• 14Jan
    Categories: teaching Comments: 1

    Once again this semester, I’m teaching two concurrent sections of Public Relations Campaigns. I’m in the process of changing the course a bit, though, trying to better adapt it to the changing PR landscape. Since this class is the capstone for seniors majoring in public relations, I want to do everything I can to prepare them for a professional career.

    In my view, part of doing that means shifting the emphasis away from media-based campaigns. I continue to be surprised at how many students come into the class thinking that press releases, media kits, and a Blackberry full of journalists’ contact info represent the core of their future career. This capstone course is my last chance to shake them free of this idea. At the same time, they definitely need to come out of this class knowing how to research, develop, and evaluate a strategic plan. There is only so much time in a semester to give them the conceptual and methodological tools they need, practice dissecting campaigns to figure out what does and doesn’t work, expose them to enough examples to remind them just how vast a territory is covered by this field, continue their socialization into the profession, and coach teams as they work on their specific client projects. It’s a delicate balance. I push them hard, because I know I’m doing them a favor that way, but even so there are objective limits on how much you can do.

    I’m still fine-tuning the syllabus (and probably will be right up until Tuesday morning before the first class), but I think the course description now says everything I want it to. Read more »

  • 24Dec
    Categories: teaching Comments: 8

    (Note: There is something wonky going on with the formatting here, and I can’t figure it out. I’m sure it has something to do with the CSS.)

    Last semester, students in my Public Relations Campaigns class were responsible for maintaining a class blog on trends and issues in PR. The main goal of the assignment was to allow them to get their feet wet in social media, encourage them to read a variety of PR blogs, gain experience writing in a format unfamiliar to most of the students, and provide a forum in which they could discuss professional topics. I taught two sections of the course, and each section was broken into teams for their larger client projects. Teams from both sections contributed to the blog, which was also a way for them to interact amongst themselves despite being in different classes.

    I didn’t provide many guidelines for the assignment, since my main purpose was to get them writing, and I didn’t want us to get bogged down in rules. Teams were required to post once a week, and individual students to comment on at least two posts by other teams. They were required to include at least one link, preferably to a public relations blog, and to explain the significance of their chosen topic to public relations. That was basically it. As a result, the quality of the posts was uneven, but at the end of the semester most of the students noted that they had enjoyed the assignment and learned a lot from it.

    Next semester, the assignment is going to change considerably. For one thing, we are in the process of creating a microsite for our PR program within the larger school web site, and the student blog will be featured content. This greater visibility means that readership is likely to be wider, bringing in casual visitors to the site, potential students, local practitioners, and others. Furthermore, due to recent curriculum changes, more students coming into the class are likely to have a basic understanding of the mechanics of blogging and some experience with maintaining at least a personal site. And finally, although I incorporated plenty of social media into the course last semester, this time around I want to make sure that SM practices are even more deeply embedded into the course content and assignments. Somewhat paradoxically, I’m convinced that doing so will help prevent some of the “have hammer, will find nail” effect that leads students to attempt to incorporate social media strategies and tactics into their campaigns in ways that don’t really suit the client’s goals and objectives.

    Since I try to give very detailed explanations of my assignments, outlining both the purpose and my expectations, I’ve been working on the assignment sheet for the new and improved class blog. What better place to look for feedback than among fellow PR bloggers? Details of the assignment are tucked away below, and your input is welcome.
    Read more »

  • 12Dec
    Categories: teaching Comments: 2

    The semester is winding to a close. This afternoon, my students will give their final presentations to an auditorium audience of classmates, clients, local PR professionals, and the occasional person who just happens to wander in. I’m very excited for them: I’ve seen the proposals and practice presentations, and I am looking forward to hearing feedback from clients and others.

    Meanwhile, on the last day of class I asked them to write down, on index cards I provided, three pieces of advice to next semester’s students. I promised them that I would pass on all of their tips, although I reserve the right to point out bits that are ill advised or incorrect. Many of the recommendations were repetitive, and underscore things I’ve said myself–although I suspect they will carry more weight coming from students who have been through the class. Some of the comments are wise, some amusing, some downright worrisome or simply baffling. Here, for your edification, is the complete collection of tips on what you should know if you ever find yourself in my Campaigns class, according to this semester’s students:

    Read more »

  • 29Nov

    My previous entry was partly for my personal records, and also a response to a Twittered request by Constantin Basturea for details about social media-related panels at the conference, which I was happy to oblige. However, my conference attendance or interest wasn’t limited solely to presentations regarding the online world. Aside from a very interesting panel on mentoring, sponsored by the Mass Communication Division and which I hope becomes a regular feature of the conference, my NCA experience also centered around one of my central research interests: crisis communication and management.

    I noticed that there continues to be an emphasis, in the public relations research on this topic, on rhetorical strategies regarding image restoration/repair/renewal.This year, I was happy to see a shift away from concentrating solely on the mid-crisis or immediate post-crisis stage, and more discussion of crisis preparation, prevention, and learning. The “pre-crisis” period–aka, any point in time when a crisis is not (knowingly) in full swing, or just ended–also overlaps with risk communication and issues management, and I enjoyed several presentations on these topics. Read more »

  • 24Nov

    Despite my embarrassing neglect of this space over the last few months, I’m neither dead nor trapped under a heavy piece of furniture–unless you count the metaphorical heavy furniture of a busy new job and numerous research projects in progress. To compensate a bit, and also for my personal records, I thought I would write a bit about this year’s NCA conference. I’m currently sitting in the San Diego airport waiting for my flight home, so it’s all very fresh in my mind.

    This year’s conference was a short one for me: given last week’s Cronkite Week celebrations, particularly the luncheon on Friday to honor our award recipients Jim Lehrer and Robin McNeil, I didn’t get to San Diego until Saturday. I was supposed to arrive early in the morning, but fog caused such serious delays I didn’t make it to the Manchester Hyatt until around noon. So I missed both the Top Papers session and business meeting for the PR division, unfortunately. Read more »

  • 14Sep

    Much of my work deals with theories of complexity, seeking ways to operationalize the concepts of these natural science theories for use in social science research, and develop new complexity-based concepts for the study of social phenomena. Eventually I’ll write a blog post (or six) that deals with some of these concepts in greater depth, but here’s a quick and dirty summary of some of the key characteristics of complex systems:

    • they are made up of individual elements, or agents;
    • these agents engage in local, recurrent interactions based on rules that may change as circumstances evolve;
    • these interactions lead to patterns of self-organization among agents, as they form groups and develop modes of behavior to adapt to internal and external changes (self-organization is also often referred to as emergence);
    • as a result, the system is dynamic and unstable, subject to both gradual and sudden change;
    • everything that occurs within the system is dependent on what has come before: history plays a central role in self-organization and system change, even when the changes are nonlinear (cannot be immediately traced to a proximate cause);
    • the boundaries of complex systems are highly permeable and not clearly defined: the extreme level of interdependency makes it difficult to say what lies “inside” the system, and what lies “outside”;
    • for similar reasons, complex systems cannot be reduced: extracting part of the system, or statistical sampling, will necessarily lead to the loss of significant sets of relationships among agents, and thus obscure some sources and/or reflections of change.

    One reason that the complexity sciences have resonated so deeply with me ever since I first discovered their existence, several years ago, is that I can so clearly see evidence of complexity in my own life. Seemingly random interactions form recognizable, emergent patterns over time, and an insistence on expecting linear a+b=c results is bound to meet with disappointment. Personally, I’ve found it less stressful and more satisfying to embrace nonlinear outcomes and allow myself to be surprised by where life takes me. (This doesn’t mean accepting fatalism: the importance of history and local interactions means that I have to focus on my own efforts, actions, and relationships. They just may not end up leading to where I think they will.)

    My professional interest in complexity has produced some emergent patterns as well. First, it led me to pursue a doctorate, which wasn’t at all my initial plan, and to write the book that came out this past summer. Both were the result of my master’s thesis and my resulting relationship with Priscilla Murphy, who was the only person writing about public relations and complexity back when I first began studying these issues. It has led me to study networks and narratives, which in turn have introduced me to certain people and bodies of literature. And at the moment, it has led me to projects as diverse as my current research on Twitter in public relations, collaboration with my colleague Yushim Kim in the School of Public Affairs here at ASU’s downtown campus, and with the Consortium for Strategic Communication led by Steve Corman at the Hugh Downs School of Human Communication in Tempe.

    As recently as six years ago, I never could have foreseen any of the above, yet in retrospect it all fits together perfectly. (That’s what I would call the narrative dimension of complexity.) I love seeing the emergent patterns in my life and my work.

  • 10Sep

    So, this week we’re talking in class about persuasion and propaganda, and the way that public relations seems to be inextricably linked in the public’s imagination (and the mind of many journalists) with the latter.

    This discussion reminds me of a TV commercial that ran for Telecom Italia a few years back, and that I find fascinating when viewed from the perspective of communication theory. I made sure to record a copy of it for future reference, since I was so struck by it.

    This ad makes me think of at least four different theories. What about you? And would Gandhi be engaging in propaganda if it were true?

  • 31Aug

    I really enjoyed Shel Holtz’s video/slide presentation on social media in organizations; I plan to assign it to my students in a few weeks. I think he does a good job of explaining the potential benefits of knowledge sharing and relationship formation that can come from active use of social media.

    The first time I taught a college class, I was surprised to learn that many students in the so-called Digital Generation had relatively little awareness or understanding of social media tools and their power. I found myself having to radically revise my assumptions about how much time most students spent online, and what they were doing. This was a few years ago, when the number of tools was limited, but I continue to find similar reactions even now, and even though I’m working with a somewhat different student population.

    These days I’m working on a project on Twitter, which I’ll be discussing at NCA in San Diego as part of a roundtable jointly hosted by the PR and Organizational Communication divisions of NCA. When I mentioned Twitter the other day in class, I discovered that none of my students had heard of it. I certainly don’t expect anyone to know of every social media platform that exists–I showed them the Conversation Prism developed by Brian Solis and Jesse Thomas, while admitting that there were plenty of services shown that I’d never heard of–but I think of Twitter as pretty high-profile. Once again, my assumptions needed revising.

    I’ve been active in social media for many years, since well before the term “blog” was first uttered, and have always found there to be a divide between those who “get it” and those who don’t. For me, with a background and interest in organizational knowledge sharing and internal communication, the benefits seemed immediately obvious from the start. But it’s been an uphill battle: back when my online practices were limited to personal interaction, I would frequently encounter the “What’s the point?” question from less technology-minded friends. Then with clients, who were sometimes enthusiastic about the technology but not about the regular writing and communicating part, and sometimes vice versa. And now with students, who may or may not be active users of Facebook or MySpace, but who struggle with the idea that they need to know how to use social media effectively as part of their toolkit as professional communicators.

    So I continue to be surprised by what students know about social media and what they don’t, and to be challenged by figuring out ways to illustrate the professional usefulness of these services. Shel’s video is a good start.

  • 30Aug

    View my page on PROpenMic

  • 30Aug

    I’m in the process of preparing an upcoming lesson on ethics and PR, and facing the usual dilemma. I think it’s crucial to emphasize the importance of ethics in any kind of organizational decision-making context, and the potential impact of strategic communication campaigns makes it especially key for public relations students (and practitioners, of course).

    However, I find it difficult to adequately cover the topic of ethics in a single class session. While I’m sure they’ve already had exposure to ethical concepts in previous coursework, some discussion will be necessary to determine just what they know and remember. In the past, I’ve been surprised and saddened to find that many students have solid personal ethics, but are convinced that they will have to abide by a completely different set of rules when they join a company. “The corporate world is ruthless, and you have to do everything you can to get ahead,” “There’s no room for ethics in the workplace,” and “If your boss tells you to do something, you can’t refuse even if it’s unethical” are all sentiments that students have expressed in discussions and written assignments. Obviously we need to spend more time making sure students understand the importance of upholding professional standards of conduct despite pressures in the workplace. That’s not going to happen in a single week of class.

    I would love to teach an elective on ethics, but barring that possibility, I’m trying to work in as much discussion of ethical decision making as I can throughout the semester. Aside from the PRSA code of ethics, I’ve found that movies and novels are often good conversation starters: The Insider, Thank You For Smoking, and Slick (A Novel) have all worked well for me. I’m interested in knowing how other instructors incorporate ethics into their public relations or other communication classes.