Speaking of faith : public relations practice among religion communicators in the United States
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This study expands the body of knowledge relating to Excellence Public Relations Theory to a new area--religion communication. The project replicated portions of the survey research reported in Grunig, Grunig and Dozier (2002). That research, done from 1991 to 2002, involved top communicators, employees and chief executives in 327 secular organizations across the United States, United Kingdom and Canada. This project surveyed members of the Religion Communicators Council in 2006 and 2007. A second survey in 2008 sought responses to similar questions from faith group leaders who supervised respondents to the 2006-07 survey. Answers from religion communicators were compared to those of their supervisors and secular practitioners in earlier studies. Comparisons showed that religion communicators in this study were a distinct subgroup of U.S. public relations practitioners. RCC members worked primarily as communication technicians, not managers. That made them different from practitioners in the 327 secular organizations studied by Grunig, Grunig and Dozier (2002). Furthermore, religion communicators and their supervisors did not always agree with the way four models in Excellence Theory described different approaches to public relations. Religion communicators also did not know what their supervisors expected from them or their departments. Communicators overestimated their supervisors’ support for the press agentry/publicity and public information models of public relations. Communicators underestimated support for the two-way symmetrical and asymmetrical models. Likewise, communicators rated their contributions to the work of their faith groups lower than their supervisors did. Faith group leaders said they wanted communicators to be managers more than technicians. Top executives were looking for expert prescribers and problem-solving facilitators. Religion communicators weren’t filling those roles. This study looked for--but did not find--evidence of a common dynamic in Excellence and Church-Sect Theory. The two-way symmetrical public relations model mirrors the social interaction that turns sects into churches and contributes to membership gain or loss in the U.S. religion environment of 2008. But the faith groups of religion communicators did not influence the way they answered survey questions about various public relations models. Consequently, no link between communication practices and membership change was shown.