Discovering Public Relations Textbook

How I’m Teaching Public Relations with Karen Freberg’s PR Textbook

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Teaching the Public Relations Class with Freberg’s PR Textbook, Discovering Public Relations

Karen Freberg‘s PR textbook, Discovering Public Relations: An Introduction to Creative and Strategic Practices, has been called a substantial advancement in public relations education (see Gallicano, 2021). It was published in time for the 2020-2021 academic year. But this semester is the first chance I’ve had to incorporate it into my Public Relations class. In the below post, I’ll discuss how I’m incorporating this textbook and share my new Public Relations Principles syllabus.

I had the privileged of writing the ancillary materials for this textbook, including a syllabus, and discussion questions and activities and assignments for each chapter.  You can get your hands on those materials from Sage when adopting the textbook. So rather than sharing specific assignments, below I share three ways that I’ve used this textbook to update my class.

Discovering Public Relations PR Textbook Table of Contents

Below, I will make reference to chapter numbers. As such, I am beginning this post with the table of contents from Discovering Public Relations for reference.

1. Introduction to Public Relations
2. Historical Contexts and Practices
3. Ethics and the Law
4. Diversity and Inclusion
5. Research and Evidence-Based Practices
6. Branding
7. Writing
8. Strategic Campaigns
9. Audience and Relationship Management
10. Creative Content
11. Management and Business Acumen
12. Measurement and Evaluation
13. Careers
14. Specializations
15. The Future


Part 1: What is Public Relations?

In part 1 of the semester, we cover chapters 1 through 4, which comprise just over half of the chapters in Part 1: Foundations of the textbook.

To start, the perception the public gets about  PR is and the reality don’t always align (shows like Flack come to mind). Throughout the book, Dr. Freberg expels misconceptions about what public relations is. Starting in Chapter 1 in sections such as “Where Do We Find Public Relations in Action?” and “What Do We Do as PR Professionals?,” the text offers a broad look at what it means to work in the field today. This book pushes aside the notion of silos and embraces the digital, blended future of professional communication.

Next, we cover history, highlighting historical models of public relations. Then, we discuss ethics and the law, and do a few in-class activities. Next, we explore the vital issue of diversity and inclusion in public relations, and some troubling realities the industry is facing. As part of this conversation, we do an in-class activity on brands, authenticity, and diversity and inclusion (available in the textbook ancillary materials).

In the opening part of the semester, I seek to leverage this information in the first few weeks to offer what I hope is an exciting view of what the field is and where it is going.  But I also hope that I succeed in making it a view that grounds students in both the potential and the shortcomings of the field.

Part 2: Public Relations in Action

From here, my class moves into coverage of what could be called public relations in action.  This section, which covers chapters 5, 12, 7, 11, and 8,  bridges what the textbook refers to as Part 1: Foundations and Part 2: Applications. We discuss research, the role of writing in PR, campaign planning, management and business acumen, and strategic campaign planning.

In addition to a number of learning activities, it is here that we begin the PESO Workshop assignment.  This group assignment, which asks students to explore case studies and dive into paid, earned, shared or owned media,  is available in the textbook ancillaries. During the time that we discuss writing and media relations, I assign the Muck Rack media relations certification by way of the Muck Rack for Educators program. I’ve also added a Muck Rack scavenger hunt participation assignment where students use the Muck Rack software to find reporters, media outlets, and the like. Credit to Professor Kristie Aylett for the idea for this assignment during a discussion on the Social Media Professors Community Group. My take on this activity is below.

Part 3: Audiences, Creative and Branding

Next, we enter the final third of the semester in which we cover chapters 9, 10, and 6.

In so doing, we move into the second major project for the semester, a public relations strategy plan. The public relations strategy plan asks student groups to leverage what they learned in the PESO Workshop assignment to address a hypothetical public relations situation. The students develop a paired down version of a strategic plan.

In this part of the semester, much of the class turns to project prep, having a guest speaker(s), and time for the presentations. Within that space, we explore audience and relationship management for internal and external audiences and creative content. We complete one of the activities I had the most fun creating for the textbook ancillary materials, the “You Be the Creator” activity form Chapter 9. In this activity, the students role play the position of a YouTube creator seeking to create content around a popular RPG video game.

Lastly, at the end of the semester, my students apply many concepts they learned in class to develop a personal brand plan (See an earlier version of the personal branding assignment). Branding is a topic that did not receive sufficient coverage in past PR textbooks that I have used. In Discovering Public Relations, Karen dedicates chapter 6 to the role that PR practitioners play in building and communicating brands. I used this chapter as a foundation for this conversation and though it appears earlier in the book, I hold off on it until the end.

Public Relations Class Syllabus

Below you will find my Spring 2022 syllabus for my COMM 321: Public Relations Principles class at Shepherd University. This semester, I have been teaching the class synchronous online.  You can also click on it to see it on Slideshare.

Surprisingly, this is the first time I have shared a syllabus from my COMM 321 Public Relations Principles class on this blog! How did that happen?!


Updating a course to a new textbook is a time commitment and can be a big undertaking. I spent a good bit of time over break re-envisioning portions of my class while seeking to incorporate, and at times optimize, what I felt I was already doing well. It was time well spent! I am very excited about the refresh that my public relations course got as a result of my adoption of Discovering Public Relations.  I hope that what I have shared above is helpful to you if you have adopted or are considering adopting Karen’s PR textbook.

Most importantly, I hope that you and your loved ones are doing well during these challenging times. Be well.

– Matt

Disclosure regarding my work on this textbook: I was compensated by the publisher, Sage, for creating the activities and discussion questions for the supplemental materials of this textbook. I have no financial stake in any revenue generated by the sales or rental of this textbook.

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