-point scale, while the mean score for VML (alpha = .69) was 4.20 (see Table 1).  Finally, Koc and Barut’s (2016) critical consumption (CC) scale was used to measure public relations students’ ability to criticize digital content.  The CC scale produced the strongest internal reliability (alpha = .82) and a mean score of 3.90 on a 5-point Likert scale (see Table 1).

RQ 2: Do levels of media literacy vary among students according to demographic or other variables, such as political orientation?  

Very few significant differences were found on any of the media literacy variables among demographic subgroups, including gender, age, race (Caucasian versus non-Caucasian), year in school, GPA, and participation in PRSSA’s Bateman competition. A weak, yet significant, relationship was found between self-reported GPA and value of media literacy (r = .10; p = .007), indicating that students with higher GPAs had a higher perceived importance of media literacy than others with lower GPAs. Similarly, older students were somewhat more likely to perceive themselves as more media literate than their younger counterparts (r = .07; p = .04).

Students were asked at the end of the survey to place themselves on a 7-point scale based on their political views, with extremely liberal at 1 and extremely conservative at 7. Weak, yet significant, inverse relationships were found for SPML (r = – 10; p = .006) and VML (r = -.13; p = .0001), indicating that students who considered themselves more liberal also perceived themselves as being more media literate and held a higher value for media literacy in society.

RQ 3: How do public relations students define media literacy? 

Answers to the open-ended question regarding the definition of media literacy were coded using the analysis software NVivo11. Within NVivo, nodes are a place to collect references to a specific theme. Nodes were first established based on an analysis of a random sample of the data and a brief overview of the literature to identify themes related to media literacy such as understanding and knowledge. Participants’ answers could be coded in more than one category to account for longer and more complex responses. 

The most mentioned aspects in definitions of media literacy were “understanding,” “analyzing,” and “knowledge.” Half of the students (49.4%, n = 359) explained that media literacy implies an understanding of the media and its various components. Respondents pointed out that being media literate means that one understands how media outlets work and is able to use media tools to communicate or send a message. They also mentioned that being media literate helps to understand the power of media. More specifically, media literacy entails understanding the power of the media and the importance in society. More than one-in-five (22.3%, n = 162) remarked that media literacy implies analyzing and/or interpreting media messages and narratives. Media literacy provides tools to make sense of media messages. Being media literate implies that people are active participants when receiving media messages. According to these answers, media literacy allows people to be critical of what they see or read. In particular, media literacy is important in distinguishing between true information and fabricated messages. 

Another one-fifth (21.6%, n = 159) used the word “knowledge” to describe the meaning of media literacy. Public relations students associate media literacy with knowing about and understanding the inner workings of the media and how media messages are created. In general, participants explained that media literacy deals with understanding/knowing all forms of media, not just one. Just slightly fewer (18.9%, n = 137) associated media literacy with the creation of media content. Slightly more than one-eighth (13.7%, n = 100) of respondents associated media literacy with using media outlets and specifically knowing how to use media outlets to communicate. Media literacy can provide both an understanding and appreciation for media content creation and distribution. Respondents sometimes explained that media communication is targeted at a specific or a large audience and that a literate media user and creator knows how to navigate the difference. Another 12% (n = 87) explained that the media can be deceiving and that media literacy protects against biases and misleading media strategies. These respondents indicated that media literacy can serve as an important tool for distinguishing between true information and fabricated messages.


Contemporary public relations students are living in a post-truth era. U.S. college students have grown up experiencing a convergence of news media and a blurring of sensational and truthful news content. Scholars have suggested one way to impact media attitudes and to crystalize understanding of news content is through media literacy training. Thus, it is important to understand how U.S. public relations students view media literacy. 

This study assessed how U.S. public relations students define media literacy, the degree to which they believe they possess media literacy, and the importance they attribute to it. There were no significant differences among the demographic variables of gender, age, race, competition team participation, and year in school. Most categorical subgroups of public relations students did not exhibit differences in attitude. However, significant differences were found with the variables of GPA and political leaning. 

Judgments about PR students’ own degrees of media literacy on three attitudinal scales (news media literacy, self-perceived media literacy, and critical consumption) indicated that public relations students consider themselves fairly competent overall, with composite scores hovering around a 4 on a 5-point scale. The researchers found a positive correlation with GPA—those who self-reported higher GPAs felt they were more media literate. The importance attached to media literacy (VML) again was about a 4 on a 5-point scale, with those who said they had more liberal political views and higher self-reported GPAs holding VML in higher regard than others. PR students in this study who were more liberal politically also perceived themselves to be more media literate on the SPML scale. The Edelman Trust Barometer (Ries et al., 2018) of U.S. adults also found differences along party lines. In the 2018 Edelman survey, there was a 34-point difference in media trust with Clinton supporters more trusting of the media (61%) than Trump supporters (27%). In this study, students identifying as more liberal (presumably similar to the Clinton supporters) rated themselves higher in media literacy knowledge.  Therefore, it seems that individuals who are more trusting of media are also more confident in their media literacy knowledge. 

Although politically liberal public relations students with higher GPAs may feel they are media literate, they may not be as adept at identifying fake news as they think they are. Thus, it is important to educate students, especially those who make good grades and may consider themselves part of the liberal elite, that they are as susceptible to fake news as anyone. 

Bateman competition students are often the most engaged students in public relations programs. However, this study found they do not perceive themselves as being more media literate. Perhaps, media literacy should be incorporated into Bateman coaching and consideration should be given to how the “client” may counter claims should fake news coverage occur.

Public relations education stresses mutually beneficial relationships between an organization and its publics. A key concept is that public relations is “unseen” as individuals often do not recognize they are being influenced by PR messaging (Holladay & Coombs, 2013). Thus, PR students are taught to craft messages that bypass media gatekeepers, and they are often trained in journalistic style. For these reasons, PR students may feel they are more media literate than others. Feeling more confident in media literacy knowledge, PR students may feel that it is less important to receive media literacy training. This supports the Austin et al. (2007) suggestion that level of skill or involvement impacts understanding of media literacy. 

Asked to define the term media literacy, public relations students largely transcended the most basic meaning of the word “literacy”—the ability to read and write —and gravitated toward higher-order words such as “understanding,” “knowledge,” “analysis,” and “operation” of media organizations. Indeed, the academic community is not in agreement over definitions of concepts involving “media” and “literacy.”  Multiple dimensions and distinctions abound when attempting to operationalize such a heterodox phenomenon. For some, being media literate may mean that one is an active participant in understanding media messages. More than one in five students used words related to “interpretation” of media messages and a deeper understanding, vetting, and contextualization of information apart from simply recognizing its literal meaning.

It may be these interpretive skills beyond simple understanding that are the most difficult to measure as well as to teach, as information channels abound and message formats continue to evolve. Repeated references to “different forms” of media in participants’ responses reflected the wide range of verbal and visual messages channeled through traditional, digital, and shared formats. If messages are consumed without critical evaluation, they are more likely to be taken at face value, possibly providing a skewed worldview. 

Media literacy training can be used to encourage students to be critical of the news they see and read. However, a fairly small percentage of students (12%) mentioned some aspect of combating “fake news” as a reason to be media literate.  Given the post-truth climate, the finding that relatively few students considered the discovery of truth in defining media literacy could be a source of concern.  To be media literate, some argue that students must be able to create truthful and well-produced content. Almost one-fifth of respondents (18.9%) associated media literacy with content creation. Some stressed the importance of creating new media content. Indeed, having a working understanding of what separates legitimate news gathering and dissemination from other less credible sources of information is crucial for public relations students. 

Implications for PR Educators

Given the lack of a clear definition of media literacy among both scholars and students, it is important to consider the implications for public relations educators. The Public Relations Society of America’s (PRSA) Code of Ethics focuses on the principles of advocacy, honesty, expertise, independence, loyalty, and fairness. In the PRSA Code Provision of Conduct (Public Relations Society of America , n.d.), the provision of “Disclosure of Information” calls for public trust-building by revealing all information necessary for decision making. By strengthening public trust, the profession is enhanced. Thus, it is important for public relations students to understand channels of communication and their potential effects. Not only can media literacy help to create more critical consumers of media, but media literacy training also may help move PR students to a position of empowerment. According to Holladay and Coombs (2013), “Media literacy involves recognizing that media messages are constructions (rather than reflections of reality) and understanding who does the constructing and for what purpose” (p. 128). It is important for PR students to consider motivations, values, and decision-making in message creation, whether it is in a press release, a native advertisement, or some other form. Emphasizing media literacy in the classroom can be a valuable asset in training future public relations professionals.  

Media literacy training for public relations students may impact the way they consider transparency in strategic communication messaging. Additionally, media literacy training can help to make public relations students more savvy media consumers. Austin and colleagues (2007) found that media literacy training can change the way individuals think about media. Media literacy education also has been found to increase awareness of advertising efforts to sell products or services. In turn, awareness may influence decision-making and intended behaviors (Austin et al., 2007). 

There are many strategies for teaching media in the PR classroom, including exercises to evaluate the credibility of sources, recognize bias in news reporting, identify credible media outlets for daily consumption of news, and how to research using digital archives. Several PR and journalism textbooks, including some free and open access books (for example, Be Credible by Bobkowski and Younger, 2018), provide student assignments to improve media literacy skills. Likewise, online resources, such as NewseumED, provide videos and teaching lessons to help students understand and identify fake news. The Public Relations Society of America and the Arthur W. Page Center also provide ethics training modules for use in the classroom. Although resources do exist for public relations educators, how media literacy information is incorporated and how much of the course content is devoted to the topic vary based on the students and their existing knowledge, the course content, and the professor. While the attitudes of educators were not measured in this study, it is possible that they, like the undergraduate students, assume that students studying public relations are, by nature, already media literate. This study revealed that this is not necessarily the case. Thus, educators should consider the extent that their students understand and value media literacy. 

Limitations and Suggestions for Future Research

The current study was conducted among a large number of college students who were members of PRSSA, and as such, they do not necessarily represent all public relations students nor other individuals who may pursue careers in that area. Additionally, social desirability bias could have influenced student respondents to respond in certain ways based on guessing the purposes behind the study or how results would be interpreted. 

This survey measured self-reported levels of media literacy among public relations students.  However, it did not measure PR students’ ability to recognize fake news or other types of ambiguous content, such as native advertising. Future studies that gauge student competence at distinguishing valid news stories and other legitimate content from disinformation and propaganda would be beneficial.  The responsibility to prepare future public relations professionals to practice communications ethically in the public sphere and to knowledgeably navigate the media landscape is essential. Studies such as this one and others that measure specific media literacy skills and abilities could help faculty better execute their educational mission.


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Table 1
Public Relations Student Responses to Media Literacy Scales

% Agree/Strongly AgreeMeanSD
News Media Literacy (NML)a = .784.19.37
The owner of a media company influences the content that is produced82.04.07.76
News companies choose stories based on what will attract the biggest audience89.04.23.72
Individuals find news sources that reflect their own political values93.04.32.68
Two people might see the same news story and get different information from it97.54.53.57
People are influenced by news whether they realize it or not97.64.53.56
News coverage of a political candidate will influence people’s opinions92.54.34.67
News is designed to attract an audience’s attention90.64.29.73
Lighting is used to make certain people in the news look good or bad84.24.13.76
Production techniques can be used to influence a viewer’s perception95.94.41.58
When taking pictures, photographers decide what is most important71.63.81.82
News makes things more dramatic than they really are55.53.60.85
A news story that has good pictures is more likely to show up in the news73.93.90.82
A news story about conflict is more likely to be featured prominently88.94.25.67
Self-Perceived Media Literacy (SPML)a = .703.87.52
I have a good understanding of the concept of media literacy74.83.81.83
I have the skills to interpret news messages
I understand how news is made in the U.S.
I am confident in my ability to judge the quality of news83.74.00.66
I’m not sure what people mean by media literacy*
Value of Media Literacy (VML)a = .694.20.47
Media literacy is important to democracy86.44.23.69
People should understand how media companies make decisions about news content89.84.20.66
It is the role of the press to represent diverse viewpoints82.04.12.80
The news media have a role to play in informing citizens about civic issues92.64.32.63
People need to critically engage with news content83.54.14.73
The main purpose of the news should be to entertain viewers*
Critical Consumption (CC)a = .823.90.43
I can distinguish different functions of media (communication, entertainment, etc.).
I am able to determine whether or not media contents have commercial messages.
I manage to classify media messages based on their producers, types, purposes and so on.
I can compare news and information across different media environments.
I can combine media messages with my own opinions.
I consider media rating symbols to choose which media contents to use.
It is easy for me to make decision about the accuracy of media messages.
I am able to analyze positive and negative effects of media contents on individuals.
I can evaluate media in terms of legal and ethical rules (copyright, human rights, etc.).
I can assess media in terms of credibility, reliability, objectivity and currency.
I manage to fend myself from the risks and consequences caused by media contents.

*Mean scores calculated on a 5-point Likert scale with 1 being “strongly disagree” and 5 being “strongly agree.”

© Copyright 2020 AEJMC Public Relations Division

To cite this article: Fullerton, J.A., McKinnon, L.M., & Kendrick, A. (2020). Media literacy among public relations students: An analysis of future PR professionals in the post-truth era.  Journal of Public Relations Education, 6(2), 1-25.

Radical Hope: A Teaching Manifesto

Matthew LeHew, Dalton State College

Radical Hope: A Teaching Manifesto
Author: Kevin M. Gannon
West Virginia University Press, 2020
ISBN: 978-1949199512

The curveballs thrown to us in 2020 have highlighted inequities in our culture and our need to harness adaptable pedagogy. The former is nothing new. The Working Group on Diversity & Inclusion for the Commission on Public Relations Education (2018) found that the demographics of the academy do not match the diversity found in PR practitioner communities. The working group made recommendations regarding forming a more diverse pipeline for PR higher education, but also acknowledged that work must be done in the classroom to provide a more equitable educational experience. How, then, are we to juggle both the call for equality in both our culture and classrooms alongside the need to reformat our courses to shift modalities at a moment’s notice? Many answers and suggestions can be found in Kevin M. Gannon’s Radical Hope: A Teaching Manifesto.

Gannon’s (2020) recommendation for grappling with these crises is to reject the act of teaching as a means for information transfer and embrace it as a more holistically transformative process. He urges the reader to reject the all-too-common “jaded detachment” (p. 3) found within the academic community and embrace the titular sense of “radical hope” that compels us to strive to create better futures for our students. At first, this process doesn’t seem particularly novel, since academe has long paid lip service to the liberal arts education as an educational process dedicated to educating the “whole person.” What is truly novel—and appropriate for our present circumstances—is Gannon’s insistence that we actually embody this notion in the classroom.

The property of “radical hope” is explained by Gannon (2020) in his introduction:

The very acts of trying to teach well, of adopting a critically reflective practice to improve our teaching and our students’ learning, are radical, in that word’s literal sense: they are endeavors aimed at fundamental, root-level transformation. And they are acts of hope because they imagine that process of transformation as one in which a better future takes shape out of our students’ critical refusal to abide the limitations of the present. (p. 5)

At the core of the “radical hope” paradigm of teaching is the concept of praxis. Gannon leans upon Paulo Freire’s conceptualization of praxis as a blend of reflection and action. We should be continuously reflecting on our teaching practices and using our observations to update how we engage with our students. Driving home the point that “treating all students equally was not the same thing as treating all students equitably” (p. 30), Gannon (2020) pushes faculty to take a more active role in education, one in which the educator abandons the false idol of neutrality—“Neutrality is a luxury of the comfortable,” he says (p. 21)—and intentionally prioritizes compassion and inclusion.

Dr. Gannon isn’t new to these concepts. As a professor of history and director of the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning at Grand View University in Des Moines, Iowa, Gannon has long been sounding a clarion call for an increased critical and inclusive pedagogy, making him distinctly suited to address the needs of higher education in the current moment. He has traveled to campuses across North America as a consultant and speaker and was interviewed as part of Ava DuVernay’s Oscar-nominated documentary 13th. As COVID-19 forces us to reconsider long-entrenched teaching paradigms, and nationwide protests against systemic racism drive us to seek justice in how we serve our students, the principles Gannon lays out in his manifesto can play a big role in guiding us to these objectives.

Structure and Organization

Gannon (2020) starts his work by listing the woes of higher education, such as suffering from financial struggles that are “the fruit of a neoliberal, market-driven ideology with little room for the notion of a public good” (p. 1). While he provides an array of examples to support this characterization, any reader who remains skeptical need only examine the scattershot “plans” to reopen campuses during a pandemic, the product of an optimism that can only come from willful ignorance.

After his introduction, Gannon devotes 10 chapters to exploring 10 specific educational principles or concepts that can be upheld as either aspirational beliefs or examples of a status quo begging to be torn down. The first chapter, “Classrooms of Death,” modernizes a phrase coined by N. F. S. Grundtvig to describe schools that offered an education irrelevant to the lives of most students. How then, Gannon asks, are we supposed to ensure that the education we offer contributes to the “life” of society, turning out individuals with not only knowledge but also a sense of civic responsibility and efficacy? Using the August 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville as a key example, Gannon charges educators to assert the incompatibility between white nationalism and the successful navigation of the academic sphere of higher education. Knowledge creation, Gannon argues, is insufficient for valuable higher education. The subsequent processes of analyzing and internalizing learned knowledge must also be guided by the professor. As Gannon (2020) states, “simply introducing knowledge into the public sphere and then abdicating any role in what happens to it afterward is at best highly problematic; at worst, it’s wildly irresponsible” (p. 16). This emphasis on actively investing in both the student and the learning process is also manifest in the next chapter, which focuses on communication of expectations in everyday teaching practice. It is in this chapter that Gannon begins to craft his argument that the idealized form of the professor as wise orator must give way to a more compassionate figure. Proudly exclaiming that a course requires a certain caliber of student— especially in blind devotion to the idea of “rigor”—does not represent an earnest investment in students’ futures.

In each subsequent chapter, Gannon continues the case for actively sowing the seeds for transformative learning. He takes special care to urge the reader toward inclusivity by actively challenging them to consider how even widely-accepted teaching practices may exclude students with disabilities or those who come from nontraditional backgrounds. The text also challenges the reader to avoid some of the cultural pitfalls found in teaching higher education. For example, while venting about students in closed-door meetings may have a cathartic benefit, it can spiral out of control and cement the notion of an adversarial relationship between professor and student. On that note, Gannon points out the current trend of faculty members subtweeting their students by pointing out their more absurd behavior in a virtual public space. While it may promote a foxhole camaraderie amongst educators, what does it communicate to the students who stumble across these objects of ridicule—especially the students whose work or confusion is being displayed for all to mock?

The areas ripe for praxis are numerous, and Gannon identifies them in the elements of our profession both technical and traditional. By pointing out how the digital platforms we use may isolate certain students, he encourages faculty to develop curricula that utilize the platforms to their full extent, offering different types of learning experiences for students to utilize and minimizing technical issues that may exclude certain students. To accomplish this, he advocates implementing Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles. Additionally, Gannon devotes an entire chapter to the syllabus and how it communicates a host of expectations to students beyond its text. The current emphasis on syllabus-as-legal-document is counterproductive, he insists, advocating for the “promising syllabus” approach pioneered by Ken Bain instead. “The promising syllabus has student learning, not instructors or institutions, firmly at its center. This is a subtle, seemingly simple shift, but one that has extraordinary consequences” (Gannon, 2020, p. 99).

Gannon’s final chapter focuses on three specific words that can dramatically change the classroom: “I don’t know.” Pointing out the pandemic of imposter syndrome found in the academy, he argues that admitting the lack of knowledge on a particular subject fosters a more collaborative relationship between professors and students, demonstrating that not knowing an answer—and subsequently finding it—is healthier than pretending to know it all along. Removing the academic pomp and circumstance and sense of detachment encourages us to wield our pedagogy as a gift, not a weapon.

Contribution to Higher Education, Especially in Public Relations

Written in a tone that is startlingly succinct, yet resonant with raw emotion, Gannon’s points are amplified by his tone of strong, even forceful, optimism. He takes care to encourage the reader as he goes through his points, chipping away at the calcified resentment and despair that is all too common among educators. Even when challenging the reader, Gannon’s focus on edification and a mutual goal with the reader discourages any defensive objections from taking hold.

The work is further aided by the timing of its release. Shortly after publication, COVID-19 upended everything we thought we could expect from a semester. Suddenly, many of us were faced with a teaching modality we had never planned to use. All of us had to make decisions regarding the balance of rigor and compassion in the midst of circumstances we hadn’t anticipated. Shortly after that, the nationwide protests against systemic racism elevated a conversation long overdue in every discipline, including and especially public relations. Gannon’s work provides elements of a blueprint that can help us avoid simply using the present events as case study fodder and move toward an educational paradigm pointed at intentional inclusivity. It has certainly encouraged this reviewer to abandon the false pretense of “neutrality” when teaching PR and work to form students who will be most likely to make positive, significant contributions to our world’s social health.

The impact of Gannon’s points are assisted by the work’s length. He describes it as a “manifesto,” and the term proves accurate, as Radical Hope is a short work that many could complete in a day. The book avoids wasting pages working up to a point too slowly. Instead, the reader is welcomed with rapidly developing arguments that build on the core calls for inclusivity, compassion, and praxis in pedagogy.

The brevity is a double-edged sword, however, as Gannon can move on to the next point while leaving the reader wanting to explore the previous argument in more detail. This is most apparent when discussing UDL, as Gannon only provides one concrete example of a UDL practice: formatting material to be easily parsed by screen readers for the blind. While a fantastic example of something readily accomplishable before the next semester, this reviewer was left curious for more examples, even as far as to pause reading the book to go seek out more avenues for UDL. Even brief mentions of techniques to accommodate spectrums other than those involving people with disabilities would have strengthened the argument. For example, Gannon could have explored UDL techniques meant to accommodate students without reliable access to the internet, which would have been remarkably prescient given the COVID-19 pandemic.

There is no shortage of prescriptive works aiming to improve either the performance or lives of those serving in higher education, making it all the more rare when a book stands out to the degree that Radical Hope does. The book could not have been released at a more ideal time, making it required reading for those of us struggling to figure out how to adjust and balance our work this fall. At times both challenging and affirming, Radical Hope provides a clear path to helping us tackle the present and adapt to the future.


Commission on Public Relations Education. (2018). Fast forward: Foundations + future state. Educators + practitioners: The Commission on Public Relations Education 2017 report on undergraduate education. commission-reports/fast-forward-foundations-future-state-educators-practitioners/

© Copyright 2020 AEJMC Public Relations Division

To cite this article: LeHew, M. (2020). Radical hope: A teaching manifesto. [Review of the book Radical hope: A teaching manifesto, by K. Gannon].  Journal of Public Relations Education, 6(2), 193-199.

From Acronym to Application: PESO Comes to Life

Editorial Record: Submitted to AEJMC-PRD GIFT Competition by Feb. 21, 2020. A blind copy was peer reviewed by the PRD Teaching Committee, led by Chair Chris McCollough, and selected as a Top GIFT. Top GIFT winners were notified on April 1, 2020. First published online on August 15, 2020.


Arien Rozelle
Assistant Professor, media and communication
St. John Fisher College

Students in PR Research and Planning are given a semester-long assignment that asks them to develop an integrated campaign for a real client. Throughout the course, students are introduced to a variety of PR models and theories, including the PESO model. This model, created in 2014 by Gini Dietrich, author of Spin Sucks and creator of the PESO model certification, is a typology of the four types of media: paid, earned, shared, and owned. 

This in-class PESO activity–which simulates a strategy session that would take place in an agency setting–is conducted following an introductory lecture on the PESO model. This activity helps students identify different paid, earned, shared, and owned tactics, as well as conceptualize campaigns from an integrated perspective, moving PESO from acronym to application.

This PESO activity was inspired by Frederik Vincx, a designer and entrepreneur, who created a “PESO Kit” based off of Dietrich’s model.

Student Learning Goals

  • Enable students to understand and effectively apply strategic communication planning processes, problem-solving strategies, and operational techniques. 
  • Give students hands-on experience preparing real public relations campaigns for actual clients.
  • Enhance students’ ability to design, carry out, and analyze professional-quality projects using current communication and media technologies to address client needs related to public relations and/or reputation management. 

Connection to Public Relations Practice
The PESO model was created for the purpose of communication planning. Since it was introduced in 2014, it has become widely adopted in practice. This activity helps students apply a model that is commonly used by practitioners. 

Evidence of Student Learning Outcomes

Below are selected testimonials from students, used with their permission:

“The PESO activity was a useful way to learn more about the PESO model. For me, learning visually is really important and helpful. Instead of just hearing about the PESO model, doing an interactive activity where I could physically organize types of coverage into a real PESO model helped me remember the differences and work through the specifics of the tool itself. It was also interesting to talk through the differences between the categories and how they all compare and contrast.” – Lizzy B.

“The PESO activity helped me recognize what kind of tactics fit it to the different areas of media. It also helped me realize the importance of using a combination of paid, earned, shared, and owned media when running an integrated public relations campaign. It was helpful to have a visual of all the different tactics to give us ideas of what to use in our campaign.” – Colleen S.

“The activity was a great way to put all aspects of media down and be able to truly define what they all stood for. It allowed us to decipher which ones would be most beneficial to implement into our campaign based on our strategies and target audience. [It] was a great way of collaborating with our groups and brainstorming how each medium would fit into our campaign.” – Kyle A. 


Dietrich, G. (2014). Spin sucks: Communication and reputation management in the Digital Age. Que Publishing.


From Acronym to Application: PESO Comes to Life Assignment
After students are given an introductory lecture about the development and details of the PESO model, they are then given the PESO Activity directions. Each agency (groups of 3-4 students) is provided with a poster size Venn diagram of the PESO model (image below), along with a PESO menu (below), and corresponding physical PESO cards. They are asked to fill out the cards, identifying the tactics by media channel (paid, earned, shared, owned). They write the tactic on the card, then place the card on the Venn diagram. Additional directions below.

Used with permission from Gini Dietrich

PESO Activity Directions

Step 1: Using the PESO menu, identify the tactics by media channel (paid, earned, shared, owned). Write the tactic on the corresponding PESO card until you have a card for every tactic.

Step 2: Arrange the PESO cards on the PESO Venn Diagram poster according to media type.

Step 3: Take a photo for your files!

Step 4: Review your results and discuss any new ideas with your agency. What tactics would make sense to use for your campaign? 

Step 5: Remove the tactics you don’t want to use for your campaign. What’s left should be a visual representation of your campaign. 

Step 6: Take a photo for your files!

Step 7: Agency discussion: is this an integrated campaign? How will this help you achieve your objective? Have you conducted sufficient research? How will you measure success? What did you learn?

Have fun! 


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PESO menu. These examples of paid, earned, shared and owned media give students a starting point for the assignment.
PESO cards, not to scale. They are about the size of a traditional business card. The cards are laminated and can be written on with dry erase marker. Students write each tactic from the PESO menu onto a corresponding PESO card. They then place the cards on the PESO Venn diagram poster.

© Copyright 2020 AEJMC Public Relations Division

To cite this article: Rozelle, A. (2020). From acronym to application: PESO comes to life.  Journal of Public Relations Education, 6(2), 168-173.

Who’s Out There? Using Google Analytics and Social Media Data to Research Online Publics

Editorial Record: Submitted to AEJMC-PRD GIFT Competition by Feb. 21, 2020. A blind copy was peer reviewed by the PRD Teaching Committee, led by Chair Chris McCollough, and selected as a Top GIFT. Top GIFT winners were notified on April 1, 2020. First published online on August 15, 2020.


Melissa Adams, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, public relations
Appalachian State University


This assignment was designed as an in-class workshop for public relations students, working in “agency teams,” as part of their senior capstone campaigns course. For the first stage of their campaign proposal (also referred to as “book”) development, students are required to research the online publics of the client organization. This work builds upon the information shared during the client briefing and helps students prepare for doing primary research of their own prior to campaign development. This assignment illustrates the value of digital research methods to understand who is already following the organization online and how they are engaging with them and their content. Finally, this assignment provides students with the opportunity to dig into analytic data and work as a team to analyze findings and develop profiles of key publics––much in the way one would in a professional agency setting.

To do this assignment, students work individually to complete the worksheet but sit together to discuss it as part of their previously formed agency teams. This arrangement allows students who may have had some exposure to online audience research or Google Analytics to assist teammates who do not, and it provides the instructor more freedom to move around the room to help each team or answer questions as needed. Each student must have access to WiFi and a device with internet access capability to complete the assignment. 

Student Learning Goals

This assignment will help students gain knowledge and cultivate skills in the following areas:

  • Build research skills through the use of secondary data analysis (Google Analytics and social media accounts). 
  • Develop analytic acumen through the synthesis of multiple data points to develop profiles of organizational publics.
  • Understand how to perform a basic social media audit for a client.
  • Gain experience working with actual client organization data to develop a campaign addressing current business/organizational goals.

Connection to Public Relations Practice and Theory

Understanding how to access, analyze, and synthesize digital data to provide insights into client publics as part of campaign planning and evaluation is a necessary skill in digital public relations. This assignment mimics basic research activities I performed in the industry as part of campaign planning, which involved analyzing new client social outreach and messaging issues. The assignment may be used in any public relations or social media course focused on strategy and campaign planning. However, the client must provide access to its analytics account to the instructor, which is a minor process requiring less than a minute of their time. As Google Analytics is a free service for all but the very largest organizations, it is commonly used by nonprofits as well as small to medium-sized businesses to track their online engagements and campaigns. Therefore, most instructors should be able to identify clients who use the platform. If for some reason instructor access is not possible, the assignment may easily be adapted to rely on Google Demo Account data. 

In preparation for this assignment, students take part in an instructor-led tour of the client’s Google Analytics account and data to familiarize themselves with the platform and standard reports. Special emphasis is placed on the overview reports for demographics and social media traffic. This tour takes place just after client discovery at the start of the course as we discuss the research stage of campaign planning and students read the “Formative Research” section of the assigned text (Smith, 2017). 

The reading complements a short lesson on public relations research and supporting theory, including the situational theory of publics and the four levels of activation publics (Grunig & Hunt, 1984; Grunig, 1997). The lesson notes that campaigns may target non-active publics and that through analysis of social media and analytics data, we can start to identify these levels of activity in the client’s online audiences. This theoretical connection is extended by asking students “Who is missing?” in relation to the client’s online publics. Thinking about inactive or latent publics as simply “missing” from the online data helps students understand that it is often just as important for practitioners to know who they are not reaching online, as it is to know about who they are, as those publics may be key to the organization (Hallahan, 2020). This critical consideration is incorporated into the assignment as a search for missing publics. Following this lesson and discussion, students are then ready to start their research, and the assignment serves as the official “kickoff” for their campaign project. Students access client analytics via a generic Gmail account set up by the instructor for this purpose and conduct searches to identify client social media accounts for observational analysis.

Evidence of Learning Outcomes

 Learning outcomes for this assignment are evidenced during the in-class workshop and in the students’ written research chapter of their client campaign proposals. Additionally, students are asked to prepare and present a short research report to their classmates following data collection and analysis for the research phase of the project. The research presentations allow students an opportunity to observe, critique, ask questions, and provide peer feedback and ideas for improvements. Finally, evidence for the efficacy of this assignment has been indicated in course evaluations as students noted they appreciated the opportunity to develop “real world” experience to understand how Google Analytics and social media auditing may be used in public relations research. Evidence of both positive learning outcomes and the value of the assignment have been provided by former client organizations through anecdotal feedback at the end of the semester following student presentations and review of final campaign proposals. According to one former class client, student research produced as part of this exercise included some “eye-openers” that helped them move beyond assumptions about their online audiences. 


Grunig, J. E., & Hunt, T. (1984). Managing public relations. Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

Grunig, J. E. (1997). A situational theory of publics: Conceptual history, recent challenges and new research. In D. Moss, T. MacManus, & D. Vercic (Eds.), Public relations research: An international perspective (pp. 3–48). International Thomson Business Press.

Hallahan, K. (2000). Inactive publics: The forgotten publics in public relations. Public Relations Review, 26(4), 499–515.

Smith, R. D. (2017). Strategic planning for public relations (5th ed.). Routledge.


Double-Sided Assignment Instructions & Worksheet 

Assignment: Audience Analysis (Identifying online publics)

Research Objective: Develop basic descriptions of the organization’s publics using Google Analytics and the client’s social media accounts to research. 

Time to complete: 45 minutes to 1 hour. 

This assignment helps provide the foundation for the Publics Analysis in the Research section of your campaign proposal. 

Assignment: For this assignment, you will analyze the client’s publics who are visible on owned social media accounts. You will also use Google Analytics to look at traffic visiting their website. Note the demographics represented and try to identify (by predominance) the primary public and secondary public currently engaged with their online efforts. Be sure to answer all the questions noted in the instructions!

  • Give each public a distinctive name that describes them demographically or by their interests (example: “Local enviro-loving millennials”). Record these on your worksheet. Also make notes of any observations about the behavior(s) of these publics that might inform your campaign (example: most engagement on the weekends). We will discuss our analysis during our next class. Be sure to turn in your worksheet when finished. (You may use the reverse of this worksheet or attach an additional sheet of paper if needed.)
  • Note any “missing” publics (example: ages, genders, locations the client serves that are not represented in current followers and traffic reports. (By “missing” publics, I’m referring to any groups not represented in the data we can access––but could be a target public that the organization desires to reach out to. Remember our discussion of active vs. inactive or unaware publics?) 

Social Media Analysis Instructions:

  1. Using the client website or Google search, identify ALL of the client’s social media accounts. (In addition, once these are found, go ahead and follow them (put yourself in the stream of the client’s social media communication!)
  2. Record the metrics from their platforms (example: 22,002 Facebook followers).
  3. Look at their social followers (user profiles)––who are they? Click on user profiles to see what you can see. Are they students? Employees? Where do they live? Try to discern some basic demos from these profiles, as well as where they live, interests, etc. Make notes on the back of this page.
  4. Then, try to find the most popular topics and/or posts. What is the conversation about? What content has generated the most comments or interactions (shares, etc.)?
  5. Examine at least two months of social media data. If possible, examine more (six months) to gain even more insight into their social audiences.

GA Analysis Instructions: 

  1. Log into Google Analytics (Gmail account – ____________ /password = _______.) BE SURE TO LOG OUT OF YOUR GMAIL & ALL GOOGLE ACCOUNTS (including Drive) FIRST!
  2.  Look at one year of data. Also look at demographics and simple data like time of day the website receives the most traffic. (To change dates, click on the dates in the top right and a box will open.)
  3. Where does most of their web traffic come from? (Go to “Acquisition” – then “Source/medium.”)
  4. How much of their traffic comes from social media and which platform drives the most visits? (“Social”– then “Networks.”)

REMEMBER – the goal of this assignment is to gather information for your publics research. The more detail, the better! Let me know if you need help with Google Analytics or anything else.

WORKSHEET – Please record your metrics and audience description notes below.

Platform Metrics

Facebook: Instagram:   Twitter: YouTube:

Other (list below):

Primary (Online) Public Name: ____________________________________

Description (include demographics, interests, etc.)

Secondary (Online) Public Name: ____________________________________

Description (include demographics, etc.)

Missing publics?

Name: ____________________________________

Description (include demographics, etc.)

Name: ____________________________________

Description (include demographics, etc.)

General observations: 

© Copyright 2020 AEJMC Public Relations Division

To cite this article: Adams, M. (2020). Who’s out there? Using Google Analytics and social media data to research online publics.  Journal of Public Relations Education, 6(2), 174-181.

Diverse Voices in the History of Public Relations

Editorial Record: Submitted to AEJMC-PRD GIFT Competition by Feb. 21, 2020. A blind copy was peer reviewed by the PRD Teaching Committee, led by Chair Chris McCollough, and selected as a Top GIFT. Top GIFT winners were notified on April 1, 2020. First published online on August 15, 2020.


Arien Rozelle
Assistant Professor, media and communication
St. John Fisher College


In 2018, the Commission on Public Relations Education released the Report on Undergraduate Education, Foundations + Future State. Educators + Practitioners, in which diversity and inclusion was noted as being a key area of emphasis. In the section “Diversity: An Imperative Commitment for Educators and Practitioners,” the report states:

Efforts to improve D&I knowledge must start at the academic level. We recommend educators place focus on how diversity and multicultural perspectives are taught in the classroom, and commit to integrating D&I focused topics and discussions in the curriculum. (p. 139) 

This assignment, “Diverse Voices in the History of Public Relations,” takes a historical approach to this directive, allowing students to discover important and diverse figures in the history of public relations.

In October 2018, the PRSA Foundation, in partnership with the Museum of Public Relations, published the book Diverse Voices: Profiles in Leadership (Spector & Spector, 2018), featuring profiles of more than 40 multicultural leaders in the field of public relations. Diverse Voices served as the inspiration for this assignment, which was given to students in Introduction to Public Relations during a unit about the history of public relations. In this assignment, students are asked to research a lesser-known figure in the history and evolution of the field, and produce a two-page paper about their life, work, and lasting contribution to the field of public relations. 

Student Learning Goals

  • Learn about the history and development of public relations.
  • Identify a relatively “unknown” public relations practitioner, their contributions to the field of public relations, and their long-term impact on the field. 
  • Emphasize the importance of diversity in the field of public relations.
  • Apply information learned from research sources and course content. 
  • Familiarize students with the Museum of Public Relations and the Journal of Public Relations Research.

Connection to Public Relations Practice
The Public Relations Society of America (n.d.) has identified Diversity & Inclusion as an area of emphasis, stating: 

While the practice of public relations in the United States has undergone dramatic changes, a lack of diversity in the communications profession persists. Many studies indicate that the industry still struggles to attract young black, Asian and Hispanic professionals to pursue public relations as their career of choice. (para. 1)

As the public relations industry makes a push toward greater diversity and inclusion, it’s important that we educate future public relations practitioners about the diverse voices in the history and evolution of modern public relations. While many public relations textbooks still refer to the “founding fathers” of public relations, this assignment asks students to go beyond the stories and lives of P.T. Barnum, Ivy Lee, Edward Bernays, and Arthur W. Page.

Evidence of Student Learning Outcomes 

Most students were excited to explore diverse figures in public relations and appreciated working on an assignment related to diversity. Many students reported they were surprised by what they found and appreciated the social justice connections to this assignment. Here is a sampling of student responses to the assignment (shared with their permission):

“It surprised me just how much our textbooks do not tell us about the beginnings of public relations. I found the assignment very beneficial to my understanding of PR, as it completed the goals you listed, and I would recommend it to future classes you teach.” – Justin L.

“The assignment allowed me to research and become aware of important figures within the PR field that have historically been left out of the conversation or have not received recognition for their work. The research done to complete this assignment showed that the PR industry has plenty of room for growth and improvement in hopes of becoming a more inclusive field, so all groups can be represented and heard effectively. This assignment was one of my favorites.” – Madison B.

“This assignment helped me understand the importance of diversity because with just reading the textbook I would have never known that there were diverse people in public relations. With this assignment I was allowed to research and learn about so many different people and see what they contributed to public relations.” – Emma A.

“I enjoyed this assignment because I was able to research public relations practitioners who have made great contributions to the field but don’t get the recognition that they necessarily deserve. I also thought it was helpful because we were able to explore diversity in the field.” – Gabriella G.


Commission on Public Relations Education. (2018). Fast Forward: Foundations + future state. Educators + practitioners: The Commission on Public Relations Education 2017 Report on undergraduate education.

Public Relations Society of America (n.d.). Diversity & Inclusion. Retrieved Feb 8, 2020, from

Spector, S., & Spector, B. (Eds.). (2018). Diverse voices: Profiles in leadership. PRMuseum Press.


Diverse Voices in the History of Public Relations Assignment

Students are asked to research a lesser-known figure in the history and evolution of the field and produce a two-page paper about their life, work, and lasting contribution to the field of public relations. 

After students have read “The History of Modern Public Relations” (Chapter 2), from Introduction to Strategic Public Relations (Page & Parnell, 2018), they are given a starting point—a list of historical figures in public—and are asked to choose one person they would like to learn about. The responsibility of further, in-depth research is then in the hands of the student. This student-centered approach to learning shifts the responsibility from the professor as storyteller to the student as historical investigator and storyteller. This independence and ability to choose gives students a bit of autonomy over their work, relieves added research pressure, and allows them to focus on developing curiosity and critical thinking through this assignment.

Through their research, students take an inquiry-based approach, acquiring new knowledge by investigation. They build on their existing knowledge of the history of public relations through this assignment and begin to take a more critical approach to the way that the history of public relations has been presented in many textbooks. In doing so, this assignment empowers students to learn about diverse voices in the history of the field and to understand some of the critical issues of diversity and inclusion that still persist today. 


In order to discover diverse voices in the historical development of public relations, this assignment asks students to conduct research and to tell the story of one of the following public relations practitioners:

  • Joseph V. Baker
  • Ofield Dukes
  • Doris Fleischman
  • Muriel Fox 
  • Barbara W. Hunter
  • Inez Kaiser
  • Moss Kendrix 
  • Betsy Plank

Students are asked to consider the following:

  • Who is the person, where are they from, where did they work?
  • Why are they important to the field of public relations? What were their major contributions to the field of public relations?
  • What is the long-term impact of their work on the field of public relations?
  • How did/does their legacy continue to shape the field of public relations today, specifically with respect to the need for greater diversity and inclusion in the industry?

Required Readings/Research

  • “The History of Modern Public Relations” (Chapter 2), from Introduction to Strategic Public Relations (Page & Parnell, 2018) 
  • The Journal of Public Relations Research or another academic journal from the library
  • A news article from a credible source such as The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal

A two-page research paper about the life, work, and lasting contribution of a diverse voice in the history of public relations.

Points (100)Elements of Review
(10)Opening/IntroThe opening paragraph states what the paper is about and gets the reader’s attention.
(55)Middle ParagraphsMiddle paragraphs apply information learned from research sources and course content by answering the following questions:
Who is the person, where are they from, where did they work? (10 points)
Why are they important to the field of public relations? What were their major contributions to the field of public relations? (15 points)
What is the long-term impact of their work on the field of public relations? (15 points)
How did/does their legacy continue to shape the field of public relations today, specifically with respect to the need for greater diversity and inclusion in the industry? (15 points)
(10)Closing ParagraphThe closing paragraph summarizes the paper and draws conclusions related to course content. 
(10)ReferencesCites required sources listed in assignment instructions.
(5)FormattingAssignment follows formatting instructions.
(10)Grammar and punctuationSentences are fluent and effective. Very few errors in mechanics, punctuation and word usage.

© Copyright 2020 AEJMC Public Relations Division

To cite this article: Rozelle, A. (2020). Diverse voices in the history of public relations. Journal of Public Relations Education, 6(2), 150-157.

A Simulation as a Pedagogical Tool for Teaching Professional Competencies in Public Relations Education

Editorial Record: Original draft submitted to JPRE October 2, 2019. R&R decision November 30, 2019. Revision submitted January 11, 2020. Manuscript accepted (with changes) for publication April 10, 2020. Changes received June 11, 2020. Final changes received July 17, 2020. First published online August 15, 2020.


Aoife O’Donnell 
Faculty of Media Communications 
Griffith College
Dublin, Ireland


Research indicates there are common competencies that are required by the public relations industry, such as business acumen, communication skills, and critical thinking. This study examined how the use of a simulation exercise could assist students in developing these competencies. The simulation exercise was blended with other pedagogical tools to assist in teaching crisis communications to a group of post-graduate public relations students in Ireland. A mixed methods methodology was used. Situational judgment tests were exclusively designed for this research, in consultation with a team of public relations professionals. These tests were used for the quantitative analysis while a focus group and reflection were used for the qualitative analysis. The exercise was found to have a positive effect on the development of competencies in students. The findings are useful for establishing competency standards for entry-level preparation and for identifying pedagogical approaches that may assist students in preparing for careers in the industry.

Keywords: public relations, pedagogy, competencies, situational judgment tests, experiential learning, blended learning

A Simulation as a Pedagogical Tool for Teaching Professional Competencies in Public Relations Education 

Higher education institutions are grappling with the challenges of meeting the modern learning needs of students and the ever-evolving demands of industry. Research indicates there are competencies needed within the public relations industry such as critical thinking and communication skills (Barnes & Tallent, 2015; Commission on Public Relations Education, 2018; Flynn, 2014; Madigan, 2017).  The purpose of this study was to explore if specific pedagogical techniques, including a simulation exercise, could assist students in developing these competencies. To achieve this aim, a research study was designed based on Picciano’s (2009) multimodal model of blended learning and Kolb’s (2015) experiential learning cycle. A simulation exercise was blended with other face-to-face and online pedagogical tools and used to assist in teaching students to manage media communications in a crisis situation. 

The study was conducted with post-graduate public relations students, using a concurrent mixed methods methodology. To assess the efficacy on the development of the competencies in students, situational judgment tests were designed specifically for this study, in consultation with a team of public relations professionals. A focus group and a reflection formed the qualitative analysis. The findings of the research are of benefit to the public relations industry in that they could help with the testing of competencies required at entry-level into the profession and in the identification of pedagogical approaches that have the potential to assist public relations students in preparing for careers in the industry. 

Competencies Required by the Public Relations Industry

The higher education sector has been in a period of significant transition over the last two decades as a result of the evolution of technology, widespread participation in education, and changing competency demands from the industry regarding entry-level preparation (Price Waterhouse Coopers, 2018; Strategy Group, 2011). Flynn (2014) postulated that 21st century public relations practitioners are required to have a “different skill set and competencies [than] their counterparts” who practiced before them (p. 363). In its 2018 report on the Workforce of the Future, Price Waterhouse Coopers (PWC) stated: “We are living through a fundamental transformation in the way we work. Automation and ‘thinking machines’ are replacing human tasks and jobs and changing the skills that organisations are looking for in their people” ( p. 3). In a survey of academic and industry leaders, the IBM Institute for Business Value found that 71% of industry recruiters had difficulty finding applicants with sufficient practical experience (King, 2015). The IBM study also revealed that the skills leaders required in the industry were the very skills graduates lacked: problem solving, collaboration and teamwork, business-context communication and flexibility, agility, and adaptability. In its most recent report on the needs within the PR industry, the Commission on Public Relations Education (2018) echoed those desires for problem solving—“the most desired abilities are creative thinking, problem solving, and critical thinking” (p. 15). Alongside problem solving, other communication skills are requirements for senior public relations professionals, whose role is ultimately to communicate on behalf of an organization in a written or oral manner. 

The essential skill of critical thinking is defined by the Foundation for Critical Thinking (n.d.) as:

That mode of thinking—about any subject, content, or problem—in which the thinker improves the quality of his or her thinking by skillfully analyzing, assessing, and reconstructing it. . . . Critical thinking is self-directed, self-disciplined, self-monitored, and self-corrective thinking. . . . It entails effective communication and problem-solving abilities. (para. 2) 

A study by Barnes and Tallent (2015) focused specifically on teaching critical thinking skills to Millennials (people born between 1981 and 2000) in public relations classes. They referred to an ability to think critically as vital in public relations professionals and recommended that it should be taught in communication courses.

Communication skills are clearly foundational in public relations, as can be seen in this definition of the field: “the art and social science of analyzing trends, predicting their consequences, counseling organization leaders and implementing planned programs of action which will serve both the organization’s and the public interest” (Theaker, 2016, p. 5). These “planned programs of action” can be interpreted as strategies that assist an organization in communicating its messages with its publics, including through the media. Thus, in addition to general oral and written communication skills, an ability to communicate specifically with the media is a vital skill required by all public relations professionals.

In addition to skills such as writing, content creation, and problem solving, the Commission on Public Relations Education’s (2018) latest report lists items entry-level PR practitioners need to know, including business acumen. The CPRE report defines the term business acumen as “understanding how business works, to provide the contextual significance of public relations” (p. 28). Following the Oxford Dictionary of English’s (n.d.) definition of acumen, competency in business acumen would indicate an ability to make good judgments and quick decisions that are appropriate in business. Business acumen has also been explained as a “good appreciation of business, business strategy, and business intelligence” (Gregory, 2008, p. 220). Flynn (2014) proffers that business acumen is a competency that has been widely reported in the literature and by industry professionals as important to public relations practice.  In their article published on the Institute of Public Relations’ (IPR) website titled “Public Relations and Business Acumen: Closing the Gap,” Ragas and Culp (2014) stated, “As the public relations industry evolves, the need for greater business acumen among professionals working in all levels of the field . . . has never been more important” (para. 1). They added that “to be a strategic partner to clients requires an intimate understanding of business, and how your counsel can advance organization goals and objectives” (Ragas & Culp, 2014, para. 1). 

Blended Learning and Learning Theory

While the industry is demanding graduates with more specific skills, higher education institutions are grappling with larger class sizes and a more diverse student population comprising a range of ages, genders, nationalities, and academic abilities (Strategy Group, 2011). To address the increased diversity of the student population, higher education is required to be more creative in its curricula design and in its teaching methods. As the Irish Strategy Group led by Dr. Colin Hunt stated, “we need new structures that better reflect the diverse learning requirements of our students” (p. 4). At an institutional level, this has resulted in a move away from the traditional didactic approach of teaching toward a more student-centered approach, involving a more interactive style of learning (Kember, 2009). This has translated to curriculum design that encourages active learning and employs pedagogical techniques that can assist in the development of what the Strategy Group refers to as the “high-order knowledge-based skills” (p. 4).  

Blended learning is an educational approach that combines traditional and contemporary teaching and learning methods. Cost effectiveness, access, flexibility, and an ability to address diverse student needs are cited among its benefits (Bonk & Graham, 2006). “Blended learning” is a term that has evolved in tandem with the evolution of technology over the last 20 years and although it has many definitions, it is most commonly used to describe a program or module where face-to-face and online teaching methods are combined (Partridge et al., 2011). 

There are many models of blended learning available, one of which is the multimodal model of blended learning (Picciano, 2009). This model offers clear direction on basic pedagogical objectives and approaches that can be employed to assist the instructor in achieving the required outcomes. This model recognizes the role of blended learning in addressing the varying learning needs in a group of learners. Picciano (2009) states that this model caters to the diverse needs of a modern classroom that may include different personalities, generations, and learning styles. In the multimodal model, six basic pedagogical objectives are recommended when designing a blended learning program, including content, social and emotional factors, dialectic/questioning, synthesis/evaluation (assignments/assessment), collaboration/student-generated content, and reflection. Picciano recommends teaching approaches to assist the learners and the teachers in meeting these objectives, including content management systems (CMS), multi-user virtual environments (MUVE), discussion boards, presentations, assessments, e-portfolios, wikis, blogs, and journals.

Blended learning is a style that is rooted in constructivist teaching and learning theory. According to Schunk (2012), “Constructivism requires that we structure teaching and learning experiences to challenge students’ thinking so that they will be able to construct new knowledge” (p. 274). Within the constructivist learning philosophy, several teaching and learning strategies have been proposed, with one of the most influential contemporary models being Kolb’s (2015) experiential learning cycle. The experiential learning cycle identifies four modes of learning the learner needs to transition through to develop a deep understanding of a topic. The modes are defined as concrete experience, reflective observation, abstract conceptualization, and active experimentation. Concrete experience involves the dissemination of information, for example, through a lecture or another means of content delivery. Abstract conceptualization refers to the development of the learner’s own thoughts. Reflective observation allows the learner to learn through reflecting on the information acquired, and during the active experimentation phase, the learner puts the learning into practice.

Public Relations Education 

The Commission on Public Relations Education (2018) made recommendations for designing and structuring higher education undergraduate public relations programs. It stated PR educational curricula should cover six essential topics, including introduction to or principles of public relations, research methods, writing, campaigns and case studies, supervised work experience or internships, and ethics. A course that has work experience incorporated into its curriculum would be ideally placed to provide students with the best opportunity to learn in the areas of campaigns and case studies, work experience/internships, and ethics, as they are topics that are more practical in nature. Many public relations courses offer a combination of theoretical content and work experience, presumably to prepare the students for industry by equipping them with both theoretical and practical knowledge. The question is then, what are the most appropriate pedagogical methods to use to equip students with this practical knowledge? 

Present research supports the use of creative teaching methods in the classroom to teach practical skills, such as simulations and what Barnes and Tallent (2015) referred to as “constructivist thinking tools” (p. 437). Their study offered examples of exercises, such as group work, discussions, reflective writing, and mind-maps in which students are encouraged to visualize information, group related items together, and identify problems and solutions as a result.

The word “simulation” can be used to define the “imitation of a situation or process” or “the production of a computer model of something, especially for the purpose of study” (Oxford Dictionary of English, n.d.). Evidence of the use of simulations in PR pedagogy as an “imitation of a situation or process” (Oxford Dictionary of English, n.d.) is more common. In an Australia-based study, Sutherland and Ward (2018) conducted research on the efficacy of using an immersive simulation as a pedagogical tool to provide students with practical experience of a media conference. In the study, they combined simulation tools such as role-play and immersive technology in which scenes from PR scenarios were projected onto the walls. They found that students enjoyed the experience, and it enhanced their learning and analytical skills. The students recommended the use of the pedagogical tools in the future. Similarly, Veil (2010) simulated a press conference held in response to a crisis. Role-based scenario simulations were the main simulation tool used in the study, which was conducted with communication students. Students reported finding the exercise beneficial to their learning, although some did report reservations about the spontaneous nature of the activity.  Another study in the U.S. found that crisis simulation can significantly increase students’ crisis management competencies. The author recommends simulation-based training could be used in other areas of public relations and should become part of the “pedagogical toolbox” (Wang, 2017, p. 107).

When assessing the specific competencies required by the PR industry, more interactive tools than the common written assignments might be required. For example, Bartam (2004) links competencies to performance and identifies workplace assessments and simulations as appropriate measurement tools. An example of an assessment format that has been used in the medical profession to measure non-academic attributes in medical graduates is the situational judgment test (SJT) (Patterson et al., 2016). Specific competencies the SJT can test include reasoning, problem solving, and decision making. An SJT comprises a hypothetical scenario (presented in written or video format) that medical graduates are likely to encounter in the workplace. Candidates are asked to identify the appropriateness or effectiveness of various response options from a predefined list. Patterson et al. (2016) recommend that response instructions for SJTs should fall into one or two categories: knowledge-based (what is the best option?/what should you do?) and behavior (what would you be most likely to do?). To ensure validity, the response options and scoring mechanism should be agreed upon in advance by industry experts. 

This study set out to explore the use of a simulation as a pedagogical tool and its ability to assist students of public relations in developing competencies required by the public relations industry. A constructivist pedagogical approach that used a specifically designed blended learning model, comprising a practical simulation at its core, was designed for this research and to assist students in developing the competencies identified. A situational judgment test was specifically designed for this study and used to assess the development of these competencies in students alongside a focus group and a reflective exercise. 


This study sought to examine if the use of a simulation as a pedagogical tool could assist students of public relations in developing competencies required by the public relations industry. The research involved the use of a concurrent mixed methods methodology involving qualitative and quantitative techniques. The quantitative analysis was conducted through a situational judgment test (SJT) specifically designed to measure the competencies identified as required by the PR industry. The SJTs were designed to ultimately assess students for the competencies of critical thinking and media communication skills, and the questions were therefore centered around the development and communication of effective arguments in response to difficult questions. Qualitative methods included a focus group and a reflective exercise, which were used to analyze the students’ learning experiences and the development of the competencies of critical thinking, business acumen, and communication skills. The design of the research strategy was rooted in constructivist teaching and learning philosophy through the use of Kolb’s (2015) experiential learning cycle and Picciano’s (2009) multimodal model of blended learning.


The research was conducted over a two-month period as part of the standard curriculum delivery in a PR module. Sixteen full-time post-graduate students of public relations in Ireland volunteered to participate in the study. The group was approximately split 50% between male and female students, and all participants were within the 21-30 age bracket with limited to no relevant work experience. The participants were students of the researcher’s in the final semester of a one-year post-graduate module in public relations. The course is registered as a Level 9 course on the National Framework of Qualifications Grid as set by the National Qualifications Authority of Ireland (2020). As the lecturer for these students was also the conductor of the research, there may have been a potential for bias. However, to conduct the simulation, a facilitator was required who had the specific knowledge of and skills in the practice of public relations, and it was deemed that this requirement would outweigh any potential for bias. It was submitted to the Ethics Committee at Griffith College Dublin, and all participants indicated their understanding and agreement to participate by signing a consent form. Participants were offered the opportunity to revoke their consent at any stage during the process. All information provided by the participants was treated in the strictest of confidence. Data collected from the questionnaires was anonymized, and the data were not identifiable during the research process or in the findings presented. 

Research Design

The study was developed around the teaching of crisis management. A blended learning model was designed to ensure the simulation could be combined into the course in a manner that enabled the pedagogical objectives and learning outcomes of the public relations curriculum to be achieved. The program was designed using the pedagogical objectives and approaches outlined in the multimodal model of blended learning. These were then mapped against Kolb’s (2015) experiential learning cycle to direct the learning stages and approaches and ensure the model was rooted in learning theory. This process is illustrated and explained in Figure 1.  

Figure 1

Kolb’s Experiential Learning Cycle and the Multimodal Model of Blended Learning

In Picciano’s (2009) multimodal model of blended learning, six basic pedagogical objectives are recommended when designing a blended learning program, including content, social and emotional, dialectic/questioning, synthesis/evaluation (assignments/assessment), collaboration/student-generated content and reflection. Picciano proposes teaching approaches to assist the learners and the teachers in meeting these objectives, including CMS, MUVE, discussion boards, presentations, assessments, e-portfolios, wikis, blogs, and journals.

The process outlined above explains how this model was mapped against the four modes of learning identified in Kolb’s (2015) experiential learning cycle to produce a program of face-to-face and online pedagogical activity that could meet the learning objectives. The process can be broken down by examining each mode of the experiential learning cycle individually. For example, in this instance, the theory and relevant information delivered by the lecturer on the management of media relations in the event of a crisis provided the “concrete experience.” Figure 1 demonstrates the lecture and content that was made available on Moodle during these exercises also fulfilled two of the multimodal model’s pedagogical objectives of “content” and “social and emotional factors.” The multimodal model views “content” as “the primary driver of instruction” and states that it can be delivered and presented via numerous means (Picciano, 2009, p. 14). In this program, the content was delivered by using a lecture and PowerPoint slides and by making case studies and articles available on the course management software system. The delivery of the content through an in-class lecture also fulfills the “social and emotional” pedagogical objective of the multimodal model. The model stipulates that “social and emotional development is an important part of anyone’s education” and that even students on advanced graduate courses require “someone with whom to speak, whether for understanding a complex concept or providing advice” (Picciano, 2009, p. 14). Therefore, the diagram demonstrates that the delivery of the content using these face-to-face and online approaches meets the “content” and “social and emotional” pedagogical objectives of the multimodal model and falls under the “concrete experience” learning mode of Kolb’s experiential learning cycle. Figure 1 can continue to be followed in the same manner to examine each of the modes of experiential learning and the associated pedagogical objectives, as well as the learning approaches used to achieve them. 

To explain the timeline of the study, at the outset, students were presented with content on crisis management through a PowerPoint lecture. The lecture provided students with information about crisis management and steps as to how to communicate with the media on behalf of an organization in a time of crisis. Students were presented with a case study involving a data breach by an internationally renowned technology company. They watched a video relating to this crisis, followed by a Socratic discussion led by the lecturer. As identified in a study by Parkinson and Ekachai (2002), the leader of the Socratic discussion is required to have a knowledge of the subject, in addition to an understanding of how to conduct a Socratic discussion. The aim of this discussion was to assist the students in developing an understanding of the principles and concepts involved in representing an organization in the media in response to a crisis. Following the completion of the Socratic discussion, students were directed to work in groups to develop their media strategies to respond to the crisis.  Each group then worked together outside of the classroom and online in a collaborative forum where the groups posted their strategies to enable feedback from their peers and from the lecturer. 

An immersive simulation exercise then took place in which students assumed the role of the spokesperson for the organization in crisis in an interview with a professional news journalist. A camera was set up and operated by a professional camera technician. Microphones and lighting were connected to simulate a real-life television news interview situation. The students were split into two groups of eight. Each individual group member was then immersed in the experience as they were interviewed individually by the journalist and asked to put their learning into practice by responding to the crisis in a simulated live media interview. The journalist asked challenging questions, such as “When did you learn about this issue?,” “Why did it take so long to communicate with your customers?,” “How do you plan to prevent this from happening again?” Students were required to think quickly and revert to their key messages and their preparation to respond. Students had been given 24 hours’ notice to prepare their key message to simulate a real-life situation in which a spokesperson would often be given very short notice before a media interview. Each student was recorded on camera and observed and assessed as the interview took place. On completion of all eight interviews, a selection of excerpts from videos were played back for discussion and formative feedback. The process was repeated with the second group. Students were assessed on their performance and the mark/grade represented a percentage of their overall grade for the module.


The methods used in this research were evaluated using bespoke scenario-based multiple-choice questionnaires (situational judgment tests, known as SJTs), a focus group, and a reflective exercise. At the commencement of the study, prior to the first lecture and again on completion of the study, students were directed online to complete the SJT. An SJT template was designed for the purpose of this research by a team of senior PR professionals who were assembled to consult on the scenarios, questions and answers, and scoring method for each test (see Appendix A). Scenarios were drafted and questions were formulated around these scenarios. Critical thinking and media communications skills were the core competencies that were measured in the SJTs. The questions were designed to demonstrate an ability to make effective arguments to support the key messages that the students were attempting to communicate. In line with best practice as identified in the literature review on SJTs, the questions were set into the two categories of knowledge (what is the best option?/what should you do?) and behavior (what would you be most likely to do?). Answers were proposed for each question, and the expert team reached a consensus on the most appropriate answers for each question. A scoring key was then developed for each test in order to group student responses into the categories of excellent, good, satisfactory, and poor. Students’ answers were analyzed and counted on completion of the first test, and responses were compared to those of the second test on completion of the entire study to provide a quantitative analysis on the development of each of the predefined competencies. The process of designing the SJT in consultation with industry experts ensured the validity of these tests in their use for the first time as tests to measure competencies in PR students. Examples of the tests and scoring key are available in Appendix A.

Following completion of the simulation and the second SJT, students were afforded the opportunity to reflect on their performance and the learning experience in an online exercise. All participants watched their performance through a secure video link on their own time and in privacy. Students then completed an online reflection, the objective of which was to inform the research as to the development of the competencies of critical thinking, business acumen, and communication skills. The reflection also served as a learning exercise for the students to encourage a deeper learning experience. The reflection consisted of a question asking the students to provide their opinions, in no more than 500 words, on the simulation exercise. 

Finally, on completion of the study, students participated in a focus group to discuss their perceptions of the learning experience and the impact they felt it had on the development of the competencies identified (see Appendix B). According to Daymon and Halloway (2011), the purpose of a focus group is “to concentrate on one or two clear issues or objects and discuss them in depth” (p. 241). In addition to offering insight as to students’ perceptions, the focus group was a useful exercise in itself for students in using and developing critical thinking skills. Eight students participated in the focus group, which was facilitated, recorded, and transcribed by the lecturer.  


The overall objective of this study was to ascertain if the use of a simulation could assist students in developing the competencies required by the public relations industry. Overall, the results show that the questions in the situational judgment test that were most focused on critical thinking and media communication skills showed slight improvements. The development of business acumen was not evidenced in the SJTs specifically; however, the development of this competency was inferred from the results of the qualitative analysis. 

In an effort to quantify any change in student performance from SJT I to SJT II, it was necessary to develop a standardization that was not sensitive to the different number of students in each. Direct comparison is not possible with two different student totals and the small data sets. Thus, each student who received a “poor” score was given one point, two points were given for each “satisfactory,” three for “good,” and four for excellent. The point total was then divided by the total number of students (16 for SJT I; 13 for SJT II) to determine the dimension’s mean score. Since the mean scores are a measure of the overall performance on the SJT and are not sensitive to different response totals, they allow for direct comparison. 

Figure 2 shows a comparison of the means between SJT I and SJT II for each of the six dimensions, while Table 1 presents the numerical scores for each measure of student performance. The number of students receiving that score for each of the six dimensions is reported. Using the scale described in the previous paragraph, a point total for the student performance for that SJT is attained and a mean score is calculated.  The final column gives the difference in the mean scores for SJT I and SJT II. The mean score differences for five of the six dimensions were positive, indicating improved student performance. The greatest increase in student performance was for Dimension 2: Key Messages. Only one dimension, Aftermath, showed a negative difference, demonstrating lower mean scores on the second SJT. 

Table 1

SJT I and II Scores and Standardized Mean Scores

Figure 2

Overall Means for SJT 1 and SJT 2

The first question asked in the SJTs was centered around research. The question asked participants to explain how they would approach the fact-gathering exercise involved in crisis communication management. There was an improvement of one participant achieving an excellent result in this question between the first and second questionnaires. The second question was focused on the development of key messages and asked students to identify the three most important key messages. In this question, there was an improvement of six people in those achieving an excellent result in the second questionnaire. Question three in each SJT asked participants to explain how they would approach the media. This question was the most difficult for participants with limited experience in media communication, and the results are perhaps indicative of this with five fewer students achieving an excellent result. However, five more students received a good result in SJT II in this question. Questions four and five were centered around the media response and the arguments to make within the media. In both these questions, there were slight improvements of three and two participants, respectively, in those achieving an excellent result. Finally, in question six, participants were asked to explain how they would manage communications in the aftermath of the crisis. The majority of participants in both SJTs achieved a satisfactory to excellent result with two fewer participants in the poor category in SJT II.  


Critical Thinking

Two questions within the SJTs were specifically focused on critical thinking (questions 4 and 5).  These questions centered around the response to and the making of effective arguments in the media. In the first of these questions, three more participants in question 4 and two more participants in question 5 achieved an “excellent” result in the second test. 

The next of these questions related to the construction of arguments. In this question, two more students received an “excellent” result in SJT II compared to the same style of questions in SJT I. The content of these questions is detailed in Appendix A. 

The increase in the number of students achieving good and excellent scores in the second test for both these questions could indicate that the exercise had a positive impact on the participants’ ability to think critically. In addition, in the qualitative analysis through the reflection and the focus group, students pointed to critical thinking as one of the learning achievements from the exercises. For example, when asked what they learned from the experience, one student said, “being creative in thought—creative mentally,” while another mentioned “on-the-spot critical thinking.” The observations of the students indicate the immersive nature of the simulation exercise impacted their critical thinking skills.  For example, a student cited a key learning takeaway from the activity was “applying your skills in the outside world.” 

Business Acumen

In this study, business acumen was largely demonstrated through the students’ conveyed understanding of the challenges that businesses face in the event of a crisis and in communicating with the public through the media as a result. One student said, “It was an eye-opener to find solutions to problems other companies are facing. It was practical.” Another stated, “If I were working in a massive organization that had this crisis and I’m approached by the media, even without them informing me in time, I would have something to say. It was of immense benefit for me.” These comments indicate students developed a better understanding of how a situation like this might affect a business and how it could protect its reputation in the media as a result.  

Communications Skills

The effect of the exercise on media communication skills can be seen in the responses to this question on key message development. The results for this question in SJT II indicated an increase of six people in those selecting all three most appropriate key messages (or an “excellent” result). The content of this question is detailed in Appendix A. Students also referenced the importance of key messages several times within their feedback during the focus group and reflections. For example, one student said, “I learned how important it is to have key messages that you can refer to when answering tricky questions,” while another said: “I was pleased with how I communicated my message. I thought that I reverted back to the key messages when in a difficult corner.” 

In addition to media communication skills, the qualitative analysis offered insight into the impact of the exercise on students’ verbal and non-verbal communication skills. Verbal communications were assessed through the students’ ability to make effective arguments during the simulation and to effectively express their key messages they had prepared in advance. Non-verbal communication consisted of tone of voice, hand gestures, body language, and facial expressions. The majority of students referenced communication skills as a key takeaway and focused heavily on this in their reflections and the focus group. Students discussed the importance of content, such as communicating their top-line and three key messages, and they addressed style, such as speaking clearly and slowly in concise sentences. One student commented, “I sometimes talked more than needed, so going forward I could stop sooner when I was happy with my answer.”

The analysis also reveals that there was a tendency for students to be self-critical of their non-verbal communication skills, more so than their verbal communication skills. This is evidenced in the following comments: “I think that at times my facial expressions during the questioning were a little bit distracting, so I would try and keep a less expressive face next time” and “I assumed my body language was OK but I realized there were some mistakes after I watched the video.”


The higher education sector worldwide is endeavoring to meet the learning requirements of a technologically savvy and increasingly diverse student demographic. Simultaneously, the sector is challenged with ensuring higher education graduates can bring modern relevant competencies required by industry with them into entry-level positions upon graduation. There is evidence to suggest the industry is actively seeking competencies in new entrants to the PR profession that can also be difficult to teach such as business acumen, communication skills, and critical thinking.  The objective of this research was to ascertain if a simulation could assist students in developing these competencies that are required by the public relations industry. 

To investigate this, a blended learning model was designed that was based on the multimodal model of blended learning and mapped against Kolb’s (2015) experiential learning cycle. In this model, a simulation exercise was blended with other face-to-face and online pedagogical tools to teach students how to manage media communication in the event of a crisis. To analyze the efficacy of this model in assisting in developing these competencies, a concurrent mixed methodology was employed using both quantitative and qualitative data collection methods.  Qualitative methods included a reflection and a focus group. The quantitative method implemented in the research was an SJT. To ensure its validity for use in this research, the test was designed exclusively in consultation with a team of public relations professionals to test for competencies required at the entry level in the public relations profession.

Limitations and Future Research

This study was limited by the size of the sample group and the duration of the study. A more detailed study using a larger group, including a control group over a longer period of time would offer further insight into the efficacy of the methods used in this study on the development of competencies required in the PR industry. The results of the exercises, however, indicated the activity had a positive impact on the development of key competencies in students. The qualitative analysis, which included the student reflections and focus groups, offered an indication the students themselves felt the exercises had an impact on their learning experience and assisted them in developing their business acumen, critical thinking, and communication skills. 

Although the students indicated they sensed an impact, the SJTs did not show an impact on the development of business acumen among participants. Future investigation would be required to ascertain the most appropriate measurement tool to analyze the development of this competency. The tests did demonstrate slight improvements in the competencies of critical thinking and media communication skills. These tests could be developed further for use as an assessment tool within a public relations curriculum to teach students to consider how they would respond to difficult questions in media interviews or in crisis situations. The tests require students to think of solutions or arguments to difficult scenarios quickly and, combined with a simulation exercise, this pedagogical approach may be particularly useful in teaching students how to manage common practical problems faced by public relations practitioners. It is worth noting that the comments from participants in the reflections indicated the students tended to be self-critical of their body language; future studies should encourage educators to guide students in order for them to recognize the importance of nonverbal communication, but help them not to focus on it to the exclusion of other elements of their message delivery.

In addition to the pedagogical benefits, the SJTs may also contribute positively to the PR industry in that they could be used by employers to test interviewees for competencies in specific areas. A standardized SJT could contribute positively to the PR industry and increase employability of students. They could be designed to complement CPRE’s list of competencies as tests for employers when interviewing new entrants to the industry and as class assignments for more practical subjects such as crisis communications and medical skills.

Another example of simulation as “the production of a computer model of something” can be seen in the emerging technologies of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR), which could be the topic of future research. VR allows users, through the use of a headset, to immerse themselves completely in an alternative reality. AR allows the user to bring elements of the artificial world into the real world. Both technologies are being used in education in the STEM disciplines, but there is little evidence cataloging their use in the teaching of public relations. Research in this area of PR education could offer insight as to whether simulations of this nature could be beneficial in teaching media communication skills and critical thinking by enabling learners to immerse themselves in computer- or video-generated common scenarios, such as press conferences or media events.

The results of this research benefit the public relations industry and public relations education.  In relation to experiential and blended learning, this research offers an insight as to how simulations and situational judgment tests can be used as a form of active experimentation and assessment. In terms of public relations education, the findings offer insight to educators as to the most appropriate pedagogical and assessment approaches that can be implemented to assist students in developing competencies required by the public relations industry and thus assist in increasing students’ employability. Further research at an industry level would help define the competencies and qualifications required, and additional research at an educational level could help set standards in best practice in public relations pedagogy. 


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Appendix A

Situational Judgement Tests

The National Vegan Association has launched a national campaign to raise awareness on animal rights and promote veganism. The campaign includes high-visibility outdoor advertising activity that uses a range of emotive posters to encourage people to cease meat and dairy consumption and to convert to veganism.

The organisation’s spokesperson has been in the media (radio, TV, print and online) discussing the new ad campaign and the rationale behind it. The organisation’s central argument is that the widespread consumption of animal products is having a catastrophic effect on the environment. The source of the Vegan group’s funding is unclear. 

You are the public relations officer/consultant for the National Farmers’ Association, who view this as a potential crisis situation. The Farmers’ Association is concerned that the Vegan Association is communicating information that could be harmful to the business of its members.

Please outline your PR strategy in response to this crisis by responding to the following questions.

Please answer all questions with a view to what the best course of action should be and do not base your answers on your own personal beliefs. For example, if you yourself agree with the vegans or the meat-eaters, it is of no relevance to this test.

  1. Research

The first step in managing a crisis is to gather the facts. Rank the actions you would take in order of priority below. (1 = most effective, 2 = very effective, 3 = quite effective, 4 = slightly effective and 5 = least effective).

A: Check media (including social media) and analyse coverage.
B: Find out what the best practice is in your organisation and check if there is a precedent for this activity in other countries.
C: Pull together a crisis management team consisting of the most informed people in the organisation on this topic, brief them on the situation and acquire their feedback.
D: Contact a journalist for an “off-the-record” chat on the topic. Investigate the potential of running a negative story about the vegan group.
E: Contact the vegan group, away from media view, to discuss and try and silence the conversation.
  1. Key Messages

Your key messages should aim to present the organisation’s business objectives and protect the reputation of your organisation and its members.

Choose the THREE most appropriate key messages that you think would be most effective in your communication with the media (all three choices are equal in importance).

A: There are many benefits to eating meat and dairy.
B: Vegans are prone to various health issues.
C: The source of the vegan group’s funding is not clear.
D: The importance of farming and agriculture to the economy.
E: A list of top ten healthy meat and dairy recipes.
  1. Media Strategy

As part of its campaign, the vegan group has also cited a report stating that the public’s consumption of meat and dairy is harming the environment.

Please rank the most appropriate media approaches below (1 = most appropriate, 5 = least appropriate).

A: Host a press conference to announce your response to the ad campaign and state your case. Invite all media to attend.
B: Contact a select number of trusted journalists and arrange to set up feature interviews with them in which you set out your key messages and evidence-based arguments.
C: Contact a prime-time current affairs show and request a live debate between the heads of the two organisations.
D: Issue a press statement to all media criticising the vegan campaign and dismissing its arguments.
E: No comment.
  1. Response to Media

There has been some discussion in the media regarding the sources of funding for the vegan group’s campaign. The vegan group has not disclosed its sources.

During an interview, a journalist cites a recently published report in which it states that meat consumption must decrease significantly to avert a climate catastrophe. The journalist has asked you, as the representative for the Farmers’ Association, for your response to this report.

Choose the THREE most appropriate responses below:

A: Highlight the lack of transparency in the vegan group’s finances.
B: You agree that sustainable farming is important, but this country has one of the most sustainable records in the world.
C: Question the accuracy of the vegan group’s research.
D: Agree with the seriousness of some of the issues presented in the report, but outline the health benefits of meat and dairy consumption.
E: Present research and studies supporting meat and dairy consumption.
  1. Arguments

Your arguments should assist the interviewer and the listener/reader in understanding your key messages. Choose the THREE most appropriate arguments to support your key messages below:

A: An emeritus professor of agricultural policy at Trinity College Dublin has said that Ireland’s agriculture is mostly grassland-based and there is no need for a reduction of 90% in meat consumption.
B: A renowned economist from the London-based Institute of Economic Affairs, an organisation funded by the tobacco industry said that the potent combination of nanny state campaigners, militant vegetarians and environmental activists poses a real and present danger to a free society.
C: Prior to the release of the findings of this report, the Irish Prime Minister had said that he was cutting down on his meat consumption and increasing his intake of vegetables.
D: The Minister for the Environment, said it’s really important that agriculture has a long-term strategy as to how it can contribute to decarbonisation and be competitive in an environment when people’s choices and expectations may be different.
E: A report published by a renowned environmental group has outlined a clear strategy for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in this sector in Ireland.
  1. Aftermath

The immediate crisis is over and media attention has been diverted to another issue. Rank the most appropriate course of action for your organisation now (1= most appropriate, 5 = least appropriate).

A: Correct a journalist on one radio interview in which on one occasion, they used an incorrect name for one of your representatives.
B: Assess and analyse the media coverage and the reaction of your stakeholders/audiences.
C: Immediately launch a high visibility campaign informing people of the benefits of consuming meat and dairy.
D: Seek corrections in any significant inaccuracies in the media coverage.
E: Conduct research to support your arguments and launch a campaign promoting the benefits of consuming meat and dairy products.

Situational Judgement Test II

You are the public relations manager/communications officer for an international technology company and leading producer of smartphones.

One of your phone products, which is already on the market, has been found to have a defect in the batteries. The company has already sold over two million devices, but there have been reports of fires breaking out with some. As a result, all the phones now have to be recalled at a cost of over $5 million.

Please respond to the questions below to explain how you would manage this crisis.

Please answer all questions with a view to what the best course of action should be and do not base your answers on your own personal beliefs.

  1.  Research

The first step in managing a crisis is to gather the facts. Rank the first steps you would take to manage this crisis in order of priority below. (1 = most effective, 2= very effective, 3 = quite effective, 4 = slightly effective and 5 = least effective).

A: Check media (including social media) and analyse coverage.
B: Find out what the best practice is in your organisation and check if there is a precedent for this activity here or in other countries.
C: Pull together a crisis management team consisting of the most informed people in the organisation on this topic, brief them on the situation and acquire their feedback.
D: Contact a journalist for an “off-the-record” chat on the topic.
E: Contact the people who have been affected, away from the eyes of the media.
  1. Key Messages

Your key messages should aim to present the organisation’s business objectives.

Choose the THREE most appropriate key messages that you think would be most effective in your communication with the media (all three choices should be equal in importance).

A: We are conducting an investigation, which will result in the development of even better and safer phones.
B: Our phones aren’t the only ones on the market with safety concerns. There are some safety issues that we are aware of with competitor phones.
C: We have launched an investigation into the problem.
D: We can assure customers that there are no other phones or products at risk.
E: A list of the top five safety features of this product.
  1.  Media Strategy

You have conducted an extensive investigation into the issue and are now ready to release the results. Please rank the most appropriate media approaches below (1 = most appropriate, 5 = least appropriate).

A: Announce a press conference and invite all media to attend.
B: Contact a select number of trusted journalists and arrange to set up interviews with them in which you set out your key messages and evidence-based arguments.
C: Contact a prime-time current affairs show and request a live interview on the topic.
D: Issue a press statement to all media highlighting safety issues with competitor phones.
E: No comment.
  1.  Response to Media

In an interview about phone safety, a journalist has thrown you a curve-ball. The journalist has decided to ask you for your views on a recently published report from a reputable medical organisation into mobile phone usage. The report warns parents to limit screen-time for children due to health risks. The journalist has asked you, as the representative of a leading manufacturer of mobile devices, for your response to this report.

Choose the THREE most appropriate responses below:

A: Dismiss the findings of this report.
B: You agree that monitoring children’s phone usage is important.
C: Question the accuracy of this research.
D: Encourage responsible usage of phones amongst children.
E: Highlight some of the benefits of phone use for children, once usage is controlled by guardians.
  1.  Arguments

Choose the THREE most appropriate arguments to support your messages:

A: The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health recommended time-limits and a curfew on “screen-time,” but said parents need not worry that using the devices is harmful.
B: Experts say that looking at screens such as phones, tablets or computers in the hour before bed can disrupt sleep and impact children’s health and wellbeing. Spending long periods on the gadgets is also associated with unhealthy eating and a lack of exercise.
C: Parents are often told that gadgets can pose a risk to their children, but they can in fact be a valuable tool for children to explore the world. Nevertheless, screen time should not replace healthy activities such as exercising, sleeping and spending time with family.
D: A review published by the British Medical Journal found “considerable evidence” of an association between obesity and depression and higher levels of screen time.
E: Although there is growing evidence for the impact of phone usage on some health issues such as obesity, evidence on the impact of screen-time on other health issues is largely weak or absent.
  1.  Aftermath

The immediate crisis is over and media attention has been diverted to another issue. Rank the most appropriate course of action for your organisation now (1= most appropriate, 5 = least appropriate).

A: Correct a journalist on one radio interview in which on one occasion, they used an incorrect name for one of you representatives.
B: Assess and analyse the media coverage and the reaction of your stakeholders/audiences.
C:  Immediately launch a high visibility campaign informing people of the safety features of your phones.
D: Seek corrections in any significant inaccuracies in the media coverage.
E: Analyse the findings of the investigation and launch a campaign to communicate the findings and the new safety measures in place as a result.

Appendix B

Focus Group Questions

  1. Do you think you were well prepared for the interview simulation exercise? 
  2. Did you enjoy the interview simulation exercise?  
  3. What did you like most about it?  
  4. What did you like least about it? 
  5. Do you think you learnt from the exercise?
  6. What is the key thing that you think that you learnt from this experience and that you will take into the future when you graduate?  Give an example.
  7. Rate the experience from 1 (poor) to 5 (excellent) in terms of your enjoyment of the learning experience.
  8. Rate the experience from 1 (poor) to 5 (excellent) in terms of the learning you think you achieved.

© Copyright 2020 AEJMC Public Relations Division

To cite this article: O’Donnell , A. (2020). A simulation as a pedagogical tool for teaching professional competencies in  public relations education. Journal of Public Relations Education, 6(2), 66-101.

Evaluating Organizational Culture and Courageous Communication

Editorial Record: Submitted to AEJMC-PRD GIFT Competition by Feb. 21, 2020. A blind copy was peer reviewed by the PRD Teaching Committee, led by Chair Chris McCollough, and selected as a Top GIFT. Top GIFT winners were notified on April 1, 2020. First published online on August 15, 2020.


Melanie Formentin, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Public Relations
Towson University


Corporate Communication Management is a capstone-style course designed to introduce students to practical theories that inform best corporate communication practices. This course serves seniors and advanced juniors who have already taken courses in research methods and public relations writing. As such, this final project is designed to give students an opportunity to apply theory in a multi-layered experience related to understanding the importance and influence of organizational culture. Students follow Lyon’s (2017) framework for courageous communication to evaluate the culture in organizations of their choice. 

The goal of this project is to scaffold a learning experience that allows students to build skills related to networking, researching, interviewing, and presenting. A key component also involves applying theory in practice. Students work in pairs to complete this project—encouraging collaboration—and practice networking skills to gain permission to research an organization of their choice. Then, students interview employees to understand perceptions of organizational culture. The project encourages students to act as consultants, analyzing employee perceptions within a theoretical context, then offering recommendations regarding the quality of the organization’s communication culture. Ultimately, students present the results in a short presentation. This consultancy-style approach gives students an opportunity to work directly with client organizations to concisely evaluate and communicate theory-based findings. Ideally, projects may be shared with organizations, and students can reflect gained skills in the job application process.

Student Learning Goals

Because this is a final project that students begin in the first third of the semester, there are multiple student learning goals. Ideally, the project serves as a summative assessment (Taras, 2005) of skills developed and theories learned during the semester. Upon completing this project, students should be able to accomplish the following goals:

  • Apply networking and professional communication skills to gain organizational access.
  • Build practical research skills by conducting and transcribing interviews and completing qualitative analysis.
  • Apply theory (courageous communication) to understand qualities of organizational culture (Lyon, 2017).
  • Refine presentation skills and develop professional presentation tactics.
  • Gain consultant-style experience by combining secondary and primary research to evaluate and provide recommendations regarding strengths and weaknesses in an organization’s culture.

Connection to Public Relations Theory and Practice

This project is designed to give students a variety of practical experiences while teaching them to identify and define theoretical concepts in practice. Using Argenti’s (2016) Corporate Communication, students learn the importance and influence of organizational missions and values and identity, image, and reputation. Students are challenged to combine an understanding of corporate functions (e.g., leadership, internal v. external communication) with a theoretical framework of courageous communication (Lyon, 2017). Specifically, courageous communication proposes that the strength of an organization’s communication culture can be evaluated based on four dimensions including: controlling and collaborative; top-down and upward; secretive and transparent; and impersonal and engaging communication.

Overall, each step of the project gives students practice with commonly used corporate communication practices that are introduced through individual lessons built into the course. For example, students apply networking and professional communication practices to secure their organization and recruit employee participants. Because networking is considered “an essential skill for the PR communicator’s tool kit” (Brownell, 2014, para. 1), a guest speaker from the university career center is invited to guide a lesson about LinkedIn and networking skills, which are then applied by students as they begin the project. While some students are comfortable with networking, others are more closely coached through the process. For example, they are encouraged to connect with organizations they are familiar with (such as through work or family members) or organizations they are interested in learning more about. Support is provided through the review and editing of pitch emails, development of interview schedules, and guidance related to follow-up calls and shifting gears if a client relationship falls through.

Next, students learn common tactical skills by conducting interviews. The process of talking with employees and transcribing interviews gives students experience that supports traditional expectations for creating content while also strengthening opportunities to make content more accessible (Miller, 2019). Next, by interpreting the interviews and pulling exemplar quotes, students apply research methods and strategic decision-making skills. Finally, the short presentation format is designed to provide practice with concise business presentations (Brandon, 2015). During the semester, assignments have limited word counts and presentation times to help students practice clarity and conciseness. Ultimately, the final presentation encourages students to focus on creating engaging presentations that highlight key takeaways most appropriate for corporate settings.

Evidence of Student Learning Outcomes

Although initially skeptical of this final project, students ultimately express a true appreciation for having completed this assignment. Many students use their internship or job sites to complete this research. Not only do they find the results of their study illuminating, but also in some cases students share findings with managers and supervisors. Ultimately, they appreciate the new perspectives the assignment brings to their understanding of organizational culture and its impact on both external and internal relationship-building and relationship-management practices. Students also acknowledge that the presentation structure is challenging, but it helps them think strategically about communicating key findings. 

A review of student work shows that through feedback and editing, students produce projects that pack a lot of information into concise packages. They clearly differentiate between dimensions of courageous communication, even using theoretical language when contributing to class discussions. More practically, although some students initially question the usefulness of conducting and transcribing interviews, they generally find the process beneficial. One former student sent an email to “apologize” for thinking the transcriptions weren’t “worth the effort.” Having to transcribe multiple interviews at work to create accessible multimedia content, the student expressed: “I appreciate that you push your students to learn what’s common/expected in the industry.”


Argenti, P. A. (2016). Corporate communication (7th ed.). McGraw Hill.

Brandon, J. (2015, August 10). The 7-minute rule that will save your business presentation. Inc.

Brownell, R. (2014, July 31). 5 tips for effective PR networking. PR News.

Lyon, A. (2017). Case studies in courageous organizational communication: Research and practice for effective workplaces. Peter Lang Publishing.

Miller, L. (2019, September 20). Why website accessibility is crucial for a client’s digital reputation. PR Daily.

Taras, M. (2005). Assessment – summative and formative – some theoretical reflections. British Journal of Educational Studies, 53(4), 466-478.


Corporate Communication Management

Guidelines: Final Project, Organizational Culture

Project Proposal: Due XXXX

Final Project and Presentation: Due before final exam period XXXXX


This semester you are expected to understand and apply practical corporate communication theories to contemporary practices. This includes analyzing the role of communication in corporate culture; understanding organizational channels of communication; assessing group and individual behaviors and their impact on communication strategies; and evaluating the role of organizational leadership. 

Working in pairs, you will use background research and interviews to examine the organizational culture of a company of your choice. To do this, you will conduct interviews with members of your organization to evaluate the quality and characteristics of that organization’s culture. Placing your findings in the context of courageous communication strategies, you will produce a comprehensive report aimed at evaluating the degree to which your organization practices courageous communication. Your evaluation and recommendations will be based on a combination of primary and secondary research. This project will include a final presentation of your findings and evaluations. This project is designed to give you an opportunity to critically evaluate an existing organization’s corporate culture.  

Organizational Proposal

The first step of your project includes the organizational proposal. In this proposal you should outline which organization you would like to examine, providing a thorough organizational background and information confirming your ability to use this organization as an example. You should also provide drafts of the data collection tools needed to conduct your research.

How you choose and find an organization is up to you! You might evaluate an organization you’re familiar with or you might choose to reach out to an organization you’re interested in learning more about. Regardless of how you choose your organization, you will need to build a project proposal before you can begin conducting primary research. This proposal should include the following components:

  1. A thorough background about the organization. You should highlight information including a historical overview of the organization and what it does. This should include presenting and evaluating information about the organization such as its mission and values. To the best of your ability, you should begin evaluating the organization’s identity, image, and reputation.
  2. To the best of your ability, identify and describe the corporate communication structure that appears to be in place (e.g., is there a Chief Communications Officer, specific communication departments, etc.). Explain if this information is not available at this point of the project; however, you should have this information before the project is complete.
  3. Provide information about your primary point of contact. Begin by establishing how you connected with this person. Next, include contact information (email and phone number) for this individual, then provide a brief bio about their experience and what they do for the organization.
  4. Finally, provide the initial draft of your recruitment email and interview schedule. You should compose a professional email that explains the scope of the project for potential interviewees. Include information such as how long the interview will take and that it will be recorded and transcribed, but information will remain confidential. For the interview schedule, provide an overview of the script you will use to open and conclude the interview. Also include the list of open-ended questions you plan to ask interviewees.


The core findings of your project will be based on interviews with at least 10 employees at the organization. Through these interviews, you will learn about the perceptions of the organization’s corporate culture. 

Interviews should be designed to learn about what the company does and the company’s communication structure. You should also ask questions about how communication occurs. Tapping into your knowledge about the four dimensions of corporate communication, you will want to explore the degree to which the organization exhibits the four dimensions presented by Lyon. Remember, however, that questions should broadly reflect the topics of interest—you can’t presume that interviewees will use the same jargon presented in our textbook. Make sure the instructor has reviewed your interview schedules prior to conducting any interviews.

Ideally, interviews should take place in person and be recorded:

  • If additional arrangements need to be made, you should be able to explain why. 
  • Remember that prior to starting the interview you must confirm that you have permission to record.

After interviews are completed, you will need to transcribe and analyze them to better build your evaluation of the company. 

Note: Each person must conduct and record five interviews. Part of being a professional means learning how to connect (network!) with people you may not know. Additionally, you might be surprised with the number of corporate communication practices that rely on the ability to interview people. This often involves recording and transcribing interviews and identifying the most impactful comments made by interviewees. Interview recordings should be uploaded to your group’s file share on the course site to confirm that each team member participated in the interviewing process. Failure to participate in the interview process will result in a minimum of a letter grade deduction on the final project.

Final Organizational Culture Project

Your organizational culture project should be a comprehensive report that describes the quality and characteristics of the culture at the organization of your choice. For this project, you should emphasize the four dimensions of courageous organizational communication outlined in the Lyon text (aka: all the stuff you and your classmates presented this semester). This includes evaluating how the dimensions of controlling and collaborative; top-down and upward; secretive and transparent; and impersonal and engaging communication emerge in your chosen organization.

To complete this project, you should build out your organizational background (edit what you presented in the proposal), adding information you have learned through additional secondary research and interviews with organizational employees. Then, using outside academic and professional resources, you should make a case for the degree to which your organization exhibits courageous communication strategies. You should critically evaluate the organization’s culture, evaluating the strengths and weaknesses you’ve identified. If the organization is doing work that is particularly courageous, explain why and how. If there appear to be weaknesses in the organization’s communication culture, identify solutions that could help strengthen their communication function.


The final submission of this paper should use 12-point, Times New Roman font. The paper must be double-spaced and should use APA format guidelines for headings, tables, in-text citations, references, etc. 

  • This paper should include a title page and reference list. No abstract is required. Appendices containing data collection materials should be included.
  • Separately, in your group’s File Exchange, you should upload all recorded interviews and the accompanying transcripts. 
  • Note: Only one submission of the final project is needed per group. Please upload ONLY Word document files.

Final Presentation

A major component of the final project will be your team presentation. During the final exam period, your team will present a brief overview of your project’s findings. Presentations should highlight the degree to which your organization exhibits courageous communication. However, this will be a very short presentation—for this, you will be challenged to provide a high-level overview of your findings in a clear, concise manner. Think of this as a brief presentation to a busy member of the C-Suite. A few notes about the presentation:

  1. Presentations should be between 5-7 minutes long.
  2. The presentation should cover the following material:
    • Give a brief overview of the organization.
    • Evaluate how your organization performs on each dimension of courageous communication.
    • Provide a concise evaluation of whether your organization uses good, courageous communication practices. You should either illustrate how your organization serves as an example of good corporate communication practices or discuss solutions to strengthen its existing practices.
    • Share a brief conclusion, wrapping up the presentation.
  3. Presenters should have equal speaking time. The presentation should appear practiced.
  4. Upload your presentation deck to the course website prior to our final exam meeting time. For this presentation, you should use PowerPoint or similar presentation software to supplement your presentation.

© Copyright 2020 AEJMC Public Relations Division

To cite this article: Formentin, M. (2020). Evaluating organizational culture and courageous communication. Journal of Public Relations Education, 6(2), 182-192.

Social Media for Strategic Communication: Creative Strategies and Research-Based Applications

Geah Pressgrove, West Virginia University

Social Media for Strategic Communication: Creative Strategies and Research-Based Applications
Author: Karen Freberg 
Sage, 2018
ISBN: 9781506387109

In the last 15 years, a veritable explosion of social media channels has entered and forever changed the practice of public relations. What does this mean for public relations educators? Well, if you are committed to preparing students for careers, it likely means you are constantly evolving your pedagogical approach. While our ethos of ethically building mutually beneficial relationships remains foundational, preparing students for the digital landscape means that we, as professors, need to consider how this fast-paced environment impacts students’ ability to think strategically and effectively produce content. In fact, the most recent Commission on Public Relations Education report (2018) indicates that employers are most concerned about what entry-level practitioners can produce and do, including writing for the web. Further, the report indicates that social media is the most highly rated technology-curriculum topic by practitioners. 

In the book, Social Media for Strategic Communication: Creative Strategies and Research-Based Applications, Karen Freberg (2018), associate professor of Strategic Communication at the University of Louisville, takes a comprehensive approach to preparing students to produce social media content and enabling them to compete for industry positions with a social media focus. In the book, Freberg draws both on research and practitioner insights from various disciplines. Focusing on strategies, behaviors and mindset, the text is both a guidebook and resource for professor, practitioner and student alike. Based on her own research, experience teaching social media and significant professional connections, Freberg’s text takes the guesswork out of how to approach and teach strategic social media. 

Book’s Composition and Organization 

The book is thoughtfully organized into three parts, first focusing on foundations, followed by strategies, and concluding with careers. In the first part, Freberg frames strategic use of social media as both an art and science, then takes the reader through the ethical and legal considerations of communicating on social media. At the conclusion of part one, the text reinforces the importance of research by reviewing social media monitoring, listening and analysis. This framework is then built on throughout the remainder of the text. 

In part two, the focus is on strategy-based campaign planning concepts ranging from audience segmentation and writing for social media to budgeting, calendaring and evaluation. Importantly, Freberg does not propose that strategic planning for social media is different from public relations.  Instead, she expands on foundational concepts taught across the core of public relations curriculum.  For instance, the first chapter of part two of the text takes readers through the strategic campaign planning process using language that should be familiar to any public relations student.  The following chapters dive more deeply into each step and expand on the topics in a social media-specific context, including areas such as influencers, creators, managing and curating content, and common writing mistakes on social media. 

In part three, the focus is on ensuring the reader understands the pervasive role of social media by covering specializations as diverse as entertainment, crisis communication, sports, nonprofit, health care and international communication. Concluding in this way allows the reader to consider how all they have learned could be applied in different disciplines and myriad interests.  

Book’s Strengths and Weaknesses 

As you read this review, you may be asking yourself if a book published in 2018 can remain relevant and current. The answer is yes. Rather than focusing on platform features and trends, this text offers a clear framework for developing a strategic mindset. For example, each chapter of the text begins with a “Humans of Social Media” feature that introduces the reader to thought leaders in the field. Rather than aging like so many social media case studies, these interviews provide industry relevant insights that frame the chapter content. 

The utility of the text is further strengthened by the use of tables and figures that break up what could be dense reading and provide quick reference to key concepts. For example, tables that provide a comparative glimpse at performance metrics reinforce the importance of advanced and behavioral metrics as compared to basic metrics (e.g., likes, followers). Other tables offer examples for students to reflect on (e.g., sample vision statements, sample content calendars), while others offer templates for their own efforts (e.g., social media audits, content templates). Further, the thought questions and exercises that conclude each chapter offer ready-made discussion prompts and assignments that apply chapter learning outcomes to real-world scenarios. 

One critique of the text could be the lack of emphasis on paid social media strategies. There are presently a few pages dedicated to the topic in the budgeting section of Chapter 10. Additional passing reference to paid content is included in relevant chapters. However, I would argue that with algorithms limiting organic reach, this topic is central to a strategic social media mindset. To overcome this limitation in my own courses, I have supplemented with digital certifications and simulation-type activities that provide a more well-rounded view. A more comprehensive discussion of the role of paid social media seems an appropriate addition for future editions of the text.

While the book provides an in-depth review of important topics like ethics and legal fundamentals, a second area for improvement would be an enhanced focus on diversity related content.  For instance, including accessibility guides and multicultural perspectives would be valuable in the sections focused on understanding the target audience. Additionally, examples that highlight model approaches to equity focused social media communication would help students understand best practices. Further, lifting up diverse voices in the “Humans of Social Media” profiles and resources would also improve students’ understanding of strategic social media careers. 

Who Would Benefit from Reading this Book?

When considering textbooks for a strategic social media course at my institution, I compiled a comprehensive list and narrowed the options to four possible texts. I then gathered a group of a dozen students from varying classes across the public relations curriculum and allowed them to review and offer their thoughts on the options. The students unanimously chose the Freberg text because of low cost and ease of reading, as well as features like interviews with industry insiders, tables that synthesize key topics, and an abundance of resources. I shared their sentiment and the text has now been used with high praise from students and instructors alike for three semesters.

In addition to a foundational text for social media courses, the practical insights and research-based approach of this book makes it appropriate for instructors looking to supplement their other public relations courses or activities. For example, I have referenced chapters related to monitoring, listening, and analysis in a research methods course. The book’s sections on strategic planning, budgeting, evaluation, and calendaring provide an additional resource for students developing campaign plans, such as those for the capstone. The content related to writing offers supplemental insights for a public relations writing course, or sections of a broader writing course seeking more specialized modules. This text is also useful outside of the traditional classroom. For example, the professional branding content has proved useful as part of programming for the Public Relations Student Society of America at my college. Also, I have encouraged graduates starting careers with a social media role to purchase the text as a reference guide. 

Overall, this text has been well worth the financial investment for me, my students, and my graduates.  


Commission on Public Relations Education. (2018). Fast forward: Foundations + future state. Educators + practitioners: The Commission on Public Relations Education 2017 report on undergraduate education. commission-reports/fast-forward-foundations-future-state-educators-practitioners/

© Copyright 2020 AEJMC Public Relations Division

To cite this article: Pressgrove, G. (2020). Social media for strategic communication: Creative strategies and research-based applications.  Journal of Public Relations Education, 6(2), 200-204.