ImageRecently, in my Strategic Public Relations Communication course, I was given the task of summarizing an academic public relations study, and, preferably, not just any study but a study that somehow relates to my specific interests in the PR field.

Well, that was tough. I am at a crossroads in my academic and professional careers. All forms of PR fascinate me; however, I am torn between healthcare communication, crisis communication and event planning.

In an attempt to explore two of my interests together, I decided to investigate how healthcare communicators communicate best in a crisis.

With that question in mind, I sifted through the Public Relations Review journal until I came across a study by Brooke Fisher Liu and Sora Kim titled “How Organizations Framed the 2009 H1N1 Pandemic Via Social and Traditional Media: Implications for U.S. Health Communicators.”


Liu and Kim did an in-depth quantitative content analysis of 13 corporate and government organizations’ use of traditional and social media to frame the H1N1 crisis.


Although it limited generalizability, researchers chose leading government organizations that were responsible for responding to health crises, such as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and the World Health Organization (WHO).

Similarly, Liu and Kim chose companies that likely would respond to the crisis due to the financial impact of the pandemic, such as


Liu and Kim analyzed a total of 2,240 traditional and social media documents released by the companies or published on the companies’ official websites between April 23, 2009, and July 31, 2009.

Traditional documents include fact sheets, media advisories, news releases, press conference briefings, reports, statements, and updates. Social media documents include Facebook posts, Twitter posts, and organizations’ documents linked to Facebook posts and Twitter posts.

To ensure the validity of their results, both authors independently coded all response documents and pretested for reliability.

A content analysis is only as good as the variables that it measures by, and to choose those variables Liu and Kim focused on three categories: emotion, framing, and type of media.

Specifically, Liu and Kim looked for messages containing emotions such as alert, anger, contempt/disgust, fear/anxiety, relief, sadness, shame, and sympathy/compassion. Also, they sorted framing methods by looking for messages that described the outbreak as a general crisis, a disaster, a health crisis, or a general health issue.


One of the most significant findings is that there is a considerable difference in the amount that the H1N1 outbreak was discussed in government and corporate documents.

Government documents addressed the H1N1 57 percent of the time, as opposed corporate documents that only addressed it 15 percent of the time.

Research also suggested that there was a significant difference in the emotions expressed based off the type of media used to distribute the message. 

Although publics mainly use social media to obtain health information, research shows that most organizations rely on traditional media for educational messages.

My Two Cents

Although time has always been short, now more than ever a company or organization has little to no time to spare when it comes to addressing a crises. I think this study is so interesting because 2009 was a time when social media was far from a new idea; however, it was still continuing to rise in popularity.

I encourage you to take a closer look at Liu and Kim’s study if you are interested in social media, healthcare communication, or crisis communication.

How would you want to find out about the effects of a health crisis?

Recently, U.S. News & World Report added public relations specialist to its list “Best Jobs 2012.” While I have no disagreement with the addition, it inspired me to consider why I chose public relations.

It’s simple, really: I chose public relations because I love all of its potential capabilities. When used correctly, public relations specialists have the power to connect the underserved and ignored with the people and companies they need most.

Certain minority groups are less likely to be informed about issues related to their well being, according to a study conducted at UC Davis by Rina Alcalay and Robert A. Bell.

In public relations, it is our job to effectively, and appropriately, deliver key messages to diverse audiences. And, while it is important in all areas of PR, it is crucial in healthcare.

As both a woman and women’s studies minor, I think it is necessary to bridge the knowledge gap between low-income women and healthcare providers.

Inspired by other bloggers, PR specialists, and case studies, I have complied five tips for communicating healthcare and overall well being with low-income women.

1. Tell. Don’t Sell.

Often, low-income women don’t have the option to research or choose their healthcare provider, so you should stop trying to sell your client and start building trust.

In the blog “Medical Public Relations,” Anthony Mora explains that when the media are used to present stories of healthcare professionals and showcase their talent, it can help professionals accomplish three things:

  • Establish themselves as experts in their field
  • Reach their target market
  • Build a successful practice

2. This Isn’t About You; It’s About Me.

Low-income women aren’t skipping their annual exam because they hate you. In fact, it most likely has nothing to do with you. Don’t just focus on your accomplishments; show women what your hospital or healthcare provider can do for them.

Kelly Young, founder of Baise Communications, described an experience  where she worked with Women’s Fund of Central Indiana, and, for one day, she and various alumnae and advisory board members were each given the identity of a real, local, low-income woman faced with complications, obstacles and barriers.

Having viewed life through the eyes of its audience, Women’s Fund of Central Indiana was able to narrow its campaign because it had a better idea about what was most important to low-income women in the area.

3. Make it Easy.

In 2010, Women’s Fund of Central Indiana went above and beyond to help provide low-income women with potentially life-saving mammograms. It addressed issues such as transportation, language barriers, education levels, scheduling problems, and fear.

In their book, “Strategic Communications Planning,” Laurie J. Wilson and Joseph D. Ogden explain the necessity of focusing on an audience’s primary concerns. They say that to change behavior you have to first identify a public’s self-interest and then appeal to it.

4. Better Yet, Make it Easy and Make it Free.

Although free isn’t always an option, it almost always gets attention.

Fort Memorial Hospital Foundation and the Rock River Free Clinic partnered for the Fort Healthcare Mammogram Campaign and successfully performed 350 free mammograms on women with little or no insurance coverage; one out of every seven patients was new.

5. Say What You Mean, and Mean What You Say.

It doesn’t matter which side of the Susan G. Komen versus Planned Parenthood debate you’re on: It is impossible to deny that poor communication is partially to blame for the entire situation.

Susan G. Komen failed to provide the public with proof that it wasn’t simply removing healthcare funding for low-income women; it was redistributing the money elsewhere. Ambiguous messages cost Susan G. Komen trust, support and allies.

What tips or examples do you have?

These five tips are just my interpretation of the best communication practices; however, I hope they are useful for you. At the very least, I hope they made you think critically about communicating with diverse audiences.

Planned Parenthood Rally
Source: The Morningside Post

Weeding Out Astroturfing

February 28, 2012

Has astroturfing got you feeling blue?

As a professional in our social media obsessed society, it can be difficult to know what is appropriate to post online. If you genuinely like the organization you’re representing then you can promote them online or engage in conversations just like any other fan, right?


Any attempt to replicate grassroots support is considered astroturfing and only serves to ruin your credibility as well as your professional reputation.

Just like the synthetic lawn it is named after, astroturfing is expensive, pretty from a distance, and 100 percent fake. The cost to an organization’s reputation following an astroturfing scandal is likely to far exceed the cost of recruiting real grassroots participants.

If negative comments about your organization ever clog sites like Yelp or Google Reviews after a crisis – or anytime – it might be tempting to post a thread highlighting a few of the organization’s strengths. However, you should resist the urge, no matter how intense, because astroturfing is more likely to cause a crisis than to fix one.

Comcast was the subject of a 2008 FCC hearing regarding net neutrality, and Comcast paid participants to fill seats to allegedly exclude Comcast protestors from entering the meeting.

While Comcast was able to keep critics out momentarily, they hurt themselves in the long run by sabotaging any previously established trust with their target audiences and ruining their credibility. Why not let in the other side if you have nothing to hide?

Tamara Littelton, CEO of eModeration, has an exceptional explanation about why astroturfing is not only wrong but also unnecessary. She says overcrowding the Internet with bogus social media profiles to promote your own agenda is unethical. She also provides a description of what a campaign should encompass. 

A campaign should

  • Be transparent
  • Rely on genuine advocacy
  • Promote real interaction within the community
  • Develop relationships

Astroturfing not only hurts the client but also reflects poorly on the entire public relations industry. Do you want to be associated with a strategy named after fake grass?

In his blog, PR Squared, Todd Defren asked readers in 2007 if the strategy used by the creators of the Blair Witch Project is a form of astroturfing. I agree with Defren when he said that most people enjoy a spoof or satire; however, discovering astroturfing is like realizing you were the butt of a joke.

In case you’re still not convinced that astroturfing is a bad practice, the PRSA Code of Ethics Disclosure of Information provision says, “Open communication fosters informed decision making in a democratic society.” Guidelines such as “reveal the sponsors for causes and interests represented” and “avoid deceptive practices” prove that there is no ethical way to engage in astroturfing.

Take a lesson from Boise State and remember that although you might think you’ll be seeing green, astroturfing just leaves you feeling blue.

Why Ponder PR?

February 23, 2012

Hello, and welcome to “Pondering PR.” My name is Courtney Austin, and I am a senior at the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication. 

First of all, I’d like to thank you for stopping by and checking out my blog. I hope you are as excited to read about the constantly evolving public relations industry as I am to write about it.

Here’s a quick overview of who I am: I am a 22-year-old Oregon native, born and raised in the beautiful, rainy Beaverton, Ore., and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I am a public relations major and a women and gender studies minor.

Ever since my freshman year, when I discovered PR, I haven’t stopped pondering about it. There is so much to know — so much to learn — and so little time left to do it before college ends and the “real world” hits. It’s only a matter of months before our professors cut us loose and hope we’ve retained enough of the strategy and theory they have so kindly pounded into our heads over the last few years.

Although I am starting this blog for a class, and will be writing a few class-specific posts throughout the next six weeks, I hope to update it two or three times a month outside of class about the PR industry and my journey into it once my class ends.

Last term, for another class, I signed up for daily updates from the “Bulldog Reporter’s Daily Dog.” Even though the class has since ended, I still read the emails every morning, and as I read the blunders and accomplishments of corporate giants, I wonder what other students are thinking about these same cases. So, my hope is that this blog will be a place where I can reflect on, and ponder about, different aspects of PR, and I encourage other students and professionals to contribute openly.

If you’re still pondering why I’m pondering, check out the About Courtney page or feel free to send me an email — I would love to hear from you.

Be sure to come back soon for new updates.