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Douglas Farber Cannon

The Dissertation Committee for Douglas Farber Cannon certifies that this is the approved

version of the following dissertation:






Dominic L. Lasorsa, Co-Supervisor ____________________________________

Ronald B. Anderson, Co-Supervisor ____________________________________

Paula M. Poindexter ____________________________________

Stephen D. Reese ____________________________________

Frank C. Richardson




by Douglas Farber Cannon, B.A.J.; M.A.

Dissertation Presented to the Faculty of the Graduate School of The University of Texas at Austin in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy The University of Texas at Austin December 2008




Douglas Farber Cannon, Ph.D.

The University of Texas at Austin, 2008 Supervisors: Dominic L. Lasorsa and Ronald B. Anderson This study expands the body of knowledge relating to Excellence Public Relations Theory to a new area—religion communication. The project replicated portions of the survey research reported in Grunig, Grunig and Dozier (2002). That research, done from 1991 to 2002, involved top communicators, employees and chief executives in 327 secular organizations across the United States, United Kingdom and Canada.

This project surveyed members of the Religion Communicators Council in 2006 and 2007. A second survey in 2008 sought responses to similar questions from faith group leaders who supervised respondents to the 2006-07 survey. Answers from religion communicators were compared to those of their supervisors and secular practitioners in earlier studies.

Comparisons showed that religion communicators in this study were a distinct subgroup of U.S. public relations practitioners. RCC members worked primarily as communication technicians, not managers. That made them different from practitioners in the 327 secular organizations studied by Grunig, Grunig and Dozier (2002). Furthermore,

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models in Excellence Theory described different approaches to public relations. Religion communicators also did not know what their supervisors expected from them or their departments. Communicators overestimated their supervisors’ support for the press agentry/publicity and public information models of public relations. Communicators underestimated support for the two-way symmetrical and asymmetrical models.

Likewise, communicators rated their contributions to the work of their faith groups lower than their supervisors did. Faith group leaders said they wanted communicators to be managers more than technicians. Top executives were looking for expert prescribers and problem-solving facilitators. Religion communicators weren’t filling those roles.

This study looked for—but did not find—evidence of a common dynamic in Excellence and Church-Sect Theory. The two-way symmetrical public relations model mirrors the social interaction that turns sects into churches and contributes to membership gain or loss in the U.S. religion environment of 2008. But the faith groups of religion communicators did not influence the way they answered survey questions about various public relations models. Consequently, no link between communication practices and membership change was shown.

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List of Tables

Chapter 1: America’s Dynamic Religious Environment

Chapter 2: Religion Communicators: Flacks, Hacks, Managers or Technicians?

Section I: Flacks vs. Hacks

Public Relations Pioneers Influence Debate

Bernays Takes Different Approach

Dean of Church Public Relations Rejects Flack Approach

Churches Struggle with Definition of Public Relations

Council Names Reflect Debate

Section II: Scholars Study Practitioner Roles

Chapter 3: Public Relations and Excellence Studies

Early Efforts Seek to Gain Press, Public Attention

First Public Relations Book Published

Definition of Public Relations Evolves

Public Relations Theory-building Begins

Excellence Theory Dominates Recent Public Relations Scholarship

Four Models of Public Relations Presented

Surveys Go to 327 Organizations

Models Prove to be Normative, Positive

Three Dimensions Underlie Models

Additional Elements of Excellence Scholarship

Chapter 4: Church-Sect Theory

Religion Presents Social Problem

Church-Sect Theory Evolves

New View of Religion Emerges

“Liberal” Means Mainline Denominations

Chapter 5: Methodology

Research Questions


Phase 1: Survey of Religion Communicators

Phase 2: Survey of Faith Group Leaders

Research Question 1

Research Question 2

Research Question 3

Research Question 4

Research Question 5

Research Question 6

Research Question 7

vi Research Question 8

Hypothesis 1

Hypothesis 2

Chapter 6: Results

Responses from Faith Group Leaders

Research Question 1

Research Question 2

Research Question 3

Research Question 4

Research Question 5

Research Question 6

Research Question 7

Research Question 8

Hypothesis 1

Hypothesis 2

Chapter 7: Discussion

Religion Communicators: A Distinct Subgroup

Religion Communicators: A Distinctive View of What They Do

Religion, Secular Communicators Claim Similar Expertise

Religion Communicators May Not Really be Hacks

Communicators Don’t Know What Supervisors Expect

Managers, Not Technicians, Sought

No Church-Sect Connection Found

Study Design was Limited

Ethics Question Remains

Possibilities for Future Research


Appendix A: What Do Religion Communicators Do?

2006 Questionnaire used with members of the Religion Communicators Council Appendix B: What Should Religion Communicators Do?

2008 Questionnaire sent to faith group leaders supervising members of the Religion Communicators Council References

Vita …

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TABLE 1: Comparison of approximate means from RCC members to raw means on fractionation scale for 316 secular organizations for measures of role enactment by top communicators

TABLE 2: Comparison of means for measures of role enactment by RCC members and faith group leaders

TABLE 3: Means for responses by RCC members and faith group leaders for each measure of public relations models and correlations between groups

TABLE 4: Factor loading for RCC member responses to measures of public relations models

TABLE 5: Comparison of approximate means from RCC members to raw means on fractionation scale from secular practitioners for measures of departmental expertise to practice four models of public relations

TABLE 6: Comparison of approximate means from RCC members for managerial and technical expertise to raw means on fractionation scale from 316 secular organizations

TABLE 7: Means for responses by RCC members and faith group leaders about communication department contributions to strategic planning, issue management, major initiatives, routine operations and information gathering for management decision making

TABLE 8: Means for responses by RCC members about measures of two-way symmetrical and two-way asymmetrical models of public relations

TABLE 9: Means for responses by RCC members about measures of press agentry/publicity and public information models of public relations

TABLE 10: Means for responses by faith group leaders about measures of two-way symmetrical and two-way asymmetrical models of public relations

TABLE 11: Means for responses by faith group leaders about measures of press agentry/publicity and public information models of public relations

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Religious faith is interwoven into American culture (Dillon & Wick, 2007).

Eighty-three percent of American adults said in 2008 that they were affiliated with some faith group, the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life reported. Seventy-eight percent identified themselves as Christians. Five percent practiced other religions (Judaism, Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, etc.). Seventeen percent said they were not affiliated with any faith group or did not know their religion (Miller, 2008a).

Religious beliefs in the United States influence political orientation and activism.

The more important faith was to Religious Landscape Survey respondents, the more likely they were to express conservative political views, especially on social issues.

American Christians who regularly attended church—especially Mormons and conservative Christians—generally supported Republicans. Americans who never went to church generally supported Democrats. But so did black Christians, Jews, Buddhists, most Muslims and some mainline Protestants. Politically conservative Christians— usually called “evangelicals” in news reports—often saw the Bible as a literal guide to right and wrong. They used the Bible to interpret unfolding national and international events. These biblical interpretations drove their efforts to combat social evils and promote reforms consistent with their faith and view of morality. Their goal was to save America from God’s wrath because of social sins. As a result, evangelical Protestants— often joined by conservative Roman Catholics—battled gay marriage and abortion rights.

Other evangelicals campaigned to include intelligent design in public school textbooks as an alternative view of creation to evolution (Miller, 2008b, Lakoff, 2004, 2007;

Twitchell, 2007).

Such faith-related actions often make headlines in U.S. news outlets. So do faithrelated statements by politicians and decisions by government agencies involving religious issues. For example, while campaigning for president in 2000, George W. Bush pronounced Jesus his favorite philosopher. As president, Bush later said that America was on a crusade to battle evil in the world. He said, “If you’re not with us, you’re against us” (Lakoff, 2007, p. 189). The U.S. Supreme Court ruled over the past decade on the propriety of displaying the Ten Commandments in courthouses, putting up nativity scenes on public squares before Christmas and praying at high school football games (Lakoff, 2007; Twitchell, 2007).

The religious environment in the United States is dynamic and diverse. Because of population growth, the total number of Americans affiliated with religious groups has gone up each year. But every major U.S. faith group is simultaneously gaining and losing adherents, according to the 2008 Religious Landscape Survey. Forty-four percent of adults said they had moved from the faith group in which they were reared to a new spiritual home. Protestant Christians, historically the largest U.S. faith group, had shrunk from more than 60% of the adult population in the 1960s to 51% in 2008. Within the Protestant camp, declining membership among once-dominant mainline denominations (Congregationalists, Episcopalians, Disciples of Christ, Lutherans, Methodists and Presbyterians) accounted for much of the loss. The proportion of the population identifying itself with mainline groups had declined to 18% in 2008 from 33% in the 1960s. Protestants identifying with evangelical denominations had grown from 16% to 26% over the same period. Historically black Protestant groups went from 9% in the 1960s to 7 % in 2008. The Roman Catholic Church had the largest membership of any U.S. faith group in 2008. The Roman Catholic portion of the population has held around 25% for decades. Nevertheless, the Roman Catholic Church was the biggest membership loser of any faith group in the 2008 survey. An influx of immigrants—primarily from Latin America—offset losses to other faith groups or no group (Miller, 2008a; Roof & McKinney, 1987; Twitchell, 2007).

Within this dynamic social environment religion communicators help U.S. faith groups build and maintain relationships with various religious and secular publics. U.S.

Christian churches—especially mainline Protestant denominations—have relied on advertising and public relations practices to reach target populations, deliver organizational messages and promote causes since the late 19th century (Curtis, 2001;

Moore, 1994; Reisner, 1913; Stelzler, 1908). Communication executives of several U.S.

mainline Protestant denominations formed the nation’s oldest public relations professional association in November 1929 (Cutlip, Center & Broom, 2000). The Religious Publicity Council’s original purpose was to promote publication of religion news in major U.S. newspapers (Dugan, Nannes & Stross, 1979). That group continues today—with an expanded purpose and membership—as the interfaith Religion Communicators Council. The council’s longevity is evidence of the persistent connection between public relations and organized religion in the United States.

But that connection might be hindering the spread of U.S. religious movements.

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