module specification

MC7074 - Contemporary Theory & Practice in Public Relations (2017/18)

Module specification Module approved to run in 2017/18, but may be subject to modification
Module title Contemporary Theory & Practice in Public Relations
Module level Masters (07)
Credit rating for module 20
School Guildhall School of Business and Law
Total study hours 200
155 hours Guided independent study
45 hours Scheduled learning & teaching activities
Assessment components
Type Weighting Qualifying mark Description
Coursework 30%   Individual Presentation and Supporting Material
Coursework 70%   Individual Written Report
Running in 2017/18
Period Campus Day Time Module Leader
Spring semester City Monday Morning

Module summary

This module examines contemporary issues and theoretical perspectives in public relations at both a national and global level. This will be underpinned by current scholarly research in public relations to gain insights into contemporary and applied practices. The module takes into account the considerable impact that recent political, socio-economic and technological issues and trends have on media, corporate strategy and public relations practice. Current trends within digital media platforms, products and applications will also be explored in order to better understand how organisational communications are responding to these significant changes currently taking place within the media landscape.

Prior learning requirements


Module aims

The module aims to:
• Develop an advanced understanding and critical awareness of contemporary issues in public relations informed by cutting-edge research and practice in public relations.
• Create new insights into the public relations discipline and new contributions to public relations professional practice.
• Foster creativity in the application of knowledge, developing sophisticated techniques of research enquiry and contributing to public relations theory and practice in order to advance scholarship 
The module also aims to assist students in the acquisition of the following skills:
• Commercial awareness and enterprise skills
• Academic reading
• Researching analysing data
• Application of knowledge
• Critical thinking and writing
• Communication and oral presentation
• Digital Literacy IT  skills
• Being creative


- History as a source of critique- Historical understandings and critical reflections of past and present public relations practices, with future implications.
- Understanding the preconditions for public relations practice- critical reflection based on Beck’s concepts of reflexive modernity, risk society and sub politics.
- Critical debates and reflection of public relations theories- e.g. excellence, critical, rhetoric, postmodernism, open-systems, stake holder and social construction of reality theories of public relations. Application to PR practice.
- Updated critical notes on Habermas’s theory of the public sphere and Jensen’s organisational legitimacy and identity. Application to PR practice.
- Contemporary practice of PR as a ‘sophisticated discourse’ and the power-control perspective of organisations. Deconstructing the work of Bourdieu, Foucault, Baudrillard and Gramsci. Application to PR practice.
- Articulating public relations practice through an extended cultural-economic model. Practical application of the articulation and critical/cultural theories of PR.
- Contemporary debates on the shifting boundaries between advertising and editorial in PR practice
- Critical reflection of the social-scientific communications and media theories applied to public relations practice. E.g. agenda-setting theory, media system dependency theory (MSD), priming theory, framing theory, congruity theory, attribution theory, involvement theory, uses and gratifications theory and attitude formation and change models applied to public relations.
- Managing communications in turbulent environments- theory and practice. E.g. application of complexity theory of public relations, the spiral of silence theory, cognitive-dissonance theory, diffusion of innovation, and situational theory of publics and problem solving.
- An updated (2017 and beyond) critical examination of social and emerging media use in public relations practice.
- The discourse of professionalism in public relations.
- Recent developments in global public relations research and practice -critical examination of the heuristic value of models of international public relations practice and methodological challenges for cross-cultural PR research.
- Towards developing new PR standards in measurement and evaluation- critical assessment and future implications of Barcelona principles, the ‘toe-bone-to-headbone’ logic model, etc.
- Ethical and social responsibility in PR practice- critique of professional, social and legal standards. Critical reflections of current theories of ethics in PR; core ethical issues and consequences in contemporary media practices
- Emergent critical thinking in country promotion- public diplomacy, nation branding and public relations. 
- Mapping the future of the public relations theory, research and practice.

Learning and teaching

This module will be delivered over a 15 week period and consists of 2-hour interactive learning sessions and 1-hour appreciation and critique of contemporary issues and theoretical perspectives in public relations. The 1-hour lecture will focus on defining and clarifying the theoretical principles to the appropriate depth and breadth. The 2-hour interactive learning sessions serve to anchor knowledge imparted in the lectures and provides a forum for a better understanding of lectures through small group discussions, case study/ campaigns/ journal article/problem solving analysis, presentations by guest speakers, and interchange of questions and answers. It also assists students in relating their knowledge to the public relations discipline and profession.
In order to ensure that students take more control of their learning and development, a ‘flipped classroom’ approach is adopted where students are provided with a topic and prepare well in advance of the date on which materials will be covered. The teaching team will lead a discussion on the role that each should play in the weekly sessions.
The facilities of Web Learn will be used as part of a blended learning approach and will be central to the delivery of module handbook, case studies, campaigns, journal articles, and external web links learning.

Learning outcomes

On successful completion of the module students will be able to:

1. Critically analyse, evaluate and synthesise a range of contemporary issues and theoretical perspectives in public relations
2. Develop a critical awareness of the impact that recent political, socio-economic and technological issues and trends have on media, corporate strategy and PR practice
3. Undertake and report on internally coherent and persuasively argued research-based paper/report on contemporary issues and emerging trends in public relations, fulfilling both academic and professional standards.
4. Articulate informed critiques of business ethics and corporate social responsibility that evidence awareness of the need for cultural and social diversity to be embraced in the national/global public relations context.
5. Develop higher level skills of critical reflection and judgement in light of evidence and argument about public relations issues and appreciate the uncertainty and ambiguity        relating to the limits of knowledge.
6. Use high-level academic writing and public presentation skills in gathering, organising, editing and deploying relevant qualitative/quantitative data and disseminating complex ideas using a variety of communicative media, including digital platforms.

Assessment strategy

The assessment has been designed to test the achievement of the module’s learning outcomes and it requires students to think critically and apply the knowledge gained during the module.The assessment strategy also draws on the Chartered Institute of Public Relations’ (CIPR) requirements relating to communications knowledge and theory, business skills and knowledge, PR practice and specialism. Accordingly, the module is assessed by two components: individual presentation on a critical theoretical aspect of PR (20 minutes presentation and supporting notes)-30%, and research-based paper/report on contemporary and emerging issues faced by PR professionals and the critical academic discussion on the issues (3000 words) - 70%.  Both components call for students to make links between current practitioner issues in PR and contemporary PR concepts and theories.The assessment requires evidence of progress and awareness of research issues, detailed knowledge on a specific topic and a plan for further research.

Assessment strategy Learning Outcomes Skill Development Details
Individual coursework (30%)

Individual presentation-20 minutes and supporting notes (presentation handout and supporting notes) (1,000 word limit for supporting notes)

1,5,6 Oral Presentation
Oral presentation(P,A); researching and collation of relevant data and the synthesis of information to make meaningful analysis (P,A);problem solving skills (P,A) creative skills(P,A), synthesis skills (P,A); time management skills (P,A); referencing skills (P,A);digital literacy and IT skills(I,P);  improve the ability to work independently (I,P,A); improve the ability to communicate ideas, principles, theories and informationeffectively by visual means (I,P,A);self-discipline (I,P); time management skills (P,A);Improve one’s ability to think critically and write reflectively in relation to PR theory (I,P,A)
Individual presentation and supporting material
Students will prepare to deliver an oral presentation and submit supporting materials on one critical theoretical aspect of PR. Students will be required to select a recently published academic article on a contemporary PR theory. They will need to present the theoretical underpinnings of the article and gauge the most important ideas from the selected article and its relationship to PR theory. Students will be required to identify and critically assess rival PR concepts and theories which may have been missing in the journal article and also find alternative explanations for the findings presented in the article. Students will discuss managerial implications and provide illustrates of PR campaigns supporting the theory and viewpoints from the article. Students should demonstrate striking personal insight and originality, supporting their arguments with contemporary PR literature. Aside from assessing subject knowledge, students will be assessed on:
- their ability to work independently and
  formulate and defend a complex
  argument in a logical manner
- their ability to choose appropriate
  materials and media, e.g. Prezi
- use of voice - clear well-paced verbal
  delivery and body language, confidence, 
  eye contact and professional approach;
  audience engagement during the
  presentation and time management
-audience engagement during the
Individual paper/report  (70%)- 3000 word count 1,2,3,4,5,6 Contemporary PR knowledge and critical thinking;  academic research/report writing skills (P,A); application of an applied and problem solving approach supported with relevant qualitative/quantitative data analysis and evaluation skills appropriate to the “issue” and its impact on practitioner actions and PR theory (P,A); Preparation of an independent & evidence-based report (P, A); commercial awareness and enterprise skills (P,A) Individual Coursework:
Research-based paper/report  on contemporary and emerging issues faced by PR practitioners and the critical academic discussion on the issues (3000 word count)



Key tests
• Black, C. (2014) The PR Professional's Handbook- Powerful, Practical Communications, London: Kogan Page.
• Bridgen, E. &Vercic, D. (2017) Experiencing Public Relations, London: Routledge.
• CIPR (2013) Share This Too: More Social Media Solutions for PR Professionals, John Wiley & Sons.
• Edwards, L. & Hodges, C. (2011) Public Relations, Society and Culture: Theoretical and Empirical Explorations, London: Routledge.
• L'Etang, J., McKie, D. and Snow, N., Xifra, J. (eds.) (2015) The Routledge Handbook of Critical Public Relations, Routledge, Abingdon, Oxon.
• Ihlen, Ø., van Ruler, B. and Fredriksson, M. (eds)  (2009) Public Relations and Social Theory: Key Figures and Concepts, Routledge.
• Waddington, S. (2015) Chartered public relations: lessons from expert practitioners, London: Kogan Page.

Important texts
• Bardhan, N. And Weaver, C.K. (eds) (2011) Public Relations in Global Cultural Contexts: Multi-paradigmatic Perspectives. New York: Routledge.
• Botan, C. and Hazleton, V. (2006) Public Relations Theory II, 1st Edition, Routledge.
• Brønn, P.S.,Romenti, S., Zerfass, A. and Villa, V. (eds) (2016) The Management Game of Communication: 1 (Advances in Public Relations and Communication Management), Emerald Group Publishing Limited.
• Cheney,G.,May, S. and and Munshi, D.  (2011)The handbook of communication ethics, New York, NY: Routledge.
• Christians, C., Fackler, M., Richardson, K., Kreshel, P., Woods, R. (2017) Media Ethics: Cases and Moral Reasoning, 10th Edition, Routledge.
• CIPR (2012) Share This: the social media handbook for PR professionals, John Wiley & Sons.
• Coombs, W.T. and Holladay, S.J (2009) PR strategy and application: managing influence, John Wiley & Sons.
• Daymon, C & Holloway, I. (2011) Qualitative Research Methods in Public Relations and Marketing Communications, 2nd edition. London: Routledge
• DiStaso, M.W. and Bortree, D.S. (2014)Ethical Practice of Social Media in Public Relations, 1st Edition, Routledge.
• L’Etang, J., (2008), Public relations: concepts, practice and critique, SAGE Publications Ltd.
• L'Etang,J. and Pieczka, M. (2006) Public relations: critical debates and contemporary practice, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.
• Griffin, A. (2014) Crisis, issues and reputation management, 1st Edition, London: Kogan Page.
• Heath, R.L. (2010) The Sage handbook of public relations, Sage Publications.
• Heath, R. L., Toth, E. L., &Waymer, D. (2009). Rhetorical and critical approaches to public relations II. New York: Routledge.
• Rogers, D. (2015), Campaigns the Shook the World: The Evolution of Public Relations, Kogan Page.
• Theaker, A (2016) The Public Relations Handbook: Media Practice, 5thEdition  Routledge
• Waddington, S., Earl, S. (2012) Brand Anarchy: Managing corporate reputation, London: Bloomsbury Publishing Plc.
• Waters, R. (2014) Public Relations in the Nonprofit Sector: Theory and Practice, 1st Edition, Routledge.
• Watson, M and Noble, P. (2014) Evaluating Public Relations: A Guide to Planning, Research and Measurement, 3rd Edition, London: Kogan page.

Academic Journals:
Advances in Public Relations and Communication Management
Public Relations Review
Corporate Reputation Review
Journal of Public Affairs
Journal of Communications Management
Corporate Communications: An International journal
Journal of Promotional Communications
Public Relations and Communication Management.

Online resources
International association for the measurement and evaluation of
Arthur w. Page Society
Chartered Institute of Public
Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA)
Institute for Public
The International Public Relations Association (IPRA)
PR Week
Media Week