COMM 361

Principles of Public Relations

Course Syllabus Summer 2006

MTWR 10:30-12:40 CP-124


Dr. Diane F. Witmer, APR, Fellow PRSA
Office Hours: Mondays & Tuesdays 10:00-10:30 a.m.

Office: College Park Suite 650, Room 29
Phone: 657-278-7008


Course Catalog Description


The social, behavioral, psychological, ethical, economic and political foundations of public relations, and the theories of public relations as a communications discipline.


Course Goals and Objectives:


Principles of Public Relations will provide you with a basic understanding of public relations processes, practices, and effects. It is designed as a survey course to help develop a realistic appreciation of the field of public relations. The course is focused toward public relations as a career, but will also provide you the opportunity to develop an understanding of the ways in which public relations decisions affect a wide range of occupations.


This course will help you learn the critical thinking processes involved in solving organizational problems and making public relations decisions. You also will have an opportunity to explore some of issues facing public relations practitioners in today's increasingly technological, multicultural, and global environment. By the end of this course, you should be able to:


1.       Describe the major theories and processes that undergird the practice of public relations, assessed through course examinations and quizzes.

2.       Identify and describe the roles played by public relations in organizations and business, assessed through course examinations and quizzes.

3.       Describe the major strategic considerations for the public relations practitioner, assessed through a written assignment, course examinations, and quizzes.

4.       Utilize the basic vocabulary of the public relations practitioner, assessed through a written assignment, course examinations, and quizzes.

5.       Define the major tools and tactics of the public relations practitioner, assessed through a written assignment, course examinations, and quizzes.

6.       Identify the ethical implications of public relations practices, assessed through course examinations and quizzes.

7.       Gather and analyze information as a public relations tool, assessed through a research assignment, course examinations, and quizzes.


Course Prerequisite:


Junior Standing

Texts and Study Materials:


·         Wilcox, D. L., Cameron, G. T., Ault, P. H., & Agee, W. K. (2006). Public relations: Strategies and tactics (8th ed.). New York: Longman.

·         The COMM 361 Blackboard Web site, available through your student portal at

·         Three Scantron Forms 882-ES and five Scantron Forms 815-E.

·          Daily study of radio or television newscasts and one major daily newspaper (e.g., The New York Times, The Orange County Register, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, or The Wall Street Journal).

·         Regular attendance and careful notes from class activities, lecture, and discussion.

·         Additional readings and assignments as announced in class.




You may earn a maximum of 1,000 points during the semester. I will assign final course grades as follows:



































Note: You can boost your final grade by earning some extra points as described in the "Additional Activities" section of this syllabus.


There are no "make-up" assignments or exams, and no late assignments are accepted for credit.


Course Activities:


You may earn points toward your final course grade by completing assignments, taking exams, and participating in class activities. Each activity is worth a maximum number of points as follows:


Exam #1:                                              200 points

Exam #2:                                              200 points

Exam #3:                                              200 points

4 Quizzes (open book):                           200 points

Scavenger Hunt (partnered)                   100 points

Public Relations Plan (partnered)            100 points


Examinations (600 points):


The three exams are multiple choice and are not cumulative. Questions cover materials from the text and class activities, including discussions, exercises and lectures. The lectures do not necessarily repeat the textbook, and the exam grades will reward those who have kept up with the readings and maintained good lecture notes. Each exam is designed to evaluate both your recall and your ability to apply course concepts to realistic situations. You will need a Scantron 882-ES for each of the three exams.


Quizzes (200 points):


You will have an opportunity to take five short quizzes, the top four of which will count toward your total points. The quizzes are open book, multiple choice, and are not cumulative. Questions cover materials from the text, class activities (including discussions, exercises and lectures). Like the exams, the quizzes are designed to evaluate both your recall and your ability to apply course concepts to realistic situations. There are no makeup quizzes, but I will drop your single lowest quiz grade. You will need a Scantron 815-E for each of the five quizzes.


Writing Assignments (200 points):


This course includes two major homework exercises. Late papers will earn no points, but I will provide feedback if you wish.


Scavenger Hunt (100 points)


This exercise gives you an opportunity to engage in some research, which is a key public relations activity, and to face some of the challenges a public relations practitioner is likely to meet when gathering facts.


You and your partner will select any five questions from the list below. Then find and verify the answers from any sources you deem appropriate. Finally, write a short paper (1-5 pages, double-spaced and typed) in which you: 1) provide a detailed answer for each question, 2) describe how you went about getting each answer, 3) explain how you verified the validity of each answer, and 4) provide a summary of what you learned from the exercise about gathering information.




1. Who first used the term "public relations" and when? (Watch out – this one is trickier than it appears!)

2. How many public relations firms are located in Orange County?

3.             What is a Keeshond, and what does one look like? Be specific.

4.             Where can you visit the world's tallest "structure?"

5.             Who invented the Furby, and where was it invented?

6.             Is a power toothbrush more effective than a manual toothbrush?

7.             How many U.S. homes have televisions? How many have VCRs?

8.             What are the expected life spans of the average male and average female in the U.S.?

9.             What public relations journals does the CSUF library carry?

10.         What is your CSUF e-mail address? Describe the login process.


Once you get the answers to your questions, reflect on your experience of gathering the information. Was it easy to get this information? What steps did you take to get it? What does the overall experience tell you about conducting research?


Format: Your report should begin with a brief introduction, then include each question you chose to answer (quoted verbatim), followed by your answer to the question. In other words, it is a Q&A format. Finally, your report should summarize your experiences and what you learned about doing research at the end of the piece.


Grading: Your grade will be based on 1) the accuracy and thoroughness of your answers, 2) your careful verification of the information (quality of sources, using multiple sources, etc.), 3) your depth of analysis and insights about the process of gathering information, and 4) the quality of your writing (including spelling, grammar, and punctuation).


Helpful Hint: The Web is only part of a well-designed research strategy. Don't rely solely on it if you wish to maximize your points on this assignment.


Be ready to discuss your research adventures in class on the due date!


Public Relations Plan (100 points)


We will discuss in class the format and process of writing a public relations plan. You will work with a partner to develop a plan for a case that will be assigned.


Your public relations plan will be graded on thoroughness, quality of research, clear goals and objectives, appropriate strategy, creativity, careful analysis of your target publics, appropriateness of tools and tactics, and well-developed evaluation.


Helpful Hints:

·         Keep a copy of your work because I may retain it as an example for future classes.

·         Pay attention to details. Follow all instructions with care!


Additional Activities:


You have an opportunity to earn up to 40 extra points toward your final grade by putting forth some extra effort as follows (see the Course Schedule for due dates):


Quick Research (10 points):


You'll notice that after my name, the designations "APR" and "Fellow PRSA" appear. Research and write a brief (one- to two-page) paper that accurately describes what those designations mean.


Test Questions (10 points for each exam = 30 points maximum):


You are welcome to submit questions for any of the three scheduled exams. Writing exam questions will not only allow you to help design your exams, but will help you learn the material to prepare for them.


You will earn ten points for each exam in which I can use your question(s), and you may submit questions for all three exams. All items must meet the following criteria to earn credit:

·         be multiple choice,

·         include five possible answers,

·         be drawn from the material covered in the exam for which you are submitting the questions (see the schedule for a list of chapters each exam covers),

·         include the correct answer to each question,

·         be drawn from lecture or assigned reading, and

·         indicate the source (including page number) from which the question was drawn.


Helpful Hint: It takes only one question to earn the points, but I suggest you submit several in order to increase your chance that I use at least one. For credit, questions due at least two weeks prior to the exam for which they are written.


Course Policies and Requirements


·         Regular attendance is expected and necessary in this class. Please do not assume that you can skip class if a lab or guest speaker is scheduled. I expect you there, armed with your course materials and books, ready to discuss the topic at hand. Excessive tardiness or absences will affect your grade.

·         You are responsible for all notes, handouts, and assigned readings. If an emergency arises that necessitates your missing a class, it is up to you to get notes and materials from fellow students. Develop a buddy system and exchange phone numbers! Please notify me in advance if you must miss a class.

·         As a matter of courtesy and professionalism, turn off your pagers and cell phones during class time. Allowing your cell phone to ring during class is your request for me to answer it.

·         You must type and double-space all work, unless you receive other instructions.

·         You must turn in all assignments on time. I do not accept late assignments. Only severe medical problems are acceptable reasons for missing assignments, and it is your responsibility to make immediate arrangements with me for make-up work. Computer problems and crashed disks are not valid reasons for late work. If a medical emergency arises, you must notify me in advance of the class and provide verification in order to be excused and scheduled for make-up work.

·         For your protection and my peace of mind, keep copies of all your completed assignments, including those handed in on diskettes.

·         See me immediately if you have any difficulties in this course. Do not wait a week or until the end of the semester to contact me with problems. I'm always happy to help you in any way I can, but any delay in communicating with me reduces your chances of getting help.

·         You must complete all course activities to earn a minimum grade of "D."

·         You must earn a minimum of 600 points to earn a minimum grade of "D."

·         Any proven case of academic dishonesty will result in immediate failure of the class and will be reported to the campus judicial officer. The following information is directly quoted from CSUF University Policy Statement 300.021:

Academic dishonesty includes such things as cheating, inventing false information or citations, plagiarism, and helping someone else commit an act of academic dishonesty. It usually involves an attempt by a student to show a possession of a level of knowledge or skill, which he/she in fact does not possess.

Cheating is defined as the act of obtaining or attempting to obtain credit for work by the use of any dishonest, deceptive, fraudulent, or unauthorized means. Examples of cheating include, but are not limited to, the following: using notes or aides or the help of other students on tests and examinations in ways other than those expressly permitted by the instructor, plagiarism as defined below, tampering with the grading procedures, and collaborating with others on any assignment where such collaboration is expressly forbidden by an instructor. Violation of this prohibition of collaboration shall be deemed an offense for the person or persons collaborating on the work, in addition to the person submitting the work.

Plagiarism is defined as the act of taking the work of another and offering it as one’s own without giving credit to that source. When sources are used in a paper, acknowledgment of the original author or source must be made through appropriate references and, if directly quoted, quotation marks or indentations must be used.

In this course, plagiarism includes but is not limited to: borrowing another person's ideas without acknowledgment; using paraphrased material without attribution; not citing quoted material; copying from any source and presenting the work as your own; downloading and using as your own any phrases, sentences, paragraphs, or entire documents from the Internet  (including source code, scripts, graphics, or other Web elements); using anyone else's assistance (other than the instructor or a lab assistant) to fulfill course requirements.


Tentative Schedule


Assignments must be completed prior to each scheduled class meeting. Additional assignments may be announced. Italicized assignments indicate due dates for optional extra credit work.





Assignment Due






June 5

June 6

June 7

June 8

Intro & Overview

Wat is Public Relations?

PR Departments & Firms

Communications that Count

Chapter 1
Quick Research Paper Due

Chapter 4

Exam #1 Questions Due


June 12

June 13

June 14

June 15

A Walk through History
The Evolution of Public relations

Ethics & Professionalism

    Library Visit

Program Planning (Writing a PR Plan)

Chapter 2
Quiz #1

Chapter 3

Chapter 5
     Meet in PLN-303!

Chapter 6


June 19

June 20

June 21

June 22



Public Opinion & Persuasion

Conflict Management: Dealing with Issues, Risks, & Crises

Chapter 7
Exam #1 (Chapters 1-7)

Chapter 8
Quiz #2

Chapter 9

Chapter 10
Scavenger Hunt Due
Quiz #3


June 26

June 27

June 28

June 29

The Audience & How to Reach It

PR & the Law

News Releases, Newsletters, & Brochures
Radio, Television, & the Web
Speechwriting, Presentations, & Media Interviews

    Guest Speaker: Rebecca Aguilar

Exam #2

Chapters 11 & 12
Exam #2 Questions Due

Chapters 14, 15, & 16

Quiz #4

Chapter 17

Exam #2 (Chapters 8-15)


July 3

July 4

July 5

July 7

Politics & Government
International Public Relations


Nonprofit Organizations
Entertainment, Sports, & Travel

Exam #3

Chapters 18 & 19
Exam #3 Questions Due
Quiz #5


Chapters 20, 21, & 22
Public Relations Plan

Exam #3 (Chapters 16-23)


May 31, 2006