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Reading List

I like to make a note of books that I've read.

Political Public Relations


Disclaimer: Jesper Strömbäck sent me this book for review. I know Jesper from when I was studying at the Public Relations Program, Mid Sweden University

political public relations | Reading List | Doctor Spin
Politics is power via public relations.

I love reading up on academic research.

The book is edited by Jesper Strömbäck and Sprio Kiousis, University of Florida. Thirteen contributors gives their perspective on the subject of political public relations and as with anything related to Jesper Strömbäck, the reference section after each chapter is just as long (and just as valuable) as the main content. It’s heavily rooted in the latest research from the most prominent names in the PR research industry.

In the preface, Strömbäck and Kiousis plunges into a discussion of how to define public relations and aslo political public relations. My default in discussions like these are to disagree, but they take the route via the controversial “father of public relations” Bernays, then via White and Dozier, then via Hunt and Grunig and then back to Harlow who synthesised some 500+ definitions. From there they move on to really dig deep; I recognize namess like Iyengar, Coombs, Cutlip, Holladay, Laswell and of course Lippmann.

I also appreciate that they use the term publics continuously (the only name I think is missing is John Dewey who I think contributed indirectly to this line of thinking).

Doctor Spin’s Notes

Rhetorical vs. Persuasive

I enjoyed Martinelli’s historical context very much and especially the discussion between the rhetorical- and the persuasive discourse and then makes a beautiful connection to a subject field close to social media right now, influencers. She also highlights the uses and gratifications theory framework.

I think it would’ve been interesting with some insights on gamification in the world of public affairs. I know this aspect would interest Strömbäck who has argued that media has a tendency to describe politics as a game, a logic which might result in disrespect for the importance of politics, but more importantly also to a self-fulfilling prophesy.

Agenda Indexing

Lieber and Golan’s discussion on news management basically aligned with a lot of thoughts I’ve been having since I studied PR at the university, I’m still to this day fascinated by the interaction between PR and the news media. I was introduced to agenda indexing, something I will make sure to learn more about. How does digital impact news indexing, I wonder.

Agenda Building

When it comes to Tedesco’s chapter on agenda building, its focus on the US and top ranking political officers were more of an overview as I interpreted it and it left me with more questions than answers. Should politicians use the agenda to further their political programs or should they set the agenda? Does it really matter as long as they get their message across? And is getting messages across (push) the end-game in this day and age?

Apparently US president’s are giving more and more non-major speeches, according to Eshbaugh-Soha. This gives me ideas on the benefits also for executives to use online video more often. In ancient times we recognized the power of public speaking, but maybe we’ve become too heavily reliant on text-based communication in today´s society? As communication staffing for the White House goes, there’s been a significant increase, which implies that strategic professionals are pulling their weight in politics. But what role did the digital landscape contribute to this?

Pushing for Mistakes

Baines showed me something extremely interesting by highlighting positive and negative persuasiveness. It’s basically what we in digital PR would call sentiment analysis. As I interpret the UK findings, the political game in a political campaign is mostly about making fewer mistakes than your competitors! This implies that you have more to gain from pushing your opponents to making mistakes rather than trying to push your own agenda. Maybe this is why we still to this day see so much negative campaigning?

Priming and Framing

Heath, Mr issues management himself, teams up with Waymer to discuss issues management. What made me most excited here was the use of priming as a complement to framing. (When I studied, I argued that priming would be a good word in this context, but I remember some of my classmates thinking that it was a stupid word to use. Ha!)

Political Marketing

Lillecker and Jackson’s chapter on political marketing could’ve used some thoughts on how to drive influence not only through “push” visibility, since we today have more of a “pull” kind of world.

Hallahan’s PR Links

Hallahan writes about strategic framing. But I can’t help thinking about how his PR Links was such a resource when I studied — and I found that the site still exists! Classic.

Political Crisis Communications

I loved the table with Denial, Evading, Reducing, Corrective Action and Mortification in regards to Political Crisis Communications in Coombs chapter. I will make sure to put the framework to practical use.

Relationship Management

Relationship management must be said to be at the core of public relations, however, there’s such a heavy focus on publics and the media. So this is an inspiring field of research bridging to social psychology which has interesting touch points with social media as well. Ledingham provides a brief overview, but I want to know more about the the theories discussed, especially the social exchange and effects theories.

Conveying Public Relations Research

Sanders makes me think about how to extend the knowledge of PR researchers to those who are operative professionals (like me). I agree that relevant publics should be put in center of political communications research. I think the responsibility falls heavily on the academics themselves; they need to present and convey their findings in more engaging and innovative ways.

Public Diplomacy

Public diplomacy is an entirely new field to me. To be honest I had a hard time getting through Molleda’s chapter, since diplomacy is such a complex topic. Reading up on Anti-Americanism was interesting and dealings with such tendencies must start with listening rather than managing and even placing relatively mild critique on the same scale as anti-globalism and anti-capitalism and deep hatred isn’t going to help US international relations; the US must respond to critique with transparency and global collaboration instead of comprehensive labelling of opposite interests.

Digital Political Relations

I could elaborate to quite some extent on Sweetser’s take on digital political public relations, but the focus on campaign sites is too channel-centric, which must be regarded as an outdated perspective. We need to discuss the field of digital public relations from situational- and psychological perspectives rather than how information is actively disseminated and passively consumed.

Doctor Spin’s Take

The Good

Some useful scientific literature referenced and the anthology serves as good way to get deeper into the academic field of political public relations by reading through articles by some of the best academics on each topic.

The Bad

With so much useful information, I wish it could have been an entertaining read as well. The book isn’t trying to be fun and accessible to read at all — why not?

Photo by Fancycrave on Unsplash.

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Jerry Silfwerhttps://doctorspin.org/
Jerry Silfwer, aka Doctor Spin, is an awarded senior adviser specialising in public relations and digital strategy. Currently CEO at KIX Communication Index and Spin Factory. Before that, he worked at Kaufmann, Whispr Group, Springtime PR, and Spotlight PR. Based in Stockholm, Sweden.