Book review: PR and the Presidency

The Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) supports the work of communicators in higher education involved in alumni relations, fund raising and development, and communication/marketing/ public relations.

When I attend Region V (Chicago area) CASE meetings I always take away ideas not only interesting but useful to me in my role.

So it’s no surprise that I found lots to like in Public Relations and the Presidency, (CASE Books, 2001, 344 p). It offers essays, analyses, and case studies based on a survey of more than 900 college and university chief PR officers and presidents.

Edited by John E. Ross and Carol P. Halstead, the book includes a number of essays on the function of PR in higher ed and how the college and university president and chief PR staff can work together most effectively. Section 2 addresses strategic communication planning, positioning and branding, internal PR, and media relations. Section 3 includes case studies in admissions, athletics, business–university partnerships, community relations, crisis communications, development, and legislative relations.

Key to this book is the notion that PR is the art and science of generating and enhancing constructive relationships with groups of individuals on whom the university depends for support.

But in many cases college and university presidents do not consider public relations as strategic in the same way they view other communications like admissions, development, and government relations. Why? Because these functions bring quantifiable resources to the university, and often PR does not. This doesn’t mean that the product of the PR office should not be measured, but that dollars and cents are not the appropriate currency.

Part of the fault lies with PR professionals themselves, who must better bring their skills into line with presidents’ priorities. For example, the study underlying this book found that presidents regard knowledge of the institution as the most critical tool for the PR professional. However, PR chiefs believe that “people skills” ranks highest. This high ranking of “people skills” reflects an increasingly outmoded and dysfunctional view of PR as managing the media, not the image.

In addition, PR professionals simply must learn to master new information technology. Without instantaneous access to information critical to the shaping of the image, PR professionals will find their assignment impossible to fulfill.

The final chapter addresses the importance of an institution’s web presence in some insightful ways. But that’s as far as this book goes in terms of e-communication. PR and the Presidency was published in 2001, pre-social media (blogs, wikis, podcasts, social networking, social bookmarking, etc.). In 2006 these tools are crucial parts of the job for communicators in education, and a revised edition of this book should certainly include several case studies and analytical essays on the imaginative and effective ways these tools are being used.

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