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166 Limitations & Future Research Foremost, the majority of the communication that was analyzed on Facebook, tended to lean toward one-way communication. As a result, future studies should examine the stewardship model not only in terms of the four components, but also take into account how the two-way practice of public relations might be a major factor in its success in engaging stakeholders through social networking.
Next, because of its exploratory nature, this study did not engage active fans of the NPOs in a rich, qualitative investigation. Neither the organizational representatives who acted as admins for the Facebook profiles, or their fans were contacted and asked to participate in a more, comprehensive study. Therefore, future investigations in this area should integrate a human subjects approach with particular emphasis on in-depth interviews and perhaps online focus groups.
Finally, the research did not explore urban agricultural NPOs based in global location.
Although these organizations might also have a social networking presence on Facebook, the time frame for completing this research was limited. Furthermore, there might have been a language barrier present, which would require more time for analysis. The increase in urban farming is a not an activity that is limited to the U.S. Thus, to address the limitations of this study, it is imperative that future studies address the international practice of urban farming.
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Using attribute agenda-building theory, this paper introduces the concept of key messages as a form of public relations evaluation. We conduct exploratory research on the concept using case studies of key messages taken from 18 national nonprofits. We identify five different types of key messages from their Web sites: information dissemination, raison d’être, categorical placement, resource management, and social relevance, which can be evaluated with full, partial or no key message integrity. We identify key messages from their Web sites, evaluate the transfer of message integrity and news coverage. Our in-depth interviews with eight communication professionals from these organizations confirm the viability of key messages as a concept for public relations evaluation.
Many have found this process of salience transfer through public relations efforts as key to influencing reputation and issues management (e.g., Bridges & Nelson, 2000; Kiousis, Popescu, & Mitrook, 2007). Consequently, there has been extensive research on the role public relations efforts play in the transfer of salience from the source to the news media.
Agenda-building research often focuses on what organizations, individuals, or issues are covered in the media. Less research has examined how an organization, an individual, or an issue covered by the media improves public relations performance, such as through feedback emanating from published media messages back into the creation of communication messages.
Without a clear understanding of how, in addition to what, organizations, individuals, or issues are portrayed in the media, public relations practitioners cannot fully evaluate the extent of their communication efforts. This study introduces the concept of key messages as a way to evaluate public relations activity to address not only what messages transfer, but also how well. We use exploratory research to examine their viability as public relations evaluation concept and tool.
The paper begins by reviewing relevant agenda-building literature and then introduces the concept of key messages. Next, we apply the concept to a select series of case study organizations in the nonprofit industry to provide feedback on the concept. Finally, it discusses implications of the exploratory research for strategic communications research and evaluation.
Literature Review Agenda-building Agenda-building “refers to the sources’ interactions with gatekeepers, a give-and-take process in which sources seek to get their information published and the press seeks to get that information from independent sources” (Ohl, Pincus, Rimmer, & Harrison, 1995). Like agenda setting, agenda-building involves two levels of salience transfer (Kiousis, Mitrook, Wu, & Seltzer, 2006; Kiousis, et al., 2007). The first level of agenda-building focuses on the salience of objects, including public issues, public figures, and corporations. The term “object” can be simply defined as things an individual has an attitude or opinion about (McCombs, 2004).
The second level focuses on the salience of object’s attributes (Kiousis, et al., 2006). The definition of “attribute” can be found in Walter Lippmann’s (1922) work in which he defined agenda as descriptions of subjects, including personalities, motive, intention, feeling, public opinion, and policies (p. 343). Since Lippmann, “message” (Bowers, 1977; Miller, Andsager, & Riechert, 1998), “interest” (Shaw & Clemmer, 1977), and “activities” (Carroll & McCombs, 2003; Ohl, et al., 1995; Rindova, Petkova, & Kotha, 2007) have been used to describe the attribute agenda. In sum, attributes can be defined as characteristics and traits with which one can associate any matters or subjects.
While there lacks substantive research that delineates the process of attribute agendabuilding, some researchers have taken first steps in examining the process. Dyer, Miller, and 171 Boone’s (1991) study on the wire services coverage of the Exxon Valdez crisis asks whether the news media responded to the crisis in ways Exxon and its public relations teams wanted them to respond. Their study found that there were discrepancies between Exxon’s claims about the crisis and the news media’s portrayal of the crisis. Similarly, Anderson’s (2001) study on the competition between two drug companies in the news media also found that while public relations subsidies can influence news coverage, they do not necessarily influence content.
Specifically, even though the drug companies were successful in obtaining coverage of the story, the specific frames covered in the news media differed from the frames provided in the press releases.
Other studies have shown the importance of evaluating attribute salience transfer.
Walters, Walters, and Starr (1994) examined educational and research-related press releases and the resulting placement of these releases in daily newspapers to see whether newspapers change the syntax of press releases they publish. The study found that newspapers often simplify the press release; those that are placed in the newspapers were drastically shortened from their original content. Walters et al.’s (1994) findings illustrate that even though public relations professionals would like the releases to be placed without any changes, this is often not the case.
Alterations of the press release by the journalists may change its meaning and hence, its impact and value for the originating organizations. Cameron (1994) observes that this editing process may increase the value of the third party endorsement from the media, but little research has examined what it means, practically speaking, for organizations.
Accuracy A survey of 4,800 news sources reported that sources found errors in 61 percent of local news and feature stories (Maier, 2005). According to Maier (2005), there are two types of errors, factual errors, which include misquotes, spellings, names, ages, numbers, titles, locations, time, and dates, and subjective errors, which can be made by missing essential information, distorting quotes, misleading numbers, or simply misunderstanding the story. Maier’s (2005) results show that the most common type of error was misquotation, followed by inaccurate headlines and numbers. Inaccuracy is troublesome for practitioners and organizations because their messages cannot be conveyed as intended to the public. It is also worrisome for the news media because it contributes to the declining credibility of the news media.
Clearly, it is not sufficient to simply evaluate object salience transfer; the evaluation of attribute salience transfer is imperative for a full and clear understanding of the success of media relations efforts. This paper introduces the concept of key messages as a media relations evaluation tool for attribute salience transfer. The following section explicates the concept of key messages.
Key messages A key message is any message that an organization repeats about itself concerning any of the basic news elements (who, what, when, where, or why) that is worth evaluating. Key messages are an example of frames (Entman, 1993). Using the McCombs and Ghanem (McCombs & Ghanem, 2003, p. 71) framing decision tree to delineate and show common ground between framing and attribute agenda-setting, key messages may be an attribute of presentation to the degree that the frame shapes the presentation of the news story. Key messages are also an attribute of object in the sense that they are the “property” or associated with some object. Using 172 other characteristics of frames, key messages help to interpret what is going on in a situation (Bateson, 1954). They select or call attention to a particular aspect of a described situation or issue. They include certain keywords or stock phrases, that thematically reinforce clusters of facts or judgments (Entman, 1993). Help to establish common frames of reference about a topic or issue of mutual concern (Hallahan, 1999). Furthermore, they are quotable (Culbertson & Stempel, 1984).
Key messages can be evaluated in terms of their prominence (frequency of mention) and a (within-story) dominance (Culbertson & Stempel, 1984). But, they can also be evaluated in terms of their message integrity. Key message integrity refers to the composition of an organization’s key message being whole, entire, undiminished, and unimpaired after going through the salience transfer process, such as through the news editorial process. Even though key message integrity involves the concept of factual accuracy, the two concepts differ because a message could be factually correct, but still miss the desired point of view that the organization is aiming for (e.g., Ohl, et al., 1995).