Tag Archives: public relations

ROPE Process in Consumer Relations

Public relations is a very useful tool for an organization making its case in the public forum, especially when confronting another organization with conflicting values. In this case, I will explore the opportunity for using public relations concepts in defending a historical society against the desire of a group of property developers who wish to build on an historic site. Hendrix and Hayes (2010) demonstrates leveraging reputation and crafted messaging to inform the public of the controversy in a manner that helps to garner public support for the organization’s position using the R.O.P.E. (research, objectives, programming, and evaluation) process.


The first step in using public relations, according to Hendrix and Hayes (2010) is researching the problem and the audience. The results will allow tailoring the later message to effectively impact the audience in the desired manner. Tailoring the message specifically to the audience is very effective in communications. Research is especially important in separating those who are active in community politics from those who prefer a more laissez-faire approach to politics.

In this particular case, it is important to understand the import that the members of the community put on history, their political ideologies, and the economic impact of the developers’ proposed plan. Depending on how each of these relate to the current state of the community, a message could be crafted to emphasize the points most important to the community as well as educate the public to the importance of the issue.


Hendrix and Hayes (2010) state that both impact and output objectives are important when communicating with consumers. Impact objectives refer to the attitudes and behaviors that need to be influenced while output objectives refer to the overall measurable goals of the public relations effort. While the latter can be simply stated as to garner support to preserve the historic nature of the site, the former requires more precision.

Using the broad output objective statement above, further output objectives can be developed to meet the overarching goal. For example, a more specific output objective could be to mail informational flyers to each household within five miles of the historically significant site. Another example would be to meet with three previously identified community leaders each day to emphasize the importance of preserving the site versus developing it.

In this particular case, the impact objectives will rely heavily on the research performed to increase the community’s knowledge about the importance of historical preservation and to influence their perceptions of the usefulness of historical preservation contrasted with the negative impact of the development of the site. Further, the community needs to be educated about how the historical preservation society has performed in past years with a focus on those efforts that typical have the support of the public already.


As stated above, the programming of the message is very important and should be steered by the research. In the case of an historical preservation society attempting to protect an historic site from development, there will be media coverage. It is important to control the media as much as possible, and this can be accomplished by issuing press releases (see Appendix), holding public events covered by the media designed to educate the public about the controversy, and holding press conferences and interviews to give the media more access to the desired message over the competing message of the developers. The programming also needs to enhance and leverage the credibility of the historical society for the best results (Hendrix & Hayes, 2010).

Message programming can also be used in monitoring media coverage and augmenting the approach based on the amount and content of coverage. If one aspect of the message is clearly represented but another aspect is failing to connect with the public, emphasis can be placed on the lacking aspect of the message in future communications.


The reputation and credibility of the historical preservation society is very important in the continued efforts to garner support for preserving the site from the proposed development; therefore, constant evaluation of the society’s reputation within the community is paramount. Beyond the reputation, the effectiveness of each message component should be evaluated to ensure consistency with the objectives. This could be accomplished by using further research and analyzing the amount of favorable attention the society is getting in regards to this particular controversy and in general.

Understanding the effectiveness of the communication effort allows a decision to made to either stay on course or alter the messaging to use more effective measures and tactics.


Though this controversy is hypothetical, political discussions and debates frequently call into the question to utility and desire of maintaining historical sites versus the opportunity to develop these sites to improve economic output or improve overall living conditions within the community. For those that feel an importance in preserving history when confronted with political controversy, the communication efforts described here can be used to effectively plead the case in the public forum, arguably the most important forum in controversies such as these.


Hendrix, J. A. & Hayes, D. C. (2010). Public relations cases (8th ed.). Boston, MA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.


Example press release.

Contact: Michael Schadone FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Telephone: (555) 555-5555

Cell: (555) 555-5556

Email: info@historicalsoc.org


Please Help Preserve the Johnson Mills

The Society of Historical Preservation has recently learned that the Johnson Mills site, located at 55 Johnson Rd. in Township, Connecticut, is in danger of being destroyed. This site, an historically significant building where our first governor, John Johnson, founded the lumber mill that propelled our state into prosperity for over 300 years, is important to the economic and political history of the state as well as the nation.

On May 5, 2012, Property Developers, Inc., submitted a proposal to the Township zoning board to develop the Johnson Mills historical site as condominiums and a strip mall. We believe that, although the community of Township is very supportive of preserving the history of the region, this proposal will be approved unless the members of the community attend the next zoning board hearing on July 25, 2012, at 123 Government Ln., to express their concern over the needless destruction of this important site.

Further, Township is experiencing the same economic conditions as the rest of the country and home ownership is at an all-time low for the region. In addition to the historic importance of Johnson Mills, it seems that the creation of a condominium complex is contrary to the needs of the community.

We at the Society of Historical Preservation anticipate that the people of Township and others within the state would be dismayed to hear of the plans of Property Developers, Inc., to develop the Johnson Mills site. It is important for us to give the community the opportunity to oppose this proposal by calling the Township town hall at (555) 555-0001 and attend the upcoming hearings to voice their concerns.

# # #

If you would like more information on this topic, or to schedule an interview with Michael Schadone, please call Steve Smith at (555) 555-5557 or email Steve at contact@historicalsoc.org

Crisis Communications: Imperial Sugar Case Study

At approximately 7:15 pm, on February 7, 2008, a large explosion at the Imperial Sugar refinery rocked the area of Port Wentworth, Georgia, killing 14 people and injuring 36, and although, the incident was found to be the fault of Imperial Sugar, this discussion will focus on the crisis communications and public relations surrounding the event (Bauerlein, 2010; U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board, 2009). According to a report from the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA; 2009), although John Sheptor was appointed Chief Executive Officer merely nine days earlier and did not enjoy the support of a crisis communications team, he was thrust into the spotlight having to deal with this particular crisis.

According to a local television station, the people of Savannah and Port Wentworth responded admirably at the first hint of trouble (“Sugar refinery explosion,” n.d.). This is more of a testament to the community than to Imperial Sugar; however, it promotes a sense of good-will and community trust that Imperial Sugar was able to leverage. Almost immediately, Sheptor, in conjunction with Imperial Sugar partner Edelman, was holding regular news conferences, disseminating press releases, and correcting the record. The only delay is seemingly the time required to work with first responders and investigators (“4 found dead,” 2008; PRSA, 2009; U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board, 2009). According to the PRSA (2009), Sheptor and Edelman immediately instituted a program to communicate to “employees, stakeholders, investors, elected officials and the media, and to engage the public in helping the company support the Imperial Sugar employee family” (p. 1).

As the crisis wound down to the recovery phase, it is important to note, as Chapman (2008) chronicles, that all displaced employees were still being paid by Imperial Sugar. All employees that were able were used to help in the clean-up efforts and ultimately maintained their employment status with Imperial Sugar. Within a week of the incident, Sheptor reported that the company was looking to rebuild and, in just over two month’s time, the decision to rebuild was official (Securities and Exchange Commission, 2008).

Sheptor leveraged Edelman’s communication philosophies which allowed communications to be prioritized, correct, honest, and abundant. While also providing much needed information to employees and families of missing employees, especially, this mode of communication also allowed Edelman, and Imperial Sugar, to cultivate media relations that will benefit them in the future.


4 found dead in Ga. sugar refinery blast. (2008, February 8). Associated Press. Retrieved from http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/23059948/ns/us_news-life/t/found-dead-ga-sugar-refinery-blast/

Bauerlein, V. (2010, July 8). Imperial Sugar to pay fines in deadly Georgia explosion case. Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703636404575352782366026008.html

Chapman, D. (2008, April 13). Sugar refinery near Savannah determined to rebuild. Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Retrieved from http://www.ajc.com/metro/content/business/stories/2008/04/12/sugar_0413.html

Public Relations Society of America. (2009). Crystallizing a response to a crisis (Product # 6BW-0911A05).

Securities and Exchange Commission. (2008, April 17). Current report: Imperial Sugar Company (Form 8-K). Washington, D.C.: Author.

Sugar refinery explosion (Collection of news reports). (n.d.) WTOC. Retrieved from http://www.wtoc.com/category/125278/sugar-refinery-explosion

U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board. (2009, September). Investigation report: sugar dust explosion and fire (Report No. 2008-05-I-GA). Retrieved from http://www.csb.gov/assets/document/Imperial_Sugar_Report_Final_updated.pdf

The Arby’s Public Relations Failure

Using Research in Planning

Hendrix and Hayes (2010) outlines the typical course of public relations using effective means to address the concerns of all stakeholders while promoting the course as the best option. This is only effective, however, if the course is actually the best option. This is where research becomes important. Public relations depends on research to get a true sense of the stakeholder when considering marketing decisions and how the stakeholder might be affected. This research can be useful in both determining the course of action necessary to move forward and to communicate these decisions to the stakeholder in a manner most effective. Without this research to guide decision-making, a company can easily upset an important segment of stakeholders while intending to be portrayed in a very different light.

The Importance of Social Media

Social media outlets (e.g. Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, et al.) provide a rapid means of communicating with stakeholders. Social media is a useful tool for public relations practitioners to use when addressing concerns of or making assurances to stakeholders (Coombs, 2012; Fearn-Banks, 2011; Hendrix & Hayes, 2010). Lynn Kettleson and Jonathan Bernstein (as cited in Horovitz, 2012), both crisis managers, recommend using social media to quickly assess the public conversation, contribute to the conversation by providing factual and compassionate reassurance, and most importantly, put a corporate face on the response by having a senior executive respond to provide a sense of responsibility to the stakeholders.

Arby’s Social Media Failure

On April 4, 2012, the corporate Twitter account was used to respond to another Twitter account recommending that Arby’s stop advertising on the Rush Limbagh radio show (@Arby’s, 2012). Although Arby’s did not currently advertise on the aforementioned radio show, the response indicated that efforts to “discontinue advertising during this show as soon as possible” are being undertaken. The controversy, however, began when customers replied with their concerns via Twitter. According to The Blaze (Adams, 2012a, 2012b) and Forbes (Walker, 2012), instead of making a public statement regarding the controversy or even addressing the concerns of their customers on Twitter, the customers who complained to the Twitter account were summarily blocked. Walker (2012) decries this action as pathetic, stating “any major corporation […] needs to be able to accept and listen to criticism from customers [….] but using a coercive measure like blocking flies in the face of everything the social media space is supposed to be about” (para. 1).

Just as quickly and quietly as the Twitter accounts of those customers were blocked, they were unblocked (Adams, 2012b). This decision was, again, met with disdain as the company failed to apologize or address the issue publicly.

Arby’s Fails Again

On the heels of the Rush Limbaugh and Twitter controversies, Arby’s, again, finds itself in the midst of a public relations crisis. A month later, A USA Today article (Horovitz, 2012) describes a Michigan teen finding the fingertip of an employee in a sandwich ordered at Arby’s. Though the response from an Arby’s spokesperson was public and included an apology to the teen, it was criticized as being inadequate and potentially harmful to its already damaged reputation. Horovitz (2012) states that no mention of the incident was made on the corporate website, Facebook page, or Twitter feed.


The directions of this assignment were to find an incident that was significant or complex enough to require involvement from senior management and, although in both incidents senior management failed to respond publicly and comprehensively, I feel that these two cases did, in fact, require senior management involvement. A rapid response by the public relations team could have addressed the concerns of the company’s apparent political actions towards Rush Limbaugh and reinforce commitments to the customer to provide good and fresh food.

The second controversy could have been addressed quickly by using social media outlets to assure customers that, although food preparation can result in minor accidents for employees, these problems are unusual and every possible step is being taken to ensure the safety of the employees and the safety of the food being served. This would also provide an opportunity to further the corporate image as a caring and compassionate company that understands the importance of a trusting relationship with the customer.

As stated in the opening of this paper, research is important to any public relations program. Tools, such as the survey provided in the appendix, are useful in determining the needs and desires of the various subgroups and demographics of the corporate stakeholders. The data provided by these types of tools can provide direction to future public relations efforts.


@Arby’s. (2012, April 4). Response to @StopRush [Twitter post]. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/#!/Arbys

Adams, B. (2012a, April 6). Arby’s responds to annoyed Limbaugh fans by blocking them on Twitter. The Blaze. Retrieved from http://www.theblaze.com/stories/arbys-blocks-twitter-accounts-of-customers-upset-over-limbaugh-announcement/

Adams, B. (2012b, April 9). Backpedal: Arby’s immediately regrets its decision to block customers on Twitter. The Blaze. Retrieved from http://www.theblaze.com/stories/back-peddle-arbys-immediately-regrets-decision-to-block-customers-on-twitter-not-ready/

Coombs, W. T. (2012). Ongoing crisis communication: Planning managing, and responding (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Fearn-Banks, K. (2011). Crisis communications: a casebook approach (4th ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.

Hendrix, J. A. & Hayes, D. C. (2010). Public relations cases (8th ed.). Boston, MA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.

Horovitz, B. (2012, May 17). Finger incident places Arby’s reputation in jeopardy. USA Today. Retrieved from http://www.usatoday.com/money/industries/food/story/2012-05-17/arbys-finger-crisis/55046620/1

Walker, T. J. (2012, April 15). Arby’s makes social media blunder. Forbes. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/tjwalker/2012/04/15/arbys-makes-social-media-blunder/


Sample customer survey.

1. How often do you eat out at restaurants?

a) very infrequently (less than once per year)

b) annually

c) monthly

d) weekly

e) very frequently (more than once per week)

2. How often do you visit an Arby’s restaurant?

a) very infrequently (less than once per year)

b) annually

c) monthly

d) weekly

e) very frequently (more than once per week)

3. Do you prefer to receive offers from your favorite restaurants?

a) yes

b) no

4. How do you prefer to communicate on the internet (check all that apply)?

a) email

b) websites

c) social media (Twitter, Facebook, etc.)

d) text messaging

e) other: _____________________________

5. In the past year, have you provided a compliment, complaint, or suggestion to any of your favorite restaurants using the internet?

a) yes

b) no

6. How often do you visit the websites of your favorite restaurants?

a) very infrequently (less than once per year)

b) annually

c) monthly

d) weekly

e) very frequently (more than once per week)

7. Do you feel that restaurants can provide meaningful communication to customers using the internet?

a) yes

b) no

8. Are you more likely to visit a restaurant if it was more accessible on the internet?

a) yes

b) no

9. What is most important to you?

a) quality of food

b) price of food

10. Is corporate responsibility to the community and environment important to you?

a) yes

b) no

Public Relations Terms

Legitimacy and ethical concerns are quite important to the practice of public relations (Hendrix & Hayes, 2010). With some errant developmental forefathers, such as Edward Bernays (1928) and contemporary deviants, such as Saul Alinsky, and self-proclaimed media watch groups, such as the left-wing Center for Media and Democracy’s PRWatch.org, it is increasingly important to understand appropriate use and context for the influences possible with contemporary public relations concepts (Stauber & Rampton, 1999). In this discussion, I will examine and discuss the appropriateness and ethical use of Blackmon’s (2009) three different public relations concepts: press agentry, promotion, and sales and marketing in light of the six provisions of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA; 2000) Member Code of Ethics: advocacy, honesty, expertise, independence, loyalty, and fairness.

Press Agentry

According to Blackmon (2009), agentry is a tool to increase notoriety for the sake of notoriety and without any other objective or plan. A good example of press agentry is CNN Entertainment’s coverage of Nadya Suleman and her choice of career (Duke, 2012). Suleman is also known publicly as the Octomom. Although the Duke (2012) article expresses her choices as promotion for her new video, the actual article by Duke is borne from press agentry. Considering the PRSA (2000) code of ethics, it appears that Ms. Suleman’s press agent is acting in her best interests and not promoting Ms. Suleman in an unfair way that is not dishonest to the public. The choice of media outlets to cover Ms. Suleman at the behest of her press agent is entertainment journalism and falls outside of the scope of this discussion.


Promotion, according to Blackmon (2009), is similar to press agentry, though with some objective or as a means to an end. Frum (2012) fulfills Sony’s promotional wishes by attending an event devoted to promoting electronic entertainment then writing about his findings. Like the Duke (2012) example above, Frum’s coverage is not the subject of the discussion here; however, the promotional event that Frum covers is. I find the pomp of the event likely needed to draw both consumers and journalists. Additionally, the public relations team that advocated for Sony to promote its new games at this heralded event to be in line with the ethics put forth by the PRSA (2000). Sony is putting its products in the public arena for both celebration and scrutiny, equally.

Sales and Marketing

Over the last few years, Sprint (2012) marketed its Simply Everything ™ plan as its premier-tier plan to include unlimited talk, domestic long distance calling, text, data, and roaming. This plan was marketed towards power users who cannot judge their cellular service usage month to month and are willing to pay a premium fee of $99.99 per month for this service. Recently, Sprint decided that network usage was too overwhelming and unilaterally decided to limit consumer phone data usage by implementing limited hotspot plans. A hotspot, in this case, is the ability of a smart phone to act as a wireless router to allow connections from laptops and other network devices to share the phone’s data connection. Initially, there was a single plan costing $29.00 that merely allowed using the phone’s hotspot feature, but they have since decided to even limit the use of the hotspot, specifically, to a set amount of five gigabytes (GB) regardless of the <i>unlimited data</i> included in the Simply Everything ™ plan (Webster, 2011). Sprint has now decided to discontinue the five GB plan and offer a two GB for $19.99/month and a six GB plan for $49.99/month (Tofel, 2012; Welch, 2012). The marketing plan would be within the PRSA’s (2000) code of ethics; however, the recent unilateral decision by Sprint to limit the users’ data usage under the unlimited plan is dishonest, unfair, and is insulting to loyal customers.


The PRSA (2000) has chosen not to enforce their code of ethics; however, it does provide a standard to look towards for guidance in judging the ethics of public relations efforts. Public relations efforts that disrespect the consumer are dishonorable and will ultimately be judged by consumer choice. In all three cases above, the efforts are obviously focused at improving the business model of each subject (Ms. Suleman, Sony, and Sprint); however, the public relations effort is focused to an audience and that audience needs to feel some level of respect when receiving the message. Otherwise, the effort will fail.


Bernays, E. L. (1928). Propaganda. Retrieved from http://www.historyisaweapon.com/defcon1/bernprop.html

Blackmon, M. (2009). Public relations terms [PowerPoint slides].

Duke, A. (2012, June 5). Octuplets mom Suleman books stripper gigs to save home. CNN Entertainment. Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2012/06/04/showbiz/octuplets-mom-stripping/index.html

Frum, L. (2012, June 5). Sony highlights mature games, cross-play at Electronic Entertainment Expo. CNN Tech. Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2012/06/05/tech/gaming-gadgets/e3-sony/index.html

Hendrix, J. A. & Hayes, D. C. (2010). Public relations cases (8th ed.). Boston, MA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.

Public Relations Society of America. (2000). Member code of ethics. Retrieved from http://www.prsa.org/AboutPRSA/Ethics/documents/Code%20of%20Ethics.pdf

Sprint. (2012). Plans: pricing, individual, business. Retrieved from http://www.sprint.com/landings/indirect/sprintplans.pdf

Stauber, J. & Rampton, S. (1999). The father of spin: Edward L. Bernays and the birth of PR [Book review of same title]. PR Watch, 6(2). Retrieved from http://www.prwatch.org/prwissues/1999Q2/bernays.html

Tofel, K. C. (2012. May 22). Sprint bumps per GB price on hotspot plans for phones. GigaOM. Retrieved from http://gigaom.com/mobile/sprint-bumps-per-gb-price-on-hotspot-plans-for-phones/

Webster, S. (2011, September 22). Sprint to cap mobile hotspot plans at 5GB per month in October. CNET. Retrieved from http://www.cnet.com/8301-17918_1-20110106-85/sprint-to-cap-mobile-hotspot-plans-at-5gb-per-month-in-october/

Welch, C. (2012, May 22). Sprint kills 5GB mobile hotspot plan, offers less cost-effective 2GB and 6GB plans to fill void. The Verge. Retrieved from http://www.theverge.com/2012/5/22/3036211/sprint-mobile-hotspot-tethering-plans-updated

Public Relations and the Media

Using a fictitious scenario about an international airline company addressing the media after one of its planes had crashed, I will examine the usefulness and limitations of a crisis communications plan. It is also worthwhile to note that although the messaging is important, the manner in which the message is delivered is also important. Battenberg (2002) lays out a compelling case of which tactics to use and which to abandon when dealing with a media frenzy.

Media Questions

As a member of the media, there are some very specific questions that need to be addressed. For instance, was the crash a result of weather, aircraft maintenance, or was this a terrorism event? In addition, recent layoffs of its mechanics coupled with its aging fleet of aircraft might have contributed to the crash and needs to be addressed. Other employees were laid off in addition to some mechanics. It would be important to know if more experienced members of the flight crew were among the lay offs, as this flight was trans-Atlantic and might require some specialized expertise.

Public Relations Response

According to Coombs (2012) and Fearns-Bank (2011), the response to the media needs to be truthful and humble. The cause of the crash will eventually be determined by the federal investigators, and any assumptions now would be premature. This should be clearly stated to the media along with a statement that every effort to assist in the investigation will be made. In regards to the lay offs, it should be made absolutely clear that, along with our dedication to safety, the lowest performing mechanics and pilots were the ones laid off, keeping the most experienced and skilled mechanics who would never sign off on any unworthy aircraft. An example statement might include: “In our corporate culture of safety, we allow any of our employees to trigger a grounding and complete safety check of any of our aircraft for any reason, even with our recent financial difficulties. If we do not fly safe, then we do not fly.” If the company would ground all similar aircraft for an immediate safety check, it would be helpful to reinforce the ideals of the corporate culture of safety.


As the public relations officer addressing these media concerns, I would be sure to answer these questions as humbly and honestly as possible. I would try to rely on the messaging provided in the crisis communication plan. However, in light of recent financial difficulties and layoffs, the plan may prove partially inadequate, though it will provide, at least, a framework to ensure the messaging is consistent (Coombs, 2012; Fearns-Bank, 2011). Obviously, information will be limited as the crash just occurred; however, the concerns of the recent layoffs and service expansion still need to be addressed. Any assurance of safety that is less than matter-of-fact might not be convincing enough to the flying public (Stevens, Malone, & Bailey, 2005). Fortunately, I am able to cite the impeccable safety record and award-winning corporate excellence and customer service. Additionally, other sections of the communication plan, such as messaging involving lay offs and other financial issues, might prove useful to help the public and the media further understand the company’s dedication to safety, ensuring that any problems identified will be quickly rectified (Coombs, 2012; Stevens, Malone, & Bailey, 2005).

Though the position of defending the corporate image in light of tragedy is not an enviable one, a strong and ethical corporation deserves to enjoy business continuity even after such a tragedy (Stevens, Malone, & Bailey, 2005). Having an effective communication plan in place and utilizing the plan in an honest, humble, and transparent manner can promote the corporate image even while suffering crises (Coombs, 2012; Stevens, Malone, & Bailey, 2005).


Battenberg, E. (2002, December). Managing a media frenzy. Public Relations Tactics, 9(12), 1, 15. Retrieved from http://library.waldenu.edu/

Coombs, W. T. (2012). Ongoing crisis communication: Planning managing, and responding (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Fearn-Banks, K. (2011). Crisis communications: a casebook approach (4th ed). New York, NY: Routledge.

Stephens, K. K., Malone, P. C., & Bailey, C. M. (2005). Communicating with stakeholders during a crisis: Evaluating message strategies. Journal of Business Communication, 42(4), 390-419. doi:10.1177/0021943605279057