PR book On-line Readings in Public Relations by Michael Turney
Duties and responsibilities of public relations practitioners.
© 2014 Michael Turney Table of contents Practicing Public Relations
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The only reliable way to know what public relations practitioners do in their day-to-day work and what they see as the "generally accepted practices" of their profession is to ask them. That's what the University of Southern California's Annenberg Center for Strategic Communication and Public Relations does every two years when it surveys hundreds of senior communicators. The latest results were released in June 2014.

This article is not going to summarize that report. Nor is it going to catalog or describe what a typical public relations person does in an average day at work. -- There are plenty of other places where you can get a better first-hand account of the latter than I can give you, and you owe it to yourself to read the full Annenberg Center report rather than my summary of it. -- What it will do is explain why the findings of the biennial Annenberg surveys are worth reading and give you a link to them.

Annenberg Center's interest in generally accepted practices spawned "GAP Studies."

The Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California (USC) in Los Angeles has been preparing students to work as professional communicators for decades. It has also been a leader in research aimed at understanding the role and impact of the media and various communication practices on society.

In 2002, USC established the Strategic Communication and Public Relations Center, often called the SCPRC or simply the Annenberg Center, as a separate entity within the school. Its mission is to conduct innovative, applied research in cooperation with other professional and educational organizations. One of the first research challenges it undertook was exploring the "Generally Accepted Practices" in communication throughout the United States.

It began by surveying hundreds of senior communicators in the public and private sectors whether they were employed by businesses, governments, non-profit organizations, or communication agencies. What emerged was a clear picture of then-current (2002), most-widely used, and most-effective "Generally Accepted Practices" across all communication fields. And, in addition to identifying the typical activities communicators performed, it provided a means of evaluating the effectiveness of these varied techniques.

Realizing there would be much more value in a series of periodically recurring studies than a single snapshot in time, the Center committed to making its survey of generally accepted practices a biennial event. These surveys soon became known as "GAP Studies" ("GAP" standing for generally accepted practices) and quickly became invaluable in detecting and projecting emerging trends and likely future developments in communication. Taken together, they trace the changing patterns in America's communication professions over the last decade and a half.

"GAP Studies" were meant to help shape academic programs.

In undertaking these studies, the Annenberg Center wanted to "advance the study, practice and value of the communication/public relations function" and serve as a think tank to "help bridge the academic/practitioner gap." They were supposed to ensure that teachers had and, in turn, presented a realistic view of the professional world to their students so that those students would be appropriately prepared to work in that world. The findings of the GAP surveys were expected to "inform/drive PR/COM curricula."

The extent to which this actually happens is little known at this point, but that's not surprising. Curriculum changes at most institutions are shrouded in obscure, arcane, and painfully over-debated processes that are anything but transparent. However, with countless college professors like myself being members of the PRSA, the IABC, and/or other professional communication organizations which endorse the GAP surveys, their insights are sure to find their way into classrooms in one way or another.

In my classroom, I, as an instructor, encourage students to learn the details of what public relations practitioners do from the GAP Studies rather than reading a textbook description of that topic because the GAP studies reflect actual working conditions as reported by those who do the work rather than an overview filtered through a third-person and possibly shaped by an academic theory.

Gap Studies findings are ultimately more meaningful and more accurate than a textbook chapter because:

The most recent GAP Study findings were published in June 2014.

However, I've decided not to include a detailed summary of the latest findings on this website. I wouldn't want anyone to erroneously assume it told them everything they need to know about the GAP findings and not pursue them any further. It's better for you to go to the USC website and read the full findings for yourself. Here's the link: USC Annenberg GAP Studies.

My only observation about the most recent findings is that things seem to be looking up a bit for individual communicators, their employers, and the profession as a whole compared to what was reported two years ago. There are more people working in communication than there were then, and the outlook for further increases in hiring looks even rosier. PR/Communication budgets are also up markedly, along with expectations for further increases.

The Center's findings are widely-believed and often quoted.

Today, USC's GAP Studies are highly regarded and generally considered unimpeachable. In part, this is due to USC's sterling reputation as a research institution. Beyond that, the GAP surveys are endorsed and actively supported by all four of America's largest communication organizations,

All of these organizations and others report and comment on the GAP findings whenever they're released.

GAP Studies do not yet apply outside the United State.

At some point, USC's Gap Studies may be expanded to encompass more than the United States. USC representatives have talked with the Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communication Management about a possible partnership and "global framework," but nothing has come of it yet. All of the surveys conducted by the Center have been limited to U.S.-based communicators.

There are, however, independent, GAP-like studies underway in Australia, Brazil, Canada, South Africa, and New Zealand.

Online Readings
Table of contents
Underlying concepts of public relations Practicing Public Relations
home page
What do you call yourself,
public relations practitioner?
Still seeking a definition after all these years Assortment of Public Relations Definitions
(two-page pdf)