Category Archives: Teaching Briefs

Inter-Institutional Service-Learning Collaborations in a Remote Environment: A Case Study

Editorial Record: Submitted May 25, 2022. Revised September 17, 2022. Accepted October 28, 2022. Published May 2023.


Michelle M. Maresh-Fuehrer, Ph.D.
Department Chair & Professor of Public Relations
Communication and Media
Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi
Texas, USA

Michelle Baum
CEO of Moxie + Mettle
Colorado, USA

With the purpose of giving students real-world experience in teamwork and remote project management pre-pandemic, two instructors taught their undergraduate crisis communication courses collaboratively for an entire semester. Students from comparable public 4-year Hispanic-serving institutions (HSIs) located in the south-central and southwestern regions of the United States worked together on a service-learning project requiring the development of a crisis communication plan for a client representing a nonprofit organization. The following themes emerged concerning lessons students learned: navigating cultural uncertainty, using tactful communication via technology, managing distance and adapting to challenges. The results correspond with reports by the National Association of Colleges and Employers and the Commission on Public Relations Education emphasizing the importance of preparing students for the challenges posed by a technological work environment. Along with anecdotes from the instructors’ observations and students’ evaluative comments, suggestions for future applications of this type of service-learning collaboration are provided.

Keywords: service-learning, crisis communication, inter-institutional collaboration, public relations, remote work

The COVID-19 global health pandemic accelerated organizations’ adoption of digital technologies, as many nonessential businesses were forced to embrace hybrid and remote work environments to sustain business activities. During the pandemic, nearly 70% of full-time employees in the U.S. worked from home (OWL Labs, 2020). As a result of the work-from-home (WFH) surge, organizations now rely heavily on technology to power connectedness among employees and processes in hybrid and remote work environments, and systems that were once manual are now digital and automated (Craig, 2021). 

College graduates face the reality that employers seek new hires with relevant work experience (Craig, 2021) which now includes navigating the plethora of professional technologies required to enable WFH settings. Adequate preparation has challenged college graduates for years and spurred the need for hands-on experiences and internships (Thompson, 2014). While Generation Z (born between 1997 and 2012) are referred to as “Zoomers” because they have grown up in a digital world and are hyperconnected, comfort with technology does not necessarily equate to professional prowess (Gentina & Parry, 2021). 

To help students overcome these challenges in preparation for today’s job market, educators need to consider modern career readiness competencies and strategies for incorporating opportunities to practice these skills in the classroom. In the context of public relations, scholars have argued that education must include collaboration and industry tools to support PR practices (Formentin & Auger, 2021), as well as “the need to help students learn about their digital presence” (Kim, 2022, p. 9). Furthermore, a roundtable workgroup sponsored by the Commission on Public Relations Education (CPRE) argued that “a significant element in public relations education is developing a student’s presence to effectively deliver content, lead groups, and engage in interpersonal dimensions online” (Kim, 2022, p. 11).

Service-learning is one high-impact practice (HIPS) shown to help students develop competencies while providing a service for the community that allows for hands-on experience in a real-world situation (Dapena et al., 2022). Through service-learning experiences, students may develop a sense of personal and social responsibility and work ethic, retention of course content, the ability to apply theory to practice, and leadership and communication skills (Jacoby, 2015). In fact, researchers have found that service-learning and collaborative learning approaches “can successfully bridge academic concepts and practice” (Maresh-Fuehrer, 2015, p. 187) by fostering an environment where students take personal initiative, become a better team member or emerge as a team leader, and feel connected to their community (Johnson, 2007; Maresh-Fuehrer, 2015).

While many researchers have studied the benefits of service-learning in singular classrooms and across academic departments and colleges, an exploration of inter-institutional collaborative versions of this teaching practice is lacking (Chang & Hannafin, 2015). Some researchers have found that inter-institutional collaborations result in unique benefits (Fraustino et al., 2015), so it is worthwhile to explore how such a collaboration addresses the need for exposing students to the technological practices required in today’s professional environment.

 Thus, the following case study reflects on a collaborative semester-long service-learning partnership led by two instructors at comparable, public 4-year Hispanic-serving institutions (HSIs) in different regions of the United States. Although this remote collaboration occurred pre-pandemic, the results provide important support for the CPRE recommendations for online pedagogy and guidance on how to improve such instruction. 

University and Student Comparisons

This service-learning project was implemented in senior-level crisis communication courses at two accredited universities located in the south-central and southwestern regions of the United States. Because of their geographic locations, the campuses are in two different time zones with a one-hour time difference. One institution is a comprehensive university located on a tri-institutional commuter campus with 95% of its students coming from in-state. The other institution is a research university that has both on-campus and commuter students, with 93% of its students coming from in-state. More than 40% of enrollment at both institutions is first-generation college students, and both are federally designated Hispanic Serving Institutions. However, the differences in geographic locations and student characteristics made this collaboration particularly appealing to the instructors. The class at the southwestern university was composed of 11 upper-division journalism and public relations majors. Each of the enrolled students had completed several courses in AP style and journalism-centric writing techniques. Conversely, the south-central university class featured 39 students from a variety of majors, many of them had limited or no experience in public relations or journalism writing but with backgrounds working in related industries such as emergency response. 

Service-Learning Project

Prior Applications

Prior to embarking on this collaboration, both instructors modeled their crisis communication courses to involve team projects and a semester-long service-learning experience where students develop crisis communication plans for community-based clients. As such, both instructors were familiar with choosing appropriate clients for service-learning projects and how to balance client needs with student learning outcomes. 

Curriculum Coordination

Curriculum coordination began approximately one year in advance of the project. Since students would be registering for the course at their home university, the instructors felt it was important to discuss the time zone difference and try to teach the courses at the same time to build in time for team teaching and collaboration. However, an unanticipated challenge arose when scheduling courses as both institutions use specific time blocks, none of which were shared between campuses. As a result, the instructors selected times when the classes could overlap for 30 minutes. In the class periods leading up to a major assignment deadline, students were expected to use the overlapping time to work together and submit a report to both instructors detailing their progress.

The next step required examining course syllabi and policies, discussion content and grading rubrics with the purpose of creating a unified voice between the classes. Each syllabus incorporated the same policies, resources, deadlines and expectations except for university-mandated statements. Both instructors shared lecture notes and determined the content to be taught but, recognizing that no two instructors share the same teaching style, allowed for individuality in selecting examples and instructional methods. All documents were shared with both classes in their independent Blackboard shells. Several class periods were scheduled via Zoom to provide the students with an opportunity to participate in lessons taught by both instructors. In these class periods, the instructor in charge of the lesson for that day broadcast their lecture live via Zoom, while the other instructor and their students were sitting together in their own classroom, attending via Zoom. 

New grading rubrics were also developed for each of the assignments. During the semester, the instructors graded each group assignment separately and then discussed and agreed upon scores before providing a unified grade to students. Little to no variation in the instructors’ individual scores occurred.

Technology and Collaboration

In addition to the Zoom class meetings, students used a variety of technology applications to communicate and collaborate outside the classroom, including the text messaging app, GroupMe. Students were encouraged to post questions and examples in a class group and create subgroups for discussions within their assigned teams. Students were also encouraged to participate in an optional Twitter discussion using a unique hashtag for the course. To encourage collaboration, students were prompted to share something interesting they learned in class or in the readings, an example of a course concept or commentary about a crisis that was not discussed in class. Fourteen students (28% of the class) contributed 119 posts with an average applause rate (likes) of 1.96. While the engagement rate is modest, it is worth noting that the students’ examples were referenced during class sessions to spark face-to-face discussion. Also of interest is the fact that many of the engagements were from persons who were not members of either class, thus evidencing increased visibility of the institutions and the PR profession among students’ networks.

The Assignments

The instructors used the crisis management plan (CMP) project developed by Maresh-Fuehrer (2013), which consists of four major assignments and a written/oral presentation to a client. Three of the assignments required students to work in different groups to collaborate, and one assignment allowed for individual work. Since group work can be daunting for students, the instructors assigned the most graded weight to the individual assignment. The instructors used a shared rubric to independently grade each team’s work and then briefly met to discuss and finalize scores and feedback before issuing grades to the teams. Students were told that their team assignments were being graded collaboratively by both instructors. However, for the individual assignments, instructors used a shared rubric but only graded the work of students enrolled in their class sections. Students were required to complete revisions of each assignment based on the feedback they received. The revisions were compiled into a Google document that students presented to the client at the end of the semester.


A component of service learning is reflecting on what has been learned and how it applies to a real-world project. The instructors’ observations of student communication coupled with comments from student reports of instruction (SRIs) suggested that students gained individual insights and exercised newly acquired skills from the challenges posed when collaborating with peers in another region to complete a major academic project for a real client. 

Navigating Cultural Uncertainty

The first learning experience for students emerged during the early weeks of the semester. While the instructors expected students to share their excitement about the collaboration, a different attitude was apparent. An “us versus them” mentality seemed to dominate students’ communication about their classmates and the project. Students at both institutions emphasized the difference in geographic regions by referring to the collaborating class as the “[State] class” or “[State] students,” rather than using inclusive language such as “our class” or “our group.” The tone was negative and competitive and became most obvious during a situation where a few teams submitted late assignments, despite the instructors’ shared policy on late work. The students tasked with submitting the assignments on behalf of the teams were all from the same campus, so the students from the collaborating campus expressed anger at the fact that the “[State] students” were negatively impacting their grades. Some students even used stereotyping to make sense of the experience, saying things like “You’d think people from [State] would be more laidback.”

This language and behavior seemed to signal the existence of implicit cultural bias among students, which was especially exposed due to the teams being geographically dispersed. However, this allowed the instructors to engage in a discussion with all of the students about recognizing how cultural differences may impact communication among the members of their teams, respecting those differences and knowing when personal accountability can be used to avoid conflict. After having this talk with the classes, the instructors observed an increase in communication between the groups and more individual students demonstrating accountability. One student shared, “This course really demonstrated ‘real world’ situations when working with groups of different backgrounds. Involved VERY tactful communications within the groups and individuals. Conflict resolution was tested to the extreme.” However, it is unclear whether the students ever fully escaped the “us versus them” mentality, as one student reflected, “There were times that working with [State] class was a little difficult, but we worked it out and made it happen – that proved to be a learning experience in itself.”

Using Tactful Communication via Technology

Students were overall receptive and comfortable using new technologies, such as GroupMe and Zoom to communicate with their classmates; however, they were faced with differing expectations for communicating on these platforms. For example, students experienced a great deal of conflict when communicating using GroupMe. A specific anecdote occurred early in the semester when students formed their initial groups for the organizational history assignment. Students from one campus were using the app for casual/social messaging, such as connecting with each other to identify their location (such as studying in the student union or eating lunch at a particular restaurant). This irritated some students who were not on the same campus, prompting them to post derogatory comments that sparked even more unrelated text exchanges that further created division among the classes. One student wrote, “The smaller chats worked better but still had problems, like people using it to find what room they should meet in. I think a training on how to use group chats would help these problems.”

Thus, when this issue arose, the instructors used class time to discuss professional text messaging conduct and provided a handout that offered tips for professional engagement. They also directly addressed concerns with select students and prompted the students to reflect on how they may have approached their text responses differently. As the semester continued, students adapted to the norms for professional technology use and realized that tactful communication was necessary on these platforms, especially to resolve misunderstandings. At the end of the semester, one student shared, “TIL [today I learned] collaboration can actually go smoothly across time zones when communication is respectful. Looking back, this project has taught me more than I thought…”

Managing Distance

For each assignment, students were randomly grouped with classmates from both campuses. During class, the students who shared a physical location would coordinate their schedules and select out-of-class meeting times to work together on their assignments. The ease of communicating with classmates that shared a physical location made it common for them to forget to reach out to the remote group members. This resulted in frustration when the classmates who were left out of the arrangements were unable to meet at the time their group chose to work on the assignment. When referring to this scenario, one student described, “Working with the…team was difficult because there were some instances where they were not willing to support team work. There were a few times where it was hard to communicate with them.”

This dynamic opened the pathway to discussing the differences between collaborating virtually and face-to-face. When the instructors learned of this, they quickly reminded the students of the importance of including everyone in conversations that impact the team or the project. They utilized an analogy of the students being stakeholders in the project and connected this to the core public relations principle of the need to inform stakeholders about matters that concern them (Center et al., 2012). The instructors expressed that the communication tools available–such as GroupMe–are meant for fostering collaboration, especially in these types of moments. 

Adapting to Challenges

When the instructors approached their classes about a lack of participation in team meetings, several students shared that they were uncomfortable in virtual meetings because they could see themselves while talking and became self-conscious. Sharing these challenges in the classroom helped students realize that others had the same feelings. The instructors shared tips for navigating this situation, such as hiding the self-view on Zoom. 

A second challenge that emerged was based on student characteristics (differing class sizes, majors and PR writing experience). The instructors observed several benefits and challenges students faced as a result of this mixed class configuration. The heterogeneous nature of the group contributed to the discovery of a robust set of potential risks (335 unique risk scenarios) that illustrated students’ specialized knowledge of the law, environmental science and other technical risks that may not have otherwise been considered in a class of only PR/journalism majors. At times, however, students in both courses approached the instructors with frustrations over the varying degrees of professional writing skills, AP style proficiency and personal worth ethic present among their classmates. Some students reported that they made extensive edits to their group’s work, while others expressed frustration that their individual contributions had been edited to a degree that changed the intended meaning of their content. These concerns led to the instructors discussing the nature of collaborative projects in the workplace, which included a discussion of French and Raven’s (1959) bases of power. The instructors emphasized that professionals often work with people from different departments and locations that may not share the same knowledge base. However, each person must be valued for the unique strengths that they contribute toward the success of a group. At the end of the semester, one of the students shared about the remote work experience, “Working with different individuals throughout the semester helped me jump out of my comfort zones.” Another student emphasized that the challenging nature of group work was “a real example of how life may work sometime.” Much to the instructors’ satisfaction, one student shared 

This class was a favorite of mine this semester! It was definitely a challenge every minute, but it taught me so much in just a short 4 months. I learned how to work with various individuals on a large project with a wonderful outcome.


As Kim (2022) describes in the Commission on Public Relations Education’s Spotlight Report, “online education should prepare students to develop their digital presence by providing opportunities to learn about, practice, and reflect on digital interaction” (p. 11). Since COVID-19, the professional world–including education–has seen a rise in the use of different modalities to collaborate with workgroups. Although the project described in this case study was a remote collaboration that only partially took place online, the lessons learned from this inter-institutional project show that this approach makes it possible for instructors to expose students to the “ways that remote and hybrid workplaces practice presence across teams and between managers and their teams” (Kim, 2022, p. 9).

The students’ experiences are consistent with previous research on the benefits of service-learning and inter-institutional collaborations as “mirroring the type of work PR professionals regularly perform” (Smallwood & Brunner, 2017, p. 450) and providing mutual benefit to the students and client (Maresh-Fuehrer, 2015); however, the added component of remote collaboration resulted in several added benefits. Students were suddenly thrust into an environment where communication deficiencies were realized. They had to learn to adapt to cultural uncertainty, differing skills and communication expectations, and challenges posed by geographic distance and their own insecurities. As Berger and Calabrese (1975) explain, people feel uncertainty about others that they do not know. Given the nature of the collaboration, students anticipated future interaction with one another, so their interest in reducing uncertainty was high. Unfortunately, the brief overlap between the two classes provided only limited opportunities for verbal and nonverbal warmth and self-disclosure among students. Additionally, moments of conflict–such as in the cases of the frustrated GroupMe messages or late assignment submissions–may have led to uncertainty remaining high, despite the collaborative environment. This challenge is important to overcome because a sense of closeness results in higher contributions from students (Gilmore & Warren, 2007).

Another advantage of the collaboration was the numerous teaching moments the instructors were able to have with students to help them navigate challenges, as described in the Results section. This corresponds with the CPRE’s recommendation to incorporate “topics such as leading a Zoom presentation, nonverbal communication through technology, and other elements that hold the potential to elevate or inhibit their future success” into online instruction (Kim, 2022, p. 11). This seems especially important as the instructors observed that, although both classes were mostly comprised of “digital natives” (Prensky, 2001), it became clear that students did not understand how professional technology use differs from personal use. Overcoming this issue is necessary, as “students’ efficacy with the technologies…may lead to…positive attitudes and performance expectations when using such technologies in future on-the-job environments” (O’Malley & Kelleher, 2002, p. 183).  

In many cases, diversity in skill sets were an asset in helping students avoid groupthink, which occurs when a homogenous group of people allow the desire for harmony in the group to result in poor decision-making (Janis, 1997). The instructors observed students gaining insight into their strengths that required them to recognize how they operate within a team (e.g., do they take on a leadership role or do they hold back their questions or concerns? Do they criticize others’ work, or do they help improve the end product?). Students arrived at these realizations by being asked to regularly reflect on their experiences throughout the class and during the instructors’ one-on-one or team conversations with them when concerns arose. These discoveries helped students understand how to be more effective team players and work through disagreements and miscommunication, regardless of the geolocation of their team members. More research is needed on the benefits and pitfalls associated with learning in remote inter-institutional service-learning activities, especially when students have varying levels of competency.

Another significant contribution of this project is the experience and benefits afforded to students while requiring few additional resources beyond what is normally required to manage a classroom. While O’Malley and Kelleher (2002) remarked that “the extra resources required to coordinate two distant university classes did not seem worthwhile…” (p. 183), the instructors of the CMP project did not arrive at the same conclusion. The primary resource required to formulate and run this class was time. The instructors developed their own syllabi to reflect university-specific language and classroom conduct expectations but collaborated on the development of each assignment, rubric, and grading structure, and determining audio and video technology requirements to sync classrooms. Each instructor also prepared lectures for joint classroom instruction, and the instructors graded some of the projects together to ensure consistency in evaluation. When student concerns arose, the instructors took time to turn them into teaching moments, but these lessons did not exceed what would normally occur as part of classroom management.

Recommendations for Future Applications

The areas where students struggled present opportunities to improve the design of a PR curriculum focused on providing students with real-world experiences. Based on their shared experience, the instructors offer the following recommendations for future applications of inter-institutional service-learning projects.

Schedule Time for Team Building. As evidenced by the exemplars provided in the Results section, students struggled with aspects of intercultural communication which, at times, contributed to a feeling of hostility among students. The intense course schedule necessary to cover the material allowed little room for team building exercises. The instructors agree with the need to integrate team-building exercises into the curriculum to build trust, develop team identity and promote information exchange to help improve virtual team dynamics (Jarvenpaa et al., 1998). Students would also benefit from a discussion of the similarities and differences among the institutions and student skill sets, as well as more specifications for assigning roles and deadlines and streamlining communication when working in groups.   

Discuss Professional Technology Use. Collaboration, especially in a virtual environment, requires guidance and some level of oversight by instructors. Initially, the instructors believed setting communication parameters, such as establishing a GroupMe text channel, offered sufficient room for students to successfully connect. However, instructors quickly found that students would have benefited from more information about what constitutes professional communication in mediated platforms. Additionally, students’ lack of comfort seeing themselves on Zoom also supports the notion of teaching them how to use technology. This finding is especially salient, as the CPRE report discusses the need to help students learn “how to do direct engagement with groups in virtual settings, how to leverage software…for successful group projects, and what effective Zoom engagement looks like in various professional settings” (Kim, 2022, p. 9).

Balance Class Sizes. Furthermore, the instructors would recommend considering comparable class sizes as a factor in selecting a cross-collaboration partner. A lack of balance in class size resulted in lopsided group representation. The natural in-person collaboration that occurred among students in the larger class meant the students in the smaller class often reported feeling out-of-sync with their teams. According to O’Leary and Cummings (2007), it is common for geographically dispersed teams to experience unequal distribution across locations. As the National Research Council (2015) explains, this results in a phenomenon called the “hub and spoke model,” where the “culture and communication style of the headquarters typically dominate, and the group members at remote locations may experience lower status and less power, while their needs and progress are invisible to others” (p. 154-155). In this case, the larger class seemed to be perceived as the main class or a centralized “hub,” where the smaller class’ students felt as though they were just the “spokes” feeding into the larger hub, though this was not the case.

Course Extensions. By fine-tuning aspects of communication and balancing the size of teams, an international inter-institutional course is possible. Such a course would enhance students’ exposure to different cultures, ethnicities, communication nuances, social norms and technologies in a way that extends what they are able to experience working with students in another region of the same country. According to Molleda (2009), gaining a broad understanding of the global economy and standards of communication practices in various regions of the world is increasingly important. This data is confirmed by the career readiness competencies outlined by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) in its job outlook report: career & self development, communication, critical thinking, equity & inclusion, leadership, professionalism, teamwork and technology (NACE, 2021). 

In sum, while data exists illustrating the benefits of service-learning, little information exists about the value of experiential learning in a remote inter-institutional environment. With globalization and the ability to telework expanding, it is imperative for students to learn how to work collaboratively and virtually and with people who are different from them (Kim, 2022; NACE, 2021). With structured facilitation of such projects, remote inter-institutional collaborations are a highly effective method for honing the interpersonal and technological skills required in today’s workforce. 


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© Copyright 2023 AEJMC Public Relations Division

To cite this article: Maresh-Fuehrer, M., and Baum, M. (2023). Inter-Institutional Service-Learning Collaborations in a Remote Environment: A Case Study. Journal of Public Relations Education, 9(1), 147-165.

Teaching Social Media Analytics in PR Classes: Focusing on the Python Program

Editorial Record: Submitted June 4, 2022. Revised October 21, 2022. Revised January 8, 2022. Accepted January 26, 2023. Published May 2023.


Kim, Seon-Woo
Ph.D. Candidate
Manship School of Mass Communication
Louisiana State University

Chon, Myoung-Gi, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
School of Communication and Journalism
Auburn University

The teaching brief introduces what to teach and how to teach social media analytics for PR educators in a university. It suggests a semester-long curriculum for an independent research method class for both graduates and undergraduates. First, we discuss why students can better learn programming languages over industrial platforms. In addition, we compare three different ways of data collection (crawling, API, and download) and discuss the pros and cons. Then, it presents (1) data collection through API, (2) text mining, and (3) network analysis with the shared Python code on GitHub and the step-by-step tutorial for PR educators who are unfamiliar with programming languages. This brief is expected to help to bridge the gap between the growing demands of programming-based analytics in PR practice and education.

Keywords: Social media analytics, Pedagogy, Python, API, Text mining, Network analysis

Social media has become integral to digital public relations (Ewing et al., 2018). PR companies perceive social media analytics (SMA) as a useful tool to identify who is a target public, understand the current environment around an organization, measure PR campaign outcomes, build relations with stakeholders and influencers, and many more (Kim, 2021). Responding to the growing demands of social media analytics in the PR industry, analytics curricula in PR programs need to be developed to educate PR students (Commission on Public Relations Education, 2018). 

However, public relations educators have faced challenges in learning and teaching social media analytics. Most PR instructors have not had an opportunity to learn computer programming knowledge for analytics during their academic careers, such as Python or R. Moreover, teaching analytics requires understanding new methodologies and data types, such as natural language processing, network theory, and deep learning. Given this background, the current analytics classes in PR programs mostly focus on conceptual knowledge and the use of other commercial tools. 

For example, students have learned how to use proprietary platforms, such as Brandwatch and Sprinklr, and interpret the results on those platforms. It is also common for instructors to ask students to get certificates in Google Analytics and Hootsuite as evidence of their analytics competence (Ewing et al., 2018). Despite the above efforts, PR professionals recommend that PR graduates have programming knowledge for PR work automation and tailored PR services to clients (Szalacsi, 2019; Trafalgar Strategy, 2022). Heavy reliance on industrial analytics platforms would limit students’ SMA competency within the platforms’ modality, thereby preventing them from developing advanced analytical abilities.   

To fill the gap, this teaching brief aims to provide a pedagogical foundation for utilizing Python as an SMA tool. Particularly, this teaching brief explains an SMA class material based on data collection, text mining, and network analysis. We provide Python codings that PR educators can use in classrooms to teach Python programming language. Python is the most frequently used programming language in data science (TIOBE, 2022; Woodie, 2021). The Python codes are designed as simplified as possible for a PR analytics introduction class. We provide step-by-step instructions about the Python codes to help readers understand and follow the programming function. This teaching brief is expected to encourage programming-based SMA classes in public relations classes.

Teaching Objectives

Table 1 summarizes the learning objectives of what this teaching brief delivers and required Python packages. This brief consists of three parts: data collection, text mining, and network analysis. First, students are expected to obtain knowledge about Tweet data collection through API. Because APIs tend to provide free versions and have similar ways of use across social media platforms (e.g., Facebook, Instagram), the practice of collecting tweets via API helps students equipped with social media data collection skills for various SNSs without cost. In addition to this, we introduce ways to find content published by influencers and popular tweets. Lastly, students can learn to save the collected data as a spreadsheet format (i.e., xlsx).

Table 1: The Overview of Learning Objectives

 Learning outcomesPython package
Python download 
Data collection– Learn how to apply for Twitter Academic Research Access
– Apply a Twitter access code to Python
– Create search query, including keyword and date
– Collect Tweets through the shared Python code
– Sort out tweets by the number of likes, retweets, and followers
– Save the collected data as the excel format on your local computer
– pandas
– twarc
– os
– requests
– time
Text mining– Load the collected Twitter data
– Text data cleaning
– Create Word cloud
– Calculate word frequency and visualize text mining results
– pandas
-nltk.corpus – re
Network analysis– Create data for network analysis from the collected Twitter data (i.e., mention relation and retweet relations)
– Network object generator
– Generate a network graph
– Export network data for visualization on Gephi
– Calculate various centrality scores
– pandas
– networkx

Next, students can apply text mining and network analysis to their own data collected by API. Through the text mining section, students learn to load and clean data, and create a word cloud and calculate word frequency with its visualization. The network analysis section introduces a simple conceptual understanding of network data, how to construct network data, how to calculate centrality scores, and visualization preparation through Gephi, a popular network visualization tool utilized in academia and industry. 

Teaching Preparation

To use the shared Python code for teaching, educators need to have some basic Python skills. Also, educators and students must install some Python applications and packages. Python code for this teaching brief is available on GitHub ( We assume that readers have already installed Python 3 ( and Jupyter notebook ( Python is a programming language, and Jupyter is a web-based interactive computational environment for Python programming. If not, we recommend installing Anaconda (Anaconda, n.d.), which includes Python 3 and Jupyter Notebook. After installation of Python 3 and Jupyter, launch Jupyter and open the shared code in a new notebook. 

Then, readers need to install the required Python packages, such as pandas and networkx, for each Lesson (see Table 1). 

When running the shared Python code without installing required packages on a computer, it will show the following message “ModuleNotFoundError:no module named ‘XXX’.” Module is synonymous for package in Python. 

To install a Python package on Mac, open Terminal application and type “pip3 install [package name]”. For example, below is the command for installing pandas (see Figure 1). 

Figure 1

On Windows, open Anaconda Prompt program and type “pip3 install [package name]” as below (see Figure 2). 

Figure 2

This short brief cannot cover every single Python code one by one. Instead, we focus on which codes should be edited to properly run the Python code and serve different learning objectives in classrooms. For example, some classes would focus more on organizational PR while others political PR. In this case, the code may require unique search keywords depending on the subject. 

PR educators should have some basic knowledge in Python (e.g., installation, running code, basic built-in functions) prior to giving students a demonstration of the shared Python coding and modifying the codes for class projects and activities. To develop this basic proficiency, we recommend Python books for beginners (e.g., Codeone Publishing, 2022; Matthes, 2019) and freely-available online resources from YouTube, such as Learn Python in 1 Hour (Programming with Mosh, 2020, September 16). Also, online Python bootcamp courses, such as DataCamp (, are valuable resources for PR educators and students as they provide interactive web environments of Python for beginners. PR educators may connect the online bootcamp course to a part of their SMA course curriculum as assignments or pre-class activities. 

Lesson 1. Data collection from Twitter through API

There is nothing to analyze without data. Data collection is the start of extracting valuable insight from analytics before moving to gather information by organizing the data. Thus, among many required skills, data collection is the foundation of SMA (Kent et al., 2011). Growing PR jobs require data collection skills from the web and social media (Meganck et al., 2020). Before digitized public relations, PR practitioners had to manually scan and gather the environment around an organization, such as news monitoring and clippings. However, today’s digital society creates a massive number of user-generated contents about organizations on the web and social media, which makes it nearly impossible for PR practitioners to collect them manually. 

There are three main ways to collect web data: crawling, API, and downloading from industrial platforms. Table 2 compares the data collection methods. Web crawling, or scraping, refers to a mechanical collection of web data (e.g., text, image, sound, and video). A web crawler automatically extracts data from a website based on programming. Technically, it is possible to crawl data using freely-available packages in Python for most web pages, such as social media, news media, and web communities. These packages can be implemented for news clipping and issue/crisis monitoring as a daily PR practice.

Table 2: Comparison of Data Collection Methods

Level of difficultyDifficultModerate – difficultEasy – moderate
PriceFreeFree or paidPricy
Data accessibilityPartialFull or partialFull or partial
VariablesLimited – SomeSomeMany but blackbox

Writing crawling programming requires advanced programming language and web structure knowledge such as HTML, HTTP, and CSS. Also, they should be updated whenever a website changes its layout and structure. In addition, social media companies present limited, personalized feeds and content to each account based on their algorithms and other variables (e.g., follower network, search history, location). Thus, a web crawler often cannot access the full-archived data because it can only collect data visible on the website, which may raise content representativeness issues. A crawler also cannot get invisible metadata and variables that a social media company provides to API and industrial platforms, such as user profiles (e.g., when an account was created) and metadata (e.g., the name of the app the user posted from). If necessary, you have to construct variables from crawled data. Crawling may face some legal issues if you do not get an agreement from a social media company prior to collecting the data.

Another way to collect data from social media is to use API (application programming interface). Many software companies provide API to let other third-party services and programmers use their service in a convenient way. For example, Apple and Google use weather API to provide weather services to customers without collecting weather data by themselves. Major social media platforms (e.g., Twitter, Meta) also provide API for users to collect data within the companies’ policy and authentication. Thus, it is relatively easier and safer to collect social media data compared to crawling because it is free of committing a violation of a website’s Policies and Terms of Service. 

Free version APIs usually have a basic data access level like a trial version, providing limited requests that you can make within a day and shorter historical data. There are paid API services with more or full-archived data access and functions. Major social media companies have opened their premium API for research and education purposes. For example, Twitter allows researchers to access the full tweet archive through Twitter’s Academic Research Access (Twitter Developer Platform, n.d.). After filling out an application and it being accepted, Twitter will provide an access code. Currently with API access, ten million tweets can be collected per month. Meta also runs CrowdTangle, where PR educators can access Facebook, Instagram, and Reddit data. APIs present some variables, such as message type (e.g., retweet, original), the number of engagements (e.g., likes, shares, comments), and geographic location.

Lastly, industrial platforms, such as Brandwatch ( and Sprinklr (, allow paid subscribers to download social media data from their platforms. Click-based user interfaces do not require programming. However, those platforms are pricey because their business model is B2B with governments, companies, and universities. Due to high prices, a few universities are not subscribing to those services for teaching and research purposes. If a department already subscribes to such a service, they are a good resource for PR analytics teaching. Like API, there are no legal issues in data collection and use within the companies’ policy and authentication, and many industrial platforms provide full historical archive access. Industrial platforms also provide a rich amount of metadata, such as users’ gender, sentiment, and users’ profession or organizations (e.g., journalists, politicians). However, it is not clearly known how the data resellers construct those variables for users (i.e., blackbox). Although some companies provide explanations about their variable construction, researchers typically cannot replicate the variables due to limited information.

Given the pros and cons of the three data collection methods mentioned above, this teaching brief introduces how to collect Twitter by using the Twitter Academic Research Access API. Because most major companies maintain Twitter accounts, and their contents are publicly available, a few researchers and PR practitioners choose Twitter for real-time issue monitoring and reputation management (e.g., Chon & Kim, 2022; Rust et al., 2021). In addition, data collection with API and Python is similar across social platforms. If educators and students understand the code for Twitter data collection, the code can be adjusted to get data from other platform APIs. 

Tutorial. Data collection

The teaching brief here shows how to collect Tweets by using Twitter API and Python. Twitter allows researchers to access the full tweet archive through Twitter Academic Research Access (Twitter Developer Platform, n.d.). After filling out applications, including research interest and affiliation, Twitter gives users access codes to collect ten million tweets per month. 

To run the Python code from the GitHub (Kim, 2022) that the author has created, you need to change the OAuth 2.0 Bearer Token (i.e., credential key or password for Twitter) and the query parameters (e.g., search keyword, date). The Bearer Token is given after achieving Twitter Academic API permission. In the below code line, the coder would insert their Bearer Token. The Bearer Token format is a long combination of alphabets and numbers (see Figure 3).

Figure 3

In query parameters, query indicates search keywords. Hashtags (i.e., #) and mentions (i.e., @) can be used as a search query (e.g., @PR, #PR). Tweet.fields indicates which variables are collected. The coding includes user numeric IDs (i.e., author_id), timestamp (i.e., created_at), and public metrics (i.e., retweet, reply, like, and quote). Also, data period should be set in start_time and end_time. If the code is run, tweets will be collected in excel data format (see Figure 4). 

Figure 4

We use this data for basic text mining and network analysis. There is a code for exporting the below data as an excel file (see Figure 5). 

Figure 5

[Figure 5 Should Be Here]

Next, because the data has variables such as the number of likes and retweets, it can figure out which tweets have the most engagement. Also, the number of tweets posted by user accounts indicates who are active and potentially stimulated publics on social media. Sorting users by the number of followers results in a list of influencers around a topic. 

The code below filters the top 10 most-retweeted tweets (see Figure 6). To get the most-liked tweets, a variable name in sort_value parameter should be changed (e.g., from ‘retweet_count’ to ‘like_count’). Additional codes filter users who wrote tweets the most about the issue and users with the highest number of followers. Depending on PR campaigns and activities, practitioners would edit to yield other valuable information. For example, combining these metrics with the time variable (i.e., created_at) may produce the best time/weekdays to post a social media posting. Practitioners may summarize weekly engagement with publics from social media campaigns by summing or averaging likes, shares, or the number of replies.

Figure 6

Lesson 2. Text mining 

Text mining (i.e., computational text analysis, natural language processing) is one of the most promising areas in public relations for listening to publics and stakeholders. Digitized communication environments continue to create an unlimited number of digital texts. Knowledge discovery from text data is recommended to increase an organization’s performance and efficiency beyond data retrieval. Excellence theory posits that listening to publics is more important than disseminating information (Grunig & Grunig, 2009). When PR practitioners instill publics and stakeholders’ voices into an organization, it can make effective strategic communication, which contributes to organizational success (Kim & Rhee, 2011). 

There are also many possible ways for text mining to assist public relations practices, such as topic discovery and opinion mining. For example, the topic analysis provides insights about the main topic, issue, and trend around an organization based on descriptive analysis (word frequency, co-occurrence) and algorithm (e.g., topic modeling). Opinion mining, or sentiment analysis, can be used to investigate reputations of an organization and a brand, issue, and crisis (Liu, 2011).

Text mining covers collection, preprocessing, analysis, and summary of text data based on mathematical algorithms. Analyzing a large amount of unstructured text requires different statistical methods and tools (Grimmer et al., 2021). For example, texts are unstructured, unlike traditional structured data (e.g., data in excel), so data cleaning is necessary to transform them into a structured format. Conventional statistical tools, such as SPSS and SAS, provide a limited text mining function, as originally designed to analyze structured data. Hence, programming skills in Python and R are preferred for text mining.

Tutorial. Text mining

In the shared Python code, text mining includes (a) loading the Tweet data, (b) text data cleaning (e.g., low transformation, stopwords removal), (c) word cloud, and (d) word frequency calculation and visualization. Also, this code can be used to analyze other text data from social media and other web pages if a data structure is the same (i.e., data with the same column names). Otherwise, the column names in other data should be edited. The first task for text mining is to load data (see Figure 7). For this example, the code imports the excel file collected through the Twitter API. Pandas is one of the best Python packages to load, preprocess, and analyze data. The pandas package is imported with the abbreviated name, pd, with the following code, “import pandas as pd” in the first code cell.

Figure 7

The next step is text cleaning, or preprocessing. Though any data needs some level of data cleaning before analysis, text data requires more effort in preprocessing due to the complexity of human language. User-generated content tends to include noise elements such as emojis, URLs, and stopwords. It is recommended to remove irrelevant elements for analysis purposes to improve computational efficiency and validity (Hickman et al., 2020; Welbers et al., 2017). Stopwords are functional words that have no substantial meaning, such as article (e.g., the, a, an), conjunctions (e.g., and, but), and prepositions (e.g., of, in) (see Figure 8).

Figure 8

Also, as computers are case-sensitive (e.g., computers cannot identify Computer and computer as having the same meaning like a human), text data are often converted to lowercase before analysis. Beyond the simple steps, there are different types of text cleaning methods, such as stemming/lemmatization, dimensionality reductions, bag-of-words, Word2vec, and so on. Text cleaning depends on which type of algorithms would be used and what the purpose is. The shared code removes URLs, emoticons, special characters (e.g., !, @), and stopwords. 

Next, a word cloud is created to visualize the contents. A word cloud is one of the most frequently used visualizations in text mining. It is similar to the descriptive analysis in statistics (e.g., mean, sd). A word cloud is often seen as a preliminary analysis in PR-published papers (e.g., Plessis, 2018; Macnamara, 2016). The size of word fonts is proportional to the word frequencies. The generated word cloud in the example shows that rt, new, year, happy, and prsaroadsafety are prominent in the text data (see Figure 9).

Figure 9

The next code calculates a word frequency and sorts the result in descending order by frequency. Word frequency generates insightful information, such as daily/weekly issues around an organization (see Figure 10). Also, a PR practitioner may evaluate a campaign’s performance by tracking the relevant hashtag frequency over time.

Figure 10

The last code is to make a word frequency visualization. If the index (e.g., from the current 0:20 to 0:50) is changed, the number of words in the graph will accordingly change (see Figure 11).

Figure 11

Lesson 3. Network analysis
Network analysis is gaining much popularity in public relations (Yang & Saffer, 2019). Network analysis deals with “structure and position” (Borgatti et al., 2013, p. 10). The network actor is an individual, group, organization, or inter-organizations. For example, companies have different types of relations (Borgatti et al., 2013), such as similarities (e.g., type of business), business relations (e.g., joint venture, alliance), interactions (e.g., trade), and flows (e.g., technology transfer). Network analysis has been applied to various PR topics such as organization-public/stakeholder relations, employee communication, crisis communication, and CSR (Yang & Saffer, 2019).

Centrality, the classical structural properties of a network, is one of the most commonly used concepts for network analysis and visualization (Freeman, 1978). A few PR studies have used centrality to investigate key publics/stakeholders (Hellsten et al., 2019; Himelboim & Golan, 2019), issues management (Sommerfeldt & Yang, 2017), agenda-setting (Guo, 2012), content diffusion network (Himelboim & Golan, 2019), and CSR performance (Jiang & Park, 2022). 

Also, network analysis can be combined with text mining to figure out how words occur together in text. Specifically, PR practitioners can illustrate brand images and salient issues of an organization by looking at co-occurrence results with the organization name (Gilpin, 2010). In addition, PR practitioners identify a community network (e.g., friends, followers) around influencers and target them to encourage them to pay attention to the PR campaign, which, in turn, may motivate the influencers to share the content (Zhang et al., 2016). Another possible application of network analysis for PR is to identify potential publics who show several advocacy activities with positive sentiments toward a relevant issue but not yet toward a client’s issue. Organizations target them to foster supportive postings on social media.

Tutorial. Network analysis

Loading data is the same in the text mining section. Because network analysis is based on relations, data should have relational information. Relations are expressed in many different ways. You may construct a relationship variable between organizations and/or publics from outside social media data, such as joint ventures, alliances, and NGO coalitions. You may also infer relationships from social media data. For example, follower-following relationships are a relationship example. If User A follows User B, you may use the relationship information for network analysis (e.g., User A → User B). Likewise, if User A mentions or retweets a User B’s tweet, you may set a tie from User A to User B. The tie direction could be reversed depending on your perspective. For example, some people think that the relation should be User B → User A when User A retweets User B’s tweet because User B’s information flows into User A. The example code shows how to make mention relations. “From” indicates users who mention a certain account, while “to” is a mentioned account by “from.” If you want retweet relationships, replace the red text in the first line (i.e., the regular expression) in the below code with r “RT @([A-Za-z]+[A-Za-z0-9-_]+)”. If so, the data indicates that users in the from column retweet posts generated by a user in the to column (see Figure 12).

Figure 12

The following screenshot shows two codes: network object generator (i.e., G) and its visualization in Python (see Figure 13). If there are more than a few nodes (i.e., actor) and edges (e.g., relation), Python network graphs are not visually attractive. Instead, a few researchers use other visualization tools such as Gephi (e.g., Raupp, 2019; Yang et al., 2017). The software is free to use on Windows and Mac (download and see in detail at

Figure 13

The code in Figure 14 transforms the network data into an excel for Gephi. To import the excel spreadsheet on Gephi, click file → import spreadsheet → open excel file (Gephi_df.xlsx) → import as “Edges table” in general excel options → finish.

Figure 14

Here, n indicates the number of the relations (i.e., how many times a source mentions a target on Twitter). Compared to a Python graph, Gephi generates visually attractive and easy-to-understand network graphics (see Figure 15).  

Figure 15

Centrality is one of the most frequently used metrics in network analysis. There are many different types of centrality, such as in-degree/out-degree centrality, betweenness centrality, eigenvector centrality, and so on. In the shared code, the NetworkX Python package provides different types of centrality calculations. See more network algorithm parameters at NetworkX (n.d.). For example, when “degree_centrality” in the below code is replaced with “betweenness_centrality,” it generates between-centrality scores for each node (see Figure 16).   

Figure 16

Suggested Curriculum

If an introductory level SMA course is provided within a semester of 16 weeks, it is possible to design the courses as in Table 3. It is critical for students to type and edit the shared codes rather than just read or see them in order to achieve the learning objectives in this teaching brief. The suggested curriculum, therefore, focuses on hands-on experience for PR SMA with Python. The first week introduces the course. Then, the next two weeks teach PR in the digital era, social media and its application in PR, and the SMA case study. After the conceptual understanding of SMA, two weeks would be required to teach each practical programming section: Python basic, data collection, text mining, and network analysis. Finally, the remaining weeks will be used for final projects and presentations. Considering students’ abilities and prerequisite courses, the curriculum would be adjusted to serve unique class demands.

Table 3: Example of PR SMA Course Curriculum

1Introduction– Introduction to Course and Python
– PR in the digital era
– Social media and its application in PR
– Understanding social media analytics
3-4Python programming– Installation and Setup of Python and Jupyter Notebook
– Installing Python packages
– Reading and writing data (e.g., XLXS, CSV)
– data types (e.g., list, dictionary, tuple, JSON)
– Pandas data structure
– Data cleaning (e.g., data selection, merge, recode)
– Basic functions (e.g., define, for, if-else, while)
5-6Data collection– See learning outcome in Table 1 for programming contents
– Three different ways of data collection: crawling, API, and industrial platform)
– Introduction to data collection with API
– Data collection assignment
7-8Text mining– See learning outcome in Table 1 for programming contents
– Conceptual understanding of text mining
– Text mining assignment
9-10Network analysis– See learning outcome in Table 1 for programming contents
– Conceptual understanding of network analysis
– Network analysis assignment
11-13Applications of social media analytics– SMA case study – Social media metrics and evaluations
– Social media campaigns based on SMA
14-15Final project– Final project introduction
– Group Work days
16Student presentation– Final project presentation

What if educators can’t offer a separate class focusing on social media analytics and PR? We suggest a short course in a PR research class. Generally, PR research classes should cover many topics, such as qualitative research and quantitative research. However, research methods in the digital age should teach how to use social media to solve PR problems. PR educators may suggest multiple research methods using qualitative skills (e.g., focus group interview), quantitative skills (e.g., survey), and social media analytics through Python (e.g., text mining and network analysis). Students will be allowed to analyze unstructured data by choosing between text mining and network analysis.   

Assessment of Student Learning

Simply put, students can be assessed via three assignments (15% each worth of final grade) and a final group project (45% worth of final grade) with the remaining 10% points (e.g., attendance) for a semester class. 

Regarding the data collection assignment, students are required to submit a Python code file edited to collect tweets via their search queries. If it works without error, they get full credit. Instructors would consider extra credit when students collect data from other social media or web crawling. The text mining assignment asks students to submit a text mining Python code to create a word cloud and word frequency visualization with the collected data through the data collection assignment. In addition, students would be required to submit a document file analyzing the text mining results, as editing a few codes is too easy of a task for 15% credit. If students conduct additional analysis, such as sentimental analysis and topic modeling, they can be given extra credit. Likewise, network analysis would require a Python code of edited network analysis and a report. Network analysis assignments get extra credit when students present network visualization through Gephi beyond the suggested code. 

Lastly, the final project is group work with a team of three members. Students select a big organization (e.g., S&P 500) so that students can collect large enough social media data. They are asked to conduct (1) traditional formative research, (2) data collection, (3) text mining, (4) network analysis, and (5) social media campaign plan. Table 4 presents an example of the final project rubric. 

Table 4: Final Project Rubric

CriteriaContentsWeight (%)
Traditional formative research– Organizational history & mission
– Industry background & trend
– Identification of stakeholder, public, and society
– Traditional news media analysis
– SWOT analysis
Data collection– Social media data collection (e.g., tweets, Facebook)
– Identification of popular social texts
– Identification of key individuals (e.g., influencers)
Text mining– Main topics about company, brand, or products
– Sentiment analysis
– Text mining visualization (e.g., word cloud)
Network analysis– Identification and network positions of key public and stakeholder
– Network visualization with Gephi
Social media campaign planning– Discussion of current PR-related problems from formative research and social media analytics.
– Making three social media assets/tactics with target audiences
– Presentation of expected outcomes and impact on stakeholders, public, and society and measurement plan of campaign success

This project allows students to have a chance to apply the skills and knowledge they learn from the suggested SMA class in practice. Through the final project, they would realize the necessities of SMA along with traditional PR formative research (e.g., media coverage). The final project would also be adjusted if students in the class did not take a PR strategy or campaign class.


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© Copyright 2023 AEJMC Public Relations Division

To cite this article: Kim, S. and Chon, M. (2023). Teaching Social Media Analytics in Public Relations Classes: Focusing on the Python Program. Journal of Public Relations Education, 9(1), 117-146.

Eco-Tourism Campaigns as a Framework for Global PR Course

Editorial Record: Submitted May 25, 2022. Revised September 17, 2022. Accepted October 28, 2022. 


Nandini Bhalla, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Public Relations
School of Journalism and Mass Communication
Texas State University
San Marcos, Texas, US

Arien Rozelle, APR
Assistant Professor
Department of Media and Communication
St. John Fisher University 
Rochester, New York

As an understanding of international diversity has become more vital than ever before, PR educators are responsible for the mammoth task of imparting cultural sensitivity and equality in undergraduate classrooms. This teaching brief provides an opportunity for PR educators to help students understand cultural and structural differences among different countries. It also asks undergraduate students to think in an environmentally-friendly way in an international context. This teaching brief provides individual and group assignments along with samples to help instructors facilitate thought-provoking conversations in the classroom, and enhance student learning on international diversity issues in public relations.

Keywords: eco-tourism, diversity, race, public relations education, international PR, global PR

The recent rise of social and political unrest on a global scale has underscored the need for communicators with global and cultural competencies. While public relations educators are tasked with imparting cultural awareness in undergraduate classrooms, the field of public relations itself has been slow to make advancements in diversity, equity and inclusion. “Despite numerous calls and initiatives for change for over three decades, the industry’s D&I needle has barely moved” (Bardhan & Gower, 2020, p. 103).

Public relations educators play a major role in moving the needle. As Pompper (2005) notes, “The status of public relations practice is directly linked to public relations education” (p. 299).  And, “Diversity must start at the classroom level in order for emerging practitioners to embrace diversity at the professional level” (Brown et al., 2019, p. 19). 

Today’s public relations students are tomorrow’s practitioners, and educators have the ability to positively impact the pipeline from the classroom to the boardroom through exposure to courses and coursework that bring topics of global communication, diversity, equity and inclusion to the forefront. Globalization and a growing environment of inter-linked economies and multinational companies create a heightened demand for public relations students and practitioners to achieve intercultural competence (Ju & Kang, 2021). 

Flowers (2020) noted that a number of scholars in the discipline have emphasized the need to teach global perspectives, as well as multicultural, intercultural, and international skills to the public relations students in U.S. classrooms (Bardhan, 2003; Creedon & Al-Khaja, 2005; Holbert, & Waymer, 2022; Taylor, 2001; Tsetsura, 2011; Waymer & Brown, 2018; Waymer & Dyson, 2011). In addition, the 2018 Commission on Public Relations Education’s report on undergraduate PR education, Foundations + Future State. Educators + Practitioners, notes “Efforts to improve D&I knowledge must start at the academic level. We recommend educators place focus on how diversity and multicultural perspectives are taught in the classroom, and commit to integrating D&I focused topics and discussions into the curriculum” (p. 139). 

The concept of ecotourism presents a way to integrate global perspectives into the public relations classroom. Conservationists, professional organizations, and/or academicians have defined ecotourism in multiple ways based on their study area of tourist behavior (Sirakaya et al., 1999). The first known formal definition of ecotourism is written by Ceballos-Lascuráin (1987) as “Travelling to relatively undisturbed or uncontaminated natural areas with the specific objective of studying, admiring, and enjoying the scenery and its wild plants and animals, as well as any existing cultural manifestations (both past and present) found in these areas” (p. 14). In 1994, Andersen defined ecotourism as “a tourism experience infused with the spirit of conservation and cultural change that results in a net positive effect for the environment and local economy…” (p.32). In a more recent article, Khanra and colleagues conducted a bibliometric analysis and literature review of ecotourism and argued that the four critical thematic areas of ecotourism are the ecological preservation of the tourist destination, the carbon footprint from tourist mobility, the protection of residents’ interests in tourist destinations, and tourists’ attitudes and behavior toward sustainability, respectively.

This assignment helps students think about all four areas of ecotourism by conducting a deep analysis of a place (a country) and creating sustainable strategies to enhance tourism. 

A visit to a safari park such as the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania or Ranthambore National Park in Rajasthan (India) are examples of ecotourism as they allow tourists to experience animals in their natural habitat and learn about them firsthand, rather than through documentaries or movies (Verma, 2022).


This semester-long project, which can be deployed in a face-to-face or online course, provides an opportunity to integrate topics of DEI and global perspectives into a class through a hands-on project. This project was deployed in a Global PR course, but could easily be integrated into a variety of PR courses including PR Writing. 

Students are given an objective: research the political, economic, and cultural aspects of a country other than the U.S. and Canada, in order to develop an ecotourism campaign in that country for 18-25-year-old American citizens. 

There are two parts of this campaign assignment:

  1. Country analysis: students pick a country other than the U.S. and Canada and conduct comprehensive research to understand PR practice in that country. 
  2. Ecotourism campaign (team-based project): The final assignment asks students to create an ecotourism campaign based on the research conducted in the first part of this assignment. This assignment provides an opportunity for students to work according to the key PR and structural variables of that country, using diverse American residents as the target audience. 

This project gives students an opportunity to research, write collaboratively and individually, and peer edit. Throughout the process, students not only develop and refine PR skills but also develop empathy toward other cultures and teamwork skills through open conversations in the class as well as in small groups. The lectures and discussions in the class will allow students to share their intercultural experiences and observations, which also help them to respect other views and backgrounds and develop an effective global PR campaign. 


  • Understand and evaluate information about global public relations
  • Identify key global publics and analyze their characteristics
  • Plan and conduct global public relations strategies and tactics
  • Learn principles to be an effective public relations professional in a global setting
  • Create a global public relations campaign


Note: One of the authors taught this course twice at a small liberal arts university with four and fourteen students respectively. Evidence of SLOs is limited but authors will continue collecting data in the future. 

All students (100%) indicated “agree” or “strongly agree” on “I am more competent in this area after having taken this course.” 

Qualitative feedback from course evaluations includes:

  • “[The professor] provided us with many case studies and background information that was very helpful in learning about Global Public Relations.”
  • “I very much enjoyed the report I got to give on Germany. While my grandmother was a German immigrant, I freely admit that I did not have much knowledge of the country’s economic, political, or cultural systems until conducting additional research.”
  • “Your examples, those offered by students, and those you requested I find, all helped me remember both the principles themselves and the realistic applications for them on the global stage.”
“She brought in speakers and people from other cultures and that worked in different facets of PR, which was really helpful.”
“I think that because this course was discussion-based, it made the material easy to retain.”


In our ever-changing media and social media landscape, public relations practitioners need to have a strong understanding of public relations practice in other countries and demonstrate cultural competencies. The 2017 CPRE report notes that a global perspective is essential today, and career opportunities in the public relations field are available worldwide. 

The Global Capability Framework, which is a Global Alliance’s benchmark for professionals in public relations and communication management, highlighted the capabilities that professionals hold in common across the world. It states, “to provide contextual intelligence” is an essential capability for PR and communication professionals, in which “you see the bigger picture – socially, culturally, politically, technologically and economically. You identify strategic opportunities and threats, issues and trends. You operate in a connected world, demonstrating broad understanding of local and global diversity in culture, values and beliefs” (Global Alliance, para. 13)

The same study also found that the issues pertaining to businesses and organizations are global today. This indicates that a successful public relations practitioner will have to go global, beginning with the simplest of steps: understanding that public relations practice varies with borders and languages, around the world.

As PR educators work to foster a new generation of public relations practitioners, it has become more important than ever before to address topics of equality and justice by addressing multiculturalism and international diversity in the classrooms. 


Andersen, D. L. (1994). Developing ecotourism destinations: conservation from the beginning. Trends, 31(2), 31-38.

Bardhan, N. (2003). Creating spaces for international and multi(inter) cultural perspectives in undergraduate public relations education. Communication Education, 52(2), 164-172. https://doi. org/10.1080/03634520302473 

Bardhan, N., & Gower, K. (2020). Student and faculty/educator views on diversity and inclusion in public relations: The role of leaders in bringing about change. Journal of Public Relations Education6(2), 102-141.

Brown, K., Waymer, D., & Zhou, Z. (2019). Racial and gender-based differences in the collegiate development of public relations majors: Implications for underrepresented recruitment and retention. Journal of Public Relations Education, 5(1), 1-30.

Ceballos-Lascurain, H. (1987). The Future of Ecotourism. Mexico Journal, January, 13-14.

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

Creedon, P., & Al-Khaja, M. (2005). Public relations and globalization: Building a case for cultural competency in public relations education. Public Relations Review, 31(3), 344–354. https://doi. org/10.1016/j.pubrev.2005.05.021 

Flowers, A. A. (2020). Learning about diversity worldwide: How a social media writing assignment provides students with multicultural perspectives. Journal of Public Relations Education, 6(1), 85-98.

Global Alliance. (n.d.). Global capability framework. 

Holbert, A., & Waymer, L. D. (2022). Teaching race and cultural sensitivity in public relations: The case of Comic Relief and the Western savior ideology. Public Relations Education, 8(1), 116-131.   

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.  

Pompper, D. (2005). Multiculturalism in the public relations curriculum: Female African American practitioners’ perceptions of effects. The Howard Journal of Communications16(4), 295-316.

Sirakaya, E., Sasidharan, V., & Sönmez, S. (1999). Redefining ecotourism: The need for a supply-side view. Journal of Travel Research, 38(2), 168-172.

Taylor, M. (2001). Internationalizing the public relations curriculum. Public Relations Review, 27(1), 73-88. S0363-8111(01)00071-6

Tsetsura, K. (2011). How understanding multidimensional diversity can benefit global public relations education. Public Relations Review, 37(5), 530-535.

Verma, A. (2022, June 4). What Is ecotourism? Meaning, examples, pros and cons. Native Planet.

Waymer, D., & Brown, K. A. (2018). Significance of race in the US undergraduate public relations educational landscape: Reflections of former public relations students. Journal for Multicultural Education, 12(4), 353-370.   

Waymer, D., & Dyson, O. L. (2011). The journey into an unfamiliar and uncomfortable territory: Exploring the role and approaches of race in PR education. Journal of Public Relations Research, 23(4), 458- 477.


Global Public Relations

Note for professors: Assignments can be adapted to fit any country/region by identifying the country’s designated tourism regions.

All students are required to write a comprehensive research report related to public relations practice in the country of their choice. Then, a team of 2-3 students will develop an international eco-tourism campaign for diverse audiences of 18-25-year-old American citizens. 

Examples of Eco-Tourism in different countries are:

On YouTube channel of World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), there is a wonderful example of Eco-Tourism video, India – Exceptional Stories of Sustainable Tourism. 

Also, on the website of Ecotourism World, there is an article showing different examples of eco- tourism. The name of the article is “5 Inspirational Sustainable Tourism Videos for 2020.”

OBJECTIVE: By writing comprehensive research reports and presentations, the objective is to enhance understanding of global public relations strategies and raise awareness of eco-tourism in the country of students’ choice among 18-25-year-old American citizens. 



Students are required to conduct thorough research related to a country of their choice. Students will conduct a deep analysis of the public relations practice of their chosen country by understanding various structural variables such as political environment, cultural characteristics, media systems, and economic environment, and also provide an example to substantiate their argument. 

The report will elaborate on the history and development of public relations practices in that country, identifying when public relations practices/events began in that country, and examining how public relations is practiced today. Through this exercise, students will be able to identify the most important variables that influenced the practice of public relations in that country.

The research report must include an introduction followed by a brief summary of public relations development in their chosen country and concluding thoughts at the end, focusing on the important variables that they believe most influence the practice of public relations in their chosen country, as mentioned above.


As teams, students transition to the role of PR practitioner of their country of choice, and will collaborate to produce a comprehensive international eco-tourism campaign proposal targeting

18-25-year-old American residents, which they will present in class. In consultation with the instructor, each team will select a country and create ONE proposal. 

  • Each student has already done extensive research about his/her/their county in the CCA report assignment. Students will collaborate and can choose either country. Students can make this choice among themselves. Students will also conduct research related to target audience of 18-25 year old American residents, specifically related to their traveling habits, preferences, and expenditure criterion. 
  • Students will craft a campaign proposal for their chosen country. Ex: Consider their campaign proposal as a pitch to the decision makers. It should be persuasive (based on research); they should spend thousands of dollars on it.

The key sections are (1) Target audience, (2) Travel campaign “idea” overview- define purpose, (3) context-argument/ justification for the “idea [target nation analysis], (4) SWOT analysis of the country, (5) strategic (implementation) suggestions for the future.

© Copyright 2023 AEJMC Public Relations Division

To cite this article: Bhalla, N. and Rozelle, A. (2023). Eco-tourism campaigns as a framework for global
PR course
. Journal of Public Relations Education, 8(4), 240-250.

Vaccinate Against Hate: Using Activism to Teach Applied PR Research and Theory

Editorial Record: Submitted June 8, 2021. Revised December 3, 2021. Accepted March 25, 2022.


Arien Rozelle
Assistant Professor
Department of Media and Communication
St. John Fisher University
Rochester, New York


The social and political tensions of 2020 exposed an increased threat by hate groups attempting to spread extremist ideologies. Today, words have become weapons on social media and across all corners of the internet to persuade, recruit, mobilize and motivate. As undergraduate college students may seek to participate in activist work to combat hate and extremism, public relations research and theory can provide a roadmap for strategy.

Activism as a broad topic may pique the interest of many students and can be used to demonstrate the application of strategies, tactics, messaging and more. This activity attempts to situate activism into an existing introductory public relations course, by using it as the lens through which students examine the application of research and theory.

In this activity, students are given a fictional scenario: they have joined an anti-hate group on campus called Vaccinate Against Hate, which seeks to educate campuses across the country about hate groups and ways to fight the threat of extremist propaganda, conspiracy theories and calls to action. As a public relations student, they’ve been asked to work on developing a recruitment campaign, as well as an educational and awareness campaign for Vaccinate Against Hate.

Students will identify the research methods needed to craft Vaccinate Against Hate’s first campaigns. Then, they draw on public relations theories to guide their strategy. Through this activity, students are introduced to and apply a myriad of research methods and public relations theories, as well as the role of public relations in an activist context.

Keywords: teaching brief, in-class activity, activism, research, theory, public relations


The social and political tensions of 2020 exposed an increased threat by hate groups attempting to spread extremist ideologies. Today, words have become weapons on social media and across all corners of the internet to persuade, recruit, mobilize and motivate. As undergraduate college students may seek to participate in activist work to combat hate and extremism, public relations research and theory can provide a roadmap for strategy.

As noted by scholars like Mules (2021), there is increased discussion about the relationship between public relations practice and activism. But this discussion has not made its way into public relations curricula, other than in reference to activists being seen as oppositional to the objectives of an organization (Coombs & Holladay, 2013). Given that activists have successfully applied public relations strategies and tactics to achieve their objectives for at least 100 years (Ciszek, 2015), the study of their work can make a positive contribution to public relations curricula (Mules, 2021).

And, as Coombs and Holladay (2012) see the incorporation of activism studies into the curriculum “as central to broadening students’ education, it also holds promise for re-imagining the field and legitimizing the works of activists as an important component in public relations theory and research.” (p. 347)

While the addition of activism studies to public relations curricula may take time, or simply not be possible for many programs, one step that can be taken now is to incorporate assignments or activities with a focus on activism into existing courses.

Activism as a broad topic may pique the interest of many students and can be used to demonstrate the application of strategies, tactics, messaging and more. This activity attempts to situate activism into an existing introductory public relations course, by using it as the lens through which students examine the application of research and theory. As noted in the 2017 Commission on Public Relations Education report Fast Forward: Foundations and Future State. Educators and Practitioners, “Theory can get a bad rap because it sounds like all the stuff that never changes. In fact, public relations and public relations education, with our core commitment to research, are a master class in continually observing, questioning and adapting the theoretical drivers of what we do in practice. The world, the profession and education never stand still; our theory is in a similar state of adaptation.” (p. 16)

In this activity, students are given a fictional scenario: they have joined an anti-hate group on campus called Vaccinate Against Hate, which seeks to educate campuses across the country about hate groups and ways to fight the threat of extremist propaganda, conspiracy theories and calls to action. As a public relations student, they’ve been asked to work on developing a recruitment campaign, as well as an educational and awareness campaign for Vaccinate Against Hate.

Using Kathleen Kelly’s (2001) ROPES planning process (research, objectives, programming, evaluation, stewardship) as a starting point, students will identify the research methods needed to craft Vaccinate Against Hate’s first campaigns. Then, they draw on public relations theories to guide their strategy. Through this activity, students are introduced to and apply a myriad of research methods and public relations theories, as well as the role of public relations in an activist context.

STUDENT LEARNING OUTCOMES: This activity was used in Introduction to Public Relations and was created to align with the learning outcomes stated below. The student learning outcomes for this activity also correspond with selected student learning outcomes for the course:

  • Develop an awareness of the role that public relations plays within an organization and its key publics
  • Understand communication terms, theories, concepts and issues as they relate to public relations
  • Explore a range of real-life public relations scenarios through readings, discussions and assignments
  • Enhance communication skills as well as the ability to work individually and as part of a team
  • Demonstrate learning through discussions and assignments


This activity was created to align with the learning outcomes stated above. Here is a brief sampling of responses to a post-activity survey:

  • Did this activity help you to develop an awareness of the role that public relations plays within an organization and its key publics? Response: 100% YES (26 responses)
  • Did this activity help you understand communication/public relations terms, theories and models? Response: 100% YES (26 responses)
  • Did this activity help you better understand how theory applies to public relations? 100% YES (26 responses)

What did you learn about public relations from this activity?

  • “One thing that I learned about public relations from this activity was how different qualitative and quantitative research methods might be used to help inform a campaign.”
  • “I learned more in-depth about the theories behind the practice of PR and how they are utilized.”
  • “That research is really important before starting any type of PR campaign.”
  • “I learned about the specific research methods in a more in-depth way. Terms like two-step flow were introduced in a deeper way as well.”
  • “A better understanding of applied theory.”

As part of the assignment, students were also asked to identify a key takeaway, which they delivered at the end of their group presentations. Comments ranged from noting increased knowledge about public relations overall to a better understanding of the theories they had read about. Students also reported a more in-depth understanding of the importance of research to inform public relations campaigns, and that they developed a better understanding of how different qualitative and quantitative research methods might be used in practice.

Finally, students reported that this activity introduced them to the role of public relations in activism – something many stated they had not considered.

CONCLUSION: The introduction and application of research and theory in an ungraded assignment may have helped students to think critically and creatively about the content and assuaged fear about “getting a bad grade.” Theory tends to be a tough pill for many students to swallow but students were generally enthusiastic about participating in this activity.

Most groups had an easy time applying appropriate research methods and could quickly distinguish between qualitative and quantitative methods. Persuasion models were applied mostly accurately with most groups identifying inoculation theory as one of the most applicable theories to the assignment. Given the relevance and prevalence of social media influencers today, it came as little surprise that students were interested in the two-step flow theory. Other media and mass communication models were applied with varying degrees of understanding. Management theories proved confusing, which was expected, given that this assignment was deployed in an introductory course.

Overall, students dove into this assignment with energy and enthusiasm despite any challenges due to participating via Zoom. Using Google Slides, they created presentations that were well organized and demonstrated curiosity, critical thinking, and creativity. Ample time was provided for students to collaborate in class, which allowed them to adequately articulate their findings and present them to the class. As a result, most presentations exceeded expectations.

Future recommendations include providing students with an opportunity to conduct secondary research about activism prior to class in order to better prepare them for the assignment. Additional recommendations include adding details about the intended audience to the written directions, and revising the menu of theories provided to students, which notably did not include theories directly related to activism. Consideration may be given to remove the management models from the menu and replace them with activist theories. The addition of theories surrounding race, including Logan’s (2021) Corporate Responsibility to Race (CRR), may also be added as appropriate to the course.

Vaccinate Against Hate: Applying Research and Theory to the Fight Against Extremist Ideologies

This activity was created for an Introduction to Public Relations course in an online setting (Zoom) but can be adapted for upper-level research and theory classes, and/or to a course related to public relations and activism. It can also be easily adapted for use as an in-classroom activity.

Prior to class, students are asked to prepare for the activity by reading Page & Parnell chapter 4, and by listening to the segment “Neutralizing Hateful Propaganda,” from “No Silver Bullets,” an episode from WNYC’s On the Media podcast (2021). The episode features Kurt Braddock, author and professor of communications at American University, in a discussion about strategies and tactics to prevent radicalization before it happens.

In class, students are given the following fictional scenario:

Following a series of racist incidents involving members of the campus community, a student group has formed to combat hate and the proliferation of hate groups on college campuses across the country. The group, Vaccinate Against Hate, seeks to educate students about hate groups and works to find ways to combat the threat of extremism.

Vaccinate Against Hate needs communicators to help them recruit new members. As a student studying public relations, you have joined Vaccinate Against Hate to provide your expertise. You have been assigned two very important projects:

  1. Develop a recruitment campaign in order to increase membership for the organization.
  2. Research, plan and execute Vaccinate Against Hate’s first educational and awareness campaign to combat extremist ideologies. Your campaign will involve strategic messaging, media outreach, and elements of media literacy training.

Using the ROPES planning process as a starting point, you will identify the research needed in order to craft these campaigns, drawing on public relations theories to guide your strategy. Once you have identified the research and theories needed, you will present your findings to the class to make connections between research, theory, and practice.

Students are then placed in breakout groups of 4-5 students per group (40 minutes):

Step 1: In your group, discuss the fictional scenario and apply the podcast and fictional scenario to your readings.

Step 2: Discuss what strategies and tactics might be involved in the two campaigns for Vaccinate Against Hate.

Step 3: Create a slide deck that you will present to class. Required slides:

Slide 1: Identify the primary research methods that you would use in order to inform your initial recruitment campaign. Using the “Common Public Relations Research Methods” table (Page & Parnell, 2019, pg. 85) as a starting point, you will first consider the two type of research most appropriate: quantitative and/or qualitative. Then you will determine the appropriate method(s), which many include surveys, content analysis, digital analytics, focus groups, in-depth interviews and/or participant observation. Be specific in your responses and provide a rationale for using each method.

Media and mass communication models include: Agenda Setting/Framing, Two-Step Flow, Spiral of Silence, Diffusion of Innovations, Uses & Gratifications. Persuasion models include: Elaboration Likelihood Model, Inoculation, and Cialdini’s Principles of Influence. Management Models include: Excellence and Image Restoration Theory.

Slide 3: Identify the primary research methods that you would use in order to inform your educational and awareness campaign. Using the Common Public Relations Research Methods” table (Page & Parnell, 2019, p. 85) as a starting point, be specific in your responses and provide a rationale for using each method.

Slide 4: Identify public relations theories that will guide the strategy for your educational and awareness campaign. Using the table “Ten Theories for Public Relations” (Page & Parnell, 2019, p. 91), as a starting point, be specific in your responses and provide a rationale for using each theory.

Slide 5: Each team member will identify one key takeaway. What did you learn about the role of public relations in activism?

Step 4: Present your slide deck. Each team member must present one slide to the class. Each team has five minutes to present.

Additional Teaching Notes:

Suggested time allotment for an 80-minute class:

  • Activity introduction: 5 minutes
  • Group work: 40 minutes
  • Presentations: 30 minutes
  • Final remarks: 5 minutes

Suggestions for further reading for upper-level courses: These readings may provide useful for upper-level students and classes seeking to dive deeper into the application of attitudinal inoculation as well as the applied use of persuasion in radicalization and counter-radicalization.


Braddock, K. (2019). Vaccinating against hate: Using attitudinal Inoculation to confer resistance to persuasion by extremist propaganda. Terrorism and Political Violence. 33(7), 1-24.

Braddock, K. (2020). Weaponized words: The strategic role of persuasion in violent radicalization and counter-radicalization. Cambridge University Press.

Ciszek, E. (2015). Bridging the gap: Mapping the relationship between activism and public relations. Public Relations Review, 41(4), 447-455.

Commission on Public Relations Education. (2018). Fast Forward. Foundations + Future State. Educators + Practitioners. The 2017 Report on Undergraduate Education.

Coombs, W. T., & Holladay, S. J. (2012) Privileging an activist vs. a corporate view of public relations history in the US.Public Relations Review. 38(3), 347-353.

Coombs, W. T., & Holladay, S. J. (2013) It’s not just PR: Public relations in society. John Wiley & Sons.

On the Media (2021, February 19). No silver bullets. WNYC Studios.

Kelly, K. S. (2001). Stewardship: The fifth step in the public relations process. In R. L. Heath (Ed.) Handbook of Public Relations (pp. 279-290).  

Logan, N. (2021). A theory of corporate responsibility to race (CRR): Communication and racial justice in public relations. Journal of Public Relations Research. 33(1), 6-22. 

Mules, P. (2021). Making space for activism studies in public relations curricula. Public Relations Review, 47(3), 102033.

Page, J. T., & Parnell, L. J. (2019). Foundations of public relations: Research and Theory. Introduction to public relations: Strategic, digital, and socially responsible communication (pp. 80-106). Sage.

© Copyright 2022 AEJMC Public Relations Division

To cite this article: Rozelle, A. (2022). Vaccinate against hate: Using activism to teach applied PR research and theory. Journal of Public Relations Education, 8(2), 147-157.

Beyond slacktivism: Lessons for authentic activist messages through public relations (Teaching brief for Teaching Activism Special Issue)

Editorial Record: Submitted June 15, 2021. Revised November 16, 2021. Revised February 26, 2022. Accepted March 7, 2022.


Melissa Janoske McLean, Ph.D.
Owner, Tenure and Beyond Coaching, LLC

Kim Marks Malone, APR, Fellow PRSA
Instructor and Online Coordinator
Journalism and Strategic Media
University of Memphis
Memphis, TN


This teaching brief looks at two aspects of public relations work for organizations who wish to make issue/activist statements: how to write an effective statement that is followed by action, and how to engage in ethical conversation with publics about the statement. The brief also addresses what happens if there are no follow up actions, and how to build relationships with the dominant coalition in order to aid in writing statements that will match organizational actions. These two lessons each include a discussion of purpose, materials, objectives, activities, and assessment (including ACEJMC assessment format and terminology) for easy adaptation into the public relations classroom.

Keywords: brand activism, corporate activism, activist statement, ethics, activism, public relations


Building relationships with an organization’s or client’s publics often occurs through the writing and dissemination of statements. Historically, these statements are distributed through traditional news outlets but more and more often, they are also being shared via social media.

These statements are going beyond announcing new products or changes in organizational leadership; organizations are also offering statements of opinion and belief, especially about social issues, social policies, and social change, and publics are watching very closely. This teaching brief will look at how PR professionals can help clients make corporate social activism (CSA) count through writing effective statements that are followed-up by action, incorporating organizational values into the statement and supporting their organization’s or client’s beliefs. It’s important to note that the vocabulary for these types of statements and actions by organizations is developing with some referring to it as advocacy (Dodd & Supa, 2014) and some as activism (Chatterji & Toffel, 2018; Hambrick & Wowak, 2019; Oikkonen & Jääskeläinen, 2019). With the increased emphasis on an organization’s actions (Bhagwat et al, 2020) – both stand-alone and in support of statements – corporate social activism is the term used in this teaching brief.

While understanding how to write these statements effectively is important, it is also important for PR professionals to understand that not every public will agree with them all the time. PR professionals need to be prepared for backlash on these statements from publics who disagree with them. This lesson will look at how to acknowledge and work through their anger or vitriol with the organization or individual and to ethically communicate with these publics, and potentially make them allies. 

Follow through must play a role here. Organizations offering statements supporting a social issue or policy must be ready to follow-up with actions that also support it. This lesson will address what happens if that doesn’t occur, and how to write statements that will match organizational actions.

Public relations practitioners need to be able to write these activism statements, make sure their organization is supportive of the words and the necessary actions, and engage in ethical communication with their publics about the statement and the actions of the organization. Therefore, this teaching brief will include two lessons: 1) recognizing and crafting an effective activist statement and 2) building ethical and activist relationships, as well as a case study. Each lesson includes learning objectives, activities, and assessments.

Lesson #1: Identify & Practice Writing Activist Statements for an Organization


To help students understand how PR professionals can craft effective social activist statements for sharing on a client’s or organization’s social media channels by studying and writing similar statements.


A variety of social activist statements posted on social media channels or website from organizations, including Ben & Jerry’s (to complement the case study below), Peloton, Nordstrom, Dove, Uber, and Gushers. We also recommend the professor look to see if their own university/college/department wrote statements for analysis.


At the end of the lesson students will be able to:

  1. Discuss the differences between corporate social responsibility and corporate social activism.
  2. Recognize corporate social activism messages.
  3. Identify an organization’s values from their written social activism statements.
  4. Build connections between an organization’s stated values and social causes through their actions.
  5. Understand how to communicate authentically during times of heightened uncertainty.

Body of Lesson:

This lesson should start with a discussion of effective public relations writing and writing for activism and the differences between corporate social responsibility and corporate social activism.

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) can be defined as “business firms contributing in a positive way to society by going beyond a narrow focus on profit maximization” (McWilliams, 2015, p. 1). CSR focuses on an organization’s actions that “advance social good beyond that which is required by law” (Kang et al, 2016, p. 59) and the strategies organization’s take to demonstrate that it is operating ethically. 

Activism is defined as “the activity of working to achieve political or social change” (Oxford Dictionary, 2020). In the past, activism has been viewed by public relations scholars and practitioners from an organization-centric point of view (Ciszek, 2015) because PR professionals typically find themselves in the position of responding to activism directed at the organization. Smith (2005, p. 6) defined activism as a process where pressure is exerted on organizations (or other institutions) to change policies and practices. Today, stakeholders expect an organization to demonstrate its values through public support for or against public policies on social or moral issues through both statements and actions. Bhagwat et al (2020) call this phenomenon “corporate sociopolitical activism (CSA) also referred to as corporate social activism.

The main difference between CSR and CSA is that the focus of CSR efforts and initiatives are typically widely accepted and can be said to work within the framework of society’s current value system while CSA efforts and initiatives are typically polarizing and partisan (Bhagwat et al, 2020). An example that helps drive home the difference between CSR and CSA is Walmart. In 2015, Walmart stopped selling rifles commonly used in mass shootings, engaging in corporate social responsibility and distancing itself from the controversial firearms industry (Bhattarai, 2019). In 2019, following a mass shooting in one of its stores, Walmart CEO Doug McMillan urged lawmakers to enact stricter gun control measures, moving the retail giant from CSR to CSA (Tensley, 2019).

Important questions to ask and answer during the lesson include: What does persuasive writing look like in times of heightened uncertainty (typical during activist moments)? How do you humanize your communication efforts to demonstrate authenticity? How do you make sure a statement reflects corporate values and actions? How can you encourage publics who agree with you to extend their support via social media?

Key Concepts:

  • Persuasive writing
  • Communicating authentically
  • Organizational values
  • Uncertainty
  • Corporate social activism vs corporate social responsibility


  1. Have students read and evaluate a variety of statements from organizations, including Ben & Jerry’s and, if available, their own institution. What were the goals/objectives of these statements? What are the organizational values evident in the writing? How do they address their publics? Can students find evidence of the organization taking action to back up their statements? If not, what action(s) can they suggest? Why?
  1. Then have students practice writing their own statement for an organization and issue of their own choosing. How will they make sure it reflects organizational values? Who are the main publics they are trying to reach? Who are the stakeholders that may and may not support the organization’s statement and actions? How will they balance writing to those who support them with those who may not? Have students plan out at least one follow-on action that the organization can take after the statement is released to back up their words.  


  • Student understanding of concepts will be demonstrated by their contributions to the discussion.
  • The in-class writing exercise (Activity #2) will be peer reviewed and edited, and then their statements and recommended actions will be shared with the class for analysis and discussion.

How assessment of student learning will be met:


  • Learn about corporate social activism and the role that public relations plays in helping an organization demonstrate its values to stakeholders.
  • Learn the importance of an organization backing up social activism statements with action.
  • Analyze existing content on popular social media platforms to determine an organization’s or brand’s values, goals, and objectives.


  • Given social media content, distinguish the differences between corporate social responsibility and corporate social activism.
  • Recognize social issues and policies that align with an organization based on the organization’s stated values.


  • Improve persuasive writing and authentic communication skills through written corporate and brand social activism statements.
  • Choose appropriate actions for an organization to take in support of social activism statements.

Lesson #2: Ethical Activist Communication with Publics


To understand how to ethically communicate with and engage with publics regarding comments resulting from social activism statements, especially with followers who disagree with them or shame the organization for past actions or lack of action that supports the organization’s stand.


Access to Ben & Jerry’s, Peloton, Nordstrom, Dove, Uber, and Gushers social media pages (Facebook, Twitter and Instagram), with a focus on the content announcing corporate social activist statements and/or actions. Again, if their university/college/department issued a corporate activist statement and/or took action, this should be included as well. These posts should include access to a sample of comments and responses that agree and disagree with the organization’s statements/actions.


  1. Explain the differences between bandwagon activism and social activism.
  2. Identify techniques and language to humanize responses to hostile followers on social media platforms.
  3. Create authentic messages to effectively engage with hostile followers on social media platforms.
  4. Discuss the differences between audiences and communication strategies on popular social media platforms.

Body of Lesson:

This lesson will start by reviewing best practices for engaging with audiences on social media – from followers who applaud your brand to followers who are critical, emotional or abusive. For examples of best practices see Social Media: How to Engage, Share, and Connect (Luttrell, 2016) and Social Media for Strategic Communication: Creative Strategies and Research-Based Applications (Freberg, 2019). Additionally, the importance of organizational accountability (sharing about the action behind the words) and ‘owning’ past errors (apologizing for past organizational mistakes), will be emphasized. Students will discuss and evaluate the responses of organizations to both positive and negative comments to their statements on different social media platforms. Different types of activism (bandwagon and corporate social) will be looked at, discussed and differentiated.

Bandwagon activism happens when an organization’s social activist statements aren’t seen as genuine and authentic and aren’t followed up by action. When an organization’s statements are viewed by the public as “jumping on the bandwagon” and only one-time opportunities to employ temporary tactics, CSA can backfire (Sakoui & Faughnder, 2020). An example of this is when Amazon faced scrutiny for sharing statements supporting Black Lives Matter wihout implementing any real changes to reflect the statements into their internal policies and business practices (Paul, 2020).

Key Concepts:

  • Bandwagon activism versus corporate social activism
  • Humanizing the message
  • Adapting strategies for audiences on different platforms
  • Actions speak louder than words


  1. Have students look at an organization’s social activist statements on social media and find examples in the comments section of these posts that are in support of and against the organization’s shared statement to compare and discuss. Students will present their examples of negative and positive comments to the organization’s activist statements on social media to the class and discuss why the organization’s statement is successful or not, based upon the comments. (Was the statement deemed inauthentic? Did commenters see it as organizational bandwagon activism? Did the organization either not have or forget to mention potential actions to support message? Was it not aligned with the organization’s stated values?)
  1. Then, ask students to craft responses to both positive and negative social media comments on the organization’s social media activism content.


  • Student understanding of concepts will be demonstrated by their contributions to the discussion.
  • The in-class writing exercise (Activity #2) will be peer reviewed and edited, and then their responses will be shared with the class for analysis and discussion.

How assessment of student learning will be met:


  • Learn the differences between bandwagon activism and social activism.
  • Learn how to humanize messages with authentic language and empathy.


  • Given social media content, distinguish the differences between bandwagon activism and corporate social activism.
  • Understand the effective use of empathy to humanize an organization’s response to negative or hostile comments on the organization’s social justice statements.


  • Analyze existing social activism content on popular social media platforms to determine appropriate strategies for different channels.
  • Improve writing skills and humanizing messages through written responses to positive, negative/hostile, and/or emotional comments on social media platforms.

Case Study

A useful case study for organizational issue activism focuses on Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, and their social justice/Black Lives Matter (BLM) activism on social media. They are unabashed in their beliefs and stances, take proactive action to support those beliefs, and encourage people to both agree and disagree with them on social media.

Some of the actions they have taken to support their statements include creating the Ben & Jerry’s Foundation (launched 1985), which distributes money ($2.8 million in 2018) to support grassroots organizing for social and environmental justice. They have also created multiple new flavors to support their issues, including a Colin Kaepernick Change the Whirled Non-Dairy pint.

Additionally, Ben & Jerry’s supports issues that are relevant and important to their customers, employees, and leadership, allowing for a variety of issues and ways to support the causes. In 2016, when Ben & Jerry’s announced their support for BLM on social media, they had the largest reaction in their organizational history, including everything from cheering them on to announcing the customer was boycotting their product (Ben & Jerry’s, 2016; Ciszek & Logan, 2018).

Rob Michalak, Ben & Jerry’s Director of Social Mission Special Projects, said that “We respect that some people will have a set of values that are meaningful and important to them, and we may lose some customers. But what we’ve also learned is that those who share those values are more deeply loyal” (Forbes, 2020, para. 8). Fans on Facebook (one of their main platforms) support this: “I think I just need to buy another deep freezer for all the ice cream I’m gonna have to buy to counter everyone that claims they are gonna quit buying Ben & Jerry’s because wait for it…they speak out on injustice.”

Finally, Ben & Jerry’s believes that “purpose-driven companies really are the companies of the future; they’re profitable and more sustainable” (Forbes, 2020, para. 12). This belief, along with the idea that it’s simply the right thing to do, is clear through all their messaging, and that confidence is perhaps unique to their presentation and statements.

Ben & Jerry’s offers an interesting perspective on making social justice statements on social media, and they back up their words with clear and concrete actions. They also have a fun and yet sincere approach to engaging publics in conversation on social media. These qualities combine to make them an excellent case study for this module and for student learning.


Ben & Jerry’s. (2016, October 6). Why Black lives matter. Retreived from

Bhagwat, Y., Warren, N. L., Beck, J. T., & Watson, G. F. (2020). Corporate Sociopolitical Activism and Firm Value. Journal of Marketing, 84(5), 1-21.

Bhattarai, A. (2019, September 3). ‘The status quo is unacceptable’: Walmart will stop selling some ammunition and exit the handgun market. The Washington Post.

Chatterji, A. K., & Toffel, M. W. (2018). The New CEO Activists. Harvard Business Review, 96(1), 78-89.

Ciszek, E., & Logan, N. (2018). Challenging the dialogic promise: How Ben & Jerry’s support for Black Lives Matter fosters dissensus on social media. Journal of Public Relations Research, 30(3), 115-127.

Dodd, M. D., & Supa, D. W. (2014). Conceputalizing and Measuring “Corporate Social Advocacy” Communication: Examining the Impact on Corporate Financial Performance. Public Relations Journal, 8(3), 2-23.

Freberg, K. (2019). Social Media for Strategic Communication: Creative Strategies and Research-Based Applications. Sage.

Hambrick, D. C., & Wowak, A. J. (2019) CEO Sociopolitical Activism: A Stakeholder Alignment Model. Academy of Management Review, 46(1).

Kang, C., Germann, F., & Grewal, R. (2016). Washing Away Your Sins? Corporate Social Responsibility, Corporate Social Irresponsibility, and Firm Performance. Journal of Marketing, 80(2), 59-79.

Luttrell, R. (2016). Social Media: How to Engage, Share, and Connect. (2nd ed.). Rowman & Littlefield.

Marquis, C. (2020, June 9). Why Ben & Jerry’s won’t stay silent on white supremacy–or other social justice issues. Forbes. Retrieved from–jerrys-wont-stay-silent-on-white-supremacy-or-other-social-justice-issues/?sh=39e3d3016f07

McWilliams, A. (2015). Corporate social responsibility, in Wiley Encyclopedia of Management, 1-4.

Olkkonen, L., & Jääskeläinen, J. (2019). Corporate Activism: Exploring Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Communication. Academy of Managemenet Proceedings, 2019(17350).

Oxford Dictionary (2020). Activism, retrieved on Nov. 15, 2021 from

Paul, K. (2020, June 9). Amazon says ‘Black Lives Matter’. But the company has deep ties to policing. The Guardian.

Sakoui, A., & Faughnder, R. (2020, June 1). Solidarity, or joining the ‘bandwagon’? Some corporate activism backfires amid protests. Los Angeles Times.

Smith, M. F. (2005). Activism. In R. L. Heath (Ed.). Encyclopedia of public relations (pp. 5-10). Sage

Tensley, B. (2019, September 4). What Walmart’s gun control move says about America. CNN.

© Copyright 2022 AEJMC Public Relations Division

To cite this article: McLean, M.J. and Malone, K.M.(2022). Beyond slacktivism: Lessons for authentic activist messages through public relations. Journal of Public Relations Education, 8(2), 158-171.

Teaching Race and Cultural Sensitivity in Public Relations: The Case of Comic Relief and the Western Savior Ideology

Editorial Record: Original draft Submitted January 22, 2021. Revisions submitted February 21, 2021. Accepted March 22, 2021. Published March 2022.


Ashley Holbert
Graduate Student
Advertising & Public Relations
The University of Alabama
Tuscaloosa, AL

Damion Waymer, Ph.D.
Professor and Department Chair
Advertising & Public Relations,
The University of Alabama
Tuscaloosa, AL


In the following teaching brief, we undertake the task of providing a means for public relations educators to talk about diversity, race, equity, and inclusion in the classroom. We know that educators are asked to teach about these matters; yet, many of them do not have adequate resources from which to draw. So, we provide one such teaching brief. This teaching brief centers on the case of Comic Relief and its perpetuation of the Western Savior Ideology. It then takes readers through the experience of how Comic Relief evolved its approach after public outcry. We have provided critical questions and an essay question an instructor can use to facilitate discussion about and to assess, subsequently, student learning on diversity issues in public relations.

Keywords: nonprofit communication, comic relief, diversity, race, public relations education, international PR


In this age of heightened awareness about issues of social justice in the U.S. and abroad, it is becoming evident that if we are going to more fully prepare our students to enter the profession and be successful practitioners, we must address issues of diversity, equity, inclusion, whiteness, privilege, and social injustice in the classroom and overall curriculum (Waymer, 2020). As Flowers (2020) noted, several scholars in the discipline have called for greater intercultural, multicultural, diversity, and international skills and competency for public relations students in the U.S. (Bardhan, 2003; Creedon & Al-Khaja, 2005; Taylor, 2001; Tsetsura, 2011; Waymer, 2012a, 2012b; Waymer & Brown, 2018; Waymer & Dyson, 2011). Likewise, the Commission on Public Relations Education (2019), has recognized the centrality of diversity to public relations education—and has “encouraged it—one might say, mandated it (emphasis in original)—with new standards for accreditation of schools of journalism/mass communication and certification of public relations programs” (para. 3). In light of current events in our world and the Commission on Public Relations Education’s (CPRE) mandate, the time and opportunity are ripe for public relations education scholars to address diversity matters and racial justice more fully.

We know that educators are asked to teach about these matters; yet, many of them do not have adequate resources from which to draw. In the following teaching brief, we undertake the task of addressing diversity matters and racial justice more fully. After or as part of a PR unit on intercultural communication, diversity, or global public relations, the instructor should introduce the following case. It is best to use this case after the instructor has conducted at least one lecture or seminar on the topics of diversity, intercultural communication, or global public relations so students are at least familiar with concepts used to discuss these matters. At a minimum, if an instructor has no resources from which to draw, the instructor can assign for reading and discussion CPRE’s (2019) statement on diversity that details four critical definitions (of diversity, culture, segmentation, and stereotypes) and expected outcomes of diversity education in public relations.

STEP ONE: ensure the discussion on diversity in public relations has taken place with students. This sets the stage if faculty want to use the Comic Relief case study to facilitate teaching and discussion of diversity in public relations. The remainder of the case analysis should be covered over at least two class sessions (50-minute or 75-minute sessions).

To familiarize instructors with the case and to demonstrate why it is suitable for teaching diversity matters in public relations, we introduce the case of Comic Relief and provide adequate context for instructors to see its relevance and pedagogical potential.

Assigning and Teaching the Comic Relief Case
In a subsequent class, STEP TWO is to introduce the case of Comic Relief. Have them read about Comic Relief. Also allow them about five minutes to peruse the organization’s website After students have read about the history and mission of Comic Relief and have spent 5 minutes reviewing its website,
STEP THREE is to have students read the following news articles in class. The first is written by Sarah Young (2019), and the second was written by Kitty Wenham-Ross (2019). Also have the students read Comic Relief’s (2019) response to this situation on Twitter. Students should take about 20 minutes to read both news articles and Comic Relief’s brief statement issued on Twitter. Once students are finished reading these items, the instructor should ask Reflection Question 1 and then later Reflection Question 2 located at the end of this teaching brief. These questions should drive conversation with students for the remainder of the class session. At the end of the class session, after students have engaged in instructor-facilitated dialogue around Reflection Questions 1 and 2 above, the instructor assigns for homework the following readings to be completed before the next class session.

STEP FOUR sets the stage for what happens during the next class session and marks the beginning and in some instances the continuation of tough discussions of diversity issues in public relations. These are the assigned readings: Charity So White’s (2020) blog entry detailing its newfound partnership with Comic Relief; Pragya Agarwal’s (2019) news article/critique that highlights discriminatory language, ideals, and policies nonprofits use as they work with and describe the racially underrepresented communities that are the recipients or targets of their charity; Charity So White’s (2021a, b, c, d, e, f) Our Story, Our Vision, Our Calls to Action, Our Values, How We Talk, and Defining Racism pages on its website; Cipriani’s (2020) article that announces Comic Relief’s decision to hire new director of fundraising, Fatima Ribeiro; Comic Relief’s (2020a) press release that announces its decision to hire African directors to work on international appeal films and its (2020b) press release that reflects its attempts to address racial inequity; and finally Sandhu’s (2020) article detailing Comic Relief’s decision to stop using images of starving children in Africa for Red Nose Day events. All links are hyperlinked above.

STEP FIVE asks the instructor at the beginning of class to ask an open-ended question that solicits student feedback about their initial response to the assigned readings. Let this conversation and dialogue take place for about 10 minutes. Finally, the instructor should facilitate discussion further around the more structured questions: Reflection Questions 3 and 4.

STEP SIX allows the instructor the opportunity to assess student learning. The instructor can assign Reflection Question 5 as a short essay to be turned in at a later date, or if the instructor does not want to assess student learning for this unit or case example, the instructor can simply ask Question 5 during the same class period as the instructor asked Questions 3 and 4. Regardless of the approach to assessment the instructor takes, after completing this case analysis and discussion, students should be able to determine how well Comic Relief, via its public relations, was able to deal with diversity issues and needs, and they should be able to measure that success against the DEI outcomes prescribed in the CPRE (2019) statement on diversity provided as a supplement to this unit. In short, students get to see how an organization makes attempts to achieve the CPRE’s (2019) ideals about what public relations practitioners should be doing to help organizations be more equitable, diverse, and inclusive—as the commission espouses that “public relations practitioners should be at the forefront in helping organizations respond to these matters” (para. 12).

Now that we have presented specific guidelines for introducing the topic, this case, and facilitating discussion about this case and diversity issues in public relations, we turn to providing more in-depth details about the case for background and context for instructors.

Comic Relief Case Background and Context
Comic Relief, based in the United Kingdom, is one of the most prominent charities in the world. The organization was founded in 1985 by British comedian, Lenny Henry, and comedy writer, Richard Curtis. The organization is known for raising money, via late-night fundraising shows, for those afflicted by a famine in Ethiopia. By 1988, the organization began hosting its first Red Nose Day, a telethon on BBC, which raised more than £15 million euros for tackling poverty during this first event. (Comic Relief, 2013). Many celebrities, musicians, and comedians take part in Red Nose Day each year, and funds raised by the organization are awarded as grants for multiple charities worldwide; the charity has raised more than $1.4 billion since the nonprofit’s inception (BBC, 2015; Sandhu, 2020). In addition to live events, Comic Relief fronts a hefty budget for their cause-marketing collateral, which includes informational documentaries, original photography, and footage for their youthful and entertainment-driven social media presence.

In 2019, the charity came under fire for their use of predominantly White British celebrities in their fundraising and advertising campaigns. Simultaneously, claims began to arise about a lack of diversity across the nonprofit sector. In 2020, Comic Relief made the risky decision to completely eliminate the emotional, “tear-jerking” marketing tactic used by several other charities worldwide, and instead they pursued an unprecedented approach. The changes they made both internally and externally not only reflected the success of a company reinventing their marketing strategy, but they also provided a new framework for other nonprofit organizations seeking to integrate greater levels of diversity and agency at the local level.

Students likely are not familiar with the events of 2019 that damaged Comic Relief’s reputation nor are they likely familiar with the actions Comic Relief took in 2020 to address the criticisms and threats to its legitimacy. These factors make it a solid, non-US centric case to discuss and interrogate diversity and public relations.

Comic Relief Campaigns in Crisis
On February 27, 2019, Strictly Comes Dancing champion Stacey Dooley posted a photo to Instagram from Uganda, where she was working on a documentary with Comic Relief. In the photo, the redheaded media personality was cradling a small African child, with his fingers in his mouth and his eyes averted from the camera. The photo was captioned, “OB.SESSSSSSSSSSED”; it was also one of several similar posts made as part of the documentary’s marketing material. Within minutes, the internet blew up, full of belligerent social media users accusing Dooley of a “Western Savior complex” and begging her to take the photo down. Member of Parliament, David Lammy instigated the onslaught with a tweet, reading:

“The world does not need any more white saviours. As I’ve said before, this just perpetuates tired and unhelpful stereotypes. Let’s instead promote voices from across the continent of Africa and have serious debate.” (Young, 2019 paras. 3-5)

Immediately, Comic Relief was thrust into the spotlight, as social media users scrutinized the organization’s previous fundraising materials and use of celebrity influencers to promote their causes—a key aspect of their cause-marketing strategy. An earlier documentary from 2017 resurfaced, showing singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran trying to quickly pull money from his own wallet to front the cost of a hotel for two homeless children in Liberia. This documentary was called “poverty porn” (para. 1) by aid watchdog groups (McVeigh, 2017), and Sheeran and the organization were accused of using an emotional marketing appeal that sacrificed the dignity of the children pictured and painted a limited narrative where Sheeran was the leading character coming to the rescue (McVeigh, 2017). Other photos used as promotional material by Comic Relief showed media personalities Ben Shephard and Fearne Cotton handing out Malaria nets in Uganda—two smiling celebrities in a sea of otherwise sad faces (Wenham-Ross, 2019). Many social media users were outraged.

Comic Relief’s Response
Comic Relief used Twitter to issue a response almost instantaneously after Lammy’s tweet. Instead of apologizing for Dooley’s actions or their own, the organization expressed gratitude that Dooley “agreed to go to Uganda to discover more about the projects the British people have generously funded, and (we) make no apologies for this” (Comic Relief, 2019, para. 1). Further, Comic Relief expressed that they had offered David Lammy an opportunity to help them with their filming efforts, and he had not taken them up on the offer; however, “Lammy said it was “simply not true” that he had not responded to the offer, adding he had held two meetings with the organization” and that Comic relief “had “fallen short” of what he called its “public duty” to promote racial equality and serve minority communities” (Badshah, 2019, para. 5). Publics’ feelings toward Comic Relief’s response were divided as the story circulated around the United Kingdom and beyond. Some threatened to pull their aid from British charities altogether, while others emphasized that Comic Relief and the celebrities the organization used in their public relations efforts were not at fault for using what influence they had for a good cause.

Lack of Diversity in the Third Sector
Charity So White (2021d) used the spotlight around issues of racial insensitivity and inequality given to the third sector to make their case that a lack of diversity at the management level of nonprofit organizations and unaddressed issues of institutional racism account for the minimal or stereotypical representation of people in developing countries seen in marketing materials. Charity So White was formed just three months after Comic Relief’s crisis with Stacey Dooley, and Charity So White’s hashtag trended on Twitter as thousands of racial and ethnically underrepresented persons shared their experiences of exclusion while working in or with the charity sector. At the center of the outrage was training materials used by a charity named Citizens Advice and its guidelines for working with Black, Asian, and minority ethnic (BAME) communities; these guidelines were based on racist stereotypes about these communities being a “cash-centric culture,” having “low literacy levels,” and their having a fondness for “gender discrimination.” Citizens Advice presumed these stereotypical characteristics to be prevalent in these underrepresented cultures (Agarwal, 2019). Charity So White emphasized that these stereotypes could affect funding for charities led by racially and ethnically underrepresented persons working on the ground in developing countries, especially when third sector leadership demonstrated an inherent lack of diversity and racial insensitivity.

The Transformation of Comic Relief
Many had moved past Comic Relief’s crisis by August of 2019, accepting their statement about Stacey Dooley as well-intentioned naivety. Yet, the leadership at Comic Relief stayed engaged in the conversations happening in the third sector, and the leadership began to meet and strategize with the team at Charity So White at the end of 2019 about how Comic Relief could better represent and support communities in the countries, specifically developing African countries, where they had proverbial boots on the ground for their humanitarian efforts. Comic Relief planned strategic changes over the course of the next 18 months, and the result was a new cause-marketing and promotional strategy—one designed to minimize the Western savior ideology in their communication, and the angles with which they framed life in other cultures.

Changing Internal Leadership
While the leadership team at Comic Relief sought to transform their external communication strategy, they first looked inward for a new candidate to fill the role of Executive Director of Fundraising and Creative—the head of their integrated marketing efforts. In August of 2020, they selected Fatima Ribeiro. Ribeiro is a Muslim woman of Portuguese and Gujarati descent who served as marketing director for the nonprofit Islamic Relief over a span of five years; furthermore, Ribeiro received awards for her Ramadan fundraising campaigns, including Third Sector Marketing Campaign of the year in 2019 (Third Sector, 2019). Choosing Ribeiro for the job brought to the organization the perspective of a woman from a culturally diverse background whose stated mission and prior work experiences were focused on helping others understand the beliefs and values of marginalized communities. For example, in her previous Ramadan campaigns for Islamic Relief, she featured references to a verse from the Qur’an splashed on the sides of buses across the UK; the marketing message generated traffic from those outside the Muslim faith to their website. Many persons from those outside the Muslim faith, out of curiosity, looked up the references, and several gained a greater understanding of the month of Ramadan and its significance to those taking part in the spiritual ritual (Ahmed, 2019; Third Sector, 2019). Hiring Ribeiro can be seen as Comic Relief’s newfound commitment to inclusiveness in their storytelling and marketing techniques.

Prioritizing Local Voices and Creating New Influencers
After Ribeiro’s hiring, the first external decision Comic Relief made in October of 2020 was to stop sending British celebrities, like Dooley, to African countries as influencers. The charity decided to remove footage of starving and ill children from their documentaries, even though that particular tactic was considered effective because it successfully elicited emotion from stakeholders who often gave money to support needy children (Sandhu, 2020); however, such imagery did not provide a more accurate representation of development on the continent as a whole. To adequately portray life in the countries where they operated, Comic Relief announced plans to bring members of communities on air as storytellers, captured by local filmmakers and photographers. In a press release dispatched on October 28, 2020 by Comic Relief, President and co-founder, Sir Lenny Henry stated:

“African people don’t want us to tell their stories for them, what they need is more agency, a platform and partnership. I have seen first-hand what it means for African communities to see someone who looks just like them in charge of directing films.”(Comic Relief, 2020a, para. 12)

Furthermore, Kenyan filmmaker and director of one of Comic Relief’s newest documentaries, Eugene Muigai, added:

“This opportunity makes people like us feel like we are finally being listened to. For so long we’ve seen people tell our stories, misinterpreting intentions, beliefs and the values we hold. It has led to a loss of culture and pride among our people.” (Comic Relief, 2020a, para. 17)

Comic Relief also announced that high profile supporters could continue to play an influential role in entertaining and narrating during their Red Nose Day telethons, and they could continue appearing in and supporting other marketing materials created in the United Kingdom; however, the representation of Africans and African culture would be led by members and directors of those local communities. Comic Relief followed these decisions with an online event, releasing three new films from Kenyan filmmakers tackling the difficult topics of mental health, climate change, and child marriage (Comic Relief, 2020a).

While Comic Relief’s initial response to ‘White Savior’ criticisms was deflective and unapologetic, the organizational changes made in the following 18 months reveal time spent listening and seeking to understand the responsibility given to the third sector to help facilitate storytelling. The result is a series of initiatives which set a new precedent for charities with a substantial level of exposure, including changes to the marketing tactics they use. Comic Relief’s CEO, Ruth Davidson, emphasized that despite the radical changes to the organization’s practices, they still knew that they could maximize their efforts to fund those in need and reduce donor fatigue, by showing the ways that developing countries across the world are changing for the better. Davidson stated, “what prompts people to give is an emotional connection—that doesn’t have to be pity. It can be joy, it can be anger, it can be a sense of positivity and hope” (Sandhu, 2020, para. 6). All of the organization’s changes—including the broadcasting of their localized films—will be on full display in March of 2021, with their internationally acclaimed and televised Red Nose Day.

Reflection Questions

Do you believe that Comic Relief did anything wrong in their initial response to criticisms of perpetuating the Western Savior ideology? Why or why not?

Given the backlash, in retrospect what specifically could Comic Relief’s public relations team have done differently in their initial response to backlash for Dooley’s photo?

Given your knowledge of diversity issues in public relations, how could a more nuanced understanding of cultural sensitivity, diversity, equity, inclusion, or race have allowed Comic Relief to execute a better humanitarian campaign?

What are alternative ways that influencers can aid in promoting a nonprofit organization to their audiences without taking the spotlight off of local efforts?

Evaluate Comic Relief’s decisions to change course, to partner with Charity So White, to hire Fatima Ribeiro as Executive Director of Fundraising and Creative, and to change how they created campaigns—by using local filmmakers and photographers for example. Share your evaluation and thoughts.


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Badshah, N. (2019, February 28). ‘White saviour’ row: David Lammy denies snubbing
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Comic Relief. (2020a, October 28). Comic Relief to hire African film makers to work on new international appeal films.

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Comic Relief. (2019, February 28). Our statement regarding the recent ‘White Saviour’
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cultural competency in public relations education. Public Relations Review, 31(3), 344–354.

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assignment provides students with multicultural perspectives. Journal of Public Relations Education, 6(1), 85-98.

McVeigh, K. (2017, December 4). Ed Sheeran Comic Relief film branded ‘poverty porn’ by aid watchdog. The Guardian.

Sandhu, S. (2020, October, 28). Comic Relief to stop using images of starving children in Africa for Red Nose Day after ‘white saviour’ row.

Taylor, M. (2001). Internationalizing the public relations curriculum. Public Relations
Review, 27(1), 73-88.

Third Sector (2019). Third Sector Awards 2019: Marketing Campaign of the Year – Islamic Relief UK for Ramadan Campaign 2018. Retrieved from

Tsetsura, K. (2011). How understanding multidimensional diversity can benefit global public relations education. Public Relations Review, 37(5), 530-535.

Waymer, D. (2020). Addressing disciplinary whiteness and racial justice advocacy in
communication education. Communication Education. 10.1080/03634523.2020.1811362

Waymer, D. (2012a). Broaching an uncomfortable subject: Teaching race in an
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and applications. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.

Waymer, D., & Brown, K. A. (2018). Significance of race in the US undergraduate
public relations educational landscape: Reflections of former public relations students. Journal for Multicultural Education, 12(4), 353-370.

Waymer, D., & Dyson, O. L. (2011). The journey into an unfamiliar and uncomfortable
territory: Exploring the role and approaches of race in PR education. Journal of Public Relations Research, 23(4), 458-477.

Wenham-Ross, K. (2019, March 15). Comic Relief’s vision of Africa isn’t funny. Foreign

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saviour’ row. The Independent.

© Copyright 2022 AEJMC Public Relations Division

To cite this article: Holbert, A. & Waymer, D. (2022). Teaching Race and Cultural Sensitivity in Public Relations: The Case of Comic Relief and the Western Savior Ideology. Journal of Public Relations Education, 8(1), 116-131.

Business Literacy and Soft Skills: Proposal-Writing in the Student Firm

Editorial Record: Original draft submitted November 24, 2020. Revisions submitted June 10, 2021, and September 27, 2021. Accepted September 27, 2021. Published March 2022.


Margaret Ritsch, Ph.D.
Scholarly Assistant Professor
Edward R. Murrow College of Communication
Washington State University
Pullman, WA


This teaching brief presents an experiential learning assignment that enables undergraduate students who work in a student firm to develop business literacy, soft skills and hard skills such as persuasive writing and cost estimating. The Commission on Public Relations Education reported agreement among employers that it is important for entry-level practitioners to have business acumen, and that such knowledge is lacking (Commission Report, 2018, p. 56). This entrepreneurial learning activity helps to address a gap between what the typical public relations curriculum offers and the business skills and knowledge that employers value, particularly in agencies.  

Keywords: soft skills, public relations, advertising, entrepreneurship

Acknowledgements: Margaret Ritsch developed this teaching activity at Texas Christian University. She is now a Scholarly Assistant Professor at Washington State University. The author would like to acknowledge Michael Sherrod, Entrepreneur-in-Residence at the Neeley School of Business at Texas Christian University, for some of the ideas contained in the learning activity.

In many student firms, students assume the responsibility for bringing in clients, both pro-bono and fee-for-service. Winning new client accounts is a daunting challenge for many students, and it offers a rich opportunity for learning how the agency industry operates, gaining basic financial knowledge and developing soft skills such as listening, teamwork, flexibility and being assertive.

The complex effort also helps students develop an entrepreneurial mindset, which may be helpful given that today’s students are graduating into a “gig” economy, a self-employment trend that appears to be accelerating in the U.S. and elsewhere (Alton, 2018). The Bureau of Labor Statistics does not offer current data on independent contractors, but a McKinsey Global Institute study found that between 20% to 30% of working-age adults in the U.S. and Europe engaged in some form of independent work (Manyika et al., 2016).

In an agency, developing new business requires identifying, researching and meeting with a potential client, asking good questions, listening carefully and probing to assess the client’s situation. It requires determining the services that can help the client achieve its business goals, developing a scope of work, estimating costs based on the time required to do the work (and outside costs), and writing a persuasive business proposal. Agency professionals must present the proposal, respond to the client’s feedback and persuade the client to hire the firm. 

In one student firm, the instructor developed an ungraded assignment that would help students develop these skills as they worked to bring in new clients. For the assignment, students would need to develop cost estimates based on the number of hours that would be required to produce deliverables, plan events or post on social media throughout the semester, for example. Students were required to read several chapters of The Art of Client Service to deepen their understanding of pricing and billable time (Soloman, 2016). To lay the groundwork, the advisor introduced the concept of billable hours and presented the financial calculations that agencies use to determine an employee’s productivity. This information helped students understand agency operations and profitability, and to view the time they spent in the student firm as billable. The advisor also helped students understand their monetary value to agencies if they decided to intern or work at an agency after graduation. 

As learning objectives, the instructor aimed for students to: 

  • Understand the concept of billable time and see themselves as professionals whose skills and abilities contribute to an agency’s profitability.
  • Learn how to identify a new business opportunity, set up a business meeting and meet face-to-face with a potential client.
  • Learn to frame questions and listen carefully in a meeting to determine a client’s situation and business goals. 
  • Define the specific strategic communication deliverables services that would help a client achieve its business goals, and the metrics for evaluating outcomes.
  • Develop a detailed scope of work for a client and assess the amount of time that will be required to produce the work. Estimate the cost-range for based on the time required or perceived value of the service.
  • Write a persuasive, two- to three-page proposal that includes cost estimates.  (For pro bono clients, students were to present the cost estimates as donated).
  • Gain experience in presenting a proposal to a client in person, receive client feedback and revise accordingly.


Many employers value business literacy in their new hires, and for this reason the Commission on Public Relations Education has urged undergraduate programs to design curricula and experiential learning that help students understand business processes. In a 2013 survey of Arthur W. Page Society members, Ragas and Culp (2014) found that 85% of participants (n=112) indicated that it was “extremely important” for public relations and advertising professionals to have a strong grounding in business fundamentals as part of their education and training. They and the Commission on Public Relations Education have recommended adding business concepts to existing, required courses such as public relations management and campaigns, and developing new, stand-alone courses in business fundamentals. A student firm provides another opportunity to introduce business concepts and processes as an experiential, hands-on learning experience. 

The Commission reported agreement among employers that it is important for entry-level practitioners to develop business acumen, but such knowledge is lacking (Commission on Public Relations Education, 2018). The report provides a vague definition of business acumen: “understanding how business works, to provide the contextual significance of public relations” (Commission on Public Relations Education, 2018, p. 28).

It is helpful to think about the concept of business acumen a bit differently, and to consider Merriam-Webster’s definition of acumen: “keenness and depth of perception, discernment or discrimination, especially in practical matters” (Merriam-Webster, n.d.). This definition echoes some of the soft skills that researchers have found are important in the workplace.  

DiStaso et al. (2009) found agreement among professionals and academics that entry-level public relations employees bring both hard and soft skills to the workplace, and the latter should include creativity, flexibility, initiative, interpersonal skills and the ability to take criticism.  Employers across numerous industries have reported that they desire new graduates to be good listeners who are self-aware, adaptable, assertive and collaborative (Commission on Public Relations Education, 2018, p. 55).  According to Windels et al. (2013), vital soft skills in the advertising field include critical thinking, persuasion, interpersonal, verbal communication and presentation ability. 

For the training and development field, Gargiulo et al. (2006) wrote a practical guide to developing business acumen and described it as encompassing three critical areas: relational, communication and financial. Relational skills are needed to build and sustain professional, trusting relationships with peers, clients and customers. Communication skills needed for business acumen include writing memos, e-mails, white papers, proposals and presentations. Financial skills include developing budgets and cost estimates.

The proposal-writing assignment helps students develop these relational, communication and financial skills while learning a core business process in the agency industry. Students work in pairs to develop their proposals, engage with clients, and collaborate with teammates to estimate the time required to complete tasks. They must develop listening skills in order to assess a client’s situation, needs and concerns. They work on their persuasive communication skills, both verbal and written, that are important for entry-level jobs across industries. Writing a persuasive proposal is a sophisticated and challenging exercise, and students need as much writing experience as possible to be successful in the public relations field. Students learn to develop cost estimates and present basic financial information to clients, and this experience may set them apart from other entry-level practitioners in all types of work settings. By definition, the agency industry exists to serve clients, and clients come and go. The author of this article worked at two mid-sized agencies, and all employees were expected to be alert to new business opportunities and prepared to participate in new business pitches. This assignment helps to prepare students to be valuable members of an agency team right from the start. 

The learning experience also helps prepare students for the vagaries of the “gig” economy and those difficult times when they may find themselves unemployed. They learn how to identify a potential client, put a price tag on the deliverables and services they can provide, and follow a formal business process to sell these services. 

Learning outcomes

While an ungraded assignment, students received feedback on the first draft of their proposals. The advisor evaluated the proposals for writing style, in particular clarity and persuasiveness; conventions such as grammar and punctuation; professional formatting; thoroughness in the scope-of-work description; and accuracy for cost estimating.  

Several students remarked that the assignment was the most valuable and exciting learning activity of the semester. Many displayed a sense of exhilaration, even joy, when they succeeded in bringing in a new client. The revenue from fee-for-service accounts helped to pay for perks such as student stipends, pizza days and an awards program, and students understood that their entrepreneurial efforts made these benefits possible. 

Some students began freelancing while in college, and others developed business cards and websites for freelancing after graduation. The author reached out via LinkedIn to several former students to learn what they may have gained from the experience. One 2017 graduate responded in this way: “I learned to anticipate needs in advance as well [as] develop solutions to meet those needs. It was also a great experience learning business processes at this stage of schooling (introduced me to some real-world learning experiences).” A 2016 graduate who works at a global PR firm wrote: 

That exercise was my first foray into thinking about pricing a service. Goods tend to have an obvious value. Services tend to have a relative value. A lot of what we end up needing to do in pitches is to justify our estimates and the rates we quote our labor at. The [student firm name withheld] exercise got the gears turning in my head.

This proposal-writing activity is ideally suited to a student firm where students get to work directly with external clients and develop new business. Important relational and interpersonal communication skills are gained from meeting with potential clients and determining their problems and specific needs for strategic communication services. Pitching and presenting the proposals in a business setting caps off the learning experience, as students receive feedback from an actual client (not just the instructor).

Nevertheless, a modified version of the activity could be used in a PR writing or campaigns class with a mock client. One approach could be to present students with a brief that outlines a client problem in detail. Students could then work in teams to develop a persuasive business proposal that addresses the problem and includes cost estimates based on the estimated amount of time required to do the work.  Students could role-play the initial meeting with clients, and later the pitch.  

Faculty members with agency experience are uniquely qualified to lead the learning activity. Alternatively, an agency professional could be invited in to meet with students, introduce the concept of billable hours and describe the process for new business development.  

Whether for an actual or mock client, the proposal-writing activity helps students gain an understanding of business processes as well as develop professional writing skills. It is the type of experiential learning activity that follows recommendations by the Commission on Public Relations Education that the undergraduate curriculum help students gain business acumen before they graduate.


Alton, L. (2018, January 24). Why the gig economy is the best and worst development for workers under 30. Forbes.

Commission on Public Relations Education. (2018). Fast forward foundations + future state. educators + practitioners. Commission on Public Relations Education.

DiStaso, M. W., Stacks, D. W., & Botan, C. H. (2009). State of public relations education in the United States: 2006 report on a national study of executives and academics. Public Relations Review, 35(3), 254-269.

Gargiulo, T. L., Pangarkar, A., Kirkwood, T., & Bunzel, T. (2006). Building business acumen for trainers: Skills to empower the learning   function. John Wiley & Sons.

Manyika, J., Lund, S., Bughin, J. & Robinson, K., Mischke, J., & Mahajan, D. (2016). Independent work: Choice, necessity and the gig economy. McKinsey Global Institute.

Merriam-Webster. (n.d.). Acumen. In dictionary. Retrieved January 4, 2020, from

Ragas, J. & Culp, R. (2014). Public relations and business acumen: Closing the gap. Institute for Public Relations.

Soloman, R. (2016). The art of client service: The classic guide. Wiley. 

Windels, K., Mallia, K. L., & Broyles, S. J. (2013). Soft skills: The difference between leading and leaving the advertising industry? Journal of Advertising Education17(2), 17-27.


Go Get It! New Business Proposals

Working in pairs, develop a two- to three-page professional proposal after meeting with a potential client.

  1. You and your partners will:
  • Talk among yourselves. Determine: What’s your passion? What are you into? What’s a local business or nonprofit that you like or that you’ve always wanted to learn about?
  • Try to hone in on a business or nonprofit that you believe would benefit from our services and that you think would be a good fit for a student agency. Other ideas about how to find clients:
    • Find companies whose external communications appear to be weak
    • Find companies that are growing rapidly or that are opening
    • Use your personal network and the firm’s existing clients
  • Research the business or nonprofit. Read the mission statement. Study the website. Learn as much as you can.
    • The first few minutes you research a company are when your best ideas will flow. Write them down. Your first impressions are important.
  • You must contact the potential client this week to set up a meeting next week, or no later than the following week. Aim to meet with a decision-maker (owner, manager, marketing director, etc.)
    • When you meet, learn the WHY. In other words, why they started the business, or why the organization exists.
    • Connect our values with the client’s values. Our values: relationships, ambition, challenge, collaboration, learning. Are we a good fit?
    • Ask good questions.
    • Be encouraging. The more they talk, the more you learn.
    • Tell them about the student firm.
    • Find out what challenges or opportunities they face (so that you can determine whether they would benefit from our services, and which services they really need).
  1. The essential question for you to understand before you start drafting the proposal is: “What challenges and opportunities does this business face?” If you can find out the answer to this question, your imagination and creativity will take off. As a team, you can then brainstorm and determine the answer to the next essential question: “What services can we provide that will help this business/nonprofit take advantage of these opportunities and achieve its business objectives?”
  2. Jointly write a proposal. Your proposal should be written in a compelling, conversational, straightforward manner using AP Style. Read pp. 11-121 in The Art of Client Service for guidance. Specify the costs for each element, activity or deliverable that we can provide to help the business/nonprofit achieve its goals.
  3. Consult with all the appropriate staff members to get a ballpark estimate of how much time it will take for each person to do his/her particular piece of the project.
  4. Include in your proposal any outside costs, such as printing, postage and packaging, and digital or print advertising. If outside costs are impossible to procure or estimate, then include a line that says something like “Outside costs such as printing, digital advertising, web hosting, etc. are not included in the estimate.
  5. Your pricing should be based on the amount of time that a project will realistically take, using the rate of $50/hour or $25 for project management. Pricing can also factor in the perceived value of the service or deliverable. For example, a client might be willing to spend much more on a website redesign than on an annual report, even though the projects may require the same amount of time. Be sure to include time for the AE’s “project management.” This is the time required for weekly phone calls, setting up meetings, problem-solving, delegating work, etc. Project management can be billed at $25/hour.
  6. Your estimate should include a brief description of the firm and a convincing “why hire us” statement. You can find good, succinct language on our website.
  7. Include your goals for the client project, a detailed description of the scope of work and all the deliverables to be included, cost estimates for each element and total cost, and the estimated timeline for completion. The proposal should end with a thank you and signature line for you and the client to sign and date. It should be concise, written in short paragraphs with headers or sub-heads. Bullets are ok.
  8. Write in plain English. A conversational tone is warmer and more inviting.
  9. Use professional letter format with the firm’s logo, date, client contact’s name, title, company name, complete mailing address.


On making phone calls to prospects to set up meetings:

Try to make it a “warm” call rather than a cold call. Warm: “So and so suggested I call you.” Make it short. Leverage being a student. Have an elevator pitch ready: “We’d really like to do some work for you. We noticed …. Can we meet … it won’t take more than 15 minutes of your time.”

The elevator pitch:

Prepare a one-minute pitch that says: This is who I am, this is who the student firm is. This is why I’m here. This is how we can help you. Sound intelligent. Bring solutions. Be prepared to use this on the phone or in a meeting (or maybe on the elevator!).

© Copyright 2022 AEJMC Public Relations Division

To cite this article: Ritsch,M. (2022). Business Literacy and Soft Skills: Proposal-Writing in the Student Firm. Journal of Public Relations Education, 8(1), 132-143. 

Crisis Response Plan Group Project

Editorial Record: Original draft submitted April 12, 2021. Revisions submitted July 22, 2021. Accepted August 17, 2021. Published March 2022.


Nia Johnson, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Communication and Media
Howard College of Arts and Sciences
Samford University
Birmingham, AL


This project allows students to take an important chapter from the course text and apply it to a real-world situation: they create and respond to a hypothetical crisis, based on the information discussed in class and in the text. In doing so, they utilize information literacy, critical thinking, and other analytical skills. Learning objectives, steps and procedures, and assessment information are discussed.

Keywords: bloom’s taxonomy, group project, crisis communication, crisis response, crisis management

Introduction and Rationale

Textbooks and case studies can only take students so far in mass communication curricula; the best learning involves experience and application. This may be especially the case for public relations education. While traditional textbook knowledge is important, particularly for beginning PR students, helping those students see the information played out in reality is a great way to ensure actual learning has taken place, rather than simple exposure or memorization. Kolb’s (1984) work on Experiential Learning Theory (ELT) posits that learning is a process where knowledge is acquired by experiences. According to this theory, knowledge obtained from successful experiential learning is cyclical, “where the learner ‘touches all the bases’—experiencing, reflecting, thinking, and acting—in a recursive process that is responsive to the learning situation and what is being learned” (Kolb & Kolb, 2005, p. 194). Nilson (2016) also provides researched-based findings to help understand how students learn best, and suggests that true learning can be achieved by “thinking about the meaning of the new knowledge and connecting it to what [students] already know; …interaction with others; …actively engag[ing] in an activity; …receiv[ing] the new material multiple times but in different ways; …[and] making and correcting mistakes [rather than] being correct in the first place” (Nilson 2016, pp. 4-5). 

One subject area that fits naturally with experiential learning methods is crisis management, which is an important part of the overall public relations curriculum. Well-known crisis management researcher and theorist Timothy Coombs (2001) stated that:

“crisis management moves the public relations role to the managerial function and requires the development of many skills and knowledge points… the need for crisis management in practice increases each year as the technology and stakeholders continue to create new crises and pressure how organizations should respond to crises.” (p.89) 

The internationally recognized accreditation program for public relations practitioners, Accreditation in Public Relations (APR), stresses crisis and issues management as 15% of the knowledge, skills, and abilities tested as part of the examination process (Universal Accreditation Board, 2021). Further, after in-depth interviews with 29 advertising and public relations agency leaders, Neill and Schauster (2015) reported that the necessity of crisis and issues management skills for undergraduates was emphasized 70 different times by 25 of the participants. 

The activity described here was designed to foster the learning of crisis management and communication by utilizing an experiential learning method that helps students engage in their own learning, interact with others, and actively, critically think about the material. This project allows students to take an important chapter from the course text and apply it to a real-world situation: they create and respond to a hypothetical crisis, based on the information discussed in class and in the text. In doing so, they utilize information literacy, critical thinking, and other analytical skills. 

This project is designed as the second of two main assignments for an introductory public relations class. The first assignment involves cold-calling and interviewing a public relations practitioner who has been in the industry a minimum of five years, and writing and presenting a report about the information learned in that interview. That assignment helps students to understand clearly what public relations is and that a practitioner needs to be knowledgeable of and skillful in an array of areas. Typically, the students in the class are sophomores or juniors who will be starting their PR practicum sequence in the next academic year. This class is their first introduction to the profession, but this assignment takes place in the second half of the semester after learning and being initially assessed on the material needed to complete the assignment. 

Learning Objectives

This activity enables students to demonstrate knowledge and application of every step in the crisis management lifecycle, as discussed in class and in the assigned text: chapter 10 of Wilcox et al.’s (2015) Public Relations: Strategies & Tactics. Wilcox et al.’s (2015) approach to crisis management involves a lifecycle, where a potential crisis is first identified in the proactive stage, developing crises are planned for in the strategic phase, full-blown crises are responded to in the reactive stage, and reputation damage is assessed and addressed in the recovery stage. The reactive and recovery stages also include applying Benoit’s (1995) image restoration strategies.

Students are able to master this new-to-them material through an assignment that caters to a variety of learning styles and applies multiple categories of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives (Bloom, et al., 1956). Therefore, this activity is designed to achieve six learning objectives (LO):

  1. Explain the role public relations plays in responding to a crisis.
  2. Explain the four phases of the conflict management life cycle.
  3. Identify and research issues facing an organization that require attention or that could lead to a crisis situation.
  4. Identify important steps to deal with a crisis as it occurs.
  5. Design a crisis communication response plan.
  6. Present your plan and defend your decisions.

The activity: Steps and Procedures

The students are first divided into groups of roughly equal numbers. The instructor should be the one to assign students to groups, making sure each group contains students of mixed-ability and is as diverse as possible. Each group is instructed to choose a company or organization that most group members are already perfunctorily familiar with, and pretend that they are the public relations department for that organization. As the PR department for their chosen company, each group is tasked with crisis response: they are to anticipate any issues that might turn into crises for their organization and be prepared to respond to crises that occur. Together, each group is to:

  1. Choose an organization to “work” for and research that chosen company.
  2. Analyze the company’s current situation, based on the research collected. This involves writing a basic situation analysis, including an analysis of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT).
  3. Scan the environment of the company and industry to identify potential issues that could develop into crises for the organization. 
  4. Choose one of the issues identified, and envision how that issue could develop into a crisis that could plausibly impact the organization. This step involves designing and describing a particular crisis in detail.
  5. Develop a specific crisis communication plan to respond to the designed crisis.
  6. Present the research, designed crisis, and crisis response plan to the class.

With this activity, students are able to “produce new or original work,” the pinnacle of Bloom’s taxonomy, but it also requires them to work their way through each of the proceeding categories (Bloom, et al., 1956). In addition, the collaborative effort of the group work component contributes to the educational process. “The research on the effects of group learning has focused on several variables—achievement/productivity (learning), positive attitudes and ethics, the quality of interpersonal relationships, and psychological health—and group work enhances all of them for students at all educational levels and of all backgrounds” (Nilson, 2016, p. 180).


Students are instructed that this project will result in a 5-10-page paper that should include the information described below, which also serves as the grading rubric for the paper. Each section of the paper corresponds to one of the stages in the crisis management lifecycle as presented in the assigned text (Wilcox et al., 2015). In addition, each group will also present their research, designed crisis and crisis response plan. The presentations should be 10 minutes, involve every member of the group, and include a visual aid. An additional 30-point value is added to the final paper grade for the presentation. 

  1. Company information and background (10%)

At a minimum, this section should answer: What is the company; what do they do; what services or products do they provide; how many employees and locations do they have? Have they ever faced any major crises? If so, what was their response or the result? This section should also include a SWOT analysis and any other background information deemed relevant.

  1. Environmental scan (Proactive Phase; 10%):

Identify emerging trends, concerns, or issues—both within the organization, within the larger industry, or within society—likely to affect the organization in the next few years. Predict problems and anticipate threats to the company. This involves the reading, listening, and watching of current affairs with an eye to the organization’s interests. Identify and describe at least five issues with the most potential to develop into crises for the organization. Why were those issues selected? What makes them the most likely to cause a crisis?

  1. Crisis (15%):

Choose one of the issues identified in the environmental scan to develop into a full-blown crisis. Consider all possible factors about that crisis. Every detail about it is up to the group to design: What is it? Where did it start? Who does it involve? What level of blame could be accurately placed upon the company? How long does the crisis last? Does the media make the crisis public before the company is able to? etc.

  1. Crisis Response Plan (Strategic and Reactive Phases; 25%):

Design the crisis management and communication plan for the crisis described in the previous section. At a minimum, this section should answer: What are the main messages? Who are the spokespeople and what employees will be made available for comment? What/where is the media headquarters? What main crisis response strategy and image restoration strategy should be employed (denial, excuse, justification, etc.)? Explain the reasoning behind every decision (why were those choices made regarding messages, strategy, spokespeople, etc.).

  1. Conclusion (Recovery Phase; 10%):

What is the final result? What is the anticipated result if the company followed the crisis response plan exactly as designed? What next steps should be taken once the crisis is over?

Evidence of Student Learning

Working with a group to identify issues, create a crisis and respond to that crisis provides a cooperative learning experience, similar to the “think, share, pair” method that Nilson (2016) has found to be a particularly effective learning style. It also helps ensure that students have not simply learned the material in a way that allows them to just answer a question, but to reason with the material and fully apply it to real life scenarios. All of this is enabling the students to move through Bloom’s Taxonomy in a demonstrable way.

In practice, I’ve found that students tend to split up the major sections of this paper and work independently on those sections. Most of the collaboration happens in the beginning, while choosing the company and the design of and response to the crisis, and at the end, in planning the presentation. Allowing some class time for work on this project allows me to monitor each individual’s contribution to the project and the overall group dynamic, answer any major questions groups may encounter, and ensure each group completes the assignment correctly.

Linked below are examples of papers that were submitted during the spring 2021 semester, based on the assignment instructions. Please note that these examples have been linked in their originally-submitted form, without any comments or grading information, and are shared with student permission.

Student Example 1: Chick-fil-A:

Student Example 2: American Eagle Outfitters:

During the spring 2021 semester, I administered a volunteer survey to gauge reactions to this project. One-third of the students in this class participated in the research and answered questions about their experience with this project using a Likert-type scale. The questions and their responses are presented in table 1. While this represents an extremely small sample, it does provide some indication of students’ perspectives of this project. Overall, during this semester, the students who responded enjoyed the project, did not find it too easy or overly difficult, self-reported gaining a better understanding of the material, and overwhelmingly understood the instructions and assignment expectations. Unsurprisingly, the group work aspect of the assignment drew mixed reviews.

An additional, open-ended question regarding the group dynamic was also included, which allowed students the opportunity to relay any serious concerns about their groups or particular individuals. I also regularly encourage students to inform me if there is major group discord or work disparity, so those issues can be assuaged before the project is due.


Crisis management abilities are necessary for success in public relations practice, and experiential learning techniques, such as the project described above, can help students thoroughly learn this important topic. By being introduced to this information early in their academic careers in a way that helps foster real learning through engagement and critical thinking, students can become proficient in this subject, leading to greater success in senior-level classrooms and, eventually, in the workforce.


Benoit, W. L. (1995). Apologies, excuses, and accounts: A theory of image restoration strategies. State University of New York Press.

Bloom, B. S., Engelhart, M. D., Furst, E. J., Hill, W. H., & Krathwohl, D. R. (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives: The classification of educational goals. Handbook I: Cognitive domain. David McKay Company.

Coombs, W. T. (2001). Teaching the crisis management/communication course. Public Relations Review, 27(1), 89-101.

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

Kolb, A. Y., & Kolb, D. A. (2005). Learning styles and learning spaces: Enhancing experiential learning in higher education. Academy of Management Learning & Education , 4(2), 193-212. 

Neill, M. S., & Schauster, E. (2015). Gaps in advertising and public relations education: 

Perspectives of agency leaders, Journal of Advertising Education, 19(2), 5-17.

Nilson, L. (2016) Teaching at its best: A research-based resource for college instructors (4th ed.). Jossey-Bass.

Universal Accreditation Board (2021). Study guide for the examination for accreditation in public relations. Retrieved July 22, 2021 from,

Wilcox, D. L, G. T. Cameron, & B. H. Reber. (2015). Public relations strategies & tactics (11th ed.). Pearson.

© Copyright 2022 AEJMC Public Relations Division

To cite this article: Johnson, N. & (2022). Crisis Response Plan Group Project. Journal of Public Relations Education, 8(1), 144-153.

Crisis and The Queen

Editorial Record: Submitted September 14, 2020. Revised April 2, 2021. Accepted June 7, 2021. Published March 2022.


Michelle Groover, Ph.D.
Senior Lecturer, Public Relations Department of Communication Arts
Georgia Southern University
Statesboro, GA


The in-class activity explores how Princess Diana’s death turned into a crisis for the British monarchy. The movie, which is interspersed with actual footage, explores how the monarchy responded following the death of Princess Diana. After watching the film The Queen the class discusses aspects of the crisis, response strategies, and how it may have been handled differently today due to social media.

Keywords: film, social media, crisis communication

Introduction and Rationale

Examining a real-world crisis through the lens of a film can help students better understand how to respond to real-life public relations crisis. This activity allows student to explore whether what took place was a crisis or paracrisis, the mistakes made, the response strategies used, and what they would have done if they were in the position of the Prime Minister or the Queen. Although some students may not have been aware of Princess Diana’s life or death, they find the accident and what followed to be an interesting look into how a real-life crisis was handled.

The movie, which is set shortly after Diana’s death, is a study in crisis communication and how to, and not to, address a crisis. Zaremba (2010) noted the film “illustrates how the newly elected Prime Minister, Tony Blair, attempted to defuse a developing crisis for the monarchy in Great Britain” (p. 113). Additionally, the inclusion of actual footage of mourners and the flowers outside Buckingham Palace can help to bridge the gap between what actually happened and Hollywood’s version of events.

Shift in response time

While still time sensitive, prior to social media an organization had the benefit of a bit more time to craft a response to a crisis. Birch (1994) wrote, “The one thing that is in short supply during crisis is time” (p. 33). Additionally, Fishman (1999) stated, “The level and extent of media coverage directly influences the degree of ‘urgency’ placed upon an organization to provide a coherent explanation or to undertake corrective action” (p. 348).  Tony Blair, prime minister of the United Kingdom at the time of Diana’s death, gave a speech the morning she died where he historically called Diana “the people’s princess.” Queen Elizabeth did not make a public statement until five days after her death which caused some controversy among the people of the United Kingdom and a decline in her popularity (Kirby, 1998).

In today’s 24/7/365 world, organizations are expected to respond within the hour of a crisis, if not before. Claeys and Opgenhaffen (2016) discuss the term “golden hour” which is “the first hour after the scandal breaks” (p. 239). This “golden hour” is important as the organization can get its side of the story out before the media. The faster an organization, or in this case a monarchy, can respond to a crisis, the better for its image and reputation (Claeys & Opgenhaffen, 2016).

A crisis response must address the issue with as much transparency as possible, providing information to the key publics about what took place and how the organization will address it ( Millar & Heath, 2004). Further, “strategic actions in response to a crisis can enhance an organization’s legitimacy” (Veil et al,, 2012, p. 333). Rather than waiting for the Queen to respond, Tony Blair, the Prime Minister at the time of Diana’s accident, took action through his press conference and decision to speak to the media. Eventually, through pressure, Queen Elizabeth did provide a response to her public via a televised statement.

Connection to Practice

Incorporating an actual crisis example through a film provides students an opportunity to apply what they have learned about crises and how to address them. The film is shown at the end of the semester so that students can point out and discuss the topics discussed throughout the semester from lecture, readings, guest speakers, and other in-class discussions.

The 2020 Global Communications Report (USC Annenberg Center for Public Relations, 2020) noted COVID-19 “taught us, future-focused PR executives must be prepared to manage unexpected events and controversial issues” (p. 12). As many crises a public relations practitioner may encounter in their career are unexpected, including Princess Diana’s death, this activity allows students to understand how to be better prepared to confront these issues should they arise.

One of the benefits of this exercise is first, the students are exposed to a piece of history (although it is a film which assumes some parts of what happened behind the scenes), and are able to identify the crisis aspects. Second, the exercise allows students to explore the various crisis response strategies used (which have been discussed in class prior to watching the film) and if, in their opinion, they did or did not work. Third, it provides an opportunity for students to explore what they would have done differently in the situation, as well as how modern technology, such as social media, may have changed the course of the discussion and the crisis response strategies employed by all parties involved.

Assignment and Implementation

Toward the end of the semester, students in an upper division public relations and crisis communication course would watch the film The Queen. By showing it at the end of the semester, which takes two class periods to watch, students can apply what they understand regarding what constitutes a crisis and the various crisis response strategies. Further, students witness a “crisis in action” without the stress of having to handle it themselves. 

If teaching a crisis communication class, before watching the film, the professor should cover the following topics over the course of the semester:

  • Definition of crisis
  • Difference between a crisis and paracrisis
  • Identifying the trigger event to a crisis
  • Responding to the crisis
  • Identifying the appropriate crisis response strategy(ies) to apply in a situation
  • Identifying an organization’s audience(s)
  • Identifying and selecting a crisis management team and spokespeople
  • Ethical communication prior to, during, and following a crisis
  • Monitoring throughout the crisis
  • Evaluating the situation post-crisis

Having discussed and read this information throughout the semester, students should be able to discuss how they believe the crisis addressed in the film was handled and what they would have done differently. Through written responses discussing the following questions, students can work out the best response strategy in their opinion and determine how they would go about implementing it if this were to have happened today. They are also able to demonstrate how, if at all, they understand the concepts which have been discussed throughout the semester in this application exercise. Students would need a minimum of one day to work on this assignment before submitting it to the professor for grading. It should be submitted prior to the next class meeting day following the viewing of the film to facilitate the debrief in-class discussion. The professor can then elaborate on the responses provided, which enables a more in-depth class discussion around the crisis itself and recommendations they have for crisis messaging during and after the event.

As students are watching the film, encourage them to take notes on the crisis elements they witness throughout. Once the film ends, on the second day, provide students the following discussion questions and ask them to submit their responses to them thoroughly, demonstrating their comprehension and understanding of crises and the content of the film: 

  • Is this a crisis or a paracrisis? How did you determine this?
  • What was the trigger event for the crisis?
  • Could the crisis have been prevented?
  • What should have been done to prepare for this type of crisis (the death of a royal/non-royal)?
  • What crisis response strategies did you notice?
  • What did Blair and his team do well? Need to improve on?
  • If you were in Blair’s role, what would you have done differently/the same? 
  • If you were the Queen, would you have waited so long to respond? Why/why not?
  • Do you think the people of the UK believed Queen Elizabeth and her statement? Why/why not? 
  • Diana died in 1997 when social media did not exist; if this were to happen today how do you think this would have changed the management of the crisis and the response to it?
  • How would you have responded to this event if you worked on the public relations team for the Prime Minister? For Queen Elizabeth? Explain your response.


The key learning objectives for the written assignment are to: 1) Identify the trigger event for this crisis; 2) Identify the crisis response strategies implemented in the film; 3) Discuss what the various parties did well and needed improvement regarding the crisis response; 4) Discuss how social media may have changed the crisis response by the various parties involved.

The written assignment is evaluated by the student’s ability to accomplish the following: 1) to demonstrate knowledge of the types of crisis response strategies; 2) to identify the crisis response strategies used; 3) to effectively discuss the crisis response strategies and what they would have done in the situation; and 4) to edit and proofread their response prior to submission. This assignment counts as 5% of the total grade in the course. 


The author has observed that students seem to enjoy learning through watching and discussing this particular film. The author has also found this activity has helped students better identify the various crisis response strategies which have been discussed throughout the semester. Additionally, the students have been able to apply their public relations knowledge to this situation pulling not only from the crisis course, but from courses including social media, writing, and others. One challenge has been some students not effectively or completely answering the questions posed. One way to address this has been after grading the written assignment the professor uses the next class meeting to hold a debriefing to discuss the questions with the class. The debriefing also allows the professor to further discuss the crisis strategies and responses and lets students hear the perspectives of their classmates and continue the discussion. Finally, this debriefing permits those students who did not provide complete or effective answers to discuss their thoughts verbally.

Following the debriefing with the class, students remarked how they enjoyed the use of outside media to talk about and make clearer the topics which had been discussed in class. Others stated the group discussion allowed them to see other classmate’s point of view and build off each other when determining the course of action during and following a crisis. One student stated it was their favorite assignment as they were able to learn how to deal with a crisis on such a large scale, and how an institution like the British monarchy could recover from such a crisis.

As technology continues to change and evolve, other questions could be added to the list of discussion questions provided such as questions related to international public relations. A variation of the assignment could be having students discuss the questions in groups in class to develop a response, then with the class as a whole. These discussions could count toward in-class participation points for those who participated in the conversation.


Birch, J. (1994). New factors in crisis planning and response. Public Relations Quarterly, 39(1), 31-34.

Claeys, A., & Opgenhaffen, M. (2016). Why practitioners do (not) apply crisis communication theory in practice. Journal of Public Relations Research, 28(5-6), 232-247.

Fishman, D. A. (1999). ValuJet flight 592: Crisis communication theory blended and extended. Communication Quarterly, 47(4), 345-375.

Kirby, M. (1998). Death of a princess. Capital & Class, 22(1), 29-41.

Millar, D. P., & Heath, R. L.  (Eds.). (2004). Responding to crisis: A rhetorical approach to crisis communication. Routledge.

USC Annenberg Center for Public Relations. (2020). 2020 global communications report.

Veil, S. R., Sellnow, T. L. and Petrun, E. L. (2012). Hoaxes and the paradoxical challenges of restoring legitimacy: Dominos’ response to its YouTube crisis. Management Communication Quarterly, 26(2), 322-345.

Zaremba, A. J. (2010). Crisis communication: Theory and practice. M.E. Sharpe.

© Copyright 2022 AEJMC Public Relations Division

To cite this article: Groover, M. (2022). Crisis and The Queen. Journal of Public Relations Education, 8(1), 154-161.