PR book On-line Readings in Public Relations by Michael Turney
Duties and responsibilities of public relations practitioners.
© 2014; 2019 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 consider to be "generally accepted practices" for their profession is to ask them. That's what the University of Southern California's Annenberg Center for Public Relations has been doing for almost two decades. Originally, the Center conducted surveys every two years and limited them to public relations professional working in the United States. Since 2016, they have been done annually and have expanded to include a global pool of practitioners and students.

This article is not going to summarize the findings of any or all of these surveys. 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 you can get a better first-hand account of the latter than I could give you, and you owe it to yourself to read the full version of the Annenberg Center's latest report rather than my summary of it. -- What I will do is explain why the findings of the Annenberg surveys are worth reading and give you a link to find them online.

The Annenbergs have long been known for their leadership roles in the media and in higher education.

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 in a variety of media for decades. In addition to teaching, it has been on the leading edge of research aimed at understanding the role and impact of the media and various communication practices on society.

Over the years, its research arm has been configured in several different ways and has been called several different names. At one time it was the Strategic Communication and Public Relations Center and had a correspondingly wide mission to study any and all aspects of communication. Today, that one vast center has been re-configured and broken into more than a dozen smaller and more narrowly focused centers.

The one we're concerned with here is the Annenberg Center for Public Relations. Its mission is to conduct innovative, applied research in cooperation with other professional and educational organizations. From the beginning it partnered with, endorsed by, and actively supported by all four of America's largest communication organizations:

In 2002, the Center set out to identify and assess the "generally accepted practices" of public relations in the United States.

It began by surveying several hundred of the most experienced public relations practitioners and communicators working in the United States. This included those working in the public and the private sectors regardless of whether their employers were businesses, governments, non-profit organizations, or communication agencies. What first emerged was a clear picture of what were the then-current, most-widely used, and most-effective "generally accepted practices" across all communication fields. Then, after identifying all of the different activities the communicators performed, the study summarized and evaluated the effectiveness of these techniques.

The first report of these findings released by the Center was a big hit and was widely quoted throughout the profession and throughout academe. Almost immediately, everyone realized there would be much more value in a series of periodically recurring studies of this sort than in a single snapshot in time, so the Center committed to making its survey of generally accepted practices a biennial event. They quickly became known as "GAP Studies" ("GAP" standing for generally accepted practices) and deemed to be invaluable in detecting and projecting emerging trends and likely future developments in communication. Taken together, they traced the changing patterns in America's communication professions over a decade and a half.

In 2014, the last GAP Study focused solely on the United States was issued.

Even before that 2014 study began, administrators from Annenberg had been meeting and negotiating with representatives from the Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communication Management about a possible partnership that would create a "global framework," that could expand the studies beyond the United States. But, nothing had been resolved. So, the Center which hadn't wanted to postpone its next-scheduled survey went ahead a conducted yet-another study limited to U.S.-based communicators.

There had, however, already been a number of other independent, GAP-like research studies conducted by various professional organizations and universities in Australia, Brazil, Canada, South Africa, and New Zealand.

The GAP Study scheduled for 2016 was replaced by Annenberg's first Global Communications Report.

Although it's issued by the Annenberg Center, it is actually a much more collaborative and multi-funded project than the original GAP Studies were. The blurb on the Annenberg Center's website describing the report proclaims that it was conducted "in conjunction with the Holmes Report, the Institute for Public Relations, the Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communication Management, the International Association for Measurement and Evaluation of Communication, the PR Council, the Worldcom PR Group and the PRSA."

That's a lot of cooks in the kitchen working on one meal. -- I hope they continue to work well together and don't butt heads too often. -- So far, the first few reports that have been published look great, although it's a bit disconcerting to see so many supporters and sponsors' logos (a full page of them) in a report that is meant to be non-commercial, neutral, and objective. But, to be fair, a Global Communications Report is a far more massive and more expensive undertaking than the previous GAP Studies were, especially when it's being done every year instead of every two years. I hope future editions continue to live up to the promise of the first few.

By reporting on "generally accepted practices" these studies seek to inform the profession and help shape academic programs.

As the Annenberg website says: "The Global Communications Report is designed to provide unprecedented insight into the evolution of the global communications industry by analyzing emerging trends in talent, structure, compensation, and diversity on both the client and agency sides of the business. More importantly, the Report will help those entering the PR industry better understand the skills and traits they will need to be successful."

Furthermore, the 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" by ensuring 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.

As a public relations professor, and even after I retired, I encouraged students and young professionals to learn the details of what public relations practitioners actually do on a day-to-day basis by reading the findings of GAP Studies rather than reading a textbook description of what practitioners do. I considered these findings more meaningful and more accurate than a textbook chapter would have been because:

Beyond this, The Center hoped that the findings of its GAP surveys would "inform/drive PR/COM curricula." To what extent, if any, this has actually happened isn't yet known, 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 thoroughly examine and endorse these surveys, their insights will continue to find their way into classrooms in one way or another.

Click here for the Annenberg Center's Global Communications Report.

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