Monthly Archives: May 2021

Journal of Public Relations Education, Volume 7, Issue 1

Note from the Editor:

The first issue of 2021, provides a mix of topics including several articles which address diversity and intercultural competency, indirectly recognizing this continuing, urgent area where pedagogy can be examined and utilized. The issue reflects the work of both the outgoing and incoming editors. 

Dr. Pamela G. Bourland-Davis
Chair & Professor
Department of Communication Arts
Georgia Southern University
Editor in Chief, Journal of Public Relations Education
Immediate Past President, SSCA
Email: pamelagb@georgiasouthern.edu

As the incoming editor for the Journal of Public Relations Education, I’ve learned much – in addition to all the adjustments to teaching and learning in our pandemic-response world. To that end, our immediate past editor, Emily Kinsky, has been a saint – patient, responsive to my seemingly never-ending lists of questions, and, as always, focused on making sure we provide a forum for quality pedagogical research in public relations. 

I’m not sure I can parallel the quantum leaps forward in the journal that she has made such as with adopting the on-line submission services, and that Chuck Lubbers made in kicking off the journal. We’ll try. Any progress we make will be because of the stellar Executive Editorial Board. I am thankful to be able to tap the expertise of board members who joined the journal under Emily’s leadership, with Melissa Janoske McLean now serving as Senior Associate Editor, and with LaShonda Eaddy, Kelly Vibber, and Brandi Watkins continuing in their roles. To the board we added Christopher McCullough as associate editor, helping manage the review process, and Stephanie Mahin, as associate editor of our Book and Resource Reviews. We’ve also created a Past Editors Council to serve as a sounding board as needed. We are also appreciative of our board members, who continue to provide feedback and reviews as well.

Pamela G. Bourland-Davis
Chair & Professor
Department of Communication Arts
Georgia Southern University

Table of Contents

Research Articles

An Examination of Student Perceptions of Teacher Social Media Use in the Classroom
by Pamela Jo Brubaker, Diana C. Sisson, Christopher Wilson, &
Ai Zhang

Student Perceptions of Guest Speakers in Strategic Communications Courses
by Hong Ji, Parul Jain, & Catherine Axinn

Taking Experiential Learning to the Next Level With Student-Run Agencies
by Yeonsoo Kim, Shana Meganck, Lars Kristiansen, & Chang Wan Woo

U.S. Students’ Perceptions of International Teaching Assistants in the Public Relations Field
by Tugce Ertem-Eray

Teaching Briefs

A Critical Dialogical Approach to Teaching Public Relations Students Intercultural Competence
by Ran Ju & Dongjing Kang

Captioning Social Media Video
by Lakshmi N. Tirumala & Ed Youngblood

Reflecting on Reflections: Debriefing in Public Relations Campaign Classes
by Tom Vizcarrondo

Top PRSA-EA GIFT

Shifting the Paradigm – Improving Student Awareness of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Efforts Through Public Relations Campaigns
by Regina M. Luttrell & Adrienne A. Wallace

Book & Resource Reviews

Marilyn: A Woman In Charge Reviewed
Reviewed by LaShonda L. Eaddy

Carter G. Woodson: History, The Black Press and Public Relations
Reviewed by George L. Daniels

Rethinking Public Relations: Persuasion, Democracy and Society (3rd edition)
Reviewed by Giselle A. Auger

Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content
Reviewed by Kristina Markos

Read the full issue here:

A publication of the Public Relations Division of AEJMC
© 2021 AEJMC Public Relations Division


The Journal of Public Relations Education (JPRE) is devoted to the presentation of research and commentary that advance the field of public relations education. JPRE invites submissions in the following three categories:

  • Research Articles
  • Teaching Briefs
  • Book/Software Reviews

Learn more by visiting the About JPRE page and the Authors/Contributors page for submission guidelines. All submissions should follow the guidelines of the most recent edition of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (APA).

Questions? Contact the Editorial Staff.

Student Perceptions of Guest Speakers in Strategic Communication Courses

Editorial Record: Original draft submitted October 18, 2019. Revision submitted January 17, 2020. Manuscript accepted for publication March 9, 2020. First published online May 2021.

Authors

Hong Ji, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
School of Visual & Communication Arts
Avila University
Kansas City, MO
Email: hong.ji@avila.edu

Parul Jain, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
E. W. Scripps School of Journalism
Ohio University
Athens, OH
Email: jainp1@ohio.edu

Catherine Axinn, Ph.D.
Retired Professor
College of Business
Ohio University
Athens, OH
Email: axinn@ohio.edu

Abstract

Using linkage beliefs theory, focus group and survey methods, we conducted a systematic investigation to understand students’ perceptions of having guest speakers in strategic communication courses. Our findings suggest that students prefer relatable speakers from a variety of backgrounds and experiences, and alumni and recent graduates are two of the most preferred types of guest speakers. Students prefer to hear about networking tips, career advice and speaker’s professional background and journeys. Course-tied topics are less preferable than career-related topics. Visual aids are preferred in guest presentations. Career-related benefits are perceived to have more value than academic and classroom learning benefits. The preferred number of guest speakers in a semester is three. 

Keywords: public relations, advertising, strategic communication, guest speakers

In many college classrooms, across many disciplines, guest speakers have become a familiar figure and teaching tool. Past research shows that if utilized correctly, they can be a valuable educational asset, particularly in disciplines that emphasize practical experience and hands-on skills. But that outcome is by no means guaranteed, depending upon the quality of guest talks.

The idea that such speakers are a welcome addition to a class is well documented. Students view speakers as someone who can teach them more about “real life” experience in the field of their choice and serve as a potentially valuable professional connection who can help them succeed in that field (Byrd et al., 1989; Kamoun & Selim, 2007; Merle & Craig, 2017; Metrejean et al., 2002; Wortman, 1992; Zou et al., 2019). A recent review of 18 studies across 13 disciplines suggests that having guest speakers enhances pedagogy by improving teaching outcomes and leads to a mutually beneficial relationship for the students, professors, and speakers (Zou et al., 2019). In some cases, the speakers themselves may view their appearance in the classroom as a potentially valuable recruiting trip to scout for young talent who could be an asset to their firms. Instructors see the speakers as bringing perspectives and knowledge to the subject that the instructor may not have, and perhaps on a less lofty note, as a way to fill valuable class time and provide a needed break (McCleary & Weaver, 2008). However, the mere presence of such a speaker in the class does not guarantee a successful or valuable educational experience, particularly if there has not been adequate communication between the instructor and speaker, sufficient integration of the speaker’s appearance into the course curriculum, or a clear assessment of student needs and interests, including the desired topics and preferred formats (Kamoun & Selim, 2007; Laist, 2015; Lang, 2008; Metrejean et al., 2002). 

Previous studies suggest that a good guest speaker is knowledgeable, dedicated, and credible (Eveleth & Baker-Eveleth, 2009; Farruggio, 2011). Also, a good guest speaker is an excellent communicator who understands students’ needs, prepares well, and knows how to engage and motivate students in the classroom (Lee & Joung, 2017).

 There are only a few empirical studies that focus on the use of guest speakers in communication and journalism courses, in addition to some anecdotal essays that offer tips on having guest speakers in the classroom. Given the potential value of the classroom speaker to the learning experience, we believe it is important to supplement anecdotal evidence with new empirical data on how to ensure a positive experience. Using focus group interview and survey approaches, this study examines what makes a successful guest talk in strategic communication courses and how students perceive guest speakers. This research takes an important step in that direction by learning and conveying what students want, expect, and respond to when a guest speaker enters their classroom.

Literature Review

In this conceptualization, we relate linkage beliefs theory to guest speakers and review literature regarding guest speakers. 

Linkage Beliefs Theory
Based on associationist theory with a presumption that attitude is derived from linked beliefs, Culbertson and his colleagues proposed the linkage beliefs theory and further developed and tested the theory by conducting a series of studies (Culbertson, 1992; Culbertson et al., 1993; Culbertson & Stempel, 1985; Denbow & Culbertson, 1985). The theory proposes that a person’s attitude is connected to the linkage between the attitude object and a person’s beliefs and goals. In their survey study of patient perceptions of the image of a medical center, Denbow and Culbertson (1985) found that salient positive beliefs, including the patient’s feeling that “physicians care about their patients,” “up-to-date care is associated with teaching function,” and “people who answer the phone at the center are usually informed and helpful,” positively affect the patients’ perceptions of the center’s image. 

In addition to applying the linkage beliefs theory to the patient relations from the attitude impact perspective, Culbertson (1992) tested the theory in alumni relations but from the behavioral impact perspective. He found that the similarity-based linkage, ego-involvement linkage, and instrumental linkage contributed to the intent to join an alumni chapter.

These studies developed and tested the linkage beliefs theory in public relations settings. The linkage beliefs theory connects the audience and public relations practitioners and is useful in audience segmentation. The practical value of the linkage beliefs theory is that it can help a practitioner identify salient linkages, strengthen existing positive linkages, build new useful linkages, and strategically link the target audience’s goals, needs, and values to the organization’s goals via persuasive messages. As such, the public relations strategies and tactics, such as creating clear, creative, and appealing message content and selecting appropriate communication channels, mirror the efforts for effective linkage (Culbertson, 1992; Denbow & Culbertson, 1985).

In a pedagogical setting with strategic communication elements, the linkage beliefs theory connects the target audience (i.e., students) and instructors. In the case of a guest speaker event, the theory guides an instructor to identify the salient positive links between the student beliefs/needs and teaching-learning goals, and further devise strategies of planning an effective guest talk, such as the choice of a guest speaker and the topic and format for the guest talk.

Guest Speaker Studies
Previous studies have discussed various aspects of the use of guest speakers, specifically planning details, types of guest speakers, topics of guest talks, formats for guest talks, guest talk tests and assignments, benefits for guest speakers, and guest talks in an online setting. This research is reviewed below. 

Planning and Implementing a Guest Speaker Event in Classes
Designing and implementing a guest speaker event requires the instructor’s efforts before, during, and after the event. Before the event, the instructor should set appropriate expectations for the guest talk that tie to the course objectives, share the necessary course materials with the speaker, ask for the guest speaker’s biographical information, and communicate with the speaker about the logistic issues and do’s and don’ts in the classroom as needed (Cloud & Sweeney, 1988; Henderson & Streed, 2013; McClearly & Weaver, 2008; Metrejean et al, 2002; Payne et al., 2003). Also, the instructor should prepare students for the guest talk by informing them of the guest speaker’s visit, providing the speaker’s information, and asking students to prepare questions (Cloud & Sweeney, 1988; McClearly & Weaver, 2008; Metrejean et al, 2002; Payne et al., 2003). During the event, the instructor should make sure the guest speaker talks about their professional background and includes a Q&A session (McClearly & Weaver, 2008; Metrejean et al., 2002; Payne et al., 2003). After the event, the instructor sends the speaker a thank-you letter and obtains feedback from both the speaker and students to help improve the future guest speaker events (McClearly & Weaver, 2008; Metrejean et al., 2002; Payne et al., 2003). 

While the importance of guest speakers has been well documented in various disciplines (e.g., Zou et al., 2019), the studies on the use of guest speakers in communication and journalism courses are rare, other than some anecdotal essays. Envisioning the guest speaker as a supplement to the instructor, Roush (2013) suggested best practices in terms of using guest speakers in mass communication and journalism courses, such as “Don’t overuse guest speakers” and “find guest speakers who have personalities” (p. 15). In a PRSA article, Henderson and Streed (2013) offered guidelines for a successful guest speaker event in a public relations course. They emphasized guest speakers should respect students and professors, and “collaboration between the professor and the guest speaker, mutual preparation and clear expectations are essential to a successful classroom experience for everyone” (para. 22). 

Only one empirical study was found that assessed students’ perceptions of guest speakers in communication courses. Merle and Craig (2017) surveyed journalism and mass communication students from a variety of communication classes at two institutions on their perception of guest speakers, including preferred topics, types of speakers and presentation formats, and perceived effectiveness and benefits. Their study analyzed student perceptions of guest speakers in mass communication and journalism curriculum overall as opposed to any specific sub-field, such as public relations and advertising, which was encouraged by the authors as a topic for future research and is one of the factors driving the present study.

We started by asking the first question about students’ experiences with guest speakers in strategic communication courses (RQ1), which was a topic largely missing from the literature. 

RQ1: What experiences did students have with guest speakers in strategic communication courses?

Types of Guest Speakers

A variety of guest speakers can be invited to the classroom. Past studies in other disciplines offered some guidance, including inviting a mix of professionals, faculty members, and even graduate students (Lang, 2008; McClearly & Weaver, 2008; Metrejean et al., 2002; Payne et al., 2003; Soiferman, 2019). In mass communication courses, Cloud and Sweeney (1987) suggested using recent graduates and avoiding people who are out of the loop. Instead of aiming for recent graduates, Roush (2013) suggested professors “shoot for the moon with guest speakers” (p. 15) by inviting high-profile professionals to journalism and mass communication courses. In their survey of journalism and mass communication students’ perception of guest speakers, Merle and Craig (2017) found that students like guest speakers from the industry better than professors.

The diverse and even seemingly contradictory advice that emerges from the literature makes an opportunity to further examine students’ preferred types of guest speakers, particularly in strategic communication courses. Thus, the following two research questions are presented: 

RQ2: What types of guest speakers do students prefer in strategic communication courses?

RQ3: What types of organizations that guest speakers are associated with do students prefer in strategic communication courses?

Topics of Guest Talks

Previous studies indicated that students like to hear about the guest speaker’s personal experiences and professional journey (McCleary & Weaver, 2008; Soiferman, 2019), particularly “when a guest speaker can use industry experiences to illustrate how to apply (or not to apply) a theory, concept, or idea that incorporates the learning objectives of the course” (McCleary & Weaver, 2008, p. 406). Career-oriented advice is also a popular topic of guest talks (Kamoun & Selim, 2007; Metrejean et al., 2002).

In journalism and mass communication courses, Merle and Craig (2017) found that students prefer to have a guest lecture that is professionally oriented. Course-related guest talks seem not to be as preferable as career-related topics. They found that less than 16% of participants like the topics of theoretical frameworks or methodological issues in guest talks. With a focus on guest talks in strategic communication courses, this study proposes the following research question: 

 RQ4: What topics do students want guest speakers to cover in strategic communication courses?

Format for Guest Talks

Previous research suggested that guest talks should have visual aids (Payne et. al, 2003), but reading from notes should be avoided (Metrejean et al, 2002). In journalism and mass communication courses, students tend to prefer an active presentation style from guest speakers that includes components such as providing examples and an interactive Q&A section (Merle & Craig, 2017). With a focus on guest talks in strategic communication courses, this study proposes the following research question: 

RQ5: What format for the guest talk in strategic communication courses do students prefer?

Being Tested and Having an Assignment Based on Guest Talks

Should students be tested and have an assignment based on guest talks? Very few empirical studies have addressed this topic. In their experimental study on the role of test-expectancy on student learning and evaluations of guest speakers, Hite et al. (1985) found students in marketing courses do not want to be tested over guest talk content, but they also found if students know they are going to be tested, a more positive learning experience occurs. The scarcity of research prompts the research question below: 

RQ6: How do students perceive being tested and having an assignment based on guest speaker content in strategic communication courses?

Benefits of Guest Speakers

Guest speakers enrich students’ learning experiences by helping them gain first-hand knowledge from practitioners, as well as networking opportunities (Byrd et al., 1989; Wortman, 1992). Metrejean et al. (2002) found that accounting students consider guest talks helpful in “alleviating students’ fears about career choices,” offering “encouragement,” giving “some insight that will expand on what they are studying or give them information they would not get directly from the course material” (p. 360), helping “to focus more on the future” and providing “insights into what employers want in an accountant” (p. 357). 

Merle and Craig (2017) found that journalism and mass communication students tended to believe guest talks can enhance their learning experience, are effective in the classroom, and add overall value to the class content. To explore student perceptions of the guest speaker benefits in strategic communication, a sub-field of mass communication, a research question is posited: 

RQ7: What benefits of guest speakers do students perceive in strategic communication courses?

Guest Talks in an Online Setting

With the increasing use of online teaching, the use of guest speakers in an online setting can be both beneficial and challenging. Using an example in an online social work course, Sage (2013) asserted that technical assistance will be needed for guest speakers, and that students should be encouraged not to post distracting notes during the session. Privacy and copyright issues need to be taken into consideration as well. 

The effectiveness of using virtual guest speakers is mixed. Henderson et al. (2018) found that MBA students evaluated using a guest speaker in a face-to-face setting as a more effective teaching method than the online setting. L. Hemphill and H. Hemphill (2007) found that guest speakers can be used “sparingly in online discussions while still maintaining the quality of the online discussion and frequent, meaningful interactions among students” (p. 287).

 In a 2012 PRSA article, some public relations professors emphasized the importance of having guest speakers face the challenges of teaching millennials public relations in the fast-changing technology environment. The tactics they shared included inviting guest speakers to speak in both classes and PRSSA clubs, and inviting them to speak in person or via video conferencing (Jacques, 2012). Thus, the last research question explores online guests: 

RQ8: How do students perceive having guest speakers in online strategic communication courses?   

Methods and Results

This study had two phases. In Phase 1, we conducted two focus groups to explore student perceptions of guest speakers in strategic communication courses. In Phase 2, we further examined the research questions via a survey to confirm and add to the findings from a larger sample.

Phase 1: Focus Groups 

 A qualitative focus group approach was employed in this study, and the method details and findings are reported as follows. 

Focus Group Interview Methods

Considering the scarcity of empirical studies on how students perceive guest speakers in strategic communication courses, initial focus groups were an appropriate research method to explore insights from students and to provide a foundation for a follow-up survey. 

Two focus groups were conducted in September 2017. The target participants were students who enrolled in strategic communication courses in fall 2017 in a journalism school at a public Midwestern university that offers strategic communication courses, including introductory, writing, creative concepts, research, and capstone topics.

After the research protocol was approved by the university’s Institutional Review Board, the recruitment process started. A recruitment flier was posted on the Blackboard sites of three strategic communication classes. These were undergraduate courses with a few seats available for graduate students. The study was also announced in classes. Each participant received one percentage point of extra credit in exchange of their time/effort. Pizza was provided during each focus group session.

Seven students participated in the focus group on Sept. 25, 2017. The participants included one male student and six female students; the breakdown in educational level was one master’s student and six undergraduate students. Eight students participated in the focus group on Sept. 27, 2017. The participants included one male student and seven female students. All participants were undergraduate students.

Each session lasted about 45 minutes. Both sessions were audio recorded and took place in a conference room. In both sessions, one of the authors who was not the instructor of the participants served as a moderator. A research assistant served as a note taker. Letters were assigned to participants in place of their names for the sake of their privacy. The focus group discussions started after participants signed the consent form.

The focus group discussions were semi-structured, including the topics of students’ preferences of the types of guest speakers, preferences of the content and format for the guest talk, and benefits of having guest speakers.

The recordings of the two focus groups were transcribed after the focus group sessions were completed. The research proposal, transcripts, field notes, and the three authors’ reflections were used to analyze the data. Each of the three authors independently read these study-related documents carefully, and identified the emergent themes, points with supporting evidence, and quotes. Then the three authors met and discussed their findings and came to a consensus.

Focus Group Results       

All the participants in both focus groups reported they have had experience with guest speakers in their various courses. The first research question explored their experiences with guest speakers.

Likes and Dislikes. Most participants stated that relevance and fit were particularly important to them. If the guest speaker did not fit in with their interests or the overall theme of the course, they did not seem to care much about them. Furthermore, students felt a need to have their voice heard by having some agency in choosing guest speakers by participating in a poll early in the semester.

Students also acknowledged having a variety of speakers was informative and eye opening and at times, resulted in a change in career paths. For example, one participant stated: “I had a speaker come in my freshman year in my first semester. I came in as a strat. comm. major…she completely…changed everything that I wanna do, and she’s been an inspiration to me since.”

The participants did not like speakers who put an excessive focus on themselves, did not leave ample time for questions and answers, did not have aesthetically pleasing visual aids, had too much material on visual aids, read off the PowerPoint slides, or reiterated course material. For example, one participant complained of a speaker who “kind of talked at us, not with us.” Another participant criticized a guest speaker who “talked a little bit too much about herself.” One student lamented a speaker who “followed her PowerPoint [too much], I don’t know, she…read directly from her PowerPoint…that’s almost insulting, I could read it just as well as you could.”

Participants also seemed to suggest that smaller classes are more conducive to having guest speakers than larger class sizes as the former provide an environment that fosters connections by engaging in a more intimate interaction with the guest speakers. In smaller classes, students preferred spending more time and engaging with guest speakers; in larger classes, students seem to emphasize a more general introductory approach and some way to network with the speakers.

The majority of the participants stated that the opportunity to network was one of the primary advantages of having guest speakers in class. Furthermore, participants liked when the instructor or the guest speaker themselves provided the students an opportunity to connect with them either through social platforms such as LinkedIn or via email.

Participants stated they did not particularly like it if they were expected to know the content from the guest speaker’s presentation for an exam, but also said it was a good motivator to attend the presentation. One student stated that she did not have guest speakers in the online class she took and really missed that aspect of class.

Types of Guest Speakers.  In terms of the types of guest speakers, most participants preferred to have working professionals (compared to academics), alumni, and a mix of early career and senior-level executives. For example, one participant stated:

I think both [recent graduates and senior-level professionals] are very, very, very valuable ‘cause the recent grads are the ones that [we] can most connect with, and they have been in your shoes most recently. But the higher-level-up professionals may be the ones that get you your internship or your job. So again, from a networking standpoint, they are both important.

Due to the global nature of the field of strategic communication, most participants expressed a desire to have more international guest speakers in their classes. The following quote from a participant illustrates this sentiment clearly: “I think [they] give you a whole new perspective, especially [in] our field . . . it’s a global field now. So it’s important to have that.”

There were no differences expressed in preference based on gender. In both focus groups, none of the participants cared if a guest speaker was a male or a female.

Types of Organizations.   In the same vein, none of the participants were particularly concerned about the organizations that guest speakers were associated with. The participants did not care if the guest speakers worked in government, for-profit, or not-for-profit organizations. However, participants did appreciate hearing the differences between agency work and working with a particular organization and suggestions about how they themselves might apply the knowledge once they start working.

Topic Preference.  None of the participants suggested a desire to have guest speakers cover course content. Overwhelmingly, the participants were interested in hearing about each guest speaker’s journey. All the participants echoed a desire to learn about the speakers’ personal narratives, their experiences, day-to-day working conditions, and the challenges that they faced and how they solved them. In addition, most participants liked to hear about things that would advance their career, including job hunting and personal growth tips. The following quote further illustrates this point:

 I think novelty is very important. When people . . . give their backstory . . . I think that’s super important. Just kind of understand and kind of humanize them a little bit, makes you more comfortable with listening to them. So it is not just some adult talking at you.

Format Preference.  Both groups suggested that guest speakers should adopt a conversational tone, should be interactive, engaging, interested in answering students’ questions, and show warmth and respect for students. Some students mentioned that having an activity such as discussing a case study that emulates real-world problems could also be an interesting way to engage students. As mentioned previously, students preferred a visual aid, and they did not like speakers reading off the slides.

In sum, our focus group interview findings suggest that students prefer speakers from a variety of backgrounds and experiences with whom they could relate and prefer to hear about tips related to networking, job search, and career advancement. The focus groups served as a precursor or pilot for a larger follow-up survey, to answer further research questions.

Phase 2: Survey

A quantitative survey approach was employed, and the method details and survey results are reported below. 

Survey Methods

Procedure. The target survey participants were students enrolled in strategic communication courses in spring 2018 in the same journalism school where the focus group sample was formed. While we only recruited 15 focus group participants from three strategic communication courses to help explore students’ perceptions of guest speakers as a foundation for the follow-up survey, we tried to recruit survey participants more broadly from all strategic communication courses offered in that semester in order to further examine student perceptions of guest speakers with a larger sample size. The strategic communication courses offered during that semester were taught by eight instructors, including two of the authors. The researchers reached out to the six other instructors, asking them to help distribute the survey to their students. All instructors agreed and helped.

After the survey protocol was approved by IRB, the survey instrument was developed for online delivery and data gathering via Qualtrics. On April 2, 2018, an invitation letter including a survey link was sent via email to those instructors who agreed to help. The students were asked to answer the questions about their perceptions of guest speakers in strategic communication courses.

On April 10, a reminder was sent to participating instructors except for one author, who sent this reminder email, asking the participating instructors to encourage their students to take the survey as soon as possible. The survey was closed at 1:40 p.m. EST on April 24, 2018. One hundred and seven students completed the survey. Unfortunately, it was not possible to calculate the response rate because one student may take several strategic communication courses.

Some participating instructors offered one percentage extra course credit in exchange for the students’ time/effort, and some did not. The consent form appeared after the survey introduction page. The questionnaire was devised to be completed within 15-30 minutes.

Participants. Of the 107 respondents, 79.4% were female, 15.9% were male, and 4.7% did not provide their gender information; the vast majority were white (80.4%), 5.6% were black, 2.8% had Hispanic/Latino/Spanish origin, 2.8% were Asian, and 8.4% had other ethnicity background or did not provide their ethnicity information. Of the 102 students who provided their information on age, year in college, and major, their average age was 20 years old; 32.4% were sophomores, followed by 28.4% juniors, 25.5% freshmen, 12.7% seniors, and 1.0% graduate students; 53.9% were majoring in journalism (n = 55), among which 72.7% were in the strategic communication track (n = 40); 23.5% were non-journalism communication majors (n = 24), such as communication studies and commercial photography; and 22.5% were in other majors, including marketing, and retail merchandising and fashion product development (n = 23).

In all, 93.5% of the 107 respondents had heard guest speakers in their strategic communication courses before. The students’ guest speaker experiences were largely in traditional classrooms. Only three students said they had guest speakers in their online strategic communication courses.

Measurement. Guided by our focus group findings and related studies, the measurement of key variables was developed and explained as follows.

Experience of Having Guest Speakers. Respondents were asked to rate their level of satisfaction with their guest speaker experiences in strategic communication courses on a 5- point scale ranging from 1 (highly satisfied) to 5 (highly dissatisfied).

Types of Guest Speakers. Eight statements were evaluated by respondents using a 5- point scale ranging from 1 (strongly agree) to 5 (strongly disagree) to assess the preferred types of guest speakers. These statements included “I would really like to have faculty members as guest speakers in my strategic communication courses.” And “faculty members” was replaced by “junior-level professionals,” “senior-level professionals,” “recent graduates,” “alumni,” “men,” “women” in the other six statements respectively. We also included a statement “I would really like to have international guest speakers in my strategic communication courses.” These eight statements had a Cronbach’s Alpha of 0.82.

Types of Organizations. Four statements were rated by respondents using a 5-point scale ranging from 1 (strongly agree) to 5 (strongly disagree) to assess the preference for the guest speaker’s organization. One statement was “Guest speakers in strategic communication courses should come from corporations and industry.” In the other three statements, “corporations and industry” were replaced by “advertising and PR agencies specially,” “nonprofit organizations specially,” and “government departments and agencies,” respectively (Cronbach’s Alpha = 0.85).

Topics of Guest Talks. Participants were also asked to indicate their level of agreement with five statements on hearing the topics of “career advice,” “network tips and opportunities,” “personal backgrounds, experiences, and back stories of the guest speaker’s professional journeys,” “industry trends,” and “a specific topic tied closely to the course” on a 5-point scale, ranging from 1 (strongly agree) to 5 (strongly disagree). The five statements measuring topic preference had a Cronbach’s Alpha of 0.90.

 Format for Guest Talks. Similarly, participants were asked to indicate their preferences  on “a conversational format” and “use visual aids,” by using a 5-point scale from 1 (strongly agree) to 5 (strongly disagree). Participants were asked to indicate the importance of having a Q&A session in guest talks on a 5-point scale, ranging from 1 (extremely important) to 5 (not important at all). Also, participants were asked to indicate what percentage of time should be saved for Q&A.

Being Tested and Having an Assignment Based on Guest Talks. Participants were asked to indicate their level of agreement on a 5-point scale with the statement that “Students should be tested on guest speaker content,” ranging from 1 (strongly agree) to 5 (strongly disagree). They were also asked to rate the helpfulness of having an assignment based on guest talk content, ranging from 1 (extremely helpful) to 5 (not helpful at all).

Benefits of Guest Speakers. Based on Merle & Craig (2017) and our focus group study, participants were asked to indicate their level of agreement on a 5-point scale ranging from 1 (strongly agree) to 5 (strongly disagree) with eight statements regarding benefits of  having guest speakers, including “giving me an opportunity to network with the guest speaker,” “so I can feel more confident in strategic communication career decisions,” “so I can be more aware of strategic communication career opportunities,” “to help understand the industry at large,” “to help enrich the curriculum,” “to help improve my attention in class,” “to help me take a break from the same instructor,” and “to help enhance my learning experience” (Cronbach’s Alpha = 0.88).

Having Online Guest Speakers. Participants were asked to evaluate the importance of having guest speakers in online strategic communication courses, using a 5-point scale from 1 (extremely important) to 5 (not important at all). They were also asked to rate their level of agreement with two statements: “Guest speakers should be invited to participate in online strategic communication courses,” and “Advances in technology (e.g., Skype or FaceTime) can enable guest speakers’ participation in online strategic communication courses.”

Participants were asked to indicate their level of agreement with the statement “Instructors should have students participate in a survey early in the semester to help choose topics for guest speaker talks” on a 5-point scale from 1 (strongly agree) to 5 (strongly disagree). Participants were asked how many guest speakers they would like to have in their strategic communication courses in a given semester. Participants were also asked to provide their age, major, year in college, and ethnicity.

Survey Results

The 107 responses received from our survey generated some informative data that allowed us to answer the research questions using descriptive statistics. In tables, certain items have fewer than 107 responses due to missing data.

RQ1: What experiences did students have with guest speakers in strategic communication courses?

Eighty two percent of respondents were highly satisfied or satisfied with their guest speaker experience, and only 5% were dissatisfied or highly dissatisfied (M = 2.07, SD = 0.74, n = 100).

RQ2: What types of guest speakers do students prefer in strategic communication courses?

As Table 1 shows, alumni were the most preferred guest speakers in strategic communication courses (M = 1.81), and 82.5% of the respondents either agreed or strongly agreed that they would like to have alumni as guest speakers. Recent graduates were perceived as the second most preferred type of guest speakers (M = 1.83) with 81.7% of the respondents either agreeing or strongly agreeing that they would like to have recent graduates as guest speakers.

Similar to what was found in our focus groups, respondents tended not to care much about the guest speakers’ gender. Less than half of the respondents preferred either male (32.7%) or female guest speakers (48.1%). More students preferred senior-level professionals (77.9%) than junior-level professionals (68.9%).

Unlike the focus groups findings, which suggested that students tended to prefer working professionals to academics, the survey data revealed that there were not many differences in preference between senior-level professionals (77.9%), faculty members (68%) and junior-level professionals (68.9%). Focus group data suggested strong support for having international guest speakers. The survey data confirmed the majority of the respondents would like to have international guest speakers (69.2%).

RQ3: What types of organizations that guest speakers are associated with do students prefer in strategic communication courses?

Our focus group data suggested that students were not concerned about the guest speaker’s organization, but the survey results tell a different story. Descriptive data in Table 2 indicated 75.7% of the respondents agreed or strongly agreed that guest speakers should come from advertising and PR agencies specially, and only a little more than half of the respondents (56.3%) agreed or strongly agreed that guest speakers should come from government departments and agencies. About six out of ten of the respondents preferred guest speakers coming from corporations and industry (62.1%) and from nonprofits (66.0%).

RQ4: What topics do students want guest speakers to cover in strategic communication courses?

The survey data were somewhat in line with the focus groups’ findings in terms of preferred topics. In focus groups, none of the participants appreciated course content being covered by guest speakers; instead, guest speakers’ personal journeys were the overwhelmingly preferred topic. Our survey results (see Table 3) indicated that nearly nine out of ten respondents would like to hear career advice (88.3%), networking tips and opportunities (86.4%), and professional backgrounds, experiences, and backstories of the guest speaker’s professional journeys (85.4%). Comparatively, hearing about a specific topic tied closely to the course was lower (72.5%) in preference, though still appreciated by a majority of the students.

RQ5: What format for the guest talk do students prefer in strategic communication courses?

Table 4 shows that the vast majority of the respondents (87.4%) preferred that guest speakers use visual aids (M = 1.65)     . Most respondents (65.0%) preferred that guest speakers employ a conversational format (M = 2.24)      . Our focus group study also suggested that a conversational format and visual aids were the preferred methods of presentation.

When asked about the importance of the Q&A session in a guest talk, 36.9% of the respondents said it is extremely important, and 34% said very important; no respondent said not important at all (M = 1.96, SD = 0.89, n = 103). They were also asked their opinion about what amount of time as a percentage of the presentation should be saved for Q&A in a guest talk. Forty-six point six percent of respondents said 11 to 20% of time should be saved for Q&A, 30.1% of the respondents said 1 to 10%, 13.6% of the respondents said 21 to 30%, and 9.7% of the respondents said more than 30% of time for Q&A.

RQ6: How do students perceive being tested and having an assignment based on guest speaker content in strategic communication courses?

The survey results were in line with the focus groups’ findings that students did not like having an exam based on the guest talk, but they can see it as motivation for attending class. In fact, more than half of the participants did not like the idea of being tested on guest speaker content (57.4% disagree or strongly disagree) (M = 3.68, SD = 0.99, n = 101). Also, nearly half of the students who responded considered having an assignment based on guest speaker content to be slightly helpful or not helpful at all (46.6%). Only a handful of the respondents (2.9%, n = 3) said having an assignment based on guest speaker content was extremely helpful, and 13.6% of the respondents said very helpful (M = 3.52, SD = 1.10, n = 103).

RQ7: What benefits of guest speakers do students perceive in strategic communication courses?

In focus groups, the majority of the participants stated that networking was the primary advantage of having guest speakers in class. The survey results show richer data on the benefits of guest speakers. Table 5 shows about eight out of ten respondents perceived the benefits of guest speakers to be career-related, including providing an opportunity to network with the guest speaker (87.1%), being more aware of strategic communication career opportunities (84.3%), feeling more confident in strategic communication career decisions (79.4%), and helping to understand the industry at large (78.4%). Although 85.3% of the respondents perceived the benefit of guest speakers as enhancing the learning experience, the pedagogical benefits were not perceived as greater than career-related benefits including helping improve attention in class (53.9%), enriching the curriculum (69%), and helping take a break from the same instructor (72.5%).

RQ8: How do students perceive having guest speakers in online strategic communication courses?

About two thirds (67.6%) of the respondents agreed or strongly agreed that guest speakers should be invited to participate in online strategic communication courses (see Table 6). And overwhelmingly, 91.4% of the respondents agreed or strongly agreed that advances in technology (e.g., Skype or FaceTime) can enable guest speakers’ participation in online strategic communication courses.

Our study also revealed some interesting findings regarding students’ perceptions of their involvement in choosing topics for guest talks. Involvement in choosing a guest speaker and getting their voice heard was one of the “likes” expressed by most of the focus group participants. In the survey, when asked about the degree to which they agree or disagree with the statement of “Instructors should have students participate in a survey early in the semester to help choose topics for guest speaker talks,” 73.5% of the respondents said they agreed or strongly agreed with this statement (M = 1.98, SD = 0.88, n = 102).

Also, we found three guest speakers in strategic communication courses in a given semester was the number preferred by the respondents (49%), followed by two guest speakers (18.6%), four guest speakers (16.7%), at least five guest speakers (10.8%), and one guest speaker (2.9%). Only two of the respondents preferred having no guest speakers.

Discussion and Conclusion

The results of our study support the linkage beliefs tenets. With mostly satisfactory guest speaker experiences, students’ salient beliefs on the benefit of the guest talks and preferences on the types of guest speakers, topics, and formats of the guest talks suggest what the positive links are and what areas instructors can work on to strengthen the connections between students’ beliefs and the effective teaching- learning outcome by using guest talks. On the other hand, the breadth of the preferred types of guest speakers and preferred topics of guest talks also suggest the complexity of the links. Our study suggests instructors need to understand the complexity of the links      while mapping out the contributing factors to a successful outcome for a guest talk. Our findings are also in line with previous research from Zou et al. (2019) who conducted a review of studies on guest speakers across various disciplines and proposed a “Trilateral Model” delineating benefits of having guest speakers in courses. Our findings have also provided pedagogical implications in using guest speakers in strategic communication courses.

Types of Guest Speakers 

It appears students find alumni and recent graduates, two types of most preferred guest speakers,  to be a valuable link between their life as a student and their imagined future professional selves, due to the perceptions of similarity (Culbertson, 1992). The finding of recent graduates as preferred guest speakers is in line with Cloud and Sweeney’s (1988) suggestion that having recent graduates as guest speakers could be advantageous because students can relate to them and establish a rapport. Instructors can build their own list of potential guest speakers by attending existing alumni events to network with alumni.

It is not surprising that students prefer a good mix of senior-level and junior-level professionals as preferred guest speakers. Obviously, the junior level position would be a starting point for students, but the greater attractiveness of the senior level professionals might be due to their capacity to arrange internships and even job placement. Planning to invite a mix of senior-level and junior-level professionals to serve as guest speakers in a semester would be advisable to benefit students in different ways.

Given the increasing globalization of the strategic communication field, preferring international guest speakers is only natural. For an international public relations course, having an international guest speaker would be ideal. As instructors in the U.S., we are not always mindful of bringing in international speakers. We suggest instructors make contact with their university’s international scholar services, which could be a starting point to learn more about international scholars on campus and to identify people who might fit in with their courses. Also, technology could be employed to have guest speakers address the class from remote locations so that the students could hear from a diverse range of speakers.

Guest Talk Topics and Formats

In line with Merle and Craig’s (2017) findings, the preferred topics of guest talks were around career advice, networking tips, professional backgrounds, and journeys. Career advice was perceived as the top topic, which suggests students in strategic communication are eager to learn professional advice and practical tips. It is also understandable that the personal journeys of speakers were among the highly preferred topics, as a guest speaker’s personal story sharing can enhance students’ engagement (Soiferman, 2019).

Should the topic of the guest talk be tied closely to the course? The answer is probably yes. Soiferman (2019) asserted that both declarative knowledge and procedural knowledge are important for students. In practice, guest speakers don’t want to stray too far from the course content. The instructor and guest speakers may want to work together to maximize the effectiveness of guest talks by discussing course content before the guest talk.

Our research suggested that ideally, conversational style talks, plus visual aids would be best. Also, it would be wise to present the idea of a Q&A session to guest speakers in advance. These findings are in line with Merle and Craig’s (2017) findings. The class dynamics may affect the duration and effectiveness of a Q&A session. An instructor can facilitate the session by asking some general but personal questions such as what you enjoy most about your job and what is the most challenging part of your job.

Survey data also indicated that only about half of the students would like to be tested or have an assignment on guest content, which is somewhat in line with Hite et al.’s (1985) findings that students didn’t want to be tested over the guest speaker content. However, as they suggested a more positive learning experience occurred when students are told they would be tested over guest talks, perhaps giving students an assignment or test based on guest content would be a good idea to enhance the learning outcome.

Experience of Having Guest Talks and Benefits of Guest Talks

Our research suggests it would be wise to have guest talks as a teaching tool. It is interesting to see career-related benefits were perceived as higher than academic and particular classroom learning benefits. This may be related to the practical nature of the strategic communication courses. The pedagogical benefits were recognized, although they were not appreciated as much. In order to maximize the benefits of guest speakers, instructors may want to consider the nature of the course and students’ year in college and work with the guest speaker to devise the focus of the talk and the timetable. For example, in an upper-level public relations campaign/capstone course, instructors may want to ask the guest speaker to talk about networking tips and opportunities and career advice and leave some time to allow students who are mainly juniors and seniors to network with the guest speaker.

Online Guest Speakers

Although online courses have been implemented in many schools, students’ experience with online strategic communication courses is limited, and having guest speakers in online strategic communication courses is rare as well, at least in our sample. Even with such limited experience, students expressed the desire to have guest speakers online. This calls for further empirical studies on the effectiveness of online guest speakers, particularly given the mixed findings on this subject (Henderson et al., 2018; Hemphill & Hemphill, 2007). Instructors could experiment in incorporating guest speakers in an online format with the help of technology, such as incorporating Skype, Google Hangouts, or FaceTime, which can enable participatory behavior in online sections.

Students’ Voice and Number of Guest Speakers

Students tended to like playing a role in choosing the topics of guest talks. Previous research suggests when students perceive their voice is being heard and they have agency in their own educational process, that leads to better learning outcomes (Cook-Sather, 2006). Thus, circulating a poll a week or two before the semester starts and inviting students to provide their input on selecting guest speakers based on their interests may help set the right tone for the course and may result in a more enjoyable semester, for both the students and faculty.

Having three guest speakers in a given semester was the most preferred option, which is in line with the tips offered by Roush (2013), who suggested not overusing guest speakers and no more than three or four guest speakers during a class. Indeed, too many guest speakers may affect the course content an instructor may want to cover, and it may also be difficult to manage.

While the students’ perceptions of guest speakers will help instructors understand the needs and wants, it is worth noting that that students do not always know what’s best for them, and instructors may react to students’ perceptions differently according to their knowledge about their students and their experience of hosting guest talks. On the other hand, a successful guest talk cannot be separated from the efforts of a guest speaker. We recommend that guest speakers work closely with the instructors before the talk to learn about the instructor’s expectations, understand students’ needs, and present the talk in an engaging manner.

Limitations and Future Research

The samples for focus groups and survey research were convenience and purposive in nature. Researchers should be cautious when generalizing the findings of this study to a larger population. Another limitation lies in the sample size. Future research should conduct more focus group discussions to enrich the data. Our survey sample size was also small and limited to one campus. Future research can use large-scale survey research to derive findings based on representative samples that could be generalized to a larger population in various contexts.

Focus group participants were not excluded from the survey, which may affect their survey responses due to their previous exposure to the focus group discussion. Also, a student could take the survey multiple times. Although our data did not suggest that happened, we should have taken a precaution when designing the online survey.

Although the results from our survey research provide useful information, it remains descriptive in nature. Due to the smaller sample size, the present study focuses on the student perception of guest speakers as a group. However, basic statistics show some noticeable and interesting differences in preferences of guest speakers by major, which provides useful information for educators. For example, journalism majors tended to prefer junior-level professionals and senior-level professionals much more than non-journalism majors (see Table 1a) and prefer the industry topics much more than non-journalism majors (see Table 3a). Also, journalism majors tended to prefer the following benefits more than non-journalism majors–opportunity to network with the guest speaker, feeling more confident in strategic communication career decisions, being more aware of strategic communication career opportunities, helping understand the industry at large, and helping enrich the curriculum (see Table 5a). As for the differences in perceptions by year in college, it is worth noting that underclassmen tended to prefer faculty members more than upperclassmen, and prefer recent graduates less than upperclassmen (see Table 1b). Underclassmen tended to prefer the benefits of having an opportunity to network with guest speakers, being aware of strategic communication career opportunities, and taking a break from the same instructor more than upperclassmen (see Table 5b). With a bigger sample size, advanced statistical analysis could be employed to examine statistical difference and generate more information.

Some issues are worth further investigation. For example, students tend to dislike being tested on a guest speaker. What alternative testing tools to examine the guest talk effectiveness exist? Students tended to want to have a say in choosing the topics of guest talks. How should this take place? Collecting more data can offer more robust findings and analyses. In addition, future studies could examine how the type of public relations course might affect student perceptions of guest speakers.

In conclusion, the key things we learned from our research suggest an overwhelming preference for guest speakers from a variety of backgrounds and experiences, who share their personal journey, career advice, and networking tips. This allows students to learn from the guest speakers’ personal experiences, so they may apply the knowledge of the speakers’ job searching and networking to advance their own careers. Our findings have important practical implications and suggest that diversity and variety of guest speakers and topics create an enriching pedagogical experience. While an instructor plays a key role in planning and facilitating a guest talk, the outcome of a guest talk would also involve the guest speaker’s effort and audience’s engagement.

References

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© Copyright 2021 AEJMC Public Relations Division

To cite this article: Ji, H., Jain, P., & Axinn,C. (2021). Student perceptions of guest speakers in strategic communications courses. Journal of Public Relations Education, 7(1), 40-79. https://aejmc.us/jpre/2021/05/25/student-perceptions-of-guest-speakers-in-strategic-communication-courses/

 

Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content

Reviewer
Kristina Markos, M.L.S., Simmons University 

Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content 
Author: Ann Handley
John Wiley & Sons, 2014
ISBN: 9781974051991
https://annhandley.com/

Background 

Public Relations educators regularly look for books that stick to PR basics, acknowledge the evolving PR practice, and provide actionable advice for how to appeal to ever-decreasing attention spans. However, it is rare to find a book that meets all expectations and does so in a way that translates to the pre-professional’s level of understanding. Public relations, at its core, values dynamic storytelling and the art of persuasion. Marketing also values those components, and with the digital space causing all forms of marketing and PR to collide, it is critical PR educators use a book that can acknowledge marketing principles and apply them to the PR world.

With the PR practice relying less on media relations, and more on content generation and brand journalism, it is critical students are taught how to recognize—and adapt to—an environment which requires thoughtful content strategy and creation. Teaching content strategy and creation best-practices will set the next generation of PR practitioners up for success.

With that in mind, most college-aged students are bombarded with online messages and have been since their adolescence. As such, how they communicate has been altered. As educators look for resources that meet the needs of today’s modern student, it’s important to find texts that combine fundamentals with new approaches. Everybody Writes. does not stray away from teaching solid writing fundamentals, and acknowledges how to write factually, clearly, persuasively and in a digestible way for online audiences to accept.

In the book, the author, Ann Handley, prioritizes the importance of proper writing because brands’ customers are telling stories for them. Long gone are the days where communications professionals are solely in charge of a brand’s public perception. Online customers can tell their version of a company’s story with one click.  Because of this shared dynamic, she argues that compelling, strategic, and well-written content matters more now, not less, and that understanding content marketing is a necessity for all communications professionals. 

Through each chapter, Handley provides students and educators tips for improving their writing skills, producing short and long-form content, and leveraging online tools to deliver the most reader-centered content. 

As public relations educators look for a book that stays true to teaching writing fundamentals but acknowledges the current communications- dynamics shift, Handley’s book should be considered a first choice.

How the Book Contributes to Public Relations Education

When considering the most essential skills a public relations student has to hone during his/her/their college career, most of us would list writing as the first and foremost skill. Handley points out that the idea writing is an ability or talent that is innately bestowed on us is untrue—yet, many educators assume each public relations student maintains some writing talent.  This book helps educators to focus more on effective writing.  What’s most valuable for students to learn is how to master a writing style that borrows from both journalism and marketing. It is the most effective in the digital communications landscape, and a style can be taught. 

Throughout each book section, Handley continuously expresses the idea that writers should use content as a means to give the audience an experience. Experiences are evoked from reading an insightful, informative, and easy-to-understand piece that provides the audience value. She acknowledges the business world often fails to focus on the art of storytelling and instead, relies on sales language riddled with puffery. Public relations writing often borrows from journalistic principles, as it should, but with the marketplace responding to massive amounts information spread on mobile devices, public relations educators and professionals have adapted their writing approaches with a focus on engagement, less on fact-driven news pieces. When reading the book, public relations educators can approach the lessons almost as a “choose your own adventure” with each section providing unique value. 

How the Book is Organized 

The book is divided into six sections: 1) Writing Rules to Write Better, 2) Writing Rules for Grammar and Usage, 3) Story Rules, 4) Publishing Rules, 5) Things Marketers Write, and 6) Content Tools. 

The book’s organization is thoughtful and allows public relations educators to skip around in areas that they deem necessary. One section does not necessarily impact others, so the book can be read out of order and assignments can be planned for, accordingly. 

There are few sections that I found critical to the advancement of public relations education, mostly found in the Publishing Rules section. 

Of specific noteworthiness is the section titled “Wait. What’s Brand Journalism?” Brand journalism is an editorial approach to building a brand. In this section, Hadley makes the point that companies, organizations and major brands are now hiring those with journalistic training and talent to tell their stories across their owned and paid media channels. As we know, brand storytelling is essentially delivered by public relations practitioners, but with companies taking control of their brands through distributing high-quality content, the need for brand journalists is increasing. Here, educators have an opportunity to teach students how brand journalism impacts a PR campaign or vice versa.

Handley writes that brand journalism uses a brand’s website as a publishing vehicle to: generate brand awareness, produce industry news, create sponsorship opportunities, and generate leads.  PR educators have struggled to communicate how PR impacts a business directly, due to the historically inaccurate methods for reporting PR effectiveness. Handley offers a solution to this, however. The emphasis on lead generation in this section—which is usually reserved for marketers–is incredibly helpful for educators who are trying to teach students how strategic content converts to new business.

Secondly, in the Publishing Rules section, Handley provides helpful information about content moments and how influencers, thought leaders, and mainstream media look for multiple perspectives about a single topic. She explains to readers that content moments can be spurred from news—or more specifically, breaking news—and also from cultural trends and phenomena. In this pandemic and post-pandemic world ahead, where audiences are glued to screens, it is critical public relations professionals understand how to strategically create mobile-friendly content that engages all influential audiences. Through this book, and this section specifically, public relations educators are better equipped to explain how content marketing fits into the PR puzzle.

What Could Be Added to This Book to Improve it

While this book provides many valuable insights about the world of modern content creation, there are messages in the book that detract from fundamental PR practices. For example, in the section titled, “Post News That’s Really News,” Handley insinuates company news—or press releases–are better left in a website’s media section for journalists, researchers, analysts or other interested parties. I would argue that company news worth sharing is part of an overall content strategy and that news and credibility boosting opportunities should be ingrained within any marketing effort. Company news should not be limited to a separate press room on a company page. As websites and other owned media channels fuel PR strategies, it is unproductive to view company news as separate from overall branding efforts. What Handley omits, unfortunately, is commenting on the direct connection between breaking company news and modern public relations practices. It will be up to the Public Relations educator to fill in the gaps when using this part of the text.

Who Will Benefit From This Book?

Handley strikes a balance that is often hard to achieve in most communications textbooks—she is humorous, informative, and provides concrete examples for educators to use as reference.  Educators and students who are bombarded by messages and content stemming from PESO campaigns issued from brands, will need this book to identify high-quality messaging from amateur approaches.

Educators who are also looking for advice on which tools are available for promotion of—and distribution of—content will benefit from this book as well. At the end of the book, Handley dedicates a section to listing content tools. In it, she offers multiple websites, Chrome plug-ins and apps that appeal to the modern writer who is distributing content across many channels.

Handley walks the reader through the entire writing process—from ideation, to creation, to editing, to publishing all with audience-centered best practices at the fore.

Summary

In summary, Everybody Writes, breaks down challenges every communicator faces in a digital world and transforms the way we view writing. As educators are increasingly teaching technology-savvy Generation Z students, they will need a resource that stays true to the fundamentals of writing but acknowledges that the communications disciplines are merging. Writers will become stronger and more engaging through reading this book and educators will be better suited to teach students how to break out of humdrum content generation and catapult them into the exceptional. 


© Copyright 2021 AEJMC Public Relations Division

To cite this article: Markos, K. (2021). Everybody writes: Your go-to guide to creating ridiculously good content. [Review of the book Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content].  Journal of Public Relations Education, 7(1), 227-232. https://aejmc.us/jpre/?p=2470

Marilyn: A Woman In Charge

Reviewer
LaShonda L. Eaddy, Ph.D., APR, Penn State University

Marilyn: A Woman In Charge
Author: Dick Martin
PRMuseum Press, 2020
ISBN: 978-0999024584
https://prmuseumpress.com/collections/frontpage/products/copy-of-marilyn-a-woman-in-charge-hardcover

Women represent more than 60% of the public relations workforce, but only hold 20% of leadership positions in the field (Shah, 2019).  Recent social movements such as #MeToo have forced the public relations industry, as well as others, to take a long hard look at gender inequities.  Part of the public relations’ reckoning has included chronicling the oft overlooked roles that women played in the history and evolution of the industry.  In Marilyn: A Woman in Charge, Dick Martin, former chief communications officer for AT&T, provides a riveting account of Marilyn Laurie’s rise from a volunteer grassroots organizer for Earth Day to being the first woman to join the executive committee of a Fortune 10 company as AT&T’s chief communications officer. The book follows Laurie’s journey from being a “little Jewish girl from the Bronx” to a trusted and respected advisor for one of America’s greatest companies.

Structure and Organization

Martin uses his own experience as Laurie’s colleague, archival data and interviews with family, friends and colleagues to provide a firsthand account of Laurie’s trailblazing career and a rare insider’s view of public relations’ role in a large corporation.  The book begins by describing Laurie’s childhood as a second-generation immigrant and a child determined to chart her own course.  The first chapter is dedicated to Laurie’s upbringing, education and young adulthood; while the remaining chapters highlight her career trajectory.

Laurie’s first public relations purview occurred when she volunteered to help plan and publicize a national day to promote conservation.  Laurie’s tenacity and intellect helped the grassroots organization launch the first Earth Day and successfully put conservation on the public agenda.  Little did she know that her involvement would afford her the opportunity to promote conservation for one of the country’s largest employers.  Laurie joined AT&T in its ninety-fourth year, when it still handled 90% of telephone calls in the U.S.  What began as a position to encourage employees to recycle, turned into a 25-year tenure.  Each proceeding chapter provides a third-person account of Laurie’s life and career intertwined with quotes from her office files, speeches, papers, and oral histories she recorded.

The story of Laurie’s rise from rank-and-file employee to executive provides a vivid image of public relations’ role in corporate America as well as the treacherous terrain of maintaining a corporate image and reputation.  Laurie’s unconventional path from a public relations technician to key decision maker highlights the various roles public relations professionals can play within organizations.  The book shares the good, bad, and ugly of Laurie’s experiences at AT&T.  The candid recounts are both interesting and insightful; and are presented in a way that appeals to aspiring public relations pros as well as those who are in the trenches now.

Contributions to Public Relations Education

Laurie’s story is one of triumph and defeat, thus providing a realistic depiction of life as a resilient professional and leader.  The book provides real world examples of public relations’ multi-faceted functions, including community relations, media relations, crisis management, investor relations, internal communication, development, change management, executive communication, strategic planning and succession planning to name a few.  It also shows the roles public relations professionals can play such as, advisor, boundary spanner and serving as companies’ “peripheral vision.”  According to Laurie, “The purpose of public relations is to bring the policies and practices of an institution into harmony with the needs and expectations of the public.  Sometimes that means persuading the public that the institution is doing the right thing; sometimes it means persuading the institution to change its behavior” (Martin, 2020; 304).

Laurie’s story also demonstrates higher-level insight into developing an organizational mission, vision and goals; differentiating the organization; interacting with the dominant coalition; knowing your organization’s business; demonstrating business acumen and professional expertise; obtaining a “seat at the table;” remaining vigilant and willing to challenge ideas and policy; facilitating organizational and crisis learning, and ensuring the organization is following the values it espouses.  Laurie’s story also has an underlying theme that demonstrates how being open to opportunities and being courageous enough to go into unchartered territory can greatly impact one’s career trajectory.

This book is a great resource for public relations students and pros alike.  The book can supplement an introductory public relations text by providing examples of public relations roles in various contexts.  It can also be used in a public relations administration or public relations management class to explore the nuances and intricacies of serving in leadership roles within a corporation.  The book also delves into the various stages of crisis management, which also would make it appropriate for a crisis management class.  The book could also be used in a seminar class to help students learn about the innerworkings of corporations and the public relations function. Novice and seasoned public relations professionals and public relations educators can also benefit from the account of the consummate public relations professional.

The book also provides an example of a leader exiting a role on their own terms, and finding new purpose after.  The book concludes with Laurie’s last months of life; and her introspection and reflection as she reconciled her own mortality.  While this recount was sad, it also serves as inspiration and sage advice for readers to ponder. Overall, I think Marilyn: A Woman in Charge, could greatly contribute to any public relations curriculum because of the insight it provides.

Strengths and Weaknesses

The major strength of this book is Laurie’s captivating story of rising through the ranks of a Fortune 10 company and defying the odds by becoming an executive.  Martin shares Laurie’s story in vivid detail; incorporating her thoughts, feelings, ideals and beliefs throughout.  These inclusions allow readers to get an insider’s view and connect with Laurie as if she was recounting her own story. While the book does a wonderful job chronicling Laurie’s career and her ascent to break many glass ceilings, the book does not discuss her life outside of work beyond mentioning her spouse and children seldomly.  As readers follow Laurie’s career, they likely would wonder if Laurie’s ambition took a toll on her personally, but this is not addressed until the book’s conclusion.  At first Martin seems remiss to omit this integral perspective; however he dedicates an entire chapter to discuss the implications of gender stereotypes and differing perceptions of women’s roles.  He also uses this opportunity to share Laurie’s own reflections regarding how her career impacted her roles as wife and mother.  By this point in the book, readers are also likely to realize that Martin is remaining true to Laurie’s character and outlook by addressing these issues separately from her career trajectory.  The chapter also provides a candid outlook on the challenges of working mothers and the current practices regarding support services for them.

I truly enjoyed reading this book and learning about one of public relations’ trailblazers.  I am confident that students would enjoy reading Laurie’s story and could make connections with the book, course content and their career aspirations.  I plan to use this book as a companion piece in my Principles of Public Relations course.  If you are interested in reading an excerpt from the book, visit the PRMuseum Press website. Martin also developed a discussion guide that provides questions and assignments for each book chapter. The guide is free and available for download on the PRMuseum Press website.

References

Martin, D. (2020). Marilyn: A woman in charge: Marilyn Laurie’s life in public relations. NY, NY: PRMuseum Press.

Shah, A. (2019, March 11). Women See Gains in PR Leadership, Yet Balance Remains Elusive. Retrieved January 02, 2021, from https://www.provokemedia.com/latest/article/women-see-gains-in-pr-leadership-yet-balance-remains-elusive


© Copyright 2021 AEJMC Public Relations Division

To cite this article: Eaddy, L.L. (2021). A Practical Guide to Ethics in Public Relations. [Review of the book Marilyn: A Woman In Charge, by Dick Martin].  Journal of Public Relations Education, 7(1), 210-214.https://aejmc.us/jpre/?p=2449

Rethinking Public Relations: Persuasion, Democracy and Society (3rd edition)

Reviewer 
Giselle A. Auger, Ph.D., APR, Rhode Island College

Rethinking Public Relations: Persuasion, Democracy and Society (3rd edition)
Authors: Kevin Maloney and Conor McGrath
New York, NY: Routledge, 2020
ISBN: 978-1-138-59365-7 (hbk) 
ISBN: 978-0-429-48931-0 (ebk) 
ISBN: 978-0-367-31300-5 (pbk)

The third edition of Rethinking Public Relations: Persuasion, Democracy, and Society continues its predecessors in evaluating the field of public relations in the context of its role and function in society. While the prior editions, namely, Rethinking Public Relations: The Spin and the Substance (2000) and Rethinking Public Relations: PR Propaganda and Democracy (2006) were authored by Kevin Maloney, this new edition welcomes Conor McGrath as co-author. 

Also new for this edition is a chapter on digital and social media and improved content on corporate social responsibility (CSR), sponsorships, and community relations. Most importantly, the authors have analyzed not just the structural power of PR in society, but also the rhetorical power of PR. Beginning with the definition of public relations and idealization in Chapter 1, through the conclusion in Chapter 9, the authors argue that the role of PR in society should be advocacy and counter-advocacy rather than what they propose are the idealized roles of relationship building and reputation management.

Chapter 1 Paradoxes, Paradigms and Pillars

In this chapter, the authors discuss the inadequacies of definitions of PR from its stated or intended purpose as a company’s conscience, to the way the industry presents itself as a management function that uses strategic communication to build and maintain relationships and reputation. Most importantly, they highlight the lack of ‘persuasion’ as a key aspect of PR in these definitions and conceptualizations.

The chapter argues that scholars must look beyond the four models of PR (Grunig & Hunt, 1984) to examine PR’s role and effect on the political economy, civil society and the media, an effect that is generated through propaganda, persuasion, and influence. 

Chapter 2 PR: Dignified, Efficient, Self-delusional?

In the second chapter, the authors argue that PR has not clearly articulated its social purpose. They critically examine PR as strategic communication and also as a management function and then highlight inadequacies found when conceptualizing PR’s role as relationship and reputation based. They suggest that PR should reclaim persuasion and influence as cornerstones of practice because these better reflect the realities of the industry. Finally, they review PR’s historical links to propaganda and claim that PR is, in fact, weak propaganda because of its need to persuade audiences through argumentation and messaging.

Chapter 3 Rhetoric, Framing and PR Messaging

The third chapter builds on preceding chapters by focusing on persuasive messaging and its role in PR communication. They advance the notion that PR, through skillful messaging, can aid both the powerful and those in less advantageous positions in society. They suggest that because PR information is rarely neutral, instead designed to be persuasive, to influence public opinion and behavior, the status of PR should be elevated to that of other elite groups such as politicians, big business, and journalists, that transform society. As they note “All PR is fundamentally about advocacy, about advancing a particular agenda or interest” (Maloney & McGrath, 2020,” Framing,” para. 3).

The chapter provides several subsections, the first of which discusses a rhetorical perspective of PR. The authors suggest that PR must be considered as rhetoric as it will most always fall under public scrutiny in a marketplace of differing ideas and points-of-view and must be persuasive to make itself seen and heard. In this section, the authors make a point to warn that rhetoric can be dangerous when it is used to promote ideas that are not based on fact or truth. Additional subsections identify the use of framing and persuasive messaging as tools for developing strong persuasive content and the role of PR in a pluralistic liberal democracy.

Chapter 4 Stakeholders and Society

As indicated in its title, the fourth chapter discusses the use of ‘publics’ versus ‘stakeholders’ in public relations and whether and how the distinction matters. The authors explore the rise of the stakeholder concept from the management perspective of stakeholder theory, wherein stakeholders are considered as elements of risk that can positively or negatively affect an organization’s ability to achieve its goals. They argue that in PR, stakeholders are generally perceived as allies and insufficient attention is applied to considering stakeholders as neutrals or opponents. To that end, the chapter discusses various ways in which stakeholders can be categorized for targeted PR communication, including ranking by legitimacy, urgency, and power, or by the power/interest matrix, which considers the extent to which stakeholders have power over the organization’s ability to achieve its goals and the extent to which they are interested in the issue. The takeaway is that regardless of categorization, stakeholders are important to PR because they provide the recipient carefully constructed and targeted messaging. 

Chapter 4 also discusses the roles of sponsorship, community relations, and corporate social responsibility as they relate to specialized groups of stakeholders and the pros, cons, and necessity for organizations to engage in these types of activities.

Chapter 5 Journalism and PR – Conflict, Complicity, Capitulation

The fifth chapter examines the relationship between journalism and public relations. It considers whether PR and journalism are sufficiently adversarial since journalists should critically and objectively evaluate PR communication, which is primarily one-sided advocacy and therefore likely lacking in objectivity. Such an ‘adversarial’ relationship is necessary for the retention of the third-party effect provided by the media and it is also needed to protect the public from the potentially negative effects of PR propaganda.

According to the authors, the ‘PR-isation’ and capitulation of the media to PR agendas has weakened the value of the third-party effect. As a result, people are less likely to trust the media, even when the stories are genuine and credible, and are less likely to absorb and be influenced by PR messaging. Thus, the authors suggest that journalism and PR should operate in two inter-connected but distinct communication systems. To do so, they argue PR must be re-conceptualized as a media system, much as journalism and advertising are conceptualized as media systems. Such systems have clear characteristics, which in the case of PR, would be to persuade for competitive advantage and self-interest, while conversely, journalism should be characterized by scrutiny of interest and objectivity.

Chapter 6 Digital Evolution or Revolution?

In this chapter, the authors consider the opportunities and pitfalls of communicating through digital and social media (DSM) in business and politics. Among the opportunities offered by DSM are the potential for groups and organizations of any size to disseminate messages globally and inexpensively, and to build virtual relationships with publics by communicating with them rather than at them. In a world where we are all content creators, positive consumer experiences, expressed through ratings, images, and commentary by publics can also aid in brand promotion and credibility. Conversely, negative commentary can harm reputation and credibility. Moreover, the practicality and expense of responding to all those who comment or engage with an organization through DSM are addressed as are the role of influencers, DSM’s potential effect on crisis communication, and the positive and negative of DSM in political communication. Finally, the authors argue that the full potential of DSM is not being utilized by groups and organizations.

Chapter 7 PR, Politics and Democracy

This chapter critically examines the role of PR in politics and democracy. The authors argue that PR propaganda has always been a part of politics and as media becomes increasingly saturated with competing messages, there has been an increased need for PR to maximize electoral support. However, they caution that there is a danger that power may move from the politicians to those that present the messages (i.e., PR) and suggest a beneficial co-existence to aid democracy. The role of PR propaganda in this beneficial co-existence is to provide a plurality of voices and messages, presumably for organizations and groups of all sizes, in the marketplace of ideas thereby providing the plurality that is key to representative democracy.

Chapter 8 Lobbying and Public Affairs

The content of this chapter on lobbying, follows logically from Chapter 7, which focused on political communication. In this chapter, the authors examine the often controversial PR propaganda associated with lobbying. Yet, they point out that lobbying is a fairly cost-effective means for under-represented groups and for organizations of all sizes to insert a voice into societal debate. They suggest that lobbying is another form of rhetorical communication and that ‘public affairs’ is simply another term for lobbying.

They posit that PR’s role is that of the ‘voice’ of policy pluralism. Further, that PR is conceptualized and planned internally but that it is executed externally on behalf of all manner of organizations from businesses to cause groups, to trade and industry associations, all of whom seek to influence policy decisions that will advance their own self-interests. They suggest that stakeholder theory and CSR have made PR more complex and more necessary as organizations strive to produce the most persuasive voice to promote or defend their interests in the competing marketplace of such interests. 

As a result, there is a need for the advocacy and counter-advocacy provided by PR. Competing voices provide stakeholders with the opportunity to hear many persuasive messages and determine what they believe to be the truth.

Chapter 9 Conclusion

In this chapter, the authors tie together their argument that the role of PR in society should be advocacy and counter-advocacy. While respectful of the traditional cornerstones of PR – mutual understanding, strategic communication, relationships and reputation management – the authors argue that PR is weak propaganda and its role is persuasive communication.

The sum of these chapters provides a thoughtful and critical evaluation of PR’s function and role in society. The book is a good text for those interested in considering PR outside the status quo – who acknowledge and appreciate current models and theories but who are also willing to look at the role of PR from a different perspective. The text meticulously cites and references major contributions to PR theory, providing summary information and critical evaluation of those contributions. Examples from both the United Kingdom and United States are woven into the text to provide examples of topics of discussion.

Overall, the book is appropriate as a supplementary text for undergraduate and graduate classes in PR, persuasion, public opinion, propaganda, business, or PR theory. It provides a unique voice in conceptualization of PR, taking readers outside the established paradigms and lending support to growing areas of PR research in advocacy and public interest communication.

References

Grunig, J. & Hunt, T. (1984). Managing Public Relations. New York, NY: Holt, Rinehart and Winston

Maloney, K. & McGrath, C. (2020). Rethinking Public Relations: Persuasion, Democracy and Society (3rd edition). New York, NY: Routledge

Maloney, K.  (2000). Rethinking Public Relations: The Spin and the Substance (2nd edition). New York, NY: Routledge

Maloney, K. (2006). Rethinking Public Relations: PR Propaganda and Democracy. New York, NY: Routledge


© Copyright 2021 AEJMC Public Relations Division

To cite this article: Auger, G.A. (2021). Rethinking Public Relations: Persuasion, Democracy and Society (3rd edition). [Review of the book Rethinking Public Relations: Persuasion, Democracy and Society (3rd edition) , by Kevin Maloney and Conor McGrath]. Journal of Public Relations Education, 7(1), 220-226. https://aejmc.us/jpre/?p=2460

Carter G. Woodson: History, The Black Press and Public Relations

Reviewer
George L. Daniels, Ph.D., The University of Alabama

Carter G. Woodson: History, The Black Press and Public Relations
Author: Burnis R. Morris
University Press of Mississippi, 2017
ISBN: 978-1-4968-2013-6

How many people know the story behind the observance of Black History Month each February? Black History Month began as a celebration of Negro History Week nearly 100 years ago. The man who started it all, Dr. Carter G. Woodson, is also linked to the field of public relations. Henry Louis Gates’ (2017) 100 Amazing Facts About the Negro included an article answering the question, “How did Black History Month come into being?”  Gates (2017) called Woodson’s creation of Negro History Week, which was to take place during the second week of February, a “public relations coup” (p. 267). Newspaper articles about Negro History Week began running in January 1926, which was the first year of the observance organized by the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH), an organization Carter G. Woodson formed.   

In telling the story of Black History Month, Gates (2017) also mentioned an editorial that Woodson wrote about what was known about the accomplishments of Black Americans and what was taught on those accomplishments in the nation’s elementary and secondary schools. That editorial was published in The Chicago Defender, one of the most widely read Black-owned newspapers. The opinion piece exemplified the articles used in the development of another book, which we review here.  

Burnis Morris’ most recent treatment on Carter G. Woodson shines the spotlight on his strategic communications work in Black-owned news outlets. Carter G. Woodson: History, The Black Press and Public Relations offers a history of the Black Press from 1915 to 1950 while introducing the reader to several functions of the public relations practitioner.  

For a public relations educator, Morris’ book is an ideal resource to incorporate racially diverse examples into one’s class whether the lesson is about public relations writing, public relations campaigns, or media promotion strategies. Besides creating what is known today as Black History Month and its sponsoring organization, ASNLH, Woodson also was the founder of the Journal of Negro History. And, though a heart attack claimed his life at the age of 74 in 1950, Woodson brought dramatic changes in attitudes about African American history and culture. Morris’ recent book shows us how using public relations tools.

How The Book is Structured

In the fifth of six chapters, “Managing Public Relations,” Morris included a table listing eight modern public relations elements and examples used by Woodson, the man known as “Father of Black History.” Many of those eight elements (research, media relations, publicity, member relations, fund-raising, minority relations/multicultural affairs, special events, and issues management) were exemplified in the work of Woodson’s association, ASNLH, which raised money to print the Journal of Negro History and advance the Negro history movement. Along with a section on “Woodson as Publicist,” Morrison included a detailed timeline on the 1926 launch of Negro History week using examples from articles in the Black Press. 

Elsewhere in the book, Morris opens in Chapter 1 with a background on Woodson’s early life in Buckingham County, Virginia, where he was born in 1875, one of nine children. The reader gains insight on his development as a scholar including Woodson becoming the second African American to earn a Ph.D. in History from Harvard University (the other person to accomplish that goal was W.E.B. DuBois.) Chapter 2 connects the newspaper history and Woodson’s partnership with the Black Press from 1915 to 1950. Then in Chapter 3, he focused on how newspapers covered Woodson from his days as a high school student in Appalachia to a high-profile celebrity in Washington, D.C. Morris provides a thematic analysis from the columns in Chapter 4, which spotlights the news and promotional value of Woodson’s writings. In the book’s closing Chapter 6, Morris details how, at the time of his death, Woodson was one of the most recognizable African Americans in the world. He explains aspects of the Carter G. Woodson legacy and makes a compelling argument for why Woodson’s use of modern public relations techniques to popularize Black History warrants inclusion in journalism history and public relations books.                                           

Public Relations and The Black Press

The purpose of Morris’ book is to explain how Woodson seized opportunities available through the black newspapers—that helped make him a household name and leveraged his celebrity to sell and popularize history. The book is the latest in several media scholars’ efforts to spotlight public relations in efforts for racial injustice. For Woodson, the greatest injustice was the dearth of understanding of Negro history. More recently, other scholars like Murphree (2006), who focused on the PR tactics of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and Hon (1997) in her research on PR strategies in the overall Civil Rights Movement, offer examples of how to link public relations to topics of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Additionally, a recent study spotlighted public relations, social advocacy and digital communication of the Justice for Trayvon Martin campaign (Hon, 2015).

What sets Morris’ book apart is the combination of depth of study on the Black Press and the functions of modern public relations. To complete his study, he reviews more than 500 articles containing hard news stories, features, columns, and editorials in The Atlanta Daily World, Baltimore Afro American, Chicago Defender, Cleveland Call and Post, Louisiana Weekly, Negro World, New York Amsterdam News, Norfolk Journal and Guide, Philadelphia Tribune, and Pittsburgh Courier.   Morris also examined letters and other correspondence such as those he had with Luther P. Jackson, a history professor at Virginia State College who helped raise funds to support Woodson’s effort. 

Recommendation 

Even for those not teaching public relations, Morris’ book is a great read because it provides a more complete picture of the Father of Black History. It shows the power of public relations writing in advocating for the complete view of the accomplishments of African Americans. Media historians will find Morris’ use of primary sources in his analysis of dozens of letters and hundreds of articles worthy of reference in teaching young scholars how to produce a historical study. Additionally, students of the Black Press will benefit from seeing how these outlets were used in advocacy for education policy change in the years between 1915 and 1950. At the same time, these newspapers also illuminated the agendas of the scholarly association behind The Journal of Negro History. Academic scholars who sometimes struggle with balancing their work as a researcher with their calling for social justice advocacy will find insight in the strategies of Carter G. Woodson, who wrote for their peers reading scholarly journals and the larger community reading Black newspapers.  

References

Gates, H. L. (2017). 100 Amazing facts about the Negro. Pantheon Books.

Hon, L. (1997). To redeem the soul of America: Public relations and the Civil Rights Movement.  Journal of Public Relations Research, 9(3), 163-212. https://doi.org/10.1207/s1532754xjprr0903_01

Hon, L. (2015). Digital social advocacy in the Justice for Trayvon campaign. Journal of Public Relations Research, 27(4), 299-321. https://doi.org/10.1080/1062726X.2015.1027771

Murphree, V. (2006). The selling of civil rights: The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the use of public relations. Routledge. 


© Copyright 2021 AEJMC Public Relations Division

To cite this article: Daniels, G.L. (2021). Carter G. Woodson: History, The Black Press and Public Relations. [Review of the book Carter G. Woodson: History, The Black Press and Public Relations , by Burnis R. Morris].  Journal of Public Relations Education, 7(1), 215-219. https://aejmc.us/jpre/?p=2454

Shifting the Paradigm – Improving Student Awareness of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Efforts Through Public Relations Campaigns

Editorial Record: Submitted to the Educators Academy of the Public Relations Society of America, June 8, 2020. This top paper submission was selected by JPRE in collaboration with PRSA-EA September 17, 2020. First published online May 2021.

Authors


Regina M. Luttrell, Ph.D.
Associate Dean for Research and Creative Activity, Assistant Professor
Syracuse University
Syracuse, NY
Email: rmluttre@syr.edu



Adrienne Wallace, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Advertising & Public Relations 
Grand Valley State University
Allendale, MI
Email: wallacad@gvsu.edu

Abstract

As PR professors it is our responsibility to make diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI)  top of mind when teaching our students to develop comprehensive campaigns. It is our role to educate the next wave of practitioners to take the “diversity first” approach when working with clients or organizations. Through learning how to apply the researcher-developed Diversity & Inclusion Wheel for Public Relations Practitioners, this paper illustrates how students can operationalize this tool to build strategic campaigns that encompass DEI principles.

Keywords: Public Relations, Campaigns, Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, cultural competency 

Rationale: Through this activity, we seek to shift the paradigm of student awareness of diversity, equity, and inclusion practices in and through public relations campaign courses. Through learning how to apply the researcher-developed Diversity & Inclusion Wheel for Public Relations Practitioners, students can then operationalize this tool to build strategic campaigns that encompass diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) principles. Facilitation of cultural competence through relevant curriculum, such as public relations campaigns, empowers students (Pelletier, 2019) and breaks barriers of cognitive and cultural dissonance (Smith, 2019), which in this case applies to creating a “diversity first” approach of examination into, and development of, comprehensive communications campaigns with students. 

Targeted Learning Outcomes: 1) students become more comfortable with many of the aspects surrounding DEI, 2) students can demonstrate a deliberate and effective way for addressing various audiences through empathy and consideration of diverse populations using a customized tool built for PR practitioners, 3) students reflect on the importance of application of DEI efforts to campaigns and the field.

Teaching Practice & Assignment: During the first week of class, to help students begin to think critically about DEI issues, we first define diversity, equity and inclusion to set the stage for the semester and open the discussion surrounding the role diversity plays within the field of PR. We propose the following: diversity is the “difference or variety of difference or variety of a particular identity”; equity addresses the “resources and the need to provide additional or alternative resources so that all groups can reach comparable, favorable outcomes;” and inclusion involves the “practices, policies, and processes that shape an organization’s culture” (Beavers, 2018, p. 3). Rather than making DEI add-on elements of strategic communication campaigns and messages, practitioners should make conscientious decisions to put DEI considerations at the forefront of their planning. This model can be introduced in introductory level courses, then students can carry the model forward throughout their program of study. 

Next, we introduce the Diversity & Inclusion Wheel for PR Practitioners (Appendix A). This wheel is based on previous research by Dr. Lee Gardenswartz and Dr. Anita Rowe (1994, 1998). In doing so we teach our students how to develop more inclusive campaigns from the beginning – the “diversity first” approach. Explaining the wheel: the center of the wheel has six core spokes that brands should consider when beginning to develop a campaign – national origin, age, physical qualities/abilities, gender, race and ethnicity. The outer layer of the wheel, beginning at the top and moving clockwise around the wheel includes seventeen additional attributes such as marital status, religious beliefs, mental health/well-being, language, communication styles, thinking styles, education or language. The idea is not to incorporate every spoke or external layer represented in the D&I Wheel, rather to consider deeply whether the same people are continually represented and create a campaign that includes two or three inner spokes and an array of external layers presented here.

Step 1

To begin, students are given a recent PR case study or campaign to read chosen by the instructor. Allow the learners to read the case completely. Instruct them to highlight and make notes that illustrate direct connections to DEI principles. Additionally, students should go online to assess the digital assets available for the campaign. In this step students begin to connect specific areas of DEI to actual campaigns.

Step 2

Hand out a sheet of paper that has an image of a circle in the center of the page with a smaller circle in the center of that or have students take out a piece of paper and draw a circle in the center (Appendix B). Prompt the students to use the D&I Wheel as a guide (Appendix A). In the smaller circle, ask the students to identify at least two aspects from the center of the wheel. In the larger circle ask students to identify at least four aspects from the external portion that they believe were implemented in this case study. In this step, students investigate and identify multiple aspects of diversity, equity and inclusion. Here students begin to understand the importance of multidimensional diversity.

Step 3

Ask students to look up the diversity and inclusion policy of the company featured in the case study. They should analyze the principles of DEI and compare them to the case study they just evaluated. Do the company’s mission and values align with the campaigns they are executing? By doing this, students think critically about the messages being sent publicly versus the actions taken internally by organizations. Sometimes the two are at odds with one another.

Step 4

Open the floor to discuss the student findings from the exercise. The learners should provide examples from their discovery to fuel the conversation. Have students explore why certain decisions were made and why (or why not) certain representations are present. This assignment provides a foundation for instructors to use and refer back to often when conducting research, developing content, identifying strategies or planning campaigns. An add-on assignment is to have students write their own DEI statements that they can post to their website portfolios using concepts learned.

          Assessment & Student Reactions: Having taught this approach over the past two years, students consistently respond positively. Some comment that this is the first time they have been introduced to the D&I Wheel. Students become more comfortable with aspects of DEI (LO1), a student commented, “This was all new to me. I’ve never thought about diversity from a communication perspective. Other classes don’t use this concept and I wish they would.” While another remarked on the importance of application of DEI efforts to campaigns and the field (LO3), “I don’t know why this isn’t a standard part of learning how to put together an integrated campaign.” Others noted that before learning how to incorporate a diversity first approach from the research process throughout, they simply would include photos of diverse people. As a result of this practice, students can demonstrate a deliberate and effective way for addressing various audiences through empathy and consideration of diverse populations using a customized tool built for PR practitioners (LO2), whereas one student commented, “I used to think diversity was just making sure that different color people were in the pics I used for my assignments. Now I know that to really understand diversity we must take what we understand about culture, communication, gender and so much more and apply it to building content.”  Additional assessment results available in Appendix C.

Appendix A    

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Appendix B

Appendix C

Note: The instructors collected the following pre- and post- test attitudes over two semesters in campaigns courses, below are the results with regard to Student Attitudes and Perceptions of DEI in the PR Classroom.

  1. Diversity, equity, and inclusion are important to consider while building effective public relations campaigns.
  1. Diversity, equity, and inclusion education should be included in all classes related to public relations.
  1. I feel prepared to learn and effectively apply new material from textbooks, journal articles, blogs, etc. without classroom review on matters related to diversity, equity, and inclusion in public relations.
  1. I have sufficient background knowledge on diversity, equity, and inclusion related to public relations in order to apply these matters to campaigns successfully.
  1. I am open to learning more about how diversity, equity, and inclusion are related to public relations.
  1. I wish there were more offered in my public relations curriculum that addressed diversity, equity, and inclusion issues.

References

Beavers, D. (2018). Diversity, equity and inclusion framework: Reclaiming diversity, equity and inclusion for racial justice. The Greenlining Institute. http://greenlining.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/Racial-Equity-Framework.pdf

Gardenswartz, L., & Rowe, A. (1994). Diverse teams at work: Capitalizing on the power of diversity. Chicago: Irwin.

Gardenswartz, L., & Rowe, A. (1998). Managing diversity: A complete desk reference and planning guide. McGraw Hill Professional.             

Pelletier, K. (2019, April 29). DEI and Empowering Students. Educause. https://er.educause.edu/blogs/2019/4/dei-and-empowering-students

Smith, K. C. (2019). Developing a culturally relevant curriculum and breaking the barriers of cognitive and cultural dissonance [Unpublished doctoral dissertation]. Wayne State University.


© Copyright 2021 AEJMC Public Relations Division

To cite this article: Luttrell, R. & Wallace, A. (2021). Shifting the paradigm – Improving student awareness of diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts through public relations campaigns. Journal of Public Relations Education, 7(1), 200-209. https://aejmc.us/jpre/?p=2445

Reflecting on Reflections: Debriefing in Public Relations Campaign Classes

Editorial Record: Original draft submitted to JPRE November 23, 2020. Manuscript accepted for publication February 9, 2021. First published online May 2021.

Author

Tom Vizcarrondo
Assistant Professor
Communication
Kennesaw State University
Kennesaw, GA
Email: tvizcarr@kennesaw.edu

Abstract

This brief argues for a different perspective when incorporating debriefing exercises in classes such as public relations campaign courses. Grounded in Kolb’s Experiential Learning Theory (1984), this study views debriefing exercises as Kolb’s “concrete experience” stage, rather than the traditional approach of debriefings as “reflective observations.” Using examples from different campaign classes, the study shows how this change can lead to positive results for students. Additionally, recommendations are provided for implementing this approach.

Keywords: debriefing, experiential learning

In a successful experiential learning (EL) situation, students apply knowledge gained from traditional pedagogical methods to real-world situations, thereby expanding their skills through these experiences. Kolb’s (1984) Theory of Experiential Learning identifies four stages of EL. The concrete experience stage incorporates hands-on events where students apply previously learned principles and concepts. Students then review the experience (reflective observation stage), partly to identify any gaps between the student’s experience and their understanding of those previously learned concepts. In the conceptualization stage, students reconcile those gaps identified during the reflective observation stage by modifying existing concepts or identifying new ones. Finally, these new/modified principles are applied and tested as part of the active experimentation stage, which can lead to new concrete experiences.     

This teaching brief argues for a new approach to one widely-used reflection tool—the debriefing exercise. Debriefing allows participants to “reflect on recent experiences to prepare for subsequent tasks” (Eddy et al., 2013, p. 975). Initially developed as a military exercise, debriefing is now used in a variety of professions (Nicholson, 2013). Despite its wide use, debriefing exercises are not always effective. Potential problems with debriefings include not allocating enough time for the debrief and an imbalance of power between facilitator(s) and participants (Dennehy et al.,1998). These problems generally can be best addressed by the facilitator of the debrief, but other problems require the efforts of both the facilitator(s) and participants.  These include “too much focus on task work, telling—not discussing, inadequate focus, and no definitive look forward” (Reyes et al., 2018, p. 48-49). 

Additional challenges arise when introducing debriefing exercises to students, who generally have little experience with such exercises. This inexperience impacts students’ abilities to effectively contribute to a debrief. 

When I first introduced debriefing exercises to a public relations capstone class over seven years ago, I had three objectives for this exercise—students would reflect on the project, gain debriefing experience, and provide feedback about the overall class. While all three objectives might be appropriate, it became clear that it was unrealistic to accomplish them all during a session that may last as little as 20 minutes. As such, it was important to focus on one objective and develop the debriefing with that single objective in mind.  Given the students’ inexperience with debriefing meetings, I decided that the primary objective of these sessions should be learning, rather than reflecting.

This teaching brief, therefore, proposes that debriefing exercises still be used within the context of an EL class such as a public relations campaigns class, but instead as part of the concrete experience stage, rather than as a reflective observation. With this approach, the emphasis is not to have students reflect on what they have learned (reflective observation), but rather for students to learn how to effectively debrief (concrete experience). This brief recommends steps to take before, during, and after the restructured debriefing exercise (see appendix for a summary of these steps). The paper then provides observations and experiences from the new approach to the debriefing sessions.

Restructuring the Debriefing Session

Before the debrief 

Prior to any debriefing, students should receive an in-depth introduction to the concept of debriefing sessions and the “rules of the road.” This introduction starts with a lecture highlighting the value of debriefing both in a classroom setting as well as in a professional environment. This introduction stresses two key concepts: First, the debriefing is a “conversation among equals;” everyone’s “rank” and ego are left outside of the meeting.  As such, it is important that students understand they may direct the conversation as much as the facilitator.  They are encouraged to contribute their thoughts, but also to raise questions and issues they feel are important to examining the team’s progress.  Second, the introduction encourages students to think in terms of analyzing the team’s progression; this is not a meeting to focus on individual successes or limitations.   

To augment this explanation, I assign short readings and videos (e.g., Bourke, 2014; Rae, 2017; Sundheim, 2015; Womack, 2015) further explaining the concept. These assignments include both academic and professional perspectives, so students can also see the professional-world applications. I then quiz the students on the assigned materials. The quiz is not for a grade, but the students must pass the quiz in order to attend the debriefing meeting, which is for a grade (typically five percent or less of the student’s final grade).  Students can take the online quiz an unlimited number of times until they receive a passing grade.  In other words, the quiz is not the ultimate objective of this assignment, but it helps instill a sense of accountability among the students while helping them prepare for the debriefing exercise. In addition, if students do not fully understand the reading material, they can see this with their quiz score, and can go back to review the readings before taking the quiz again.

After passing the quiz, students are given questions that could arise during their particular debriefing session, so that they can begin the reflection process. I encourage students not to write out detailed answers to these questions. In previous classes, students prepared written responses to the questions prior to the debrief and used these answers as a script for the meeting. Doing so inhibits the interactive aspects of a successful debrief.  Instead, the purpose of providing questions in advance should be to encourage students to formulate their ideas, but not prepare scripted answers for the meeting. 

Questions used during a particular session are tailored to each group, reflecting the unique characteristics of each group’s project and experiences. The questions focus specifically on the project itself (e.g., what worked, what didn’t), rather than reflecting on what students have learned, which would be more appropriate in the reflective observation stage. Sample questions can be found in the appendix and other literature (see Sundheim, 2015). Since the debriefings may only be 20 or 30 minutes long, the questions should be designed to engage students and encourage discussion as quickly as possible. 

The Debriefing Meeting

I schedule each team’s debrief during one class period, and each team meets separately with me.  Therefore, the time spent with each team is only a fraction of the class period, typically 20 to 30 minutes. It is helpful to have a second facilitator in the meeting as this often provides a different perspective of the debriefing meeting

When possible, I schedule the meetings in a conference room rather than a classroom, leaving the classroom available for the other students to continue working in their teams during the other debriefings.  This also helps create a more professional setting, leading to a more realistic EL environment. 

Since this is a learning—not a reflection—assignment, the quality of a student’s reflections is less important to their grade than is their participation during the discussion.  One strict requirement which I impose—which students know in advance—is that they be on time for the meeting: Once the meeting begins, being late by even a few seconds results in a 10% deduction to the assignment grade. This reinforces the professional aspect of meeting and emphasizes the importance of being on time in such professional settings.

During the meeting, any prepared questions are just a guide; depending on the way students direct the conversation, unanticipated questions may be more meaningful once the debriefing is underway. The facilitator should be responsive to these dynamics and lead the direction of the discussion accordingly; if the students shift toward a different, but relevant topic, encourage continued discussion.  Conversely, if the students begin focusing on extraneous issues (e.g., the class, the curriculum), the facilitator should redirect the focus, most likely by introducing another previously prepared question.

Post-Meeting

During the first class after the debriefing, it is beneficial to spend time recapping the debriefing sessions. In essence, this recap incorporates the “reflective observation” stage of the EL cycle.  

Reflections of the debrief should start off by reinforcing the benefits of debriefings within the context of a professional environment. At this point, engage the students to get their thoughts on the debriefing itself.  Probing questions can include, “Do you feel that this meeting helped your team focus on the next set of milestones?  If so, how? If not, what could you/your team/the facilitator have done during the debrief that would have led to better results?”  The important distinction with this meeting (vs. the debriefing meeting) is that now, the students’ reflections are not about the capstone project, but rather specifically on the debriefing session. Another benefit to this discussion is that it allows the student to reflect on what they could have done differently as a participant and what they might do in a similar situation as a facilitator.  

Discussion

The new approach to the debriefing sessions has been in effect for two years, and most of the sessions have included one facilitator and one outside observer. After the debriefings, the facilitator and observer have met to share their observations.  These observations—as discussed below—consistently reflect a greater level of student engagement and a shift in the students’ attitudes towards debriefing.  Overall, the facilitators/observers have found the “new” debriefings to be beneficial to the quality of students’ participation in the meetings. Unless otherwise stated, the discussion below reflects those observations that were noted by all observers.       

First, the students seem more engaged in terms of the time they spoke (vs. the facilitator), although all observers agreed there is still room for improvement in this area.  Additionally, during the debriefing session, students discussed the underlying project as if it had been a professional work project rather than as a school assignment. 

Some of the students have been more proactive in discussing their team dynamics and interaction.  In one instance, a student acknowledged she had not been able to attend many of the team meetings due to work commitments and was concerned that her teammates felt she had not contributed sufficiently.  The other team members unanimously disagreed, indicating that her contributions had been crucial to the success of the team’s final campaign plan.  Subsequently, the team’s implementation of the plan during the second half of the semester was also successful, and the group’s client commented on the enthusiasm and cohesiveness of the students throughout the project.  

Students have also demonstrated a greater appreciation for the debriefing process, as illustrated in another class.  As an example, students in one particular class participated in the first debriefing during the semester’s mid-term, which helped each team approach the final half of their project more cohesively and effectively.  As the semester-end neared, the students were given a choice:  They could each reflect on the semester by submitting a written, one-page reflection paper with their thoughts, or each team could meet for a longer debriefing session (one hour) at the end of the semester.  The choice, therefore, offered students an assignment that would require them to return to campus for an in-person group meeting, or to submit an individual assignment online, and avoid any on-campus meeting.  Despite the effort required to come to campus and meet for an hour, an overwhelming majority of the class opted for the debriefing session instead of the reflection paper.

During their end-of-semester meetings that the students opted for, I asked students why they preferred an assignment that required them to be on campus at a specific time during finals week, when they could have simply written a one-page reflection and submit it without having to appear in class.  Most students responded by focusing on the value gained from the debriefing experience.  Some acknowledged the team-building benefits to having this kind of meeting, and indicated they wanted yet another opportunity to get together with their semester-long teammates before ending the term.  Reflecting on the debriefing earlier in the term, some students saw the positive impact that the initial meeting had on their team’s cohesiveness and interpersonal relationships.  Others valued the additional insight from their team members, as indicated by one student who said, “Any chance I can get feedback from my peers or teachers I want to get it.”

These examples and observations point to a more successful debriefing experience when used as a learning exercise, rather than a reflection tool. Indeed, there is a reflection component to this EL exercise, but the reflection observation phase is not the debrief itself, so students view the debriefing experience as a learning experience. Students also seem to appreciate the value in debriefing in terms of the impact to the classroom experience (e.g., stronger team dynamics and more meaningful feedback).  As such, the new approach to treating the debriefing session primarily as a learning tool seems successful: students are gaining a better understanding and appreciation of the debriefing process, which should position them to be effective debriefing participants when in a post-collegiate, professional environment.

Indeed, some students have already benefited from the debriefing project in their own post-collegiate, professional experiences.  In one case, a recent graduate and former student in the capstone class took an initial job upon graduation at a manufacturing company that held debriefing meetings weekly.  Within a few weeks, her manager recognized her contributions and has asked her to participate in an initiative to evaluate the effectiveness of the debriefing meetings, and provide recommendations for improving the company’s debriefing processes.  It was a positive opportunity that enabled this graduate—a newly-hired employee—to establish solid credentials within her organization and specifically with management.

One challenge that all facilitators/observers noted in the debriefing meetings was the hesitancy for students to raise issues that may expose potential conflicts within the group. Some students have shown a willingness to address their own challenges during the project, but none have proactively raised problems involving other students’ performances or problems.  In at least two separate classes, teams dealt with significant intra-group challenges and conflicts, but none of the members of these teams raised these issues in any of the debriefing meetings. In fact, in one case, the issues weren’t raised at all until students wrote confidential peer assessments of their team members. It is obviously important for students to learn and practice successful techniques regarding raising sensitive issues within the team, so this is an area of the debriefing exercise to further refine.  

Conclusion

EL projects offer students the ability to reflect on their learning experiences while developing skills that can be crucial to success in their post-collegiate careers.  Debriefing allows for both—to reflect within the context of a situation while challenging students to develop skills that even well-seasoned executives struggle to master.  This brief has advocated for refocusing the debriefing from a reflection tool to a learning tool, and identified steps when creating a debriefing exercise that can accomplish this (See Appendix). By positioning the debrief first and foremost as a concrete learning experience, students become better contributors in the debriefing exercise, and ultimately more effective participants in future professional situations.  

References

Bourke, A. (2014, November 26). Debrief to improve team performance [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p4c3k087IFU

Dennehy, R. F., Sims, R. R., & Collins, H. E. (1998). Debriefing experiential learning exercises: A theoretical and practical guide for success. Journal of Management Education, 22(1), 9–25. https://doi.org/10.1177/105256299802200102      

Eddy, E. R., Tannenbaum, S. I., & Mathieu, J. E. (2013). Helping teams to help themselves: Comparing two team-led debriefing methods. Personnel Psychology, 66(4), 975-1008. https://doi.org/10.1111/peps.12041

Guterman, J. (2002). The lost (or never learned) art of debriefing. Harvard Management Update, 7(3), 3. 

Kolb, D. A. (1984) Experiential Learning: Experience as the source of learning and development. Prentice-Hall. 

Nicholson, S. (2013). Completing the experience: Debriefing in experiential educational games. Journal of Systemics, Cybernetics and Informatics, 11(6), 27–31. http://www.iiisci.org/journal/CV$/sci/pdfs/iEB576TH.pdf

Rae, K. (2017, October 8). The ultimate debriefing process [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4IcRJugiUcY

Reyes, D. L., Tannenbaum, S. I., & Salas, E. (2018). Team development: The power of debriefing. People & Strategy, 41(2), 46-52.

Sundheim, D. (2015, July 2). Debriefing: A simple tool to help your team tackle tough problems. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2015/07/debriefing-a-simple-tool-to-help-your-team-tackle-tough-problems.

Womack, J. (2015). Debriefing sessions: I wish I knew then, what I think I know now. Personal Excellence, 20(10), 9.

Appendix

Before the debriefing:

  • Adequately prepare students
    • In-class, explain the debriefing process and benefits.
    • In-class, explain the role of participants and facilitators.  Instill the idea that all are equals; there is no hierarchy in the debrief. 
    • Outside of class, assign additional resources. (e.g., Bourke, 2004; Guterman, 2002; Sundheim, 2015).
    • Create a sense of accountability with a quiz on the additional resources. The quiz is not the focus of the debrief, so it should not be overly difficult or punitive in nature.
  • Prepare questions
    • Questions should follow the nature of typical debriefing questions (e.g., Womack, 2015), but should be tailored to reflect specific dynamics of each team
      • What was your goal?  Did you achieve it?  What helped you achieve it? What stood in the way of success? What could the team have done to improve results? What should the team keep doing that worked?

During the debriefing:

  • Follow prepared questions, BUT…
  • Be flexible.  If the discussion leads the team to a different topic or issue that is relevant, be able to facilitate and manage the discussion accordingly.
  • Use questions to facilitate not to participate.
  • As facilitator, guide the process, not the content.

After the debriefing:

  • Use part of the first class after the debrief as a time for reflective observation.
  • Reinforce the value of the debriefing by noting a few positive outcomes or key points from the debrief meeting.
  • Engage students—Ask them their thoughts about the debriefing experience.
    • How does the debriefing meeting help your team going forward?
    • Do you feel differently about debriefing now that you have gone through it? If so, how?
    • How could your debriefing experience help you in the future (beyond the classroom)?
    • What will you do differently in the next debriefing meeting?

© Copyright 2021 AEJMC Public Relations Division

To cite this article: Vizcarrondo, T. (2021). Reflecting on reflections: Debriefing in public relations campaign classes. Journal of Public Relations Education, 7(1), 188-199. https://aejmc.us/jpre/?p=2439

Captioning Social Media Video

Editorial Record: Original draft submitted June 29, 2020. Revision submitted August 9, 2020. Manuscript accepted for publication September 11, 2020. First published online May 2021.

Authors

Lakshmi N. Tirumala
Assistant Professor
Digital Media Production
Drake University
Des Moines, IA
Email: lakshmi.tirumala@drake.edu

Ed Youngblood
Professor and Associate Director
Media Studies Auburn University 
Auburn, AL
Email: ney0002@auburn.edu

Abstract

Research suggests that the majority of Facebook users typically watch videos with the audio off and often skip over videos that require them to turn on audio, particularly when users are on a mobile device. To counter this tendency, content creators need to caption their social media videos. In many cases, content creators should also be captioning their video because of legal accessibility requirements, particularly if they are producing content for educational institutions or government agencies. In the U.S., these laws might include the Americans with Disabilities Act and Sections 504 and 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. This article offers instructions for preparing captions for videos distributed on social media, including guidance on writing quality captions, using captioning tools, and suggested classroom activities. 

Keywords: accessibility, captions, ethics, public relations education, teaching

Ethics is a critical component of public relations (PR) education and interviews with leading PR professionals suggest there are gaps in the ethical components of PR education (Bortree, 2019). While there is little discussion in the PR education literature about making content accessible to people with disabilities, accessibility fits into the Commission on Public Relations Education’s call for incorporating ethics across the curriculum, including the need for students to be knowledgeable in making information accessible, respect for others, and acting in the public interest (Bortree et al., 2019). Accessibility is important to the general public. The presence of website accessibility credentials can positively affect public perceptions of company corporate responsibility (Katerattanakul et al. 2018). There have also been broader calls for incorporating accessibility, including captioning, into the mass communication and PR curricula (Youngblood et al., 2018). 

Why Teach Captioning?

Social media (SM) is a critical PR element and PR students need skills in SM tools and practices that help them effectively reach their target audience (Kinsky et al., 2016). Video is an important part of the PR SM toolbox and students should understand how to make video accessible. Captioning, onscreen-text describing a video’s audio component (Federal Communication Commission [FCC], 2018), is an important element of that process. Captioning makes sense from an ethical perspective because messaging needs to be inclusive. Almost 8 million Americans are deaf or hard of hearing (DHoH) (Brault, 2012) and captioning allows DHoH audience members to participate in the video culture. In silent films, dialogue appeared as on-screen text, so DHoH only missed music played along with the film. Sound-based movies, introduced in 1927, disenfranchised DHoH and captioned films in the US did not appear until 1951. US television captioning began with WGBH’s 1972 captioned version of Julia Child’s The French Chef, which relied on open captions—text that is an integral part of the film/video and viewers cannot turn off (Downey, 2008). Broadcasters soon switched to closed captions, captions viewers can turn on and off, a technique that can also be used for SM video.

Captioning SM video prevents disenfranchising DHoH SM users and also makes sense based on how many people use SM video. Around 85% of users consume SM video with the audio muted, (Patel, 2016), and SM platforms, particularly Facebook, stress captioning’s importance in meeting audience expectations (Facebook for Business, n.d., 2016). Captioning offers benefits when the audio is not muted as well. Dual-coding theory argues people absorb information better when presented simultaneously in multiple modalities, (Paivio, 1990), and captioned video has broad societal benefits among the non-DHoH population, including promoting language acquisition and increasing literacy. Captioning helps with recall. Students retain information better when they watch videos with captions and, more importantly from a PR perspective, people have better brand recall when watching captioned material (Gernsbacher, 2015). Closed captioning improves search engine optimizations (SEO) as search engines can crawl the caption files. Search engines cannot read open captions (3Play Media, n.d.).

Many organizations fall under online-accessibility mandates, particularly government agencies and schools (Youngblood et al., 2018). Federal laws addressing captioning include 

  • Television Decoder Circuity Act (1990): requiring televisions have closed caption Circuitry Act;
  • Telecommunications Act of 1996: established broadcast caption requirements;
  • Sections 504 and 508 of the Rehabilitation Act: required government and education electronic media accessibility;
  • Twenty-First Century Communication and Video Accessibility Act (2010): required increased online video captioning. 

While the 1990 Americans with Disability Act (ADA) was designed for the brick-and-mortar world, in 2012, federal judge Michael Ponsor extended it to the virtual world in the National Association for the Deaf’s captioning lawsuit against Netflix, making it all the more important that PR students understand captioning (Youngblood et al., 2018). 

This combination of ethical and legal imperatives, coupled with user preferences, argues that understanding captioning should be an integral part of teaching PR students about SM video. This article provides background material to help set up an introductory lesson in captioning, including captioning best practices, multiple approaches to creating captions, and outlining a captioning assignment and how to assess it. The article assumes students already have a basic understanding of working with timeline-based media.

Captions and Creating Quality Captions

Captioning is not just repeating on-screen dialogue. The Federal Communication Commission (FCC) offers a captioning framework: captions should be accurate, synchronized with the video, complete (all voices and important sounds captioned), and well placed—not obscuring important information (FCC, 2018). If you watch captioned video, you will find that captioning practices vary. For this article, we are drawing on The Described and Captioned Media Program’s (n.d.) Captioning Key. If only one person is speaking, captioning can be relatively easy—make sure that the captions match exactly what is said, typically including grammatical errors and ‘errs’ and ‘ums.’ With the exception of live television captions, most closed-captioned text should be sentence case, with all uppercase indicating someone is speaking loudly. When additional voices are added, captioners may need to add identifiers to clarify who is speaking, putting the name in parentheses and the spoken text on the next line:

(Fred)

Aunt Linda, how great to hear from you.

Again, conventions vary, as it would not be uncommon to see this caption written on a single line. Important background sounds may need to be captioned, typically setting the sound inside brackets, such as an engine revving up being [engine revving]. Off screen sounds can also be important. If a person looks up when an off-camera door is heard closing, the sound should be captioned [door closes]. Music should be captioned. Examples include [music] and captioning the music’s tone [relaxing music]. In the captions shown in Figure 3, the lyrics for the background music were included because they were important to the video’s content. The captions identify the artist and the song [The Newbeats play “Bread and Butter”] and mark the lyrics with a musical note—♪—at the beginning and end. The key is making sure captions convey all important audio information. Viewers also need to know when there is not any audio for the video [no audio] or unexpected quiet [silence] (Described and Captioned Media Program, n.d.). Captioners need to be careful how they format caption text, and the readability section of Table 1 provides some highlights based on Captioning Key (Described and Captioned Media Program, n.d.)—an article that can be used as a reading assignment. Readers interested in a deeper dive into captioning should read Reading Sounds (Zdenek, 2015) and Closed Captioning (Downey, 2008).

Closed captions work by pairing a video file with a text-based caption file. There are over 30 closed captioning formats (3Play Media, n.d.). U.S. students will most likely use SubRip (.SRT) and the World Wide Web Consortium’s Web Video Text Tracks (WebVTT or .VTT) and  need to be aware of which format a given SM platform supports. These text files provide media players with caption text and how long to display the captions. The captions below are from an .SRT for a documentary on the first Apollo moon landing. The number at the beginning of each section identifies the order of the captioning segment. The paired set of numbers on the next line tells the player when to display the caption that follows. These numbers are written in hours: minutes: seconds: milliseconds. 

4

00:00:10,500 –> 00:00:12,900

(Houston) 

We copy you down Eagle.

5

00:00:13,000 –> 00:00:16,700

(Tranquility Base) 

Houston, Tranquility Base here.

6

00:00:16,800 –> 00:00:18,400

The Eagle has landed.

In some cases, the final set of time code digits may indicate a frame number and set off by a semi-colon rather than comma. As an example, 00:00:04;18 describes the 18th frame after the four-second mark. Be careful when editing captioning files in a text editor to make sure the correct number of digits are present or the media player may not render the caption correctly. .VTT code is similar, but uses a period rather than comma to separate seconds and milliseconds, e.g., 00:00:47.564 –> 00:00:49.49 and has the option to include formatting and placement information (W3C, 2019). As .VTT and .SRT are text documents, they can be created in a basic text editor such as Notepad. The process is easier with a captioning tool, whether built into the platform like Facebook’s or a stand-alone tool, like Kapwing’s. 

Bringing captioning into the classroom

This captioning assignment was used in an upper-level video production class that included PR majors. The students responded well to the assignment and reported gaining an appreciation of what captions bring to audience members and the effort it takes to create quality captions. The assignments objectives are 1) to understand the ethical responsibility of making media content accessible, 2) to learn the importance of captioning video content, 3) to understand captioning best practices, and 4) to acquire the skills to use captioning tools. Students should learn to include captions as soon as they begin planning and producing SM video and need to understand which captioning type to use. Facebook and Twitter support closed captioning, while Instagram does not and needs open captions. Captioning is particularly important to integrate into client-based projects where students have the opportunity to serve as captioning advocates, helping educate clients about best practices. When setting up the captioning assignment, students need to understand why captioning is important. In addressing this issue, the instructor should discuss

  • Ethical imperatives for inclusive design and meeting the all users’ needs;
  • Legal requirements for inclusive design and captioning, particularly for government and educational institutions (Sections 504 and 508) and the federal court’s 2012 application of ADA to the virtual world; 
  • Meeting user captioning expectations, particularly for mobile devices; 
  • Added PR benefits, particularly SEO and increased brand recognition when captions are used alongside audio. 

Next, the instructor should discuss captioning best practices (see Table 1), including FCC guidelines, and have students watch a muted video and discuss what information they are missing without captions. Crisis/emergency communication is particularly suited for this exercise and encourages discussing ethical and legal concerns. The instructor should then introduce a captioning tool and discuss how to use the tool. We provide discussions of Facebook’s captioning tool and Kapwing’s Subtitler below (see Table 2 for additional tools). Drawing on captioning best practices, the students should caption 30-seconds of video provided by the instructor. The video should have important background sounds and music, as well as off-camera voices. Depending on time, students can begin with auto-generated captions or be given a script. The instructor should stress that copy-and-pasting the scripted lines is not effective caption. Evaluate student captions using the rubric in Table 1. As an alternative, faculty can use this first attempt at captioning as an opportunity for discussion and have students compare their captioning choices, either in small groups or as a class, and discuss their decisions. 

Facebook’s Captioning Tool

Facebook auto-plays muted videos as users scroll through their feeds (Constine, 2017), and having a text-version of dialogue helps draw user attention. The captioning tool is not available for personal feeds, so students need to choose their distribution methods carefully. This tutorial covers captioning during upload, but the process is similar when captioning existing video and when adding second-language subtitles. To add video content find the “Video” option in the left-hand menu—you may need to click “See more.” On the Video page, upload the video by clicking “Upload Video” and locating your video in the file browser. On the left side of the Upload Video page (see Figure 1), add a title, description, appropriate tags, and the video’s spoken language. Select “Subtitles & Captions (CC)” on the page’s right-hand side to begin captioning and confirm the video’s main spoken language. Facebook offers three options: uploading an .SRT, auto-generating captions, and writing captions. In all three cases, you will probably use the caption editing tool. 

You have to use the correct file naming convention when uploading an .SRT: filename.[language code)_[country code].srt. As an example, the filename for Fred and the voice of food safety (Food and Drug Administration [FDA], n.d.) might be “fredFoodSafety.en_US.srt,” identifying the SRT as encoded in English as spoken in the U.S. Facebook provides a list of supported language and country codes (Facebook, n.d.). Once you upload the .SRT (see Figure 2), a “Captions Added” box with the text “English:Uploaded” appears with a pencil (edit) and x (delete). Underneath select the default captioning language, which sets a default caption version to show if the user’s preference is not available. You can add additional captions/subtitles in other languages. Watch the video to confirm the captions imported correctly by selecting the pencil (edit). Watch for timing and for encoding problems, such as an apostrophe appearing as ’. Use the editor to fix any errors.

You can have Facebook auto-generate captions by clicking the Auto-Generate button. The “Captions Added” option will show “English:Autogenerated.” The captions will need editing, which you can do by selecting the pencil (edit) option. In addition to fixing mis-transcribed words, add identifiers to show who is speaking and caption important background sounds. 

The last option is to create captions from scratch by clicking “Write.” This process is easier if you have a script to cut-and-paste text from. When you open the caption editor, it will ask you to select what language the captions are written in. Once you select the language, you will see a list of time markers on the right side of the editor (see Figure 3), including predefined time ranges. The numbers are measured in minutes:seconds:thousandths-of-a-second. You can adjust the numbers by clicking on them, but time spans cannot overlap between clips. To start captioning at the beginning of the video, enter captions in the first time-block, usually starting a half-second into the video. Each time-block represents a single captioning line. As you add lines of text, you will need to adjust the times for each box accordingly. You can adjust a caption’s time on screen in the editor underneath the video, clicking on the beginning or end of the blue captioning box and dragging it to the desired time. You can also drag captions around on the timeline, though at the time of this writing, the drag option does not always work correctly. 

If you need to add captions after you upload or edit captions, you will need to open your Video Library to get to the caption editor. To get to the editor, follow the Publishing Tools link in the top page navigation bar and then look for the Video Library link in the left-hand navigation. When you hover over a video title, there will be a pencil icon that will let you edit the video. Select the Subtitles & Captions (CC) button to get to the captioning options. 

Facebook does not provide an easy way to retrieve the caption file it creates, making it difficult to reuse captions in other applications. Getting the caption file requires opening up the Facebook video in a web browser, using inspect code to find the caption file, opening the file in the browser, copying the text into a text editor, saving it as a .VTT, and converting the .VTT to an .SRT (Mbugua, 2020). Students planning to distribute captioned material on multiple platforms may want to do their initial captioning outside of Facebook, particularly if the videos are more than a few minutes long. 

Figure 1
Figure 2
Figure 3

Kapwing’s Subtitler: A dedicated captioning tool

Not all SM platforms provide a built-in captioning tool. Twitter allows for closed captioning and subtitles but requires you upload an SRT. To add an .SRT, go to your Media Studio library, find the Subtitles tab, select the subtitle language, upload, find your .SRT, and select “update file.” Some SM platforms, such as Instagram, do not support closed captions, meaning you have to create open captions that are an integral part of the video. 

Kapwing’s online Subtitle Maker (see Figure 4) lets you create both .SRT and open-caption versions of your video. The free version limits you to projects under seven minutes. As with Facebook, you can upload an .SRT, auto-generate captions, or manually enter captions. This example uses auto-generated captions to create an open-captioned video. Once the source video loads, click the green Auto-generate button and select the video language (see Figure 5). After captions are generated, they need to be edited and timed (see Figure 6). You can edit caption text by clicking into it. You can adjust caption timing by moving the white start and stop circles above the caption text. Be careful that captioning timing between sections do not overlap. Under Text Options on the interface’s left side, you can adjust font type, size, color, background, and alignment. Video format depends on your target platform and the Video Options menu can help with the decision making (see Figure 7). Changing the video proportions while using the Fit option, may result in a black border below the video. Using this border space is a popular way to create open captions (see Figure 8). To export an open-captioned video, click the red “CREATE >” button, which will create an open-caption .MP4. If you have a paid account, you can also download the .SRT.

Figure 4
Figure 5
Figure 6
Figure 7
Figure 8

Conclusion

Teaching PR students to create usable captions for SM videos prepares them to meet viewer captioning expectations, meaning their message will more likely reach its audience, particularly on mobile devices. Closed captions improve SEO, making closed captioned videos more findable than non-captioned or open captioned videos. Most importantly, teaching captioning emphasizes ethical best-practices in content accessibility and prepares students to be accessibility advocates. While this article focuses specifically on captioning SM video, faculty should consider including accessibility more broadly in their teaching—audio podcasting courses might include having students produce transcripts, web design classes should teach students to build accessible websites, and document design courses should include how to create accessible PDFs. 

References

3Play Media. (n.d.). The ultimate guide to closed captioning. Retrieved June 2, 2020, from https://www.3playmedia.com/resources/popular-topics/closed-captioning/

Bortree, D. (2019). Ethics education in public relations: State of student preparation and agency training in ethical decision-making. Journal of Public Relations Education, 5(3). https://aejmc.us/jpre/2019/11/20/ethics-education-in-public-relations-state-of-student-preparation-and-agency-training-in-ethical-decision-making/

Bortree, D. S., Bowen, S. A., Gower, K., Larsen, N. Neill, M., Silverman, D., & Sriramesh, K. (2019). Ethics education report. Commission on Public Relations Education. http://www.commissionpred.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/Ethics-Education-Report-to-Toth-Phair-10-14-19.pdf

Brault, M. W. (2012). Americans With Disabilities: 2010. United States Census Bureau. https://www2.census.gov/library/publications/2012/demo/p70-131.pdf

Constine, J. (2017, January 4). Facebook adds automatic subtitling for Page videos. TechCrunch. https://techcrunch.com/2017/01/04/facebook-video-captions/

Described and Captioned Media Program. (n.d.). Captioning key. Guidelines and best practices for captioning educational video. Retrieved June 2, 2020, from https://dcmp.org/learn/captioningkey

Downey, G. (2008). Closed captioning: Subtitling, stenography, and the digital convergence of text with television. The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Facebook. (n.d.). What is the naming convention for SubRip (.srt) files? Facebook Help Center. Retrieved May 28, 2020, from https://www.facebook.com/help/1528795707381162

Facebook for Business. (n.d.). Best practices for mobile video. Facebook Business Help Center. Retrieved July 27, 2020, from https://www.facebook.com/business/help/144240239372256?id=603833089963720

Facebook for Business. (2016, February 10). Capture attention with updated features for video ads. Retrieved July 27, 2020, from https://www.facebook.com/business/news/updated-features-for-video-ads

Federal Communication Commission. (2018). Closed captioning on television. Retrieved December 28, 2019, from https://www.fcc.gov/consumers/guides/closed-captioning-television

Food and Drug Administration. (n.d.). Fred and the voice of food safety: How to avoid food-borne Illness. Retrieved May 28, 2020, from https://archive.org/details/gov.ntis.ava18185vnb1

Gernsbacher, M. A. (2015). Video captions benefit everyone. Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 2(1), 195–202. https://doi.org/10.1177/2372732215602130

Katerattanakul, P., Hong, S., Lee, H. M., & Kam, H. J. (2018). The effects of web accessibility certification on the perception of companies’ corporate social responsibility. Universal Access in the Information Society, 17, 161–173. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10209-017-0532-1

Kinsky, E. S., Freberg, K., Kim, C., Kushin, M., & Ward, W. (2016). Hootsuite University: Equipping academics and future PR professionals for social media success. Journal of Public Relations Education, 2(1), 1–8.

Mbugua, D. (2020, February 26). How to easily download Facebook captions or subtitles (Even if you don’t own the video). Freelancer Insights. https://freelancerinsights.com/how-to-easily-download-facebook-captions-or-subtitles-even-if-you-dont-own-the-video/

Paivio, A. (1990). Mental representations: A dual coding approach. Oxford University Press. https://doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195066661.001.0001

Patel, S. (2016, May 17). 85 percent of Facebook video is watched without sound. Digiday. https://digiday.com/media/silent-world-facebook-video/

W3C. (2019, April 4). WebVTT: The web video text tracks format. Retrieved June 12, 2020, from https://www.w3.org/TR/webvtt1/

Youngblood, N. E., Tirumala, L. N., & Galvez, R. A. (2018). Accessible media: The need to prepare students for creating accessible content. Journalism & Mass Communication Educator, 73(3), 334–345. https://doi.org/10.1177/1077695817714379

Zdenek, S. (2015). Reading Sounds: Close-captioned media and popular culture. The University of Chicago Press.


© Copyright 2021 AEJMC Public Relations Division

To cite this article: Tirumala, L.N. & Youngblood, E. (2021). Captioning Social Media Video. Journal of Public Relations Education, 7(1), 169-187. https://aejmc.us/jpre/?p=2419

A Critical Dialogical Approach to Teaching Public Relations Students Intercultural Competence

Editorial Record: Original draft submitted April 29, 2020. Revision submitted July 6, 2020. Manuscript accepted July 21, 2020. First published online May 2021.

Authors

Ran Ju, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
Public Relations Department
Mount Royal University
Email: rju@mtroyal.ca

Dongjing Kang, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
Department of Communication and Philosophy
Florida Gulf Coast University
Email: dkang@fgcu.edu

Abstract

Facing a highly globalized and diversified market, public relations students should acquire intercultural competence before entering the industry. This article proposes to use a critical dialogical approach (Freire, 2000) to public relations education to foster students’ intercultural competence. Key steps in this innovation and a sample assignment designed with it are provided to illustrate the use of this teaching method in public relations education.

Keywords: public relations education, critical dialogical approach, intercultural competence

Introduction

Globalization creates a huge need for public relations students and practitioners to achieve intercultural competence. Although various courses such as Intercultural Communication and Intercultural/International Public Relations are offered in universities to foster this competence, the public relations industry continues to be concerned with students lacking a true multicultural perspective and intercultural competence (Commission on Public Relations Education, 2018). To tackle this issue, we suggest adopting the critical dialogical approach developed by Paulo Freire (2000). 

This approach aligns with the traditional service-learning/client-work approach to public relations education (Texter & Smith, 1999). And it exposes students to real-world cultural issues and allows them to immerse themselves in different social and cultural realities. In addition, it helps students transform themselves from tactics-driven rote learners to active cultural participants. It challenges them to use public relations to resolve cultural issues, which raises students’ intercultural competence.

Rationale

Intercultural competence is important to public relations practitioners and students because an increasingly globalized and diversified world market needs it badly (Creedon & Al-Khaja, 2005; Taylor, 2001; Tsetsura, 2011; Commission on Public Relations Education, 2018). More importantly, one of the core elements of intercultural competence, developing relationships with individuals and groups across cultures (Deardorff, 2009), speaks to the core value of public relations: relationship development and maintenance (Cutlip et al., 1994). Other elements of intercultural competence include the ability to understand the context and connectedness of different cultures, to transcend boundaries and transform differences, and, most importantly, to respect each other (Deardorff, 2009). 

Courses such as Intercultural Communication and Intercultural/International Public Relations are offered to foster intercultural competence. Unfortunately, in these classes, students tend to view culture as fixed in history, or predetermined (Halualani, 2011). Somewhat useful, still, this view has prevented students from understanding multiple cultural contexts, and from establishing connections with different cultures (Gallicano, 2013; Munshi & Edwards, 2011). In this view, culture was perceived as a value-neutral commodity distant from and irrelevant to them. In addition, cultural differences are depicted as problems that need to be resolved and overcome or differences that need to be toned down and assimilated (Sobre, 2017). Hence, it is difficult for students to transform the cultural barriers into bonds, to genuinely respect differences, and to build relationships of mutuality with individuals and groups across cultures. 

To tackle this issue, public relations scholars (Gallicano, 2013; Munshi & Edwards, 2011; Tstetsura, 2011) have urged educators to employ a multidimensional approach that connects culture and diversity with larger social, political, and historical contexts from perspectives of diverse publics to ensure students are able to comprehend the multifaceted nature of the underlying concepts. Specifically, Tstesura (2011) suggested that educators and students should explore cultural identities beyond the pre-existing categories such as race, gender, ethnicity or national heritage, and examine the individual’s experiences via relationship-building process. In addition, Gallicano (2013) identified common problems such as using colorblind      and genderblind approaches in agencies’ public relations practices; accordingly, she and other scholars (Brown et al., 2011; Tstetsura, 2011) encouraged educators to use diverse teaching methods such as videos, class discussions, and guest speakers to break the cultural barriers. Furthermore, culturally sensitive assignments centered around language accommodation can facilitate the multidimensional approach in public relations education. For instance, Flowers (2020) developed a social media writing assignment for training students to accommodate international English-speaking populations’ cultural traditions when creating online content for a fictitious client. The assignment enabled students to be considerate when using U.S.-centered idioms and to apply culturally sensitive verbal and visual content that avoids ethnocentrism and othering. With the current effort, students’ intercultural competence could be enhanced through the process of relationship-building, macro-level cultural immersion, and cultural accommodation assignments. 

As a continuum, we suggest that adopting a critical dialogical approach (Freire, 2000) to public relations education offers a great opportunity to help students acquire intercultural competence. This approach stems from a critical-pedagogy perspective, which addresses cultural issues in a macro-context, whether historical, social, or political, as well as examining the power, relevance, and hidden or destabilizing aspects of cultures (Martin & Nakayama, 2000). By showing students the big picture of cultural issues, this approach facilitates a holistic understanding of the broader cultural contexts of these issues and the issues’ connections with the society at large. 

Secondly, this approach advocates for participatory learning in public relations education, aligning it with the service-learning/client-work approach to teaching (Texter & Smith, 1999) to make the adoption smooth. Thirdly, this approach can be applied to any public relations course, so that learning intercultural competence is not confined only to culture-related courses but could become widespread in public relations programs. 

Critical Dialogical Approach

According to Freire (2000), a critical dialogical approach has three pillars. The first one is the reconfiguration of the student-teacher relationship, resolving the contradiction by recognizing that knowledge is not deposited from the teacher to the student but is formed through dialogue. Compared to a top-down “banking” (deposit-withdrawal) model critiqued by several scholars (Freire, 2000; Sobre, 2017) for its rigidity and lack of reflexivity, a dialogical approach encourages the co-formation of knowledge from conversations between teachers and students. 

 The second pillar is participatory learning by students grounded in their individual experience and circumstances in relation to social-cultural issues. This pillar aligns with the service-learning/client-work teaching in public relations education. The difference is that the critical dialogical approach specifically grounds students in cultural issues and challenges students to apply public relations knowledge to resolve the issues, so students can immerse themselves in specific cultures to understand them comparatively and critically.  

The third pillar is transformative learning in self-reflection. Reflection on their own processes and those of others encourages students to question their previous assumptions and knowledge. This process moves them to a deeper understanding of what others experience and believe and how to connect with it. Through reflection, students can identify multidimensional power relations associated with a cultural issue, navigate the ambiguity and complexity, and ultimately transcend and transform differences between cultures through dialogue and self-reflection. 

Adopting the Critical Dialogical Approach 

The adoption of this approach to public relations education to foster students’ intercultural competence takes three steps, reflected in the three pillars mentioned above.

Step One: Focus on Non-Dominant Cultural Groups

The first and most critical step involves selecting a client with a project that can provide intercultural learning experiences. Instructors should look for organizational clients that serve non-dominant cultural groups such as immigrants, LGBTQ+ communities, persons with disabilities, or senior citizens. Selecting such clients would enable students to understand the complexity of power relationships in any given cultural issue by using a critical perspective. If implementing this approach in a senior level course, the instructor should encourage students to seek clients by themselves, which in turn helps students build direct connections with the local community.

To start, the instructors/students work with the client to identify a key intercultural challenge. This could be a lack of meaningful communication or contact between the non-dominant cultural group and the dominant one, or misunderstandings and biases in the society at large towards this non-dominant group. In this way, student participation is galvanized by enacting real scenarios for learning. 

Step Two: Foster a Dialogical Learning Environment

Second, a dialogical learning environment should be facilitated when discussing the intercultural challenge. In this environment, instructors should be the facilitators of the conversation, instead of an authoritarian leader. Students should be encouraged to pose questions and share concerns or voice their (mis)understandings regarding cultural issues they have difficulty comprehending. In this way, a reconfiguration of the student-teacher contradiction (Freire, 2000) can actually occur. It is important to note that fostering a safe and civil classroom environment is critical for the successful execution of this approach. Some ground rules should be established, such as respect everyone’s right to speak, listen first, respond, and use civil language. 

Step Three: Conversations with the Client

Third, the client should be invited to sit in with the class at least twice. The first time should involve the client briefing students. The second time should involve the client evaluating student work. Although inviting a client into classrooms is common for any client-work/service-learning approach, for critical dialogical approach, it should be emphasized that the client should be focused on the cultural aspect of the project. In addition to the two in-class conversations, students should be encouraged to meet with clients outside of the classroom to better understand and serve their needs. Some small tasks should be implemented to encourage such interaction. For instance, the instructor could require each student group to meet (virtually or physically) with the client at least twice throughout the project. The meetings are intended at helping students to: 1) establish relationships with the client and better understand their needs; and 2) seek suggestions and feedback from the client. These meetings should be recorded, and meeting minutes should be submitted as a part of the assignment. It is ideal if the client can be in communication with the students throughout the project; however, it is not required. Through communication with the client, students’ understanding of the cultural issue in question can be reinforced and misunderstandings can be challenged or resolved, so that self-reflection can be realized. It is also beneficial to invite different representatives of the client to visit the class, as it can teach students that even within a given culture, different people have different perspectives. 

The following outlines a specific assignment adopting this approach. The instructors’ observations are shared to illustrate the way this approach can foster intercultural competence. 

Implementation: Sample Assignment

We designed an assignment in partnership with a local community organization serving residents of a city’s Chinatown. It was a major assignment in a Strategic Social Media for Public Relations course for third-year public relations majors. The project lasted three weeks, and students worked in small groups. 

The key learning objectives were: 1) to understand cultural issues within the larger structure of the macro-context (governmental, institutional, legal, and economic) and grasp the mediating forces that affect micro-acts such as small-group and interpersonal cultural encounters; 2) to develop skills in communicating with the client serving a non-dominant culture and understanding the cultural issue critically; 3) to develop an effective and culturally appropriate social media fundraising plan that demonstrates understanding of and respect for the culture. 

Background of the Client and Project

The organization serves the local Chinatown. This Chinatown has more than a 100-year history and was first developed when Chinese railway workers came to the city (Sciban & Wang, 2013). It established and preserved Asian heritage in the city while becoming a cultural interface for the interconnection of many diverse cultures. The cultural conflict in question occurred in 2018, when the city development authority approved a development permit (Vaessen & Gallichan-Lowe, 2018) that contradicted official guidelines for Chinatown’s development. The development of two 27-story towers in the heart of Chinatown did not fit this unique cultural and historical environment. It threatened to limit Chinatown’s revitalization by increasing traffic enough that it would pose a significant risk to pedestrians and by restricting access of visitors in the elimination of street parking. Due to these detriments, legal action had to be taken for the future of the community. The client sought to raise money for legal fees to appeal the development permit. The intercultural challenge the client faced was persuading the public that irresponsible development in Chinatown is detrimental to the community on the micro- and macro-scale, including to much of the rest of the city.  

Week One: Posing the Problem

In the first week, a representative of the client, a Chinese-descended Canadian, met with the class to present the challenge. He introduced the unique historical and cultural background of Chinatown. He also shared the issue’s background — gentrification without considering those it displaces — to the students, explaining why Chinatown was against this development. 

After the client’s visit, students were excited and motivated by the project. Students shared their experiences and understanding of Chinatown. At the end of the first week of class, students were encouraged to further investigate the issue and bring any questions they had to the second week’s class.

Week Two: Analyzing the Cultural Issue through Dialogue

In the second week, the instructor organized the class in a dialogical manner, guiding students through the development of the social media fundraising plan. When discussing their understanding of the case, many students struggled to grasp that “development” could be a problem for Chinatown. Based on their own research, many believed that economic development was just what Chinatown needed. Without telling students about any harm from gentrification, the instructor encouraged them to voice any disagreements or confusion. Most students said that economic development might not be a threat to Chinatown. A small number were able to identify the cultural problem behind the economic problem. The instructors encouraged students holding different views to discuss them and guided this process. 

After several rounds of discussions and conversations, the class tentatively concluded that there were three main problems: 1) the new development would directly threaten the cultural and historical inheritance of Chinatown; 2) the development would negatively influence the lifestyle of Chinatown residents, who are predominantly seniors on foot; and 3) the changes would overpopulate Chinatown, bringing more traffic than it could handle and would eventually hinder its development. Students mapped out unequal power relationships among the city, the developer, and the residents. Most students gained perspective when they examined the development plan from the point of view of Chinatown’s residents. They used the remaining class time and off-class time to work on the fundraising plan and prepared for their presentation in the coming week. 

Week Three: Enhancing Intercultural Competence Through Action and Reflection

In the third week, the client sent three members of the organization to the in-class presentation. The representatives and instructor provided feedback for each group’s presentation. Eleven fundraising plans were presented. Visitors were highly impressed with the students’ ability to use social media as a fundraising tool, and more importantly, students’ intercultural competence. For example, prior to the day of the presentation, one group emailed the instructor and asked if using a fortune cookie as a channel to convey the message would offend the client. Students understood that fortune cookies originated in North America. Another group double-checked with the instructor to see if they had pronounced the Chinese word “hongbao” (red envelope) correctly. They were genuinely concerned that the client might be upset if they mispronounced it. 

Student presentations also demonstrated the intercultural competence they developed through this project. First of all, the visual aids most students used were in red and yellow, which symbolize Chinese culture in a broad sense. This choice was appreciated by the client. Secondly, students integrated cultural elements in their plan. For example, several groups mentioned using the traditional idea of Red Envelope to send out coupons from Chinatown businesses as incentives for the donation. Some groups mentioned using the Lunar New Year rather than Chinese New Year as a more culturally inclusive strategy to raise awareness of the issue and advertise “Chinatown for Everyone.” 

 Two groups used the traditional Chinese value of respecting seniors, which had never been taught in class, as the main message for the fundraising campaign. Students explained that Chinatown was home to many seniors. Caring for and respecting elders was at the core of Pan-Asian culture. Their campaigns advocated that the value of filial piety should be recognized across cultures — because every family has seniors. The transcendence of cultural differences is achieved here. The client commented that these two groups understood the deeper layer of Chinatown culture and bridged it with the wider Canadian cultures. Based on the feedback and comments from the client in week three’s class, students revised their plans and submitted the final version. 

The fundraising campaign began a few weeks after students submitted their 

plans for the campaign. Several suggestions from students have been accepted and implemented, as evident in Chinatown’s “Go-Fund-Me” page and its social media accounts across different platforms. 

Assessment

Assessment Guidelines

The assessment of any assignment using this approach needs to evaluate two different issues: 1) students’ intercultural competence; and 2) students’ ability to translate intercultural competence into public relations practices. Specifically, each assignment/project should be evaluated on the students’ ability to accomplish the following: 1) to demonstrate understanding and respect for the culture and the culture’s issues; 2) using public relations knowledge and theory to develop a culturally respected and effective plan/campaign to address the cultural issues raised by the client; 3) based on the developed plan/campaign, to deliver a culturally appropriate and effective presentation to the client. It is also important to include the client in the assessment process. 

Assessment of the Sample Assignment

 The assignment above counted for 25% of the total grade, the social media fundraising plan 20%, and the presentation 5%. Both the instructor and the client graded the plans and presentations. The client was instructed to focus on the cultural appropriateness and feasibility of the plan and presentation, while the instructor focused on the public relations perspective (the client received a grading rubric from the instructor). The final marks were the average of the client’s and the instructor’s (50/50). 

Measuring Intercultural Competence in Future Assignments

Due to the time constraint on the sample assignment, students’ intercultural competence was not measured beyond the client’s qualitative feedback. For future assessments, students’ intercultural competence should be measured to ascertain if this approach is successful. There are several ways to gauge students’ competence development. For example, a pre-and post-test of students’ intercultural competence can help both students and the instructor to assess the effectiveness of this approach. Valid scales can be used, for instance, the Behavioral Assessment Scale for Intercultural Competence (BASIC) (Koester & Olebe, 1988), the Assessment of Intercultural Competence (AIC) (Fantini, 2006), and the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI) (Hammer, 2012). In addition, a reflection paper from students examining their intercultural competence development through the project can provide qualitative insights of students’ learning journey (Deardorff, 2011). 

Conclusion

To foster intercultural competence, applying a critical dialogical approach to public relations education provides opportunities for students to gain first-hand experience working with a client from a non-dominant culture on a cultural challenge. 

We suggest taking this approach with junior or senior classes. This way students will have a solid foundation with which to understand the macro- and micro-processes of culture and public relations. We mentioned earlier that the target organizational clients are those who serve non-dominant cultural groups. However, considering many universities in North America are located in small towns with limited clients from/serving non-dominant groups, we suggest seeking groups or organizations within the university as clients, such as the Office of Inclusion and Diversity, the Office of Indigenous Affairs, and various student organizations/clubs serving non-dominant student demographics (e.g., Chinese students association or first-generation college students club). Another alternative is to obtain clients online. For example, the United Nations has an online volunteering program (https://www.onlinevolunteering.org/en) providing a list of organizations that need volunteers who can work remotely. By utilizing this list, the instructor/students can find a variety of organizations in need of volunteers, while also meeting the need to serve non-dominant groups in the process. 

This approach could be used in a variety of public relations courses. A Writing course could use it to develop media materials for a nondominant cultural group. A Public Relations Management course or a Capstone Public Relations course could adopt this approach and ask students to develop a campaign for a nondominant cultural organization. The critical dialogical approach also can be used in other service-learning public relations courses, such as Public Relations Campaigns. The approach enables students to apply their knowledge and theories in an intercultural context and become a capable candidate for jobs in public relations.

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To cite this article: Ju, R. & Kang, D. (2021). A critical dialogical approach to teaching public relations students intercultural competence. Journal of Public Relations Education, 7(1), 153-168. https://aejmc.us/jpre/?p=2412