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The evolution of public relations research -an overview



The field of public relations is often misunderstood, due to its hybridity, complexity and competing perspectives within the field of scholarship. This essay, which is based on extensive engagement with literature conducted over decades of teaching and researching the subject, outlines the main schools of thought within the field. These are summarised as a) Excellence; b) Advocacy; c) Dialogue; and d) Critical and Cultural approaches. Each perspective reflects variations in understanding of the role of public relations in theory and practice, ranging from an idealised conceptualisation of the practitioner to a demonised view of the practice. It refers throughout to different attitudes to ethics found within these schools, as approaches to ethics provide insight into understandings of the role of public relations within society. The piece concludes with reflections on the growing engagement with promotional culture and emerging research directions.
ISSN 2386-7876 © 2018 Communication & Society, 31(4 ), 159-171
Excellence, rhetoric, critical theory, promotional culture,
1. Introduction
Special issue
C&S 30 anniversary
Johanna Fawkes
University of Huddersfield
July 12th, 2018
August 10th, 2018
© 2018
Communication & Society
ISSN 0214-0039
E ISSN 2386-7876
doi: 10.15581/
2018 Vol. 31(4)
pp. 159-171
How to cite this article:
Fawkes, J. (2018). The evolution of
public relations research an
overview. Communication & Society,
31(4), 159-171.
ISSN 2386-7876 © 2018 Communication & Society, 31(4 ), 159-171
ISSN 2386-7876 © 2018 Communication & Society, 31(4 ), 159-171
2. Approaches to public relations
2.1. Excellence
2.1.1. Excellence and ethics
ISSN 2386-7876 © 2018 Communication & Society, 31(4 ), 159-171
2.2. Advocacy
2.2.1. Advocacy ethics
ISSN 2386-7876 © 2018 Communication & Society, 31(4 ), 159-171
2.3. Dialogue
2.3.1. Dialogic ethics
2.4. Critical and cultural approaches
ISSN 2386-7876 © 2018 Communication & Society, 31(4 ), 159-171
2.4.1. Critical ethics
ISSN 2386-7876 © 2018 Communication & Society, 31(4 ), 159-171
3. Notions of society
ISSN 2386-7876 © 2018 Communication & Society, 31(4 ), 159-171
4. Promotional culture
ISSN 2386-7876 © 2018 Communication & Society, 31(4 ), 159-171
5. Reflections and conclusion
ISSN 2386-7876 © 2018 Communication & Society, 31(4 ), 159-171
ISSN 2386-7876 © 2018 Communication & Society, 31(4 ), 159-171
ISSN 2386-7876 © 2018 Communication & Society, 31(4 ), 159-171
ISSN 2386-7876 © 2018 Communication & Society, 31(4 ), 159-171
... Media are being treated by the PR practitioners as the useful bridge, influential channel to reach the recipients. Such actions shouldn't be misunderstood and treated as equal with companies' marketing activities (Fawkes, 2018). PR adapts and it's in the move with its publics, it's much more than marketing-orientated communication, e.g. ...
... The PR plays an important role in the contemporary organizational functioning. But new paradigms in PR theory emphasise the role of social environment in organizational communication (Edwards, 2018;Fawkes, 2018). Collective vision theory (Mirzoeff, 2016) suggests that we learn how to see and not just simply observe the world through the sense of sight. ...
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The paper presents the functions of public relations from visual communication standpoint. The argument for iconic turn application into public relations theory is provided. Next, the paper describes three main functions of images in PR: informative, persuasive and aesthetic. The essay is a theoretical realisation of socio-cultural paradigm in a public relations theory. Contemporary public’s interactions with visuals are dynamic. The constructivist approach stresses the role of knowledge in perception and therefore it is against the simplistic nativist approach to perceptual activity. It allows recipients’ behaviour to be generally appropriate also to non-sensed object characteristics. The publics remaining in the dialogue with an organization, learn specific aesthetics and perceive specific institutional visual stimuli. The paper indicates the need for interdisciplinary research in both visual and organizational communication domains. Such application of PR encompasses constant researching, conducting and evaluating communication programs to achieve the informed public understanding necessary to the success of an organization’s aims.
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. El futuro de las relaciones públicas/comunicación y su impacto social aborda: el cuestionamiento de las competencias o del estatus de los profesionales de las relaciones públicas/comunicación, a ética de la persuasión y el legado de las relaciones públicas/comunicación, y el equilibrio de los valores personales con los valores de la organización y las exigencias de la sociedad. Y el momento no podría ser más oportuno. Cada vez se pide más ayuda a los profesionales de las relaciones públicas/comunicación tras una pandemia, un conflicto o una emergencia climática. Estos profesionales son desafiados abiertamente por otras disciplinas que prometen una mejor medición, óptimos marcos de gestión y resultados más inmediatos, como las consultorías de gestión que dirigen iniciativas medioambientales, sociales y de gobernanza (ESG, por su sigla en inglés), y de responsabilidad social corporativa (Veenstra & Ellemers, 2020). También se enfrentan a las exigencias cada vez más difíciles de mantener la confianza en la profesión, gestionar actividades complejas y volátiles, y aumentar la transparencia tanto de la profesión como de las organizaciones a las que apoyan (Adi, 2019; Adi et al., 2023). Las tecnologías emergentes, como la IA generativa (Swiatek & Galloway, 2023), plantean un desafío adicional y agravante. Por ejemplo, ChatGPT se lanzó públicamente el 30 de noviembre de 2022, cuando este estudio ya estaba muy avanzado. El sector recién comienza a reflexionar sobre sus implicancias,que deberán ser abordadas por futuras investigaciones.
... First, our study confirmed the volume of public relations scholarship has substantially grown, especially during the last twenty years. The increase in the number of publications from about 150 to about 250 per year (Fig. 2) signals the continuing maturation of the field (Pasadeos et al., 2010) that has been drifting away from "how to" literature to academic research since the 1980s (Fawkes, 2018). ...
This VOSviewer-enabled bibliometric study examines scientific knowledge construction in public relations research since 1955. A co-citation analysis indicates that while sustaining its cross-disciplinary nature, public relations increasingly relies on scholarship generated within its own discipline, with Public Relations Review, Journal of Public Relations Research and Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly most cited academic sources. A citation analysis of author affiliations revealed a number of findings, including universities with the highest count of publications, university pairs that tend to cite each other, as well as regional university groups and large clusters within a broader, citation-based network. Among the 108 most productive academic institutions from four continents included into the study, U.S.-based universities produced the highest number of publications in nine peer-reviewed journals. Cross-referencing citation relationships among university clusters in different world regions illustrates an ongoing pattern of globalized construction of public relations knowledge.
... Introduction planning, protocol and ceremony, fundraising, public diplomacy and many other sub-specialties (Caldevilla-Domínguez, Barrientos-Báez and Fombona-Cadavieco, 2020;Fawkes, 2018;Míguez, 2013;Xifra, 2014). ...
... Meanwhile, (Fawkes, 2018) argues that competitive perspectives can be often seen within public relations academia and a certain disagreement and lack of communication between different approaches. ...
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The purpose of this study is to verify the utilisation of the existing public relations general approaches and theories at a global scale in the public relations undergraduate programmes of the five leading Argentinian universities. A qualitative approach with an exploratory scope that employs data collection techniques such as the qualitative content analysis of academic documents, semi-structured in-depth interviews and structured surveys for ascertaining theoretical loading are used. Results reveal that public relations undergraduate programmes in Argentina present a markedly professional character and prefer theoretical frameworks linked to the functionalist tradition.
This project addresses the evolution of public relations research over the past decade by examining its two SSCI-indexed journals with methods that can reveal the influence of multiple categories of research clusters. Modeling the full text of all 1,293 published articles in Public Relations Review (PRR) and the Journal of Public Relations Research (JPRR) from 2010 to 2020 (7,400,685 words), we identified nine non-discrete clusters in public relations research. Using three computational methods – structural topic modeling, inter-cluster network analysis, and network simulation – we found that (1) the strategic management cluster emerged as the most central for the past decade, followed by public relations professionalism, digital media, crisis communication, internal communication, global public relations, rhetoric and philosophy, media relations, and critical studies, ranked by their proportions in the scholarship; (2) JPRR had greater emphasis on the strategic management cluster relative to PRR, which offered a more diverse representation; (3) little longitudinal change occurred throughout the decade, although internal communication gained traction and public relations professionalism and media relations lost ground as the decade progressed; and 4) the last ten years of public relations research did not see intersection among theoretical traditions from different clusters as much as expected, leaving opportunity for more inter-cluster knowledge production. Theoretical and practical implications for the public relations research community are discussed.
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Ethical behaviour has long been a subject of the strategic communication discipline, but in South Africa, there are few empirical studies on ethical practice to date. Using a qualitative methodology, this study examines what constitutes ethical communication and how strategic communication practitioners from diverse organisations perceive their role as a "moral compass" during a crisis. The study indicates that ethical principles of communication are employed, but practitioners still find themselves in conflict with truth-telling. Overall, the results show that respondents identify more with ethical counsel types than advocacy role types. In terms of counsel types of ethics, being authentic, empathetic, truthful, honest, owning up to mistakes, being open and transparent, and being sensitive to stakeholders' urgent needs were paramount. On the basis of this study, although marked with issues of legal challenges, as well as leaders and clients who often want practitioners to compromise on their ethical conscience roles, practitioners were insisting on performing the role of ethics counsel in their organisations. This study contributes to the strategic communication discipline by offering insights into ethical communication and provides a foundation from which future research can leverage.
This text is part of a broader project that seeks to examine the field of Public Relations from the systematic study of scientific production published in the main academic journal of the specialty: Public Relations Review (ISSN 0363–8111). From an analysis of the content of all the papers (n = 1037) published in this journal during 15 years, between 2000 and 2014, the authors, topics, universities, professional networks, countries, objectives, questions, hypotheses, methodologies, techniques, theories and type of applied research have been examined. The main authors, universities and countries with the highest productivity are identified, as well as the dominant topics in the field and their evolution over time, among others important issues, in order to contribute to an overview of the past, present and future of public relations research from what was addressed in the journal during the first fifteen years of the XXI century. It concludes with suggestions for future research.
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This paper reports on an ongoing enquiry into the value of formally incorporating reflective practice in public relations curricula. It discusses the findings of an action research project that addressed the question: can formally including reflective practice in public relations teaching programmes assist teachers to fulfil the intense curricula demands of credentialism (the pursuit of formal qualifications or skills as an indication of a person's ability to do a particular job) while adopting a more prosocial approach to the teaching of public relations? The context of this research was an undergraduate, capstone public relations course taught at a New Zealand university. This course provides students with the opportunity to experience authentic elements of the 'messy swamps' of professional practice (Schön, 2017) prior to entering the workforce. The paper first discusses the motivations underpinning this research, and why reflection and reflective practice are important for public relations students and practitioners. Next it discusses action research and why it was chosen as the methodology for this research. This part of the paper also explains why Fook and Gardner's (2007) two-stage reflective method was chosen as the model of formal reflection, and how it was applied. Finally the paper provides specific examples of the complexities and successes that the teaching team faced when formally incorporating reflective practice into the curriculum. The paper concludes with the claim that, despite concerns and difficulties, formal reflection is a 'sweet spot' that can provide a way of reconciling the intense curricula demands of credentialism with emerging prosocial approaches to the teaching of public relations.
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