Public Relations and Advertising Integration: Get on Board with the Inevitable

November 14th, 2011


Karen Russell, my friend at the University of Georgia and one of the field’s leading thinkers and bloggers, recently reported on a conference at UGA for undergrad public relations and advertising students.

The takeaways from her overview for me where that the professionals on the panel spoke about increased integration between PR and advertising and the importance of content — which naturally by its very definition necessitates integration. As one panelist suggested, “we’re in the content business.”

My colleague Bill Sledzik wrote eloquently about content marketing in a recent blog post after attending the Content Marketing World conference, then followed it with the notion of how many journalism schools could be rejiggered as “storytelling schools” to better explain what “media” means in this technology/innovation age.

The fact that really smart people like Karen and Bill are thinking about content, storytelling, and integration supports (in my mind) my belief that public relations is going to become even more important in the future for organizational success (of course, that isn’t news to those of us who have worked in the profession or taught). At the same time, though, my gut tells me that the field must morph or meld with its brethren in ad, marketing, and other fields to become something fresh and new without the baggage of the “public relations” nomenclature.

As Bill outlines, this is going to take some really innovative and open thinking on the part of educators who will be forced to overhaul undergraduate and graduate curricula. Truthfully, though, I am not convinced that the entrenched power structures at most universities will support such dramatic change. Most journalism schools are run by the traditional powers that have run them from the beginning — journalists or media leaders. And, despite public relations’ growth worldwide as a major or sequence, there is still the view among many of these leaders that the field is an weak, derivative offshoot.

While some may see the previous sentence as harsh, it does not even speak to the way business leaders and/or educators think about “PR.” That’s why “Marketing” is a major in business schools and not “Public Relations,” even though most marketers are doing communications and/or PR-based work. As Bill has written, “Marketing” is a “guy major” versus “PR” as the opposite (and this was back in 2008!). Here’s my take on the chasm between business an PR from an educational perspective.

The secondary challenge I see in this further integration is that scholars probably won’t be too eager to jump into the fray — tenure and hiring decisions are also too entrenched in old ways of doing things — even though some scholars are making the connection. When I talk about the idea of integration among graduate students, they pick up on it right away, so perhaps as the next generation of scholars picks up where we leave off, they will be attracted to researching integration, since it seems like their natural mode of thinking.

The “inevitability” I reference in the title of this think-piece seems rather apparent to me, so I would enjoy reading conflicting or alternative views on the subject.



(photo courtesy of: flikr/Alex Osterwalder)


October 11th, 2011


Midwest Popular Culture/American Culture Association Brings Hundreds of Scholars and Enthusiasts to Milwaukee

(Milwaukee) October 14, 2011 – Popular culture enthusiasts from across the Midwest and the nation will gather in Milwaukee October 14-16, 2011, at the 2011 joint Midwest Popular Culture/Midwest American Culture Association Annual Conference at the Milwaukee Hilton City Center. Some 120 panels will examine topics across the popular culture universe, from Mad Men and Harry Potter to Twilight and Facebook.

Two featured speakers address the conference on Friday, October 14, from 5:15 to 6:45 p.m.

— Bob Batchelor, an assistant professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Kent State University, talks about “Cult Pop Culture: How the Fringe Became Mainstream” in Wright Ballroom A.

— John Jordan, associate professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Wisconsin—Milwaukee, discusses “The Idea, and Its Importance in Analyzing Popular Culture” in Wright Ballroom C.

Batchelor’s presentation focuses on the 3-volume edited anthology Cult Pop Culture: How the Fringe Became Mainstream (Preager), published later this year. The anthology is the first dedicated to the quirky, offbeat aspects of American popular culture that people have loved, enjoyed, (and in some cases) worshiped over the last 50 years. By examining the (often seedy) people and subjects we hold most dear, this collection offers deep insights into what Americans think, feel, and cherish.

Jordan’s talk reveals his interest in those moments when ideas and material circumstances come together in a way that requires communities to make sense of the situation. These are the moments when someone has to interpret, or declare, or reach out – moments of meaningful and material communication. Jordan’s work seeks an understanding of how such situations are arrived at, how their meaning is contested and understood, and what implications arise for how we see ourselves in modern society.

About the Midwest Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association

The Midwest Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association (MPCA/ACA) is a regional branch of the Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association. The organization held its first conference in Duluth, Minnesota, in 1973. After a hiatus during the 1990s, the organization held a comeback conference in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in 2002. MPCA/ACA usually holds its annual conference in a large Midwestern city. Anyone is welcome to join and submit proposals for consideration at the MPCA/ACA conference. Membership in MPCA/ACA is by no means limited to those working or living in the Midwest or even the United States. In fact, presenters have come from as far away as Florida and California, and Norway and Australia. Visit for more information about the organization and how to join. Also, follow #MidwestPCA for updates and conversation streaming live from the conference.

About Bob Batchelor

Bob Batchelor (Ph.D., University of South Florida) is an assistant professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Kent State University and academic coordinator of its online M.A. program in public relations. Batchelor is the author or editor of 10 books, including: The 1900s; The 1980s; The 2000s; and American Pop: Popular Culture Decade by Decade. He has published in Radical History Review, The Journal of American Culture, The Mailer Review, The American Prospect Online, and Public Relations Review. He is a member of the editorial advisory board of The Journal of Popular Culture and Pop Culture Universe: Icons, Idols, Ideas (ABC-CLIO). Batchelor’s current research includes books on John Updike, Bob Dylan, and the rubber industry in World War II. He is also editing two anthologies with KSU colleague Danielle Coombs: We Are What We Sell: How Advertising Shapes American Life…And Always Has and American History through American Sports. He can be reached at

About John Jordan

John W. Jordan (Ph.D., University of Georgia) is an associate professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Wisconsin—Milwaukee. He studies pressing issues in contemporary society using critical rhetorical analysis. Jordan’s research program centers typically on how technology interacts with public sensibilities, and how subaltern groups use rhetoric to engage authoritative control. His scholarly goal is to help others appreciate the wider possibilities of their involvement in society. Jordan’s recent scholarship has appeared in Quarterly Journal of Speech, Critical Studies in Media Communication, Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies, and Flow. He can be contacted at



Silliness of the “Overly-Educated” Argument

September 17th, 2011

The notion of young women helping other young women in the corporate/business workplace is fantastic. Teaching primarily female students in public relations courses for the last 6+ years, I have seen many fantastic female students never find the kind of mentor they need to help navigate their early careers. So, I am a fan of sites, like and Brazen Careerist that offer advice and networking for young women.

However, Karen Russell listed a couple articles on “Week’s Best” PR readings that drew my attention, since they questioned the value of an advanced degree: “Over-Qualification: When a Higher Degree Doesn’t Pay” and “Don’t Hire People Who Went to Grad School.”

My response to the first article is re-posted below.

The second, though, is even more troubling and filled with anti-intellectual jargon and generalities that it barely warrants a response. I’m surprised, in a way, that someone as smart as Penelope Trunk could advocate such a crazy position, except that her career is, at least in part, based on fear-mongering and disguising it as helpful advice. Here’s a gem from the article: “Multiple degrees are from people who don’t know themselves, don’t value their time, and are stuck in a rut trying to impress people with academic trophies.”

Ridiculous! The fact that fear and “CYA” is rampant in the business world is the reason why employers don’t make good use of highly-educated workers. Fear is the problem here, not that someone would want to pursue and/or attain more education. Obviously, to blame the person for this is to side with business, which is crazy, like businesses or the corporation as an entity has a heart, soul, or conscience.

My response to the MsCareerGirl piece:

The cautious tone of this piece is warranted, but only because employers are so narrow minded. Why wouldn’t a potential employer want someone with advanced training in a field, which represents higher-order critical thinking skills, deep contemplation, and the like? The days of staying with a single company for a lifetime are over. Therefore, employers don’t have to worry about the MA/MBA-and-out mentality.

The secondary challenge is this kind of thinking, that a higher degree: “will automatically open doors is misguided. At best, you’ll spend money on a degree that will put you smack dab in the middle of the cesspool of overqualified candidates. At worst, you’ll lose several years of your life going back to grad school and end up in that same cesspool.”

Few people smart enough to earn a grad degree would think that some golden door will open at graduation. A graduate degree is not like buying a shovel at Wal-Mart. It requires effort, dedication, skill, etc., which is a far cry from finding oneself in a “cesspool” or considering the degree lost years.

The strain of anti-intellectualism in this piece is unwarranted. Why would anyone (student, employer, etc.) say to themselves, “Hmmm, more education…no, I think I’m fine, no thanks.” The US seems to be one of the few countries that feels it can dumb its way through without ramifications.

PR Vs. Marketing — The Argument Goes On and On…

February 7th, 2011

Rob Gelphman, a long-time communications executive and Chair, Marketing Work Group, The Multimedia over Coax Alliance wrote a blog post at the CommPRO news hub proclaiming that “marketing communicates a value proposition. Public relations may be doing the talking, but marketing is pulling the strings.”

PR-Bridge readers know that I have long-advocated that we should really be talking about “communications” as an integrated function, working toward organizational goals, rather than quibbling over who owns the leadership role. I had a meaningful conversation with my colleague Bill Sledzik about this at ToughSledding years ago and discussion touching on the same points with James Grunig and others at PRConversations.

Rather than rehashing the main points of those posts, I’ll simply paste by response to Gelphman below and let readers think about this important topic:

Rob, this is a thought-provoking piece, but based on a rather narrow view of public relations. PR isn’t solely media relations. This is a dated view of PR’s value, certainly ignoring the work PR does in other vital “communications” areas, such as internal communications, social media, executive communications, etc.

I would argue that the majority of a PR professional’s work in today’s environment is not directed at the media, but rather the countless other stakeholders critical to an organization.

As such, I don’t think professionals would argue your point, except to say “hey, we’re already doing what you prescribe and have been for decades.” Marketing may be the umbrella term that organizations use to describe nearly all their communications, but its PR and PR’s ability to reach all audiences that show it is already grown, as you wish, “into a total communications function.”

“Marketing” has won the nomenclature battle because execs trained in business schools are more comfortable with that title (particularly given pop culture’s role in pushing PR as a female profession). However, your list of job responsibilities above reads like the kind of things PR practitioners are doing everyday.

The real goal is for all communications-related disciplines to be working toward the organization’s goals and aspirations in unison. It doesn’t matter what the job is called, just that it is integrated. The only way “PR” professionals aren’t already doing all the things you describe about outreach, member retention, etc., is if you limit the definition of PR to media relations.

Kent State University Public Relations Online M.A. Program Offers Cutting-Edge Curriculum: Official Launch for Students Entering World of Online Education

January 10th, 2011


We all know someone who fits in this category: a hardworking professional who puts in exhausting, difficult hours, yet is still dedicated to lifelong learning. That person probably realizes — along with the millions of others in and out of the workforce — that most people will work across several industries in their lifetimes. Career employment with one company has slipped into history’s dustbin.

But, who has time to go back to college, commute, and sit in classes to prepare for one’s “next career” given the need to pay the bills and maintain a family life?

Enter Kent State University’s new online Master’s Degree program concentrated in Public Relations. What makes the program enticing is that it is asynchronous, which is the official word meaning “totally online.” Now, professionals from across the nation can enjoy the benefits of a world-class Kent State University degree from wherever they live. The program launches with its first cohort of students on January 10, 2011.

Based on a mix of traditional Master’s Degree courses offered in Kent State’s face-to-face M.A. program and new, cutting-edge classes, the online degree provides students with the tools to succeed in the Twenty-First Century communications world, while maintaining the intellectual and academic rigor one would expect in an advanced degree. This mix replicates the mindset of the most successful professional communicators — a passion for learning combined with a high degree of intellectual curiosity. These skills place public relations professionals and other communicators at the heart of the engine that drives organizations.

At Kent State, we realized that busy professionals need options for gaining the advanced education that will make them more successful. As such, we designed the online program to help students maximize their potential, regardless of location. What students and potential students will find as they investigate the program and its world-class faculty members, is a deep commitment to providing students with a meaningful, intellectually rigorous learning environment.

Therefore, students will learn about social media, internal communications, law, PR finance, measuring ROI, PR Theory, and many others from instructors who are not only great teachers, but have vast real-world experience. The Kent State online M.A. faculty members have more than 100 years combined practical experience leading top agencies, Fortune 100 communications, and their own firms and have won countless industry awards, from local and regional associations to the Public Relations Society of America’s Silver Anvil, considered the Academy Award of public relations. They have also written numerous books, articles, and case studies and presented their work at industry conferences and other venues.

Please feel free to contact me directly for more information about the online Master’s degree program in PR at or 330.672.2571. You can also find more information at

Johnny Cash is America

November 22nd, 2010


Leigh Edwards’ new book — Johnny Cash and the Paradox of American Identity — is a fascinating examination of the legendary singer from a popular culture perspective. Moreover, the book stakes out JC’s important status as an iconic figure — loved by audiences that range from goth kids to grandparents.


For more, please read my review of Edwards’ important book.

Kent State Launches Online Master’s Degree in Public Relations — The Backstory

September 2nd, 2010


On August 31, the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Kent State University launched its Online Master’s degree program in Public Relations. As Director of the program, I thought readers might enjoy some backstory on the program and why my colleagues and I decided this was a path we should take.

While our traditional M.A. program in Public Relations is thriving, attracting students from around the globe, based on the fine reputation of Kent State’s JMC program, my colleagues and I realized that many, many potential students simply cannot get to campus — at Kent or anywhere else. Their lives are too busy, they work irregular hours, or other conflicts arise that make sitting through face-to-face classes practically impossible. In my mind, it is horrible to deny these bright, hardworking people a chance to attain a Master’s degree when the technology exists to bring education to them via the Web.

Probably the second most compelling rationale for me is that I enjoy building things and constantly challenging myself. I have been teaching hybrid classes (traditional classes with heavy emphasis on using new technology) since I began teaching. The opportunity to lead the creation of the online M.A. program was an important reason I decided to join the faculty at Kent [well, the school is my dream come true, so I would have taken the job regardless, but the online program was certainly icing on the cake]. Directing the academic side of this program and leading in the design of many courses in the curriculum enables me to stretch myself.

Another important factor in creating this program is that I am proud of Kent State, the College of Communications and Information, and JMC. I want this program to succeed, because it will allow many, many more people to experience the value of a world-class Kent State education. A colleague teased me the other day that if I were cut, I might just bleed Kent State navy blue and gold. I am sure that is not true, but I love Kent and want to be part of a program that showcases its value.

Please feel free to contact me if you would like to discuss the program in greater detail: or 330.672.2571.

Job Opportunity: Coordinator for Kent State’s New Online M.A. Program in PR

July 3rd, 2010

F/T Non-Tenure Track Faculty

School of Journalism and Mass Communication

Kent State University seeks a non-tenure track faculty member to serve as a Coordinator of the online Master’s Degree program in Public Relations in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication and teach courses in Public Relations.

Bachelor’s Degree and substantial professional experience; Master’s Degree or Ph.D. with professional experience preferred.

Successful candidate will manage the administrative aspects of the online Master’s Degree Program, including student services, technology, instructional and information technology (experience with EMBANET is a plus), admissions, marketing and advising students in the program.

For any additional information or questions, please contact: Greg Blase at

Quoted in Miami Herald Story on Michael Jackson

June 24th, 2010


Audra D.S. Burch of the Miami Herald interviewed me for a story examining Michael Jackson’s popularity as the one-year anniversary of his death approaches. His post-death story is fascinating, which Burch admirably demonstrates in the article. (Interesting side note: MJ and I share the same birthday — 8/29 — but I am 10 years younger)

Link to the full story.



Photo courtesy of Cain and Todd Benson/flickr

Summer Heats Up and Humanity Wilts

June 15th, 2010

While much of the nation is basking in the sun, Floridians are baking in the oven that is the Sunshine State. Yesterday, the thermometer reached 95-plus and the humidity snatched the air right out of one’s lungs. This kind of heat makes one weary.

As a result, I will postpone (maybe indefinitely) my rants regarding the Tea Party movement and NRA, because (frankly) I am just too disgusted with the bile and anger that spews from Washington and the national media echo chamber on these subjects to even care that much anymore. Instead, my thoughts turn to some general inanities, the kinds of issues that people should be thinking about:

“The Year of the Women” — It is fantastic that so many women are running for prominent political office this election season. However, the moniker begs the question: are these the right women? Case in point, we have Carly Fiorina. First, did the world collectively forget that Fiorina got canned at H-P for essentially running the company into the ground? I wrote about this all the way back in 2002 in an article in The American Prospect. Then, she gets “caught” off-mike commenting on Barbara Boxer’s “so yesterday” hairstyle. Her lame apology — of course on Fox — would not really qualify as an apology, but did emphasize that the senatorial race is “a serious election about serious issues.” Ever notice that it is the individuals who turn campaigns away from real topics that are the ones always saying that issues matter?

Meg Whitman, the former eBay CEO and Republican gubernatorial in California is another example that forces one to ask if this is the right woman? Her claim to fame thus far in the campaign seems to be a vulgar attempt at breaking the self-financing record for an American election. She’s already pumped $91 million into her coffers and claims she will spend up to $150 million, according to a report at the San Jose Mercury News website. Given the state of the economy in California and nationally, this kind of self-aggrandizement seems simply unjust, if not downright immoral.

On the subject of immorality, there is now an industry sprouting up to go after the debt former homeowners incur due to lost homes through foreclosure or short sale. According to an article in the Palm Beach Post, debt scavengers are “buying” the debt at pennies on the dollar from banks, then establishing collection agencies to pursue the money. Given that the banking industry — banks in collusion with mortgage brokers and other pieces within the machine — created the real estate bust by knowingly giving loans to people who did not have the means to repay, enacting a system that further attacks consumers is a slap in the face of countless people who got taken by the system. One heartless bastard even had the nerve to say, “People are broke right now, but they won’t be broke forever.” Here is an alternative scenario: how about this guy and the other debt vultures are forced to live with some of the people forced into foreclosure/short sale for a couple months and see the pain and devastation that layoffs, losing one’s home, and general societal degradation play on people. Then, perhaps, they would not be so eager to chase dollars in lieu of being humane.

BP, ’nuff said.

It is easy to stop thinking about the multitude of challenges that confront the world when the summer sun warms the days, even as the media pounds the airwaves with waves of sensationalism. Some of it, like BP and the ecological apocalypse it is unleashing, are real. Other stuff, like the incessant blathering by pundits on the left and right in DC, can be ignored when minds turn to barbecue, long weekends away from home, and the carefree nature of summer.

Yet, over and over again, when people get distracted by summer’s pleasures, institutional entities jump in to fill the void, happily maintaining society’s reigns. Then, when the summer ends, we are into the fall slide of holidays — Labor Day, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas/New Year’s — and all the sudden, the world is trying to grope through winter. Before we know it, it is spring and the whole cycle starts over again.

Here’s to a little thinking this summer, or at least, some collective kindness.