Practice + Research = PR

Research is one of the most imperative things a Public Relations practitioner can undertake to ensure a more effective and successful campaign. It is important to have an insight on issues and understanding of context, then to examine progress, and finally to check what has been achieved, reporting back to management, allowing for analysis or improvement if needed. Most essentially, without sufficient research we would be assuming the outcome and solution rather than investigating the issue at hand (Synnott, 2009).

In 2008 healthy Quick Service Restaurant (QSR) Subway developed a new ‘Fresh Fit’ menu. Subway wanted this menu to be impactful and memorable against their other health food competitors. Public relations company Hill & Knowlton conducted a comprehensive media audit to investigate competitors’ healthy messages, the ‘QSR market place; and media attitudes towards this. ‘Analysis included:

  • Competitor offerings
  • Communication messages via all channels
  • Competitor websites and in-store activity/ POP materials

In addition stakeholder mapping was conducted to identify key influencers in the health and nutrition arena. This included consultation with the Dietitians Association of Australia and other key influencers to gain qualitative insights into what they expect in this QSR space.

H&K combined this research with Subway’s own market research into consumer wants for the menu range, from preferred foods to perceptions of potential spokespeople. Consequently, all of the research helped inform the planning process and overall strategic direction. H&K and Subway also identified audiences for the Fresh Fit Campaign, those being the media, consumers, stakeholders and internal/company audiences. A communication strategy was planned to engage Subway’s target audiences, implemented by using a number of researched tactics.

As a result, the campaign increased sales by 8% and re-establishing Subway as the number one healthy QSR. Ultimately, the campaign’s success is testament to the power of PR in consumer marketing, and how it can deliver real communications and business impact for an established brand like Subway’ (Golden Target Awards, 2008).

‘Not every strategy or public relations program you’re going to develop is going to succeed fully. But if you fail because of a lack of research or evaluation, that’s unacceptable and avoidable” (Kawalilak as cited in Chia & Synnott, 2009).

This link provides an  interesting metaphor which explains the differences between qualitative and quantitative research in an atypical but insightful way.


Synnott, G.  (2009). Public Relations Practice. In J. Chia & G. Synnott, An Introduction to Public Relations: From Theory to Practice (pp. 157-190). South Melbourne, Victoria: Oxford University Press.

Synnott, G. (2009). Public Relations Research. In J. Chia & G. Synnott, An Introduction to Public Relations: From Theory to Practice (pp. 125-157). South Melbourne, Victoria: Oxford University Press.

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Public Relations ethics; fact or fiction?

Ethics is considered to be one of the most essential pieces which makes up the public relations pie; however a definition of what ethics actually means is not quite as clear. Elspeth Tilley (2009) states that ‘ethics is about standards of behaviour, specifically concern for ‘good’ behaviour and consideration of how our behaviour as an individual or organisation, affects the wellbeing of others or society as a whole’.

If someone acts in an unethical manner does this make him or her a bad person? Not necessarily, commonly a lack of lack of knowledge and unawareness of practical frameworks and theories contribute to unethical decision making (Tilley, 2010).  ‘Public relations should be able to improve the ethics and social responsibility of organizational behaviours’ (Grunig, 2006 as cited in Chia & Synnott, 2009).

Nevertheless, not everyone holds the same ideals as to what is right and wrong, often the two can become blurred and this is when ethical dilemmas occur. Is it realistic for a person to be able to make a decision that everyone agrees is entirely ethical?

The link below offers an article and video about when public relations ethics aren’t considered, providing a nasty consequence to the hidden truths. It proves to show that not following necessary good practice, leads to mounting unethical behaviour.


Are your ethics pointing you in the right direction?



Tilley, E. (2009). Public Relations Ethics. In J. Chia & G. Synnott, An Introduction to Public Relations: From Theory to Practice (pp. 90-123). South Melbourne, Victoria: Oxford University Press.

Image sourced from

Theory plus a catwalk controversy.

Being a first year university student, I have realised that most introductory courses contain a strong theoretical background. On countless occasions the prescribed weekly readings have left me feeling baffled, bored and somewhat confused, frantically ‘Googling’ the definitions to words in which I never knew existed. Even though a number of theories can be quite perplexing at first, I do appreciate that the frameworks exist for many important reasons. Theories are in place to provide grounding, a basis and without the theories there would be no practice. Theory is also a great way to gain greater understanding of Public Relations as a whole as it can often be tough to define. Nevertheless this does not mean that all theories are necessarily correct and as I have learned can often be contested against. One of the many beauties of the world is that we are all entitled to our own opinion, each to their own.

Naturally when beginning to read about PR theory I was presented with a variety of frameworks and perspectives, adding to the diversity and dynamism of the profession.  One theory is simply not enough to cover such a broad spectrum. Sociology, psychology, organisational theory and communication all play key roles in influencing PR theory. The most appropriate theory will vary depending on the nature of the situation and an array of other influences (Chia & Synnott, 2009).

The framing model was one of the communication theories which stood out to me the most. ‘Framing refers to how individuals organise and package information, and is critical to how we construct our reality’ (Hallahan, 1999, as cited in Chia & Synnott, 2009). This model can be easily related to so many things going on in the current media. A prime example of this theory in practice would be the recent incident involving Australian fashion designer Alannah Hill and her comments regarding an alleged sexual harassment victim. The comments Hill made were seen as highly controversial and as a result a decision was made to hold a ‘sorry sale’ in one of her stores with profits going towards a charity for women. The framing of Alannah Hill’s seemingly good deed was ultimately to distract the public eye from her stint of bad publicity, highlighting her humble apology and charitable act. Is any publicity really good publicity?


Alannah Hill (left) pictured with fellow designer Alex Perry at the David Jones Spring/Summer 2010 fashion launch.


The two links below provide articles and video footage of the occurrence.

Other references:

Sison D, M. (2009).  Theoretical Contexts. J. Chia & G. Synnott, An Introduction to Public Relations: From Theory to Practice (pp. 54-90).  South Melbourne, Victoria: Oxford University Press