Do you RACE into your public relations tasks or approach them in another way?

RACE was the first widely-used acronym developed to summarize the public relations process. Dozens of others have followed, and more are being introduced all the time by aspiring textbook authors eager to claim a new buzzword. -- Yes, they're a gimmick, but don't totally dismiss them. -- They can be a useful mnemonic device to keep you focused as you work or to help you explain what you do to other people.

Scott Cutlip and Alan Center first used RACE as a public relations acronym in the first edition of their landmark textbook Effective Public Relations in 1952, but they didn't make a big deal about it. A decade later, John Marston borrowed the term and extensively wrote about it in his 1963 book The Nature of Public Relations. As a result, he became more associated with RACE than Cutlip and Center.

In fact, soon after Marston's book came out, the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) adopted RACE and began promoting it as a "best practice" for those seeking public relations accreditation.

RACE describes public relations as a four-step, continually-cycling process:

  • R  - Research  - explores the situations facing your organization, how they came about, who is involved in them, how they relate to your organization's goals, and how you - as a public relations practitioner - can maximize the benefit and/or minimize the harm they might do.
  • A  - Action  - makes use of your research findings to determine the best course(s) of action you can take, to plan your response, and then to implement these plans. Some RACE proponents prefer to call this step "Assessment" instead of action, but they invariably describe it exactly the same way.
  • C  - Communication  - means using all available media to deliver carefully-focused messages through the most appropriate channels so they will have positive effects on each of your organization's publics.
  • E  - Evaluation  - analyzes everything that you've done during those first three steps to see how it affected your publics and their perception of your organization. As soon as this is done, you return to the research step and begin the process again.

It's not the only way -- maybe, not even the best way -- to describe the public relations process. But, RACE is a concise and effective summary of how public relations can be performed. It may also be a clever and ironic mnemonic warning NOT to race into action before you think about what you're getting into. And, it can also be an easy way to describe the profession to someone who asks you what's involved in doing public relations.

Next time, we'll look at other acronyms that may be as good or better than RACE as descriptions of the public relations process.

If you don't want to wait, you can read more now.     

:  Initially created to support the public relations courses I taught at Northern Kentucky University, it's now used as a supplemental text in scores of university courses worldwide. It's also used as a reference or refresher by PR professionals, especially those preparing for accreditation or certification exams. Since I retired, site updates are no longer on a strict schedule but usually occur every 6-8 weeks.

Michael Turney, Ph.D., ABC, Professor Emeritus
Northern Kentucky University

Review your crisis communication plans during spring cleaning.

If your organization has a crisis communication plan the PR staff uses when "shit happens," congratulations! That's a huge step toward being prepared for an emergency.

But, before you start patting yourself on the back too hard, ask yourself: Is the plan current? -- When was it last reviewed and updated? -- Is everyone who has an assigned role in the plan still in the position they held when the plan was written? Are they still even employed here? Is all of their contact information up-to-date? And, does the organization itself still operate in the same ways it did then?

Regrettably, many organizations that prepare a crisis plan simply place it on a shelf and leave it there until it's needed. Then, when they go to use it, they realize people have moved on, responsibilities have shifted, contact info has changed, and new technologies and new systems are in place within the organization and in the world at large. What had been a perfect plan a few years ago, is now worse than useless because trying to follow it will waste time and generate frustration because the people the plan identifies as critical players are nowhere to be found, specified equipment and locations are no longer accurate, and recent additions may not even be included in the plan.

To avoid such a disaster, smart and successful practitioners periodically review and update crisis plans. The frequency will vary depending on the type of organization and the environment in which it operates. For some, monthly works well. Others do it quarterly or biannually. But, the absolute minimum should be annually.

If you opt to do annual reviews, I urge you to do them in the spring. It's logical with spring being the season of natural renewal, and because it conceptually ties into notions of spring cleaning. Even more importantly, it gives you an opportunity to review the most recent Annual Crisis Report from the Institute for Crisis Management. These reports which are normally released in April summarize the previous year's crises around the globe and alert you to threats that could be headed your way. They can be invaluable in making plans for what might light ahead of you.

Read more about crisis communication.     

Strategic & tactical
PR planning

Covid-19 must now be
part of all PR plans.

Public relations
during a crisis

Online readings in
public relations

Recent reads
in public relations

How-to tips
for public relations

Syllabus for Intro to PR

Ethics in public relations

Current site users


Wow, that was fast. -- An expanded
"Public Relations Playbook"

I just wrote about the playbook former PR executive and retired college professor Tom Hagley published to fill some of the gaps in public relations education. It was meant to offer students new insights, to remind them of things they may have learned in class that have since slipped their minds, and to provide step-by-step instructions and checklists for completing common public relations tasks. Now, only months later, he's already revised it and put an expanded edition on the market.

What's remarkable isn't just how quickly he did it. It's the substantive new content: 15 new chapters; more than 90 pages.

Twelve of those chapters are in a new section called "Professor Candello Interviews." They're transcripts of interviews Dr. Candello conducted with the author in front of an audience of college students and cover a wide range of topics chosen to meet the needs and interests of the students.

I was, however, very glad to see that the book's title has been changed from the Public Relations Student Playbook to simply the Public Relations Playbook. That's because I think it is likely to be far more useful as a desktop reference for young working practitioners -- those with five years or less of public relations experience who need guidance in unfamiliar situations -- than it will be as a classroom resource for students.

But, one group of students for whom I strongly recommend it is interns heading off-campus for an on-the-job public relations work experience. They could reap immediate benefits from the book's insights. It could help them understand situations they'll encounter, perform tasks they're asked to complete, and ask better questions of their co-workers, all of which would enrich their internship experience.

I do, however, hope that the next revised edition comes with a detailed index. In this latest edition, the only way to find out which topics, tools, people, and incidents are included in the book and where to find them is using the Table of Contents, and with 83 chapter titles is a lot to skim through. The book's cover says it's "Your Gold Mine of Insights," which it is. But, without an index, specific insights can be hard to find without reading the book from cover to cover.

Read a longer review on my "Recent Reads" page.     

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Last revised: 4/14/2021