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«SPEAKING OF FAITH: PUBLIC RELATIONS PRACTICE AMONG RELIGION COMMUNICATORS IN THE UNITED STATES Committee: Dominic L. Lasorsa, Co-Supervisor Ronald ...»

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… to build a better climate of understanding and greater acceptance of religious faith and to broaden support for the total religious community; to provide a clearinghouse for exchange of ideas and the discussion of mutual concerns among public relations and communications professionals in religion; to encourage excellence and accountability in religious public relations and communications; to provide continuing education opportunities, fellowship and mutual support for religious communicators; to foster active two-way communication between RPRC members and their publics; to recognize achievements of RPRC members and the secular media; to encourage individuals to select as a career public relations and communications in the field of religion. (New statement of purposes for RPRC adopted by 54th annual convention, 1983, p. 8) The new purposes seemed to be directing the council toward a more strategic (flack) approach to public relations. The list of purposes emphasized promoting understanding and two-way communication. But some members still chafed at belonging to an organization with “public relations” in the title.

Shirley Struchen, 1997 council president, appointed a task group to study a name change (Struchen, 1998). A survey of members found that few still had “public relations” in their titles. At least a quarter of members were “directors of communications” (Name change, 1998). Consequently, the task group proposed changing the name to Religion Communicators Council.

The 1998 national meeting passed the change with only two dissenting votes.

Douglas Cannon of San Antonio and Peter Hewitt of Philadelphia both argued that public relations was a broader, more inclusive term than communications. In fact, Cannon said, “Communication is one aspect of public relations.” But Dick Duerksen of Washington expressed the majority view. “I think communications is much broader and will be an asset to us.” (Members agree to change name, 1998). Thomas R. May, 1998 council

president, later agreed. He wrote in his summer 1998 president’s message to members:

“As the Religion Communicators Council we hope to more accurately reflect the work we do and the professional titles we individually hold. We also hope to broaden our membership potential to include many religious communicators who do not consider themselves to be working in the field of public relations” (May, 1998, p. 2).

The revised purpose for the council dropped all references to public relations, moved promoting understanding of faith to the end and increased emphasis on relationships within its diverse faith membership. Professional membership was open to “any person who devotes a major portion of his/her service in professional public relations or communications activity to any religious communion, organization or related activity” (Bylaws, 2005).

The revised purposes are:

… to provide an environment for the exchange of ideas and the discussion of mutual concerns among professional religion communicators, to encourage excellence and accountability among professional religion communicators, to provide continuing education opportunities and support for religion communicators, to recognize achievements of Religion Communicators Council members and secular media, to encourage individuals to become professional religion communicators, to build among Religion Communicator Council members an understanding and appreciation of diverse faith groups, to promote understanding and acceptance of religion, faith and faith communities. (Bylaws, 2005) At the same 1998 meeting that changed the name, council members voted to explore joining the Universal Accreditation Board for public relations practitioners.

Another initiative of the North American Public Relations Council, now made up of 12 professional organizations, the board was to award a credential indicating professional competence. The credential was to be recognized across the public relations industry (RCC joins the Universal Accreditation Board, 2001). RCC had first considered granting its own credential in 1985 but had not moved forward on that project (Board looking at career development possibilities, 1985-86). The RPRC board of governors endorsed the NAPRC universal approach in October 1992 (Universal credential could help lift PR stature, 1993). The Universal Accreditation Board began operating in 1998. RCC officially joined in 2001 (RCC joins the Universal Accreditation Board, 2001).

As a result of joining the Universal Accreditation process, RCC needed to update its ethics documents. Fifteen percent of the questions on the Accreditation Board’s Examination for Accreditation in Public Relations dealt with ethics and law. RCC was expected to have guidelines for its members similar to those of other organizations participating in the accreditation process. The RCC Board of Governors named a fivemember task force in July 2005 to develop ethical standards to replace the 1970 professional aims and 1993 uniform code then in effect. The board presented the new, 22point Guidelines for Ethical Conduct to the annual business meeting at the 2006 national convention. Members adopted the guidelines, which do not refer to “public relations” (Guidelines for ethical conduct, 2006).

Except for references in items about accreditation, almost all mentions of “public relations” disappeared from Counselor after 1998. Discussions of public relations were removed from the opening pages of council handbooks, where they had appeared in the first five editions. Those discussions moved to later chapters on marketing in the sixth edition (2000) and strategic communication in the seventh (2004).





Talk about the council name also stopped after 1998. Members appeared happy being called “religion communicators,” which implied more hack than flack. Black (2002) found “communications” was the most common job title used among council members. But even with the new name, council membership numbers have not changed significantly. The 2006 count remained around 550, about what it was in 1998 (Directory, 2006).

The flack-vs.-hack debate surfaced briefly during a 2005-06 online discussion of the revised Guidelines for Ethical Conduct. The issue was how RCC should reconcile journalism vs. public relations understandings of truth in those revised guidelines. Ken

Bedell, an RCC member from Nashville, Tenn., and former seminary professor, wrote:

I think the journalism/public relations distinction is an important question for RCC members. … My guess is that most RCC members are in situations where they must figure out how to balance between demands to perform PR functions and expectations they should be journalists. To return to the example of UMR (The United Methodist Reporter edition in Central New York), the 1970s model encouraged the editor of the conference PR material to write journalistic signed articles for the national portion of the paper. I believe that this situation of religious organizations mixing PR with journalism is widespread. For example the NCC Link publication (from the National Council of Churches) is mostly PR, but it also includes material that gives the appearance of being a journalistically honest report on a situation or issue. I think that a code of ethics that is useful for RCC members facing ethical issues needs to address head on the PR/journalism issue. (K. Bedell, personal correspondence, August 1, 2005)

–  –  –

Broom and Smith (1979) began that effort by studying roles public relations practitioners played in an organization. Broom (1982), Broom and Dozier (1986), Dozier (1992) and Dozier and Broom (1995) continued that work.

Broom and Smith (1979) initially developed and tested four conceptual models of public relations roles. They were based on management research into practitioner-client consulting relationships. Those roles, repeatedly referenced in later public relations

literature, were:

+ Expert prescriber: The practitioner functions as an authority on both the public relations problem and solution. The practitioner researches and defines the problem, develops the solution and takes major responsibility for implementing the solution. The public relations practitioner, a recognized expert, works like a physician prescribing medicine for a sick patient.

+ Communication process facilitator: The practitioner serves as a liaison, interpreter and mediator between the organization and its publics. The emphasis is on maintaining a continuous flow of two-way communication. The practitioner is a collaborator with both management and the various publics.

+ Problem-solving facilitator: As a member of the management team, the practitioner works with others throughout the organization to define and solve problem. The communicator helps guide other managers and the organization through a rational problem-solving process. That may involve all parts of the organization in public relations planning and programming.

+ Communications technician: Practitioners provide clients with a specialized skill to carry out public relations functions. Rather than being part of the management team, communicators prepare and produce materials—as writers, editors, audiovisual producers and media relations specialists—for public relations efforts. Technicians are not usually involved in organizational decision making. They explain decisions made by others.

Broom and Smith (1979) did not expect to find pure examples of these roles. But they did hypothesize that public relations practitioners would adopt one as their dominant behavior pattern. Broom and Smith then did an experiment to test client satisfaction with public relations counselors enacting each role. Clients were most satisfied with the problemsolving facilitator and least satisfied with the communication process facilitator.

Broom (1982) developed seven questionnaire items to measure each of the four

roles. For expert prescriber, they were:

+ I make the communication policy decisions.

+ I diagnose communications problems and explain them to others in the organization.

+ I plan and recommend courses of action for solving communication problems.

+ I take responsibility for the success or failure of my organization’s communication programs.

+ Because of my experience and training, others consider me to be the organization’s expert in solving communication problems.

+ I observe that others in the organization hold me accountable for the success or failure of communication programs.

+ I am the organization’s expert on diagnosing and solving communication problems.

For communications process facilitator the measures were:

+ I keep management informed of public reaction to organizational policies, procedures and/or actions.

+ I report public opinion survey results to keep management informed of the opinions of various publics.

+ I create opportunities for management to hear the views of various internal and external publics.

+ I keep others in the organization informed of what the media report about our organization and important issues.

+ I conduct communication audits to identify communication problems between the organization and various publics.

+ I represent the organization at events and meetings.

+ I am the liaison, promoting two-way communication between management and our various publics.

For problem-solving facilitator the measures were:

+ In meetings with management, I point out the need to follow a systematic communications planning process.

+ I work with managers to increase their skills in solving and/or avoiding communication problems.

+ I encourage management participation when making the important communications decisions.

+ I keep management actively involved in every phase of the communication program.

+ I operate as a catalyst in management’s decision making.

+ When working with managers on communication, I outline alternative approaches for solving problems.

+ I am the problem-solving process facilitator, helping management go through defining problems, setting objectives and planning programs in a systematic fashion.

For communication technician the measures were:

+ I write materials presenting information on issues important to the organization.

+ I edit and/or rewrite for grammar and spelling the materials written by others in the organization.

+ I handle the technical aspects of producing communication materials.

+ I produce brochures, pamphlets and other publications.

+ I do photography and graphics for communication materials.

+ I maintain media contacts and place press releases.

+ I am the specialist in writing and producing communication materials.

Broom included those items in a 1979 survey of 815 Public Relations Society of America members. Mean scores for the four roles on a seven-point Likert scale (1=never do, 7=always do) were 5.41 for expert prescriber, 4.96 for problem-solving facilitator, 4.69 for communication technician and 4.68 for communication facilitator. After analyzing those results further, Broom determined that PRSA members saw themselves doing only two roles: communication technician and some mix of the other three. Furthermore, he discovered that men saw themselves primarily as expert prescribers and that women considered themselves primarily technicians. The seven items measuring the four roles all proved reliable. Cronbach alphas were 0.93 for expert prescriber, 0.90 for problem-solving facilitator, 0.84 for communication technician, and 0.79 for communication process facilitator. The four roles proved to have predictive validity in distinguishing practitioners on other variables. But high inter-item correlations among 1979 survey responses for expert prescriber, communication process facilitator and problem-solving facilitator suggested that those three roles were not empirically distinct. That led Broom to develop an umbrella label for those three roles: public relations manager.

Dozier (1983, 1984) used a grounded theoretical approach to roles research to reach the same conclusion about two major roles among public relations practitioners.



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