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Southern Miss prof explores emerging public relations philosophy

There is an emerging philosophy in the field of public relations, which holds that PR professionals, at the core, are managers of conflict and competition. To be effective requires skills over and beyond, say, writing a press release or “gripping and grinning.” PR professionals need scientific, real-world techniques and strategies that help them build and maintain relations between the organizations for which they work and the public. It is more science than art.

That is exactly what a new textbook coauthored by a University of Southern Mississippi (USM) faculty member, Dr. Jae-Hwa Shin, sets out to do. “Public Relations Today: Managing Competition and Conflict” was recently released after several years of research and writing. Shin says the book focuses on the “muscular” approach to public relations

“There seems to be a common misperception that public relations is a glamour function, relegated to creating favorable publicity and coordinating special events,” says Shin, who is assistant professor of public relations at USM. “The reality is that public relations is much more robust than that. Conflict is an inevitable part of all organizational environments, and public relations professionals must be adept at resolving it.”

Classroom to bookshelf and back

The beginnings of the new book were laid when Shin left her native South Korea and journeyed to the University of Missouri at Columbia. There, she earned her doctorate degree in public relations in 2000 after writing her dissertation on PR professionals’ role as managers of conflict and competition. Titled “Strategic Conflict Management of the Source-Reporter Relationship Between Public Relations Practitioners and Journalists,” it won the Best Dissertation Award of 2002-2004 from the Public Relations Division of the International Communication Association.

Shin says she received a number of offers to teach after graduating, but chose USM because it offered a doctorate in PR. She joined the Southern Miss faculty in 2003.

Still, she kept in touch with associates and professors at Missouri. One of those professors, Dr. Glen Cameron, believed the subject of Shin’s dissertation would make a great and much-needed book. They began brainstorming, and eventually pulled in more talent. In addition to Shin and Cameron, the book’s coauthors are Dr. Bryan Reber of the University of Georgia and Dr. Dennis Wilcox with San Jose State University.

The four started work on “Public Relations Today: Managing Competition and Conflict” in 2004. After a lot of hard work — and multiple re-writes — Allyn & Bacon released by the new textbook in October.

The text looks to merge theory into practice in an easy-to-understand book. Examples and boxes in the book were taken from current headlines, with real-world case studies from such entities as Wal-Mart, Home Depot, Nike, Microsoft, Google, Coca-Cola — even Harry Potter. The book also includes checklists and summaries of major points.

The 464-page textbook has only been available for a few weeks, so Shin could not say how well the book’s sales had gone thus far. But she was optimistic that it would be well received, and she plans on incorporating elements of the book in her own classroom.

More to come

Shin certainly is no rookie writer. She has published her research in Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, Public Relations Review and other journals.

Still, she admits writing a book is a completely different proposition. She and her fellow co-authors completed three re-writes before the publisher was satisfied. It meant long hours and a lot of patience.

But Shin does plan more books in the future. She sees applications for the book’s theories in other fields such as healthcare, an area in which Shin recently expanded her research.

She is also mulling a book on the culture and image of Mississippi. When she arrived in the Magnolia State, Shin says she was pleasantly surprised to find that the negative perception of Mississippi was largely unjustified, and as an outsider feels she could pen a book that could objectively address the state’s image issues and challenges.

In the mean time, Shin will continue her work at USM. She teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in public relations, crisis/conflict/issue/risk management, campaigns, theories and research methods. Shin is the faculty co-advisor for the USM chapter of the Public Relations Student Society of America and head of the public relations sequence for the USM School of Mass Communication and Journalism.

Incorporating several years of her professional experience as public relations director for both profit and non-profit organizations, her research areas are strategic conflict management, contingency theory in public relations, agenda-building in the media process, political campaign strategies and health education evaluation. Shin has also presented at a number of national and international conferences, and she has been nominated for national and international awards over the course of her career.

Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at wally.northway@msbusiness.com.


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