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Responding to Activism: An Experimental Analysis of Public Relations Strategy Influence on Beliefs, Attitudes, and Behavioral Intentions
Unformatted Document Text:  Responding to Activism (ICA-15-11621) 1 Introduction A review of literature indicates that minimal attention has been devoted to the message variable in the public relations process. According to Hallahan (2000), creating effective messages to reach strategically important publics is a critical function of public relations; yet, public relations theorists have failed to develop message strategies for communicating with publics (p. 464). Similarly, Springston and Keyton (2001) stated that, although scholars have described the need for delivering strategic messages concurrently to multiple publics, a theoretically-grounded methodology for assessing and analyzing messages sent to publics has not been offered (p. 117). The lack of research concerning public relations message strategies is surprising, given the discipline’s interest in the effectiveness of public relations activities (Olson, 2001; Hon, 1998, 1997; Dozier & Ehling, 1992). This interest stems from the applied nature of the discipline. The increasing involvement of multiple publics in organizational activity demands that organizations understand how communication with publics will affect the achievement of organizational goals. Organizations and practitioners faced with a rapidly changing environment require a useful framework that describes public relations as strategic communication with predictable outcomes. Since strategic messages communicated by organizations to key publics are a functional result of the public relations process, an understanding of the effects of message strategies is critical to understanding public relations effectiveness. Hazleton and Long’s Public Relations Process Model (1988) provides a promising, yet largely unexplored, theoretical framework for the analysis of public relations message strategies. Grounded in general systems theory, the public relations process model describes public relations as goal-driven communication strategies used by organizations to interact with target publics existing in their environment. The model specifies a taxonomy of seven public relations strategies organizations use when communicating with publics. Preliminary empirical evidence suggests that the taxonomy presents a valid conceptualization of the public relations behavior of organizations (Page & Hazleton, 1999; Page 2000a, 2000b). However, research is needed that examines the effect public relations strategies have on target publics—the receivers of organizational communication. According to Dozier and Ehling (1992), the effects achieved by public relations programs include awareness, knowledge, opinions, attitudes, and behavior of those affected by the program. However, there is currently no discipline-specific public relations theory that explains these effects. Fortunately, the interdisciplinary nature of public relations fosters the use of theoretical constructs from other areas of the social sciences. An interdisciplinary approach is used in this study to gain a better understanding of public relations strategy effect on publics. Literature from social psychology suggests that Fishbein and Ajzen’s Theory of Reasoned Action (1975) provides a useful framework for examining public relations strategy effect on belief, attitude, and

Authors: Page, Kelly.
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Responding to Activism (ICA-15-11621)
1
Introduction
A review of literature indicates that minimal attention has been devoted to the message variable in the
public relations process. According to Hallahan (2000), creating effective messages to reach strategically
important publics is a critical function of public relations; yet, public relations theorists have failed to
develop message strategies for communicating with publics (p. 464). Similarly, Springston and Keyton
(2001) stated that, although scholars have described the need for delivering strategic messages
concurrently to multiple publics, a theoretically-grounded methodology for assessing and analyzing
messages sent to publics has not been offered (p. 117).
The lack of research concerning public relations message strategies is surprising, given the
discipline’s interest in the effectiveness of public relations activities (Olson, 2001; Hon, 1998, 1997;
Dozier & Ehling, 1992). This interest stems from the applied nature of the discipline. The increasing
involvement of multiple publics in organizational activity demands that organizations understand how
communication with publics will affect the achievement of organizational goals. Organizations and
practitioners faced with a rapidly changing environment require a useful framework that describes public
relations as strategic communication with predictable outcomes. Since strategic messages communicated
by organizations to key publics are a functional result of the public relations process, an understanding of
the effects of message strategies is critical to understanding public relations effectiveness.
Hazleton and Long’s Public Relations Process Model (1988) provides a promising, yet largely
unexplored, theoretical framework for the analysis of public relations message strategies. Grounded in
general systems theory, the public relations process model describes public relations as goal-driven
communication strategies used by organizations to interact with target publics existing in their
environment. The model specifies a taxonomy of seven public relations strategies organizations use when
communicating with publics. Preliminary empirical evidence suggests that the taxonomy presents a valid
conceptualization of the public relations behavior of organizations (Page & Hazleton, 1999; Page 2000a,
2000b). However, research is needed that examines the effect public relations strategies have on target
publics—the receivers of organizational communication.
According to Dozier and Ehling (1992), the effects achieved by public relations programs include
awareness, knowledge, opinions, attitudes, and behavior of those affected by the program. However, there
is currently no discipline-specific public relations theory that explains these effects. Fortunately, the
interdisciplinary nature of public relations fosters the use of theoretical constructs from other areas of the
social sciences. An interdisciplinary approach is used in this study to gain a better understanding of public
relations strategy effect on publics.
Literature from social psychology suggests that Fishbein and Ajzen’s Theory of Reasoned Action
(1975) provides a useful framework for examining public relations strategy effect on belief, attitude, and


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