PR book On-line Readings in Public Relations by Michael Turney
Acronyms for the public relations process
© 2011 Michael Turney Table of contents Practicing Public Relations main page About the author

RACE, GRACE, ACE, and dozens of similar acronyms have been used to describe the public relations process over the years. Few, however, reached beyond the classroom. Students would learn them well enough to get through their exams and then, just as quickly, forget them.

It's only been in the recent years that a surprising number of communication professionals, especially those seeking IABC or PRSA accreditation, have been adopting these acronyms as useful memory aids, not just in preparing for accreditation exams but in their daily work.

Do you RACE into public relations tasks, ...
     do them with GRACE, ...
           or work like an ACE?

RACE was the first widely-used acronym associated with the public relations process. Although they seem to have moved away from using it in later editions, RACE was probably first used as a public relations acronym by Scott Cutlip and Alan Center when they were writing and later revising the first edition of their landmark textbook, Effective Public Relations. Despite this, John Marston is the person most closely associated with RACE because he featured it so extensively in his 1963 book, The Nature of Public Relations. It was soon after that book that the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) began citing RACE in its brochures and advocating it as a fundamental best practice for those seeking accreditation.

RACE describes public relations as a four-step, continually-cycling process. It involves ...

RACE is a concise and effective summary of how public relations should be performed and a clever mnemonic warning not to race into action before you think about what you're getting into. But, as with most good ideas, other people thought they could improve on it. So, over the years, we've been inundated with other acronyms that claim to be as good, or better, in describing the public relations process.

Some alternate approaches reconfigured the steps in the process; others just re-named them.

PACE is one of several approaches that essentially kept the same four steps in its description of the public relations process but gave one or more of the steps a new name.

ACE and a few other approaches claimed to simplify public relations by combining the first two steps and reducing it to a three-step process.

Still other approaches went in the opposite direction by adding one or more additional steps to the public relations process. GRACE, for instance, added a new first step in which goals and objectives are explicitly defined.

STARE is another example of a five-step approach to public relations. What distinguishes it from many other approaches is that it emerged from the public relations specialty known as issues management and therefore focuses on specific topical concerns.

ROSIE, yet another five-step approach, is one of the most recently introduced acronyms. It was developed by Professor Sheila Clough Crifasi and subsequently featured in the seventh edition of Fraser Seitel's textbook, The Practice of Public Relations.

The truth is: these and dozens of other acronyms all come down to the same thing. They simply divide the public relations process into different numbers of steps with different labels on them. But, ultimately, they all come down to the same thing. And, in terms of achieving positive outcomes that enhance an organization's relationships with its publics, there is little or no difference in the effectiveness of these different approaches.

Please keep in mind that the six acronyms cited here are only a few of the dozens of different acronyms that have been proposed by various scholars and practitioners. Others include ACT, PAT, PICA, SISCE, SPACE, SPICE, and TRACE.

The greatest benefit of PR acronyms is keeping you focused on the complete process.

The primary value of acronyms is how well, how easily, and how simply they can explain the public relations process. They're great for introducing students to different ways of thinking about and describing public relations work. It's also a lot of fun, as well as a wonderful learning experience, to let students develop their own acronyms.

Recalling an acronym can also keep practitioners from skipping important steps as they go through their daily work. This is something I've been increasingly reminded of in recent years as I coached candidates preparing for the IABC or PRSA accreditation exam.

Acronyms, analytic thinking, and professional accreditation.

Although their approaches to testing are somewhat different, both the IABC and PRSA accreditation exams require a thorough understanding of public relations and the ability to quickly and concisely explain it. Faced with a stressful testing situation, candidates who don't have an easy-to-remember memory cue, such as an acronym, will often lose their focus and leave out key elements that they knew and should have written down.

In the two decades I've coached accreditation candidates, more of them have used RACE than any other acronymic model. -- That's not surprising since it's the oldest and best known PR acronym. -- But, a new trend seems to be emerging. GRACE was used by three of my four most recent successful candidates, and the fourth used a non-acronymic, four-step model from a popular textbook. They all agreed, however, that jotting down their acronym or the steps in their model when they started the test and recalling it each time they moved on to a new question reminded them to write complete answers.

Using an acronym as a memory aid isn't limited to test-taking. It can also keep you on track in your daily work. If you don't yet have a favorite acronym for the public relations process, maybe you should. Consider those cited here, adopt one that has been published elsewhere, or make up your own.

Given the historic and current prominence of Cutlip and Center's Effective Public Relations as the pre-eminent textbook in the field, I would be remiss if I didn't point out that it does not now endorse any acronym for the public relations process. -- You will not find any mention of RACE in the latest editions of this text. -- Nonetheless, it does describe public relations as a four-step process, and the four steps it lists directly correspond to the steps in RACE. They're listed as:
  1. Defining the problem (or opportunity).
  2. Planning and programming.
  3. Taking action and communicating.
  4. Evaluating the program.

On-line Readings
Table of contents
Underlying concepts of public relations Is public relations an art or science? Public relations' changing name Practicing Public Relations
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