|On-line Readings in Public Relations by Michael Turney|
|Acronyms for the public relations process|
|© 2011; 2021 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 coursework and exams and then, just as quickly, forget them.
Recently, however, communication professionals, especially those seeking IABC or PRSA accreditation or certification, have returned to using such acronyms. And, it's not just as a memory aid while they're preparing to take their accreditation or certification exams. They're using them in their everyday work. They've realized how useful an acronym can be in maintaining their focus on what they're trying to accomplish.
Do you RACE into your public relations tasks or PACE yourself? Do you do them with GRACE? Or try to ACE them?
RACE was the first widely-used acronym for the public relations process. PACE, ACE, GRACE, and dozens of others followed, and more are being developed and discarded all the time, often by aspiring textbook authors and teachers eager to launch a new buzzword. But, don't be too quick to dismiss them or write them off as simply a gimmick. Such acronyms are useful mnemonic devices. They can help you stay focused and complete your work in an orderly fashion.
Although they moved away from using it in later editions of their textbook, Scott Cutlip and Alan Center were the first to use RACE as an acronym for the public relations process. That was in the early 1950s when they were writing the first edition of what became their landmark textbook Effective Public Relations. Surprizingly, even though Cutlip and Center originated RACE, John Marston has become the author most closely associated with it. More than 10 years after Cutlip and Center first published it, he used it extensively and urged others to adopt it in his 1963 book The Nature of Public Relations. Soon after that, the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) did adopt it and began featuring RACE in its brochures, advocating it as a fundamental best practice for those seeking public relations accreditation.
RACE describes public relations as a four-step, continually-cycling process.
- R - Research - explores the current situations facing your organization, how they came about, who is involved in them, how they relate to your organization's goals, and how you - as a public relations practitioner - can maximize the benefit and/or minimize the harm these situations might do.
- A - Action - involves analyzing and applying your research findings to determine the best thing(s) you can do in your current situation. The result should be a tactical plan that outlines specific steps that need to be taken -- including who is to take them and when -- to move your organization out of its current situation and closer to its organizational goals. (Note: Some people who use RACE as an acronym call this step "Assessment" instead of action, even though they describe it in exactly the same way.) Most RACE advocates say implementation of the plan developed in this step doesn't begin until the next step, but some say that non-communication aspects of the plan can begin here; only communication-related elements have to wait until the next step.
- C - Communication - takes advantage of all available media to deliver carefully-focused messages through the most appropriate channels so they will have positive effects on each of your organization's publics.
- E - Evaluation - analyzes everything that's been done during the first three steps to see how they affected your publics and their perception of your organization. As soon as this step is completed, return to the research step and begin the process again.
RACE is a concise and effective summary of how public relations should be performed. Some proponents also see it as a clever and ironic mnemonic warning NOT to race into action before you think about what you're getting into. As time went on, other authors and academicians who thought they could improve on RACE came up with other acronyms to describe public relations. Some were actually well-thought out and memorable. Others were pretentious and seemed to be trying too hard to be clever. Many were ponderous and obscure. And, a few were overly cute. We were, in short, inundated with alternative acronyms, all of which claimed to describe the public relations process.
Some alternatives merely renamed and/or reconfigured RACE's four steps.
PACE essentially kept the same four steps as RACE but slapped a new label on the first step and did a little bit of fine-tuning on the dividing lines between some of the others.
- P - Planning - involves researching the situation and outlining a step-by-step response based on that research.
- A - Action - means implementing any changes in organizational behavior specified in the plan created in step 1.
- C - Communication - involves telling all of your organization's publics what was done in steps 1 and 2.
- E - Evaluation - assesses how much the original situation has changed as a result of steps 2 and 3 and often results in a return to step 1 to repeat the process.
RARE is another four-step example that is very similar to RACE in substance but uses different names for some steps.
- R - Research - same as in RACE.
- A - Assess - really means develop a plan and is merely a different name for step 2 in RACE.
- R - Respond - in words and deeds, which is meant to denote a broader, more active, and more involving reponse than communication alone.
- E - Evaluate - whether the situation is now satisfactory or if you need to repeat the process.
Others decreased or increased the number of steps in the process.
ACE was one of the few acronyms that was intended to simplify the public relations process by reducing it to just three steps. It did this by combining the first two steps of RACE. Its proponents claimed this not only made it easier to remember the acronym and what each of its letters represented, but that it also made it easier to complete public relations tasks in a timely manner -- a rather dubious claim at best.
- A - Assessment - combines research and planning.
- C - Communication
- E - Evaluation
Actually, many more critics felt that four-step acronyms like RACE were already too short and oversimplified. Rather than subtract steps the way ACE did, they wanted to add steps and make the process more detailed and comprehensive. The place they most often wanted to add steps was at the beginning of the process, usually, but not always, as a precursor to doing research.
GRACE, one of the first to add a step, was initially fairly popular, but later seemed to fall out of favor and was replaced by a number of other acronyms, each of which had its own day in the sun before fading in popularity and being replaced by yet another acronym du jour.
GRACE, however, remains my personal favorite. One of the things I like about it as an intellectual construct is that its originators always acknowledged that it was rooted in Cutlip and Center's RACE and built upon that legacy. It didn't claim to be wholly original or earth-shaking. What it did do was emphasize the importance of knowing where you're going or what you want to accomplish before trying to get there or do something. Don't do generic research just to see what you find; do focused research aimed at finding the best way to get to a specific end-point. So, before embarking on research or any other public relations effort, be sure that you have set specific goals and objectives for your organization, its public relations staff, and this particular project/situation.
- G - Goal-setting - for a specific time period, or for the duration of the project being launched, which clearly links these goals with the organization's overall mission.
- R - Research - as described in RACE.
- A - Assessment - which means developing a specific action plan for achieving step 1's goals based on step 2's research findings.
- C - Communication - includes all means of letting your organization's publics know what the organization is doing and why it's doing it.
- E - Evaluation - which determines whether the goals set in step 1 have been met or another cycle of public relations activity is needed.
ROSIE, another five-letter acronym, is different enough and well-known enough to deserve mention. Professor Sheila Clough Crifasi (now retired) developed it while she was teaching at the University of Delware, but it owes much of its popularity to being included in Fraser Seitel's best-selling textbook The Practice of Public Relations. Seitel first featured ROSIE in the seventh edition of his textbook and is still featuring it in the thirteenth edition, the one currently used in colleges across the USA.
ROSIE was developed by customizing RACE, a fact that both Crifasi and Seitel acknowledge. It started with the same basic framework and even kept the same first and last steps as RACE. Beyond that, it appears that ROSIE tried to fill some of the same gaps in RACE that GRACE tried to fill, although GRACE and ROSIE went about it in somewhat different ways, especially in the names they used for their steps and the order in which they occur.
- R - Research - as described in RACE.
- O - Objectives - could have been called "goal-setting" since it's nearly identical to step 1 in GRACE.
- S - Strategies - means developing a step-by-step action plan.
- I - Implementation - includes communication and means putting the step 3 action plan into operation.
- E - Evaluation - as described in RACE.
Rather than a broad view of public relations, some acronyms offer a more narrow and specialized perspective.
STARE, another five-letter acronym, differs from the others because it emerged from a special aspect of public relations known as issues management. It primarily focuses on topics that are currently relevant to an organization or a client, rather than being a full-spectrum public relations program. It doesn't address all aspects or public relations, nor is it suitable for all organizations or all clients. For example, neither issues management nor STARE would be appropriate for working with a client who wants to have a reputation as "an all-around good guy," but they are highly appropriate for a client who wanted a reputation as an environmentalist, or a great athlete, or a friend of the homeless, or as being tough on crime, or as being focused on -- either as a supporter or an opponent of -- any other currently "hot" issue.
- S - Scan - the environment with particular emphasis on the media and public opinion to determine which topics/issues are most dominant right now or show signs of becoming dominant.
- T - Track - ongoing media coverage and changes in public opinion about the issues identified in step 1 that are relevant to your organization/client or about which the organization/client wants to take a public stand.
- A - Analyze - what the scanning and tracking has revealed and what the ramifications of this are likely to mean to your organization.
- R - Respond - by developing and implementing an action plan that will help you move from where you are to where you want to be in the public's eyes.
- E - Evaluate - whether the public now perceives you in the ways you want to be seen or if you need to do further work positioning yourself.
These are just a few of the acronyms that can be used to describe the public relations process. The possibilities are endless.
These seven barely scratch the surface. -- They were chosen to illustrate different views of the public relations process, and they are among some of the most well-known acronyms for the public relations process, but they do not constitute a comprehensive listing. -- There are dozens, if not scores, of others that could have been cited. Among them are ACT, PAT, PICA, SISCE, SPACE, SPICE, and TRACE, to name just a few.
All these existing acronyms, as well as the countless others that could be developed, were intended to accomplish the same end: making the public relations process easier to describe and to remember. They divide the overall process into a reasonable number of logical steps, label each step with a short, simple and descriptive name, and use the first letter of each step's name to form a single word that is, hopefully, both clever and easy-to-remember.
But, regardless of how clever and easy-to-remember such acronyms are, or how many steps they ascribe to the public relations process, there are no reports of any acronym ever making a clear difference in how well its proponents actually perform public relations tasks.
Their primary value is that they make it easier to talk about and explain how the public relations process works. They're great for introducing students to different ways of thinking about and describing public relations work. And, it can be a lot of fun, as well as a wonderful learning experience, for students to try to develop their own acronyms.
Knowing and recalling one of these acronyms can also keep students and even experienced practitioners from skipping over an important step as they're explaining the process to others or as they're going about their daily work. This is something I've been increasingly reminded of in recent years as I talked with and coached candidates who were preparing to take an IABC or PRSA accreditation exam.
Using acronyms promotes analytic thinking and can help you earn professional accreditation.
Both the IABC and PRSA accreditation/certification exams require a thorough understanding of public relations and the ability to quickly and concisely explain it, orally and in writing. 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 know and should have been able express.
- The PRSA exam directly asks candidates to explain the public relations process and is essentially looking for a textbook-style answer. And, since the PRSA endorses the RACE model, an explanation of RACE is the preferred answer. However, other step-by-step models/acronyms, if they're fully explained, are also acceptable. But, rambling, poorly focused responses are not.
- The IABC exams aren't looking for as many textbook-style answers but require candidates to do much more problem-solving and role-playing. They'll describe a situation -- sometimes well-known and real, sometimes purely hypothetical -- and then ask the candidates to respond by explaining how they would respond if they were employed by one of the principals in the situation. Alternatively, they might be asked to write a statement for their CEO to read at a press conference, or to draft a news release explaining their organization's role in the current situation, or to rough out an open letter to employees for posting on the company intranet. While they usually have wide latitude in responding, candidates are expected to use a consistent step-by-step process for every situation they have to address. By using one with an easy to remember acronym, they're less likely to skip steps and lose points.
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 may be emerging. GRACE was used by three of my four most recent successful accreditation candidates, and the fourth used a non-acronymic, four-step model advocated in recent editions of Cutlip and Center's perennially popular textbook. (See below.) However, they all agreed that jotting down their acronym or the steps they planned to follow as soon as they started taking the test and referring back to these notes every time they were asked to address a new situation kept them on track and helped ensure that they wrote complete responses.
And, remember: using an acronym as a memory aid needn't be 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 although Cutlip and Center created RACE for their first edition of this text, they no longer endorse it or any other acronym for the public relations process. -- You will not find RACE or any of the other acronyms cited above in recent editions. -- They do, however, continue to describe public relations as a four-step process, and those four steps directly correspond to the four steps in RACE. They are:
- Defining the problem (or opportunity).
- Planning and programming.
- Taking action and communicating.
- Evaluating the program.
Table of contents
|Underlying concepts of public relations||Public relations' changing name||Practicing Public Relations|
12 May 2021