Master Class in Public Relations – Dr. Donald K. Wright

On Monday, April 18th, Dr. Donald K. Wright taught a master class in public relations to a full room of PR students from the College of Communication.  The prior evening, Dr. Wright had been inducted to the Rowan University Public Relations Student Society of America Hall of Fame.  Dr. Wright, the Harold Burson Professor and Chair in Public Relations at Boston University, focused his master class talk on ethics and social media.

In his discussion, Dr. Wright noted that Marshall McLuhan once said that “the media is the message.”  With regard to social media, Dr. Wright disagrees with that claim, stating that what is said on Facebook, Twitter, etc. is important and must be attended to, particularly with regard to the ethical dimensions of the messages.

Based on his research into social media use by PR practitioners, Dr. Wright noted that, at this point, over 87% of practitioners studied agree that new media is important in public relations.  His research also has indicated that the existence of new media formats creates a significant need for fast response.  He notes that this requires even more careful attention to the message that is sent.  While the practitioners studied indicate that new media has a long way to go before it reaches the level of credibility of more traditional media forms, at the same time practitioners note that they are spending more and more time utilizing these formats to reach audiences and see social media as extremely important parts of the practice.

Dr. Wright considered ethics and social media from the perspective of both a sender-orientation and a receiver-orientation.  He noted that, at times, the ethical fault is not in the provision of particular information via social media but in the utilization of that information by receivers.  While ethical breaches can occur both in the creation of a message and in the use of that message, Dr. Wright notes that, for the public relations practitioner, the focus should be on good preparation that allows for the crafting of ethically sound and responsive messages.  For students, an issue of concern is employers utilizing facebook or other forms of social media to research employees.  Dr. Wright noted that, regardless of intent, all information provided on social media forms can be found and that, because of this, precautions must be taken about what is published via social media.

Students were very engaged in the discussion, asking interesting questions about the research and the ethical issues related to social media.  In all, it was a valuable opportunity for students to hear from an experienced public relations faculty member and scholar and to consider the connections between public relations practice, social media, ethics, and public opinion.

Top Crisis Specialists Share Their Expertise with Rowan Students – by guest blogger Dr. Ed Moore

Top Crisis Specialists Share Their Expertise with Rowan Students

Two national experts on school-crisis communication traveled to the Rowan campus in March to offer a master class to public relations students. Some 50 students attended the lecture, led by Rick Kaufman (Executive Director of Community Relations and Emergency Management; Bloomington Public Schools; Bloomington, Minn.) and Rich Bagin (Executive Director; National School Public Relations Association; Rockville, Md.)

Kaufman, as the Executive Director of Public Engagement and Communications for Jeffco Public Schools in Littleton, Colorado, led the Crisis Response Team and became a familiar face and voice in national media coverage of the Columbine High School tragedy. He has since worked with school systems and government agencies nationally on crisis-response issues.  Kaufman is the author of The Complete Crisis Communication Management Manual.

Bagin, a graduate of Rowan’s M.A. in P.R. program, has worked with hundreds of school systems in the U.S. and Canada on crisis and other communications issues. He started his career as a school public relations administrator and also served as the public relations director of the Council of Chief State School Officers in Washington, D.C. Bagin is the author of Making Parent Communication Effective and Easy.

Rowan students peppered the two award-winning practitioners with questions throughout the class. Students quizzed the experts on crisis-communication planning, the role of social media in crises, training employees as spokespersons, making the right decision in the heat of a breaking crisis, and more.

Kaufman noted that planning for crisis communication has grown increasingly sophisticated in the 11 years since the Columbine tragedy. It is uncommon today, he noted, to find any school system or college that does not have a formal crisis-communication plan. But, he stressed, having a plan is not enough. The execution of the plan needs to be constantly rehearsed and plans need to be continually updated to meet changing communication needs.

Bagin, who said his organization hears from local school officials facing some type of crisis almost daily, discussed the new roles social media now play in crisis communication. While traditional media continue to play a key part disseminating information during a crisis, social media outlets now are often the first place people turn for immediate information on a breaking crisis. Traditional media too frequently turn to social media for details, comments, and images of breaking crises.

Turning to careers in communication, the speakers stressed to students the need to develop outstanding writing skills and to remain active in acquiring knowledge and perfecting skills after leaving the classroom. They urged students to get active in professional associations, participate in industry meetings and seminars, keep up with the latest scholarly journals, and enthusiastically network with other practitioners.

Master classes such as this are just one way that programs in the College of Communication help their students link classroom experiences and with real-world practice.  This master class as offered in conjunction with Professor Edward Moore’s graduate course, School Public Relations. To learn more about Rowan’s M.A. in P.R. program visit www.rowan.edu/mapr.