Tag Archives: assignment

Diagnosing Health Campaigns: A Campaign Evaluation Assignment

Top GIFT from AEJMC-PRD 2018

Editorial Record: Submitted to AEJMC-PRD GIFT Competition by Feb. 5, 2018. A blind copy was peer reviewed by the PRD Teaching Committee, led by Chair Katie Place. First published online on August 17, 2018.


Laura Elizabeth Willis, Assistant Professor of Health and Strategic Communication in the School of Communication at Quinnipiac University.

Laura E. Willis, Quinnipiac University

Diagnosing Health Campaigns: A Campaign Evaluation Assignment


The purpose of this assignment is to have students engage in the evaluation of real-world, contemporary health communication campaigns developed and disseminated by a leading public health organization. The final product of this assignment is a written analysis paper; however, the content of that paper is meant to be developed through group discussion. The assignment was developed for an upper-level, major elective on strategic health communication for public relations undergraduate students. This assignment has two primary components. First, groups of students are asked to apply the six components of health communication campaign design (formative research, use of theory, audience segmentation, message design, channels/message placement, and evaluation) in their evaluation of the campaign overview and materials presented on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) website. Additionally, student groups are asked to consider the role of evidence within the campaign development and evaluation. Second, groups have the opportunity to discuss how organizations communicate about their campaigns, including what information they provide and what information would have been more helpful in determining the outcomes of the campaign. This assignment has been popular in both the on-ground and online sections of the strategic health communication elective class, as it provides students the opportunity to apply course material to a real health campaign in collaboration with their peers.


This assignment asks students to engage in critical and creative thinking in their application of key concepts from course materials to assess a campaign, as described on the CDC’s website. Moreover, the assessment of the campaign deepens students’ understanding of the purpose of research in strategic health communication, an inquiry and analysis learning outcome. These are learning outcomes for both the analysis paper and the group discussion about the CDC’s communication about its campaigns on its website. This assignment directly connects to public relations theory and practice, as it asks students to consider the output of contemporary campaign practices and identify possible theories that may have informed the campaign.

The assignment also asks students to practice effective communication in their discussions with their group members about their assigned campaign, in the analysis paper they submit as a group, and in the follow-up discussion. Finally, working as a group also encourages them to practice professionalism in group dynamics, which is a social and emotional intelligence learning outcome.   


This assignment provides students with the opportunity to evaluate how components work together in practice. Students apply the six components of campaign development and consider the role of evidence to a real-world example in group discussions and a subsequent paper. Moreover, this assignment helps them to feel more familiar with these concepts before they begin their final project for the course (a health campaign proposal plan).


In-Person Classroom

When this assignment has been utilized in a class running in person, students are divided into small groups, in which they select from a list of pre-determined CDC campaigns. Generally, student groups begin to work on the analysis of the campaign during class time. By providing time in class for this work, the instructor can observe a group’s dynamic and get an idea of their individual contributions to the assessment of the campaign, as well as answer questions as they arise. An analysis paper is due afterward (generally by two class meetings after the in-class work time). In the class meeting in which the paper is due, we wrap up the assignment with a more meta-level discussion of how the CDC organized and discussed the campaign efforts on its website.

Virtual Classroom

In an online setting, the timeline varies slightly, and the nature of group work and discussions shifts. In-person work and discussions shift to a virtual group messaging program and/or a discussion board on the class’ website. Student professionalism in the small group setting can be assessed through group evaluation, which is due after the submission of the paper.

In both on-ground and virtual settings, students have noted that this assignment helped them to more fully understand the implications of critical campaign components, such as audience segmentation or evaluation, on an individual campaign’s success, as well as the generation of strategic health communication knowledge for future campaign development.


Once students have been separated into small groups (no more than four, depending on the class size), they are given a list of CDC campaigns that they have likely never heard of before, but which have sufficient information about the campaign available through the CDC’s website. For example, previous student groups have analyzed campaigns such as “Screen for Life,” “Inside Knowledge,” “Get Smart,” “One and Only,” and “One Conversation at a Time.” The groups are then asked to select campaigns, and students are given some quiet time in class to begin reviewing the campaign information. After that, student groups are asked to begin discussing both the campaign itself, as well as the communication efforts about the campaign.  

Discussion Prompts

Student groups are asked to consider the following prompts as they begin to critically review and discuss their CDC campaign.

  • What information was easiest for you to discern about your assigned campaign from the CDC’s website?
  • Was the organization of the information easy for you to navigate?
  • Who do you think the target public is for these web pages?
  • If you were planning on developing a campaign that shared the same topic (or target public), what information would have been most helpful to you? What would you like to know that wasn’t provided on the website?
  • How do the ways in which the CDC communicates about its campaigns connect to what you understand about evidence-based practice?

Within their groups, students are asked to discuss how they see the six key components of health communication campaigns within their assigned campaign, as this will be a major focus of the final paper (for analysis paper directions, see Appendix A; for grading rubric, see Appendix B).

Appendix A
Analysis Paper Directions

Work with your group members to review and analyze the CDC campaign you’ve been assigned. You must evaluate both the campaign itself and the information provided about the campaign on the CDC’s website. 

(1) From the CDC’s website, what can you determine related to the six key components of campaign design: 

  • Formative research
  • Use of theory
  • Audience segmentation
  • Message design
  • Channels and message placement
  • Evaluation

Questions to consider: 

  • What do you perceive the goals of the campaign are?
  • Who is the target audience for the campaign?
  • What channels appear to be utilized by the campaign? 
  • Using what you know about the key components of a successful campaign, what does the campaign seem to be doing well?
  • What possible changes would you suggest? 

(2) Moreover, what might the information provided suggest for the evidence-based approach to health communication? 

Questions to consider: 

  • Does this campaign appear to have been based on evidence?
  • Would you be able to incorporate lessons from this campaign into the development of future health communication campaigns?

Write up the critical analysis in no more than 5 pages (using APA style). This paper should be a true group effort – you should NOT divvy up the work and individually write subsections; this will result in a paper that lacks a consistent tone of voice.

Connections to course material must be made and cited appropriately.

Your contributions and professionalism will be assessed through group evaluations at the end of the assignment.

Appendix B
Analysis Paper Grading Rubric

Reminder: Your individual grade for this assignment may be impacted by the evaluations provided by you and your group members. It is your responsibility to be a professional and effective group member. Failure to submit a fully completed evaluation will result in a 5-point reduction from your individual grade.

Equal Weight (20% each) Mastery (90-100%) Proficient (80-89%) Developing (70-79%) Feedback & Score
Identification of the main aspects of the campaign Identifies and demonstrates a sophisticated understanding of the main components of campaign design Identifies and demonstrates an acceptable understanding of most components of campaign design Identifies and demonstrates a weak understanding of some components of campaign design
Analysis /evaluation of the campaign Presents an insightful and thorough analysis of all aspects of the campaign Presents a thorough analysis of most aspects of the campaign Presents a superficial or incomplete analysis of some of the aspects of the campaign
Recommendations Supports recommendations and opinions with strong arguments; recommendations are reasonable and objective Supports recommendations and opinions with limited reasoning and evidence; demonstrates little engagement with ideas presented Little or no action is suggested, and/or inappropriate solutions are proposed to the issues
Links to course material Makes appropriate and powerful connections between identified health communication aspects and the course readings and lectures Makes appropriate but somewhat vague connections between identified issues/concepts and concepts studied in course material Makes inappropriate or little connection between aspects identified and the concepts studied in course materials
Writing mechanics and formatting Demonstrates clarity, conciseness, and correctness; formatting is appropriate, and writing is free of grammar and spelling errors Exhibits occasional grammar or spelling errors, but there is still a clear presentation of ideas; lacks organization Writing is unfocused, is rambling, or contains serious errors; writing is poorly organized and does not follow specified guidelines


Teaching Trolling: Management and Strategy

Top GIFT from AEJMC-PRD 2018

Editorial Record: Submitted to AEJMC-PRD GIFT Competition by Feb. 5, 2018. A blind copy was peer reviewed by the PRD Teaching Committee, led by Chair Katie Place. First published online on August 17, 2018.


Leslie Rasmussen

Leslie Rasmussen, Xavier University

Teaching Trolling: Management and Strategy


The assignment developed after many discussions over Wendy’s response to online trolls and its subsequent Super Bowl 2017 commercial, which was inspired by a trolling incident (Griner, 2017). Wendy’s generated online and offline buzz, and sparked a trend by tackling trolls head-on.  Several months prior to the Wendy’s incident, the Cincinnati Zoo similarly faced an onslaught of trolling after the death of its Lowland gorilla, Harambe. Trolls bombarded the Zoo’s Twitter account with comments and memes about Harambe, prompting the Zoo to shut down its Twitter account for two months (Williams, 2016). Xavier University is located in Cincinnati, thus it was natural that classes began comparing the two cases, the differing approaches, and discussing the impact the death of Harambe had on online culture. It was also used as an example of how a meme can be converted into social capital (Fussell Sisco & Brummette, 2016) and ultimately applied to network theory (Wellman, 2001). The memes included images of Harambe along with varying comments mocking the Zoo, listing things Harambe could no longer do, and showing Harambe in heavenly clouds (Feldman, 2016). Harambe was dubbed “the perfect meme” (Rao, 2016, para. 2) and made it nearly impossible for the Zoo to regain control of the story.

In the Zoo’s case, the capital was so powerful that it exacerbated its crisis situation. Students were able to assess the case using contingency theory (Cancel, Cameron, Sallott, & Mitrook, 1997) to understand the factors influencing an organization’s stance along the advocacy-accommodation continuum. Ultimately, the result was a series of assessment and analysis assignments that culminated in a final strategic trolling creative brief. Throughout the building assignments, students examined how organizations deal with trolls or troll-like behaviors, and why some consider trolling other organizations or consumers as part of a broader strategy.


Students were able to accomplish the following outcomes:

  • Understand three theories used in public relations and communication (social capital theory, network theory, contingency theory)
  • Assess complex cases by supporting arguments with each theory
  • Use theory to build a strategy for strategic trolling.


Student feedback was overwhelmingly positive. Trolling has challenged some of the long-held beliefs regarding crisis communication, and the assignment forced students to consider an alternative route to managing a creative and potentially damaging situation. Later, it allowed them to harness three theories to inform a creative approach to incorporating trolling or troll-like behavior as part of a broader strategy. Organization-on-organization trolling is certainly a trend. The overall goal of the assignments was to consider trolling as goal-oriented. The concept was initially challenging, but the final assignments were creative, fun, and harnessed the three primary theories learned in the course.


Cancel, A. E., Cameron, G. T., Sallot, L. M., & Mitrook, M. A. (1997). It depends: A contingency theory of accommodation in public relations. Journal of Public Relations Research9(1), 31-63. https://doi.org/10.1207/s1532754xjprr0901_02

Feldman, B. (2016, July 27). The dark internet humor of Harambe jokes. New York Magazine. Retrieved from http://nymag.com/selectall/2016/07/harambe-forever.html

Fussell Sisco, H., & Brummette, J. (2016). Online information sharing: A planned  behavior for building social capital. Public Relations Journal, 10(2). Retrieved from http://apps.prsa.org/Intelligence/PRJournal/current-edition/current/sisco_nz3.pdf

Griner, D. (2017, January 3). Wendy’s put a troll on ice with 2017’s best tweet so far. AdWeek. Retrieved from https://www.adweek.com/creativity/wendys-put-troll-ice-2017s-best-tweet-so-far-175334

Rao, V. (2016, September 6). How Harambe became the perfect meme. The Atlantic. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2016/09/harambe-the-perfect-meme/498743

Wellman, B. (2001). Computer networks as social networks. Science, 293(5537), 2031-2034. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1065547

Williams, D. (2016, August 23). Harambe memes prompt Cincinnati Zoo to delete Twitter accounts. CNN. Retrieved from https://www.cnn.com/2016/08/23/us/cincinnati-zoo-harambe-twitter/index.html

Appendix A

Trolling Assessment (Pre-Assignments)

For this series of assignments, we will explore cases involving organizations being trolled by people and by other organizations. We begin by exploring trolling and its effects on organizations to determine best management practices. Next, you are challenged to consider trolling as part of a broader social media strategy. You must consider brand voice, industry environment, audiences, and the consequences of engaging in this type of strategy. In all portions, you must consider contingency theory or other appropriate theories reviewed in class that apply to the decision-making process when determining strategy.

Throughout the assignments, you must discern the purpose of memes and consider methods to convert memes to social capital. Initially, it may be difficult to extract strategy from troll-like behavior; however, it has become increasingly necessary to explore. For example, brands like Wendy’s and T-Mobile have incorporated trolling into strategy and brand voice.

The multi-level assignment includes the following:

  • Case assessment and application of social capital theory and contingency theory (or other appropriate theories reviewed in class); determine best practices for management
  • Case/client analysis
  • Strategic development/creative brief

Case Assessment: Cincinnati Zoo Harambe crisis – Online personas trolling an organization

  • How did online trolls convert Harambe into social capital? Assess all elements of social capital, network theory, etc. to analyze the case. Next, using the contingency theory and the advocacy-accommodation continuum, determine and assess the factors influencing the zoo’s response. Conclude with your overall assessment of effectiveness. Things to consider: The purpose of memes – or social capital – in an effort to think about trolling as part of a broader social media strategy. How can a particular meme be converted to social capital?

Case Analysis: Because they got high: T-Mobile’s strategic trolling of Verizon on 4/20 – Organization-on-organization trolling

  • How did T-Mobile turn an earnings report into social capital? Assess all elements of social capital, network theory, etc. to analyze the case. Next, using the contingency theory and the advocacy-accommodation continuum, determine and assess the factors influencing T-Mobile’s actions and Verizon’s response. Conclude with your overall assessment of effectiveness.

Appendix B

Strategic Trolling Creative Brief


Identify an organization you believe could benefit from engaging in troll-like behavior. In the last year, we’ve seen several organizations engage in such behavior with social media users and with other organizations. Some have had great success; others flopped and apologized. We’ve also seen some organizations engage this way as part of social media strategy or a broader strategy.

Consider how all artifacts will be used as social capital for the brand. Can you use the memes to connect with target groups or build a network? What conversation do you want to occur around the memes? How might the meme self-replicate?

Project Overview

In a brief paragraph, describe the project. Hit the overarching theme and intent.

Statement of Communication Problem or Opportunity

In one complete sentence, describe the communication problem or opportunity to be addressed. Consider how you would like to frame the problem or opportunity.

Target Audience

  • Target audience(s) and secondary audience(s)
  • Demographic information
  • Psychographic information
  • Brand character(s)


In one sentence, briefly describe the overarching goal.

Strategic Objectives

Develop appropriate communication objectives that adhere to the SMART criteria.

Brand Voice

In a brief paragraph, describe the brand voice for the project. List three key words to describe the tone of the content.

Key Messages  

Provide a bulleted list of key messages you want to communicate to the target(s). For each bullet, identify which audiences are targeted.

Desired Action or Response

Briefly describe the desired action or response from each target audience. What do you want them to do? How do you want them to respond? What conversation should occur around your social capital and among your target audiences?

Creative Strategies & Tactics

Remember, strategy or strategies should involve trolling. Determine the number of tactics based on appropriateness of strategies, client, and overall vision. Include the objective achieved with the strategy and corresponding tactics. Also include the audience targeted for each. When developing strategies and tactics, remember to consider the risk factors and potential response from this approach.


Thoroughly explain the purpose of the content. Thoroughly address how the content is converted to social capital. You will need to explain how the copy and images will connect with target audiences or build a network. Explain the conversation you intend to create around the content. Explain how the content may self-replicate and where it will lead.

Creative Samples

Create 5 samples of the memes used to strategically troll another organization. Include all corresponding content. For example, if the meme will be released on Twitter by a person or organization handle, what text will accompany the image? Think about the commentary T-Mobile’s John Legere included in his tweets with the #VerHIGHzon memes.

Reflection & Theory

Clearly indicate how social capital theory, contingency theory, and/or network theory shaped your strategy. Explain how and why you believe your approach involves all facets of social capital theory and how it informed your strategic decision. The same applies for contingency theory and network theory.

Additional details for each section are provided in class.

Sparking Creativity Through Purpose-Driven Storytelling

Top GIFT from AEJMC-PRD 2018

Editorial Record: Submitted to AEJMC-PRD GIFT Competition by Feb. 5, 2018. A blind copy was peer reviewed by the PRD Teaching Committee, led by Chair Katie Place. First published online on August 17, 2018.


Cooney Headshot

Chris Cooney, Washington State University

Sparking Creativity Through Purpose-Driven Storytelling


The Digital Strategies and Techniques course begins with a two-part assignment in which students produce a multimedia story about their transformation from a college student to a communication professional.

The assignment aligns with the Washington State University Foundational Competencies for Communication, which require students to “creatively adapt content and conventions to diverse contexts, audiences, and purposes,” including the use of digital communication technologies (UCORE, n.d., para. 7). Adobe Spark requires less than one hour of classroom instruction for students to gain the skills necessary to complete the assignment. Having a minimal need for technical instruction enables students to focus on the structure of their stories and the significance of the elements they contain.


This assignment furthers the following WSU Communication learning goals: “Defining, analyzing, and solving problems;” “combining and synthesizing existing ideas, images, or expertise in original ways;” “thinking and working in imaginative ways characterized by innovation, divergent thinking, and risk-taking” (WSU, n.d., para. 3).


My Great Idea For Teaching (GIFT) combines the process of personal narrative construction with Adobe Spark as a media creation tool in an assignment that empowers students to confidently engage in communication strategy development and purpose-driven multimedia storytelling grounded in PR practices.

The problem-solving approach, creative process, and media creation tool used in this assignment are intuitive and approachable. Students follow a strategic content creation process that requires research, strategic development, ideation, content creation, and implementation.


The intuitive workflow of Adobe Spark gave students the confidence to make mistakes and experiment without significant risk of wasted time or effort. Students can quickly explore new possibilities that they previously saw as unattainable. I could then provide feedback during the class period and suggest changes, which the student could often implement before the end of the class period.

Student Examples

Listed below are examples of the multimedia narratives students produced based on the assignment instructions.

Karen Gallardo, https://spark.adobe.com/video/oTxttwh2VDj21

Kelly-anne Cubley, https://spark.adobe.com/video/xD0EXPQVhfe6g

Niko Balocco, https://spark.adobe.com/video/IXDHt3Po4joRR


For the first part of the assignment, Personal Professional Assessment and Vision, students write a structured narrative, grounded in their personal values and goals, that describes how they will leverage their strengths and overcome obstacles to achieve what they define as success.

In the second part of the assignment, Personal Introduction Presentation, students translate their written story into a multimedia narrative using Adobe Spark, a free storytelling tool that is part of the Adobe Creative Cloud.

The assignment requires students to engage in a planning and creative process that mirrors the situation analysis and strategy development process used in professional public relations. The assignment is a practical and meaningful introduction to strategy development and digital content creation.


UCORE. (n.d.). UCORE Categories and Course Lists. Retrieved from https://ucore.wsu.edu/students/categories-and-courses/

Washington State University (n.d.) WSU Learning Goals: Communication Learning Goals. Retrieved from https://ucore.wsu.edu/students/learning-goals/




These are the assignment instructions provided to students.

Assignment – Part 1: Personal Professional Assessment & Vision

Assignment on the course blog: https://comstrat381.com/assignment-1b-personal-professional-assessment-vision/

This assignment will serve as the basis for your Presentation 1: Personal Professional Introduction assignment, so you should complete it before you begin work on your presentation.

For this assignment, you will develop a structured narrative, grounded in your personal values and goals, that describes your personal transformation from a college student to a successful communication professional. Although this is a personal story, the structure of this assignment and the process you’ll use to develop it is based on the same creative process you’ll use to research clients and customers, so you can develop communication solutions that meet strategic goals.

Create a document that captures your structured creative thought process–including relevant details, references, goals, actions, and insights. You will use it to construct a personal story about your transformation from a college student to a successful communication professional.

Document Outline
A. Personal Information – Start with an overview of yourself; where you came from, how you got to WSU, and what you’re doing right now.

  • Your name and hometown.
  • Your major, area of interest, minor, or other active academic pursuits.
  • When will you graduate? How many months away is that? How many days?
  • What are you doing this semester besides taking 381?
  • Your hobbies, interests, groups/organizations you are a member of or other things you want to share about yourself.
  • What are your core values? In other words, what personally do you stand for and consider most important?

Research requirement: Include at least two relevant statistics in this section that help establish context or scope for your personal background and interests. Include citations for these statistics.

B. Vision of Future Professional Self – Where do you see yourself professionally five years after graduation?

  • Where will you live? – Geographic location, urban or rural, relevant details about your living situation.
  • Where will you work? – Type of company or organization, location, relevant details about your work environment.
  • What will your title be? – How does this title relate to your skills and strengths? Cite a real title and organization with specific job responsibilities and requirements.
  • Who will you work with? – What kinds of people will you collaborate with at your company or organization? Who will you engage with outside of your company (customers, clients, the public, etc.)?
  • What work will you do? – What will you create or produce, what impact will it have on people and on society?
  • What will you do besides work?
  • How does all of this relate to your core values?

Research requirement: Research the location you want to live in and firms and titles in the industry and location you identified. Cite at least two sources in this section to demonstrate a clear connection between your vision of yourself and the real possibilities that exist there today.

C. Situation Analysis – Do a strength, weakness, opportunities, threats (SWOT) analysis on yourself based on your preparedness to begin your professional career and be successful. Include relevant information about your skills and experience.

Summarize your Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats either in a table or as a bulleted list.

Identify what you think is your greatest opportunity and your greatest threat or challenge.

D. Steps to Enable Future Vision – What are 3-4 specific decisions you can make or actions you can take in the next four months to use your personal strengths to capitalize on the greatest opportunity you identified or minimize the most significant threat that could stand in the way of you moving toward your vision of your future professional self?

List your greatest opportunities and most significant challenge.
Then for each of them:

  • Identify the specific action you can take or change you can make that will address it.
  • How will taking this action lead to your vision of your future self?
  • How does taking this action this relate to your core values?

Research requirement: Identify 2-3 specific resources (people, organizations, classes, scholarships, etc.) that could help you make the most of a particular opportunity or overcome a challenge. Cite these resources.

E. References – Include a references page at the end of your paper. Use MLA style for your citations.

Assignment – Part 2: Presentation 1 – Personal Introduction Presentation

Present your personal story about your transformation from a student to a successful communication professional.

Assignment on course blog: https://comstrat381.com/presentation-1-personal-introduction/

Develop a multimedia presentation that describes your transformation from a college student to a successful communication professional. Use Assignment #1B: Personal Professional Assessment and Vision as your reference for your presentation structure and content. Collect and incorporate multimedia elements (photos, video, audio, etc.) to help illustrate your story and engage your audience.

Create a short, multimedia narrative using Adobe Spark. You can either use Spark Page to create a web page to illustrate your story, then deliver a verbal narrative in class that relates to the web page. Or you can create a standalone Spark Video that may only require a brief verbal introduction in class. You also have the option to combine a Spark Page and a Spark Video to deliver your presentation. Remember, you cannot exceed the 2-minute time limit for your presentation.

Your in-class presentation should not exceed 2 minutes. Spark Videos should be 1-2 minutes.

Format: A Spark Page or Spark Video.

Presentation Outline
This is the suggested outline and order for your presentation. You can adjust the order to fit your personal vision and concept for your story, but your story must include all of the elements listed in the outline.

A. Introduction – Start with an overview of yourself.

Include relevant details from your previous assignment.
Introduce your core values.

Media requirement: Include at least two images in this section.

B. Situation Analysis – Where are you today? What is the most important information about your current situation for your audience if they are to understand where you want to go and how you are going to get there?

Identify your most significant opportunities and most significant challenge.

Media requirement: Include at least two images in this section.

C. Vision of Future Professional Self – Where do you see yourself professionally five years after graduation?

Media requirement: Include at least two images in this section.

D. Path to Future Vision – What are you going to do to move toward your vision of your future professional self.

Identify the specific actions you will take.

Media requirement: Include at least two images in this section.

E. Outcome and Benefit – What is now possible? What is the result of having achieved this vision of your future professional self?

  • How do you benefit?
  • How do others benefit?

Media requirement: Include at least one image in this section.

Looking in to see out: An Introspective Approach to Teaching Ethics in PR

Top GIFT from AEJMC-PRD 2018

Editorial Record: Submitted to AEJMC-PRD GIFT Competition by Feb. 5, 2018. A blind copy was peer reviewed by the PRD Teaching Committee, led by Chair Katie Place. First published online on August 17, 2018.


Regina Luttrell Headshot

Regina Luttrell, Syracuse University

Ward Headshot

Jamie Ward, Eastern Michigan University

Looking in to see out: An Introspective Approach to Teaching Ethics in PR


Instances requiring concrete decisions, whether ultimately judged as correct or not, inundate our daily lives. When discussing the topic of public relations ethics within today’s classroom, students are commonly requested to contemplate and explain their perception of what ethics are and their importance within the industry. Inevitably, responses to explaining ethics follow a similar theme: “Ethics differentiates between good and bad” or “Ethics are gray – neither right or wrong.”

By leveraging numerous ethical theories, including Immanuel Kant’s ethics (Kant & Paton, 1964; Sullivan, 1989), John Locke’s natural-rights libertarianism (Locke & Gough, 1966; Simon, 1951), Jeremy Bentham’s utilitarianism (Bentham, 1823; Heydt, 2014), and Lawrence Kohlberg’s stages of moral development (Kohlberg, 1976; Thoma, 2014) as the foundation of ethical principles, this assignment has been developed as an introduction to the process of making ethical decisions.  

Recognizing that assessing “right” and “wrong” can be difficult and is often influenced by individual contexts, a firm understanding of ethical theory, and a framework for ethical decision-making that allows for the development of a set of behavioral standards that can help guide the appropriate actions for a range of situations (Luttrell & Ward, 2018). Upon completing this assignment adapted from our textbook, A Practical Guide to Ethics in PR, students will better understand the code of ethics guiding the field of PR and also identify, recognize, and write their own personal code of ethics by distinguishing what influences their decisions as students and future PR professionals.


To truly understand how ethical codes affect us as individuals, it is important to think about the components that have shaped our ethical principles. The majority of us subscribe to some level of basic ethical theories. Whether rooted in early lessons from childhood, our faith or religious beliefs, or simply from life experiences, we make judgments about the “rightness” or “wrongness” of certain actions based on our own moral values (Luttrell & Ward, 2018). According to Parsons (2016), ethics provide a set of guiding principles for behavior that helps individuals decide the appropriate way to respond in various situations. Ethics propagate from having to make tough choices and from the need to provide justification as to why we make particular choices.

During an in-class lecture, students are asked to examine the PRSA code of ethics (Public Relations Society of America, 2011). They read and dissect the code of ethics, ultimately concluding that ethics applies to all levels of behavior and judgment. Acting properly as individuals, creating responsible organizations and governments, and bettering our society as a whole are behaviors that accompany being a good citizen and PR professional.

The benefits to students are numerous, especially in relation to the PR industry, where ethical dilemmas are encountered almost daily. After completing this assignment, students recognize leading ethical theorists, identify the increasing importance of ethics in PR, and analyze the role ethics play within the profession. This assignment is applicable to a variety of courses within the PR discipline, including writing, social media, ethics, and case studies. The activity appeals to a wide range of students because it captures their attention from the start. Students are surprised to see the various ways in which ethics ground the profession. They are excited to learn how their personal beliefs play a role in their decisions as students and future practitioners.


After initially reviewing ethical philosophies from Kant, Locke, Bentham, and Kohlberg, as well as examining the PRSA code of ethics, students are asked to search for the code of ethics subscribed to by their favorite brand. Upon locating the code, the class discusses the merit of what is being presented. Some organizations offer concrete examples of how the organization acts ethically, while others offer a generic statement regarding their ethical principles. This is an important aspect of the assignment because students begin to see the difference between “lip service” and truly abiding by principles that guide the organization’s decision-making.

Students are then asked to write their own code of ethics by the conclusion of the lesson. (See the Appendix for the assignment). Typically, they are given a week to complete the writing assignment. This code should consist of a set of simple, direct statements that describe each student’s personal ethics. To evaluate how well the code of ethics is written, it is important to ask, “Could someone read this code of ethics and predict the kind of choices I would make?”


This assignment engages and challenges students to think analytically and creatively, yet also allows the freedom to research new ideas, values, and methods that eventually support their personal code of ethics. PR practitioners are advocates for organizations, clients, and stakeholders. Therefore, it is crucial that students construct and analyze the elements of ethical decisions, in addition to understanding and articulating the ethical, legal, and social responsibilities of PR professionals.


Bentham, J. (1823). An introduction to the principles of morals and legislation (Vol. 1). London, UK: Oxford at Clarendon.

Heydt, C. (2014). Utilitarianism before Bentham. In B. Eggleston & D.E. Miller (Eds.), The Cambridge companion to utilitarianism (pp.16-37). Cambridge: Cambridge University. https://doi.org/10.1017/cco9781139096737.002

Kant, I., & Paton, H. J. (1964). Immanuel Kant: Groundwork of the metaphysic of morals. New York, NY: Harper Torchbooks.

Kohlberg, L. (1976). Moral stages and moralization: The cognitive-developmental approach. In T. Lickona (Ed.), Moral development and behavior: Theory, research, and social issues (pp. 31-53). New York, NY: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.

Locke, J., & Gough, J. W. (1966). The second treatise of government, and a letter concerning toleration. Oxford, UK: Basil Blackwell.

Luttrell, R., & Ward, J. (2018). A practical guide to ethics in PR. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

Parsons, P. (2016). Ethics in PR: A guide to best practice. London, UK: Kogan Page Limited.

Public Relations Society of America. (2011). PRSA Member code of ethics. Retrieved from https://www.prsa.org/ethics/code-of-ethics

Simon, W. M. (1951). John Locke: Philosophy and political theory. American Political Science Review, 45(2), 386-399. https://doi.org/10.2307/1951467

Sullivan, R. J. (1989). Immanuel Kant’s moral theory. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University.

Thoma, S. J. (2014). Measuring moral thinking from a neo-Kohlbergian perspective. Theory and Research in Education, 12(3), 347-365. https://doi.org/10.1177/1477878514545208


Assignment Instructions

To truly understand a personal ethical code, it is imperative to consider the components that have shaped personal ethical principles. It is rare that we interact with individuals who do not live by some beliefs represented in various common ethical theories. Personal experiences drive ethical decisions.

Think about your personal experiences and how they might shape your beliefs. The questions below will help you begin your analysis. Learning to identify a moral code allows you to better see where your beliefs fit with other ethical theorists and assist you in identifying your core values.

  • What external influencers (parents, teachers, friends, etc.) have shaped your values?
  • What values have you maintained that you were taught as a child?
  • Are there any values that you were taught as a child that have changed as you matured?
  • What qualities do you value in yourself and/or in others?
  • When considering what you have learned with regard to Kant, Locke, Bentham, and Kohlberg, what ethical theory or theories do you most closely identify with?
  • What ethical systems do you follow on a day-to-day basis?
  • What are some of your strongest beliefs about humanity? For example, do you believe that everyone deserves respect? Do you believe that all people are inherently “good”?
  • Are there any ethical practices you think are absolutes? For example, is lying always wrong?

Ethical codes should be comprised of a preamble and highlight various ethical codes to live by both inside and outside the classroom (minimum of 4, maximum of 6). When complete, include a summary of how ethics plays an integral role in the profession of PR.

*Assignment adapted from Luttrell and Ward (2018).

Math, Message Design and Assessment Data: A Strategic Approach to the Facebook Assignment


Tiffany Derville Gallicano, UNC Charlotte

SlideShare PDF

Math, Message Design and Assessment Data: A Strategic Approach to the Facebook Assignment

Math, Message Design and Assessment Data: A Strategic Approach to the Facebook Assignment

The purpose of this assignment is to adopt a strategic planning approach to the task of creating engaging social media content in a real-world context. For this assignment, students work as a class to set a weekly research-based objective and work in teams to plan the communication department’s Facebook fan page content for every day of a work week (Monday-Friday) during the semester. Other fan page account administrators can post important departmental content throughout the semester without disrupting the week-by-week student takeovers of the fan page. This assignment has been popular in social media and public relations strategy classes. This assignment provides an experiential way for students to apply basic statistical concepts, assessment data, and message design theories. In addition, it has the benefit of serving as a potential resume item and portfolio sample.

Application of the Assignment to ACEJMC Professional Values and Competencies

The fan page assignment contributes to the fulfillment of several professional values and competencies described by the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications (n.d.). It contributes to the professional value and competency about applying theories in how content and images are presented (ACEJMC, n.d.) because students are asked to apply message design concepts from Heath and Heath (2007), which include simplicity, unexpectedness, concreteness, credibility, emotional content, and stories. When reviewing initial drafts, the instructor commonly points to one or two message features that a team needs to improve upon for their final product.

In addition, the assignment contributes to ACEJMC’s (n.d.) professional value and competency about conducting research using appropriate methods adopted in the workplace because students use prior fan page performance data to set a weekly performance objective and determine qualities of successful and unsuccessful posts. Students also review the fan pages of comparison communication departments as part of their research (in accordance with the recommendation by Paine, 2011, about examining competitors’ performance). In addition, students review the metrics for the most popular and least popular posts from the prior semester and apply message design theory (i.e., Heath & Heath, 2007) and inductive logic to discuss best practices for engaging their key publics.

This assignment also contributes to three other communication-related professional values and competencies established by ACEJMC. Students gain practice in writing correctly and clearly in a format commonly used in the workplace through the text that accompanies their fan page posts (ACEJMC, n.d.). They are assigned a team grade, so they must critically assess their work and their teammates’ work “for accuracy and fairness,” as well as clear, grammatically correct writing (ACEJMC, n.d., para. 13). Another communication-related competency that is relevant to this assignment is the call for students to use current technologies used by professionals to understand the digital world (ACEJMC, n.d.). Students learn best practices for the digital world through their research about successful Facebook posts and draft their own digital content. Also, to earn an A, students must use their own images/videos for all posts and are encouraged to use resources such as Canva for images.

Finally, this assignment contributes to the ACEJMC (n.d.) competency about applying basic math and statistics. Students apply the mean, mode, median and standard deviation based on data from the prior semester to set the weekly performance objective that will apply to all teams. They use basic percentage calculations to determine how many interactions would be needed to achieve particular percentage increases. Students are encouraged to also report the percentage by which they surpassed the weekly class objective on their resumes/LinkedIn profiles if relevant.

Connection to Best Measurement Practices

To contextualize the strengths and limitations of the assignment as they apply to the professional practice of public relations, students are taught the Barcelona Principles 2.0 in conjunction with the assignment (see the Institute for Public Relations, 2015). Students are told that the best objectives are tied to business results, and the number of interactions to a post is merely an output measure about whether a campaign is on the right track (in conjunction with an analysis of comments, which is another mid-campaign output measure). Questions about measuring social media and the Barcelona Principles also appear on the class study guide and exam to ensure that students are not confused about using an interaction count as an ultimate measure of a campaign’s success. The instructor explains to students that the assignment is designed in a truncated way to focus the class efforts on the course objectives. Additional survey and qualitative research could be added for a research methods class to tie the social media performance to business results. In conjunction with the assignment, students also share experiences with how they measure the success of their social media in their internships and compare these measures (or lack of any measure) to the Barcelona Principles. Students are shown an award-winning video about a Facebook campaign received from a PR agency, which is paused periodically to identify key terms (output, outcome), recognize message design strategies summarized by Heath and Heath (2007), and apply the Barcelona Principles to the campaign measurement.

Assignment Details

In addition to teaching the Barcelona Principles, additional best practices for measurement, and message design theory, the assignment introduction also involves a discussion about what makes public relations strategic. Ultimately, the assignment addresses the importance of goals, objectives, research about key publics, research-tested message design strategies, tactics that are appropriate to key publics, and assessment, which should occur during the campaign and at the end of the campaign.

Goals and Objectives

The class discusses the goal and sets the objective for weekly performance. The following goal is shared with them as the assignment: “Enhance the sense of community surrounding the UNC Charlotte Department of Communication Studies.” Next, the class is led through basic statistics to set an objective. Students examine the total number of weekly interactions for each week of the prior semester, which are included on the assignment handout. Students calculate the median, mode, and mean on their assignment handout. Next, they use a standard deviation website to automatically calculate this number to determine whether their distribution of weekly fan page interactions is normal (see EasyCalculation.com, n.d.). Kernler’s (2014) visual helps students understand the concept of standard deviation. Once students have figured out whether the weekly distribution of fan page interactions is normal based on the data’s standard deviation (extensive instructions are in the handout, which is walked through together), they decide whether they can use the previous semester’s mean as an anchor for setting their objective or whether the median or mode might be better choices. Once they have made their decision, as a class, they complete the following framework for the class objective: “To increase interaction on the fan page for the week (i.e., defined as the combined total of reactions, comments and shares) among members of any of our key publics by ________________, as compared with _________________________.” They calculate what a 10% increase would be from their anchoring metric and decide whether they think the increase is both meaningful and attainable. If the increase is not meaningful, they calculate what a 20% increase would be and so forth. The class also acknowledges that with social media, a major limitation is that we do not necessarily know if the people interacting with the content represent the class’ key publics, which were defined as prospective, current, and graduated majors and the parents of all three groups; department faculty, staff, and administrators; and university administrators.

Due to the modest size of the department’s fan page subscribers, a second goal for the class was built into the assignment: “Increase awareness of the UNC Charlotte Department of Communication Studies fan page.” The predetermined objective for the class was “to increase page likes among members of any of our key publics by five people per team member.” Students recorded the names of the people they recruited and organized the list by key public. They were not allowed to recruit each other for the assignment. Fan page recruitment stretched some students in terms of their comfort zones with promoting fan page content and might have played an important role in most students’ ability to reach their objective for the number of weekly fan page interactions.

Student Privacy, Assignment Timeline, Content, Rubric, and Teamwork

Each team’s Monday post includes an introduction of the team with a group picture and a quote for #MotivationMonday. To be in compliance with FERPA, students are informed that they need to tell the instructor prior to the deadline of their initial draft if they have any privacy preferences regarding the use of their name or picture. Drafts are due on Tuesday prior to the team’s week, feedback is provided within 24 hours, and students’ final submission for a revised grade is due via email Friday afternoon of the same week. The timeline is feasible because only one Facebook assignment is graded each week. Content is posted a week in advance, and the instructor emails the team to remind them to promote the fan page during the week and email anyone they featured on the day the relevant content appears if tagging was not possible. Students often share the Monday post on their feeds, which helps them exceed the weekly objective. Other themes for posts include Teach It Tuesday, Working Wednesday, Thursday Thoughts, and Forty-Niner Friday (named for the university mascot). The instructor maintains a list of content covered in the prior semester and restricts students from focusing on it (with some exceptions). The rubric for the assignment can be found in the Appendix. The complete handout exceeds the page limit of this article and can be requested via email (tgallica@uncc.edu).


Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications [ACEJMC]. (n.d.). Nine accrediting standards. Retrieved from http://www.acejmc.org/policies-process/nine-standards

EasyCalculation.com. (n.d.). Standard deviation calculator. Retrieved from https://www.easycalculation.com/statistics/standard-deviation.php

Heath, C., & Heath, D. (2007). Made to stick: Why some ideas survive and other die. New York: Random House.

Institute for Public Relations. (2015). Barcelona Principles 2.0 – updated 2015. Retrieved from http://www.instituteforpr.org/barcelona-principles-2-0-updated-2015

Kernler, D. (2014, October 30). A visual representation of the empirical (68-95-99.7) rule based on the normal distribution. Retrieved from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Empirical_Rule.PNG

Paine, K. D. (2011). Measure what matters: Online tools for understanding customers, social media, engagement, and key relationships. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.



Assignment Rubric

In nearly all cases, you and your team will share the same grade. Thus, you need to work together to brainstorm good content ideas and proof each other’s posts, which will help to ensure a consistently high quality.

An exception to sharing the same grade is if a team member is not making internal deadlines that the team sets. If a member of your team is not keeping up with your internal timeline after at least one reminder and is not responsive to you within 24 hours, please email me or meet with me. Possible options I might take include lowering the teammate’s individual score or removing the individual from the team. Individuals who are removed from a team have the option of completing an alternate assignment (such as anonymously creating content for May 1-5 and will earn an assignment grade no higher than a C). Also, if I see that a team member did not author any of the posts, I will drop this person from the group.

5 points: Engaging, inviting, professional, human tone, including word choice. Use of up to one exclamation point per post to avoid sounding giddy.

10 points: Interesting content that is strategic with regard to the information covered in this worksheet and in our class discussion.

10 points: Quality of pictures or videos (aesthetic quality, lighting, sharpness, sound, if relevant) and how interesting they are (candid pictures and videos taken by you are preferred).

  • Any picture taken from the Internet that is not free to use (or that is free to use with attribution but is lacking the attribution) will result in a 0 from the individual author’s score and a maximum of 7/10 on the other team members’ score. I will also file a plagiarism report with the university, even if I do not press charges.
  • For a score of 8-10, the Monday post picture must be taken of your group all together with sharp resolution and good lighting. The picture should enhance your professional footprint.
  • For a score of 9-10, high-quality original photos and videos must be included for every post. See me if you want to appeal for an exception. Remember that you can use Canva online to create free images for quotes.

10 points: Writing mechanics, factual accuracy, spelling (including the saved name of the document), AP style and brevity.

  • 10/10: Flawless
  • 9/10: 1-2 errors
  • 8/10: 3-4 errors
  • 7/10 5-6 errors
  • 6/10 7-8 errors

(and so forth)


How Do Social Media Managers “Manage” Social Media? A Social Media Policy Assignment


Melissa Adams

Melissa Adams, North Carolina State University

SlideShare PDF

How Do Social Media Managers “Manage” Social Media?: A Social Media Policy Assignment

How Do Social Media Managers “Manage” Social Media?: A Social Media Policy Assignment

As numerous public relations research studies have noted, social media communication by employees and other stakeholders often impacts public perceptions of their associated organizations, whether or not that communication is sanctioned by the enterprise or is a personal expression. Employees have been known to use social media to purposefully express anger or attempt to harm the reputation of organizations through “venting” or negative “flaming” messages meant to be seen by potential clients or hires, thus presenting new challenges for public relations (Jennings, Blount, & Weatherly, 2014; Krishna & Kim, 2014).

As the resident social media “expert,” commonly charged with monitoring and responding to such communication, as well as day-to-day management, public relations professionals are usually the primary resource for the development of social media policies (Lee, Sha, Dozier, & Sargent, 2015; Messner, 2014). Even though organizations may not have a policy in place when they become active on social media, they often realize the necessity of one after gaining some experience (Messner, 2014).

This assignment was developed to address the task of policy development with practical training that foregrounds professional ethical communication guidance, legal precedent, and collaboration with organizational stakeholders. Researching and crafting the policy also prepares students for the emergent public relations role of social media policy maker and manager (Neill & Moody, 2015).

Assignment Rationale

The social media policy assignment was designed to integrate knowledge gained from recent course material and discussion of ethical social media practice, a unit on the current legal environment (copyright, etc.), and a workshop on the basics of campaign planning. It challenges students to apply what they have learned to the development of a comprehensive policy addressing organizational needs and includes all the appropriate information (i.e., they must think it through just as they would in an agency or professional project). This unit begins with the question “How do social media managers really ‘manage’ social media?” Then, moving through the ethics and legal units as a class, this question continues to promote discussion of the challenges that digital public relations practitioners must take into account as resident technical experts, planners, and policy advisors managing social media and organization-public relationships (Lee, Sha, Dozier, & Sargent, 2015; Neill & Moody, 2015). Legal case precedent and issues of copyright, fair use, and freedom of speech as expressed on social media (e.g., the Hispanics United versus National Labor Relations Board case) are the focus of class discussion leading up to the social media policy assignment (Lipschultz, 2014; Myers, 2014).

In addition, this assignment requires students to identify and work with a client organization, learn about the organization’s potential risks from inappropriate social media use, and then make analytical decisions to construct an ethical, comprehensive policy to address them. Finally, the completed social media policy provides students with a professional quality portfolio piece, and if the client chooses to adopt it, an impressive resume-builder.

Student Learning Goals

This assignment develops several communications practice competencies noted by public relations educators and practitioners as desired skills for young professionals. Through its blend of research and knowledge application, the social media policy assignment teaches students to think like a practitioner following best practices and the value of collaboratively developed policies (Freberg, Remund, & Keltner-Previs, 2013; Messner, 2014). Working through this assignment, students build practical research skills by conducting discovery interviews with organization practitioners or administrators, while simultaneously gaining experience working with a client, managing logistics and communication. The assignment also helps students develop analytic acumen through performing an audit of client social media assets in regard to organizational risk.

By conducting a working review of existing organizational social media and example documents, students learn and understand common objectives and components of social media policies. They are then challenged to apply their recently gained legal knowledge to the development of an ethical and compliant written social media policy document.

Finally, as advanced writing and presentation skills are core competencies for public relations practice, the social media policy assignment provides an opportunity to refine presentation skills and gain experience producing professional quality documents. For the last stage of the assignment, students are required to formally meet and present their final policies to their client organizations, who in turn complete a satisfaction form for assessment.

Connections to Public Relations Theory and Practice

 This assignment comes from a course developed for seniors and advanced juniors enrolled in the public relations concentration. It connects to recent scholarship and research on the ethical practice of social media in public relations. As communications professionals, students will likely be required to either update existing social media policies or develop new ones for clients or employer organizations. To do this, these young professionals will need to work across the organizations to collaborate with other stakeholders in human resources, legal and marketing to develop, implement, promote, and police them across the enterprise as noted in recent research (Neill & Moody, 2015). Crucially, they must be able to craft policies that both recognize the free speech rights of employees and provide a comprehensive guidelines document addressing all areas of possible use (Lipschultz, 2014; Myers, 2014).

In preparation for the social media policy assignment, students read and discuss a textbook chapter on the legal issues of social media practice (Lipschultz, 2014) and review National Public Radio’s Ethics Handbook (n.d.), which addresses the general ethical journalism practice concepts of fairness, transparency, and accuracy. They also review the Public Relations Society of America’s Member Code of Ethics (n.d.), which reinforces the journalistic principles covered by NPR’s Ethics Handbook, yet extends them to the role of ethical digital public relations practice by addressing practitioner duties such as the preservation of accurate information flow and safeguarding privacy (PRSA, n.d.). In addition to professional ethical guidance, these resources offer a framework for the students to refer back to as they work through the assignment and interact with their clients about the specific needs of their organizations.

Assignment Introduction and Execution

 To introduce the assignment, two examples of actual (anonymized) social media policies of varying scope and audience (university and small business or student organization) are presented. Students form small groups to work through examples of the policies, comparing the components and noting differences. They make a list of all the similarities and differences of each policy element as a group. Afterward, the class discusses the elements of each policy to determine their primary function and necessity. Then the social media policy assignment is introduced with an in-depth handout (a brief version of the handout is provided in the Appendix) and a walk-through of the numerous questions students should ask to determine the needs and goals of their client organization, including resources required for implementation and adoption.

Students are then charged with identifying a client organization to work with on this assignment—a nonprofit organization, student organization, or a small business they are affiliated with that needs such a policy. If needed, students receive help connecting with a potential client organization for the project.

From this point, students use the assignment instructions to work on their individual policy documents on their own time. After completion and grading, the policies are returned to the students for finalization for their clients, and they email them to the instructor for a final proofread before the documents are delivered. This final step allows a review of presentation points and the assessment form with the students.

Evidence of Learning Outcomes

Several of the client organizations have implemented their student’s policy document following completion of this assignment. These included student organizations, two nonprofits, and two small businesses where students were employed or interning at the time. One small business, a massage studio and beauty spa, adopted the social media policy across its small chain of retail locations in the Southeastern US.

Additionally, students have noted in instructor feedback forms that this assignment was very useful as it gave them an opportunity to develop “real world” experience and a document they could use as both a portfolio piece and a professional writing sample.


Freberg, K., Remund, D., & Keltner-Previs, K. (2013). Integrating evidence based practices into public relations education. Public Relations Review, 39(3), 235-237. doi: 10.1016/j.pubrev.2013.03.005

Jennings, S. E., Blount, J. R., & Weatherly, M. G. (2014). Social media—A virtual Pandora’s box: Prevalence, possible legal liabilities, and policies. Business and Professional Communication Quarterly, 77(1), 96-113. doi: 10.1177/2329490613517132

Krishna, A., & Kim, S. (2015). Confessions of an angry employee: The dark side of de-identified “confessions” on Facebook. Public Relations Review, 41(3), 404-410. doi: 10.1016/j.pubrev.2015.03.001

Lee, N., Sha, B. L., Dozier, D., & Sargent, P. (2015). The role of new public relations practitioners as social media experts. Public Relations Review, 41(3), 411-413. doi: 10.1016/j.pubrev.2015.05.002

Lipschultz, J. H. (2014). Social media communication: Concepts, practices, data, law and ethics. New York, New York: Routledge.

Messner, M. (2014). To tweet or not: Analysis of ethical guidelines for social media engagement of nonprofit organizations. In DiStaso, M. W., & Bortree, D. S. (Eds.), Ethical practice of social media in public relations (pp. 82-95). New York, NY: Routledge.

Myers, C. (2014). The new water cooler: Implications for practitioners concerning the NLRB’s stance on social media and workers’ rights. Public Relations Review, 40(3), 547-555. doi: 10.1016/j.pubrev.2014.03.006

National Public Radio (n.d.). NPR Ethics Handbook. Retrieved from http://ethics.npr.org/

Neill, M. S., & Moody, M. (2015). Who is responsible for what? Examining strategic roles in social media management. Public Relations Review, 41(1), 109-118. doi: 10.1016/j.pubrev.2014.10.014

Public Relations Society of America (n.d.). PRSA Member Code of Ethics. Retrieved from http://apps.prsa.org/AboutPRSA/Ethics/CodeEnglish/index.html


 Assignment Worksheet

For this assignment you will create a formal, professional social media policy for an organization of your choice. If you need help identifying an organization, I will help you connect with a local nonprofit or student organization.

Sohow do you go about this?   Just follow these steps.

Research the social media footprint and assets of the organization and create a list of all their platforms and note any apparent campaigns, strategies and tactics used.

  1. Identify, contact and talk to the person in charge of social media and brand administration for the organization (who will likely be in a communications function). If this individual can’t meet with you in person, you can connect with them via email or phone. Note that in smaller organizations, this contact might be someone in human resources or customer service.
    • Ask them if they have an existing social media policy, if so, does it fit their needs? If not, can you do one for them?
    • Then ask—what are the main concerns regarding social media for their organization? Also find out if there are any special regulations or legal issues you should be aware of when preparing your policy.
  2. Ask yourself (and your client organization when applicable) the following questions as you think through this assignment.
    • What is the “big picture” purpose of this policy? How will the policy meet certain organizational needs and align with business objectives?
    • What types of social media activities need to be addressed in the policy document? What platforms? What types of content?
    • Are there any special considerations (based on your organization) that you should consider and address in the policy?
    • Who is the audience for this policy?
    • What are the specific risks your organization hopes to mitigate with this policy and where might they come from? Employees? Other stakeholders?
    • Who will be in charge of policy administration? Who will monitor and report infractions? What will happen to violators? Who should be contacted with questions about the policy?
    • What resources might readers need to comply with this policy? (Example: A link to an organizational brand standards guide.)
    • How will your organization implement this policy? Who needs to review and approve it before dissemination?


Sections to include in your policy document:

Policy Overview – provide a rationale for the policy. Explain in clear terms why it is needed, how it will be implemented, etc. Explain its goal in positive terms (to maintain xxx, to promote xxx, etc.), and be sure to include a list of applicable social media assets. Explicitly state what is covered by the policy (and what isn’t).

Allowed Use – provide examples of approved use. This should include actual or example tweets/posts as well as brand elements. Use screenshots to illustrate as needed.

Disallowed Use – provide examples of what NOT to do! Use screenshots and descriptive language.

Legal – address any legal issues including copyright. (Example: the FERPA section in the university social media policy example.)

General Best Practices – create a short list based on the organization’s current social media assets. Follow the examples provided as well as those posted online by reputable and ethical organizations (such as the examples shared in class).

Resources – this section is for links or directions to internal resources such as legal documents or other policies, and for reference links to external sources.

Contact Information – for the administrator of the policy, legal, etc. as you see fit. Provide full information including email and phone number.


Assignment Rubric – 100 pts possible

  1. Research – 20 pts
  2. Planning/Organization – 25 pts
  3. Content (each section is addressed completely) – 35 pts
  4. Clarity (is it easy to follow?) – 10 pts
  5. Professional Presentation – 10 pts



Who Will Get Chopped?: Mystery Basket PR Challenge


         Emily Kinsky

• Mary E. Brooks, West Texas A&M University

• Emily S. Kinsky, West Texas A&M University

SlideShare PDF

Who Will Get Chopped?: Mystery Basket PR Challenge

Who Will Get Chopped?: Mystery Basket PR Challenge

Based off Food Network’s Chopped challenge, the Mystery Basket PR Challenge is a competition that focuses on creativity, speed, and skill in which students are given a box of mystery “ingredients” (e.g., brand, crisis, strategy, channel, speaker, audience) they have to use to complete an assigned task (e.g., a tweet, an official statement, a headline). For example, a box might have a brand name, a particular crisis, a group of people affected and a celebrity, and the task would be to write a headline for a news release, keeping in mind which crisis response strategy from Benoit (1997) or Coombs (2007) might be most appropriate. Students open the box and have a limited time in their groups to complete the task, which they then pitch to the judges (faculty and local professionals). This requires teamwork and application of lessons learned in class as the student groups compete against each other.

The purpose of the Mystery Basket PR Challenge is for students to apply PR strategies to handle unexpected situations and solve problems collaboratively under a deadline. This challenge can also help prepare students to clearly and quickly articulate ideas.

Per Kolb’s (1984) experiential learning theory, learning through experience focuses on the process at hand and not necessarily the outcome of the project. By formatting the classroom into a simulated work environment, students will have greater success in their future careers when faced with similar challenges (Ambrose, Bridges, DePietro, Lovett & Norman, 2010; Svinicki & McKeachie, 2014). The challenge covers the five elements that are crucial to an experiential learning activity: the use of real-world situations; complexity (more than one answer may suffice); industry-specific concepts; student-led activity; and finally, feedback and reflection (Svinicki & McKeachie, 2014). The benefits to students are numerous, especially in relation to the PR industry where strategy, creativity, spontaneous thinking, collaboration, and articulate wording are all pivotal to being successful.

This pedagogical teaching tool is applicable to a variety of courses within the PR discipline (e.g., writing, campaigns, cases, ethics, social media) or other strategic communication classes.

During fall 2016, a version of this challenge was successfully implemented in an advertising writing class as a final project. Student feedback was positive. For example, one student said, “the ‘Chopped’ final was also very intriguing! Having an interactive final that brings in industry professionals to critique our work will greatly help” students continuing in the field.

Assignment Instructions

The Mystery Basket PR Challenge includes three rounds. Each round consists of four mystery public relations components that groups of students must incorporate to produce a public relations solution for a specific organization. Students will work in small groups to produce the solution in a short amount of time for a variety of situations, organizations and media platforms. Student groups will compete against each other. Working in a collaborative environment is essential in PR. Learning to meet deadlines is also pertinent, especially in the public relations industry where clients expect work at a pre-set time. Further, PR practitioners must learn to handle unexpected crises in a timely situation.


The rules for each round include using all of the mystery basket components, creating the designated assignment within the time allotted, and making a persuasive pitch to the judges. In addition, students will have a public relations pantry they can turn to for help. The pantry would consist of their textbooks, Internet access, cell phones and laptops/tablets. This is similar to Chopped where contestants have access to a modified grocery store in order to enhance a dish. Students are given one class period to practice prior to the real competition class period with different ingredients than what will be used in the competition.


Each group has a basket of mystery components during each round. The round assignments can change based on the class topic (see Appendix A for examples). For an introductory course, Round 1 could be the event planning round; Round 2 could be the social media round; and Round 3 could be the news release round. Just like Chopped, the time for each round will increase as each round increases in difficulty. During Round 1 for a social media class, the students will have 10 minutes to create a calendar-related promotion; during Round 2, students will have 20 minutes to create a hashtag campaign; and during Round 3, the students will have 30 minutes to write a blog post.

Professional Feedback

The student groups will be given live feedback on their work from industry professionals (see Appendix B for a sample judging rubric). The benefits of including public relations industry professionals in this challenge are many. Students have a chance to demonstrate their creative and innovative ideas, their presentation abilities, and their quick thinking skills to the professionals. In addition, students and professionals will begin to formulate relationships. This is important for potential future employment and/or mentorship.

When the time for each round expires, one person from each group must present the team’s final idea to the judges for one minute (or longer, depending on the challenge). The judges will deliberate and deliver their individual comments to each group. The judges will also choose a winner for every round. The class enrollment size and the division of groups will determine how many winning groups per round. The winners from each round will be named the Mystery Basket PR Challenge champions.

Appendix A

Assignment Examples

The Mystery Basket PR Challenge can be modified for different PR courses (e.g., crisis, campaigns, writing, social media). Like Chopped, each round allows students more time (e.g., 10, 20 and 30 minutes). Some “ingredients,” like the brands, will be assigned, while others can be selected strategically by the students (e.g., which channel makes the most sense in this situation?).

Crisis Communication 

  • Round 1: Official statement
  • Component #1: Brand/Organization (this would be assigned to the group)
  • Component #2: An image restoration strategy from Benoit or Coombs
  • Component #3: Crisis (a type of crisis would be assigned to the group)
  • Component #4: Speaker (choose the title of the person who would share the statement)
  • Round 2: Social media post
  • Component #1: Brand/Organization
  • Component #2: An image restoration strategy
  • Component #3: Crisis
  • Component #4: Channel (assign or let them choose)
  • Round 3: News release
  • Component #1: Brand/Organization
  • Component #2: Crisis
  • Component #3: Audience
  • Component #4: A quote to include

Social Media

  • Round 1: Calendar promotion
  • Component #1: National ____ Day (choose a day that fits the brand/org; for example, if the students were given Bayer Aspirin as the brand, they might choose July 9 Rock ‘n’ Roll Day as the specific national day for a tied-in promotional post)
  • Component #2: Brand (company/organization assigned to the group)
  • Component #3: Social media site (choose the most appropriate site)
  • Component #4: Post (write copy, decide when it would be posted, sketch image)
  • Round 2: Hashtag campaign
  • Component #1: Organization
  • Component #2: Event
  • Component #3: Goal
  • Component #4: Social media platform
  • Round 3: Blog post
  • Component #1: Organization
  • Component #2: Audience
  • Component #3: Keywords
  • Component #4: Links

Appendix B

Judging Rubric Example 

Division A Judge Name:

Round 2: Social Media Post


Please circle which group in Division A is being judged:

Group 1                                           Group 2                                           Group 3



Please rate from 1-10 (with 10 being the best) the creativity of the social media post based on the components provided in the basket.       1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10



Please rate from 1-10 (with 10 being the best) the overall idea of the social media post based on the components provided in the basket.      1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10



Please rate the quality of presentation from 1-10 (with 10 being the best).

1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10



Please provide comments concerning the overall social media post results, the presentation, and/or anything regarding how the challenge was managed (both positive feedback and suggestions for improvement).


 Ambrose, S. A., Bridges, M. W., DiPietro, M., Lovett, M. C., & Norman, M. K. (2010). How learning works: Seven research-based principles for smart teaching. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Benoit, W. L. (1997). Image repair discourse and crisis communication. Public Relations Review, 23(2), 177-186.

Coombs, W. T. (2007). Protecting organization reputations during a crisis: The development and application of situational crisis communication theory. Corporate Reputation Review, 10(3), 163–176.

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

Svinicki, M. & McKeachie, W. (2014). McKeachie’s teaching tips: Strategy, research and theory for college and university teachers. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.