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Public Relations Theory

Public Relations Theory

July 2020 | 232 pages | SAGE Publications, Inc

Reflecting the ever-increasing changes in the public relations industry, this new text offers a fresh, up-to-date look at public relations theories as well as theories from related areas that impact public relations. Chapters move from the oldest areas of communication theory through newer models devoted to interpersonal, organizational, and mediated, up to the most current theories devoted to emerging media, including digital and social. Readers will learn how public relations and persuasion theories are at the heart of a practitioner’s day-to-day work, and see how a strong understanding of theories can make them more effective and strategic professionals.

About the Authors
Chapter 1 • Integrating Theory and Practice

Defining Theory

Defining Public Relations

The Only Thing Constant is Change

Public Relations Works With Other Communication Functions


Review Questions

Chapter 2 • Persuasion Theories

Historical Roots of Persuasion

Formation of Attitudes, Beliefs, and Behaviors

Persuasion Theories that Drive Influence

Attribution Theory and Situational Crisis Communication Theory


Review Questions

Chapter 3 • Interpersonal Communication Theories

Origins and Definitions

Links to Public Relations Practice

Relationship Construction Theories

Theories That influence the Creation of Meaning

Theories Influencing the Creation of Trust


Review Questions

Chapter 4 • Organizational Theories

Organizational Theories and the PR Professional

Ways of Working

Ways of influencing change

Ways of Communicating


Review Questions

Chapter 5 • Mass Media Theories

The Origins of Mass Media and Media Theory

The Small/Large Effects Continuum

Four Theories of the Press

The Gatekeeping Function

Agenda-setting Theory

Uses and Gratifications Theory

Media Systems Dependency Theory (MSDT)

Two-Step Flow Theory

Cultivation Theory

Feminist Media Theory


Review Questions

Chapter 6 • Public Relations Models

Models that define PR and explain how PR meets client goals

Models that Explain how Public Relations is practiced

Models that Explain PR Campaign Development

Models that Explain PR Measurement or Value

The Barcelona Declaration of Research Principles (The Barcelona Principles)


Review Questions

Chapter 7 • Public Relations Theories

Theory Must Be Open to Change

Varied Frameworks Underlying Public Relations Theory

Early Public Relations Theories and the Strong Effects Media Model

The Excellence Theory of Public Relations

Public Relations Competence Theory

Practitioner Roles Theory

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Theory

Public Relations and the Relational Perspective Paradigm

Social Engagement

Cocreational Theory of Public Relations


Review Questions

Chapter 8 • Digital Media Theories

Digital Media Defined

Characteristics of Digital Media

Who Is Connected?

Parallels: Traditional Media Theory and Digital Media Theory

Digital Rhetoric Theory

Digital Media Change the News Media


Review Questions

Chapter 9 • Social Media Theories

Social Media Defined

Social Media in the Context of Web 2.0

Participatory Culture Theory

Rules for Conducting Public Relations Via Social Media

Diffusion of Innovation Theory

Social Media and Misinformation

Social Media and Community Orientation

Social Media Impacts Gatekeeper Theory

Global Social Media

Social Media Impact on Public Relations


Review Questions

Chapter 10 • The Future of Public Relations Theories

Redefining Public Relations . . . Again

Theory Rooted in Dynamic Related Areas

Major Changes Impacting Theory-Building

The Synergy of Theory and Practice

Internationalization of Theory


Review Questions


“A survey textbook of PR theories that works as a great reference guide to students.”

Cayce Myers, Ph.D., LL.M., J.D., APRR
Virginia Tech

“Lordan and Travis’s proposed text will make a valuable contribution to public relations curriculum. The topics/subtopics raised by the text reflect the modern climate of public relations theory.”


“A textbook that exemplifies the modern landscape of public relations, using case histories to connect theory to practice.”

Melissa D. Dodd, Ph.D., APR
University of Central Florida

“This is a great textbook for advanced undergraduate PR Theory classes. It presents a wide variety of theories from different perspectives and ties them to PR applications.”

Dr. Paul Bolls
Texas Tech University

“A comprehensive and up-to-date textbook that could be utilized in multiple courses.”

Dr. Seth A. Oyer
SUNY Buffalo State

“It fills a much needed gap in the discipline by updating theory texts that haven’t been written for more than a decade.”

Erik Garrett
Duquesne University

“This is one of the few textbooks that provide a wide variety of theories valuable to public relations practitioners who aspire to think more strategically about their work and to public relations students who need guiding principles as they enter the profession.”

Ming (Bryan) Wang
University of Nebraska-Lincoln

“Clear and easy to follow, well researched and sourced, offers a review of PR theories, models and concepts in a manner easy to understand and to apply to practice.”


“Clear and easy to follow, well researched and sourced, this textbook offers a review of PR theories, models and concepts in a manner easy to understand and to apply to practice. It is well fitted for students who are learning about PR theories, models and concepts and their application to practice for the first time. At the same time, it is also still useful for more advanced students given the current examples, and updates about theories that changed and new directions that emerged. It offers a plethora of examples, case studies and reflection opportunities that will help students better understand how these many times abstract theories, models, concepts can be applied to the PR practice.”

Iona Coman
Texas Tech University

“An easier read than PRT2 for the incoming grad student, it provides a very current and comprehensive overview with excellent very current examples that relate the theory to cases.”


“This text shows promise as an accessible, comprehensive and current introduction to PR theory that can open the door for students to engage journal articles and advanced texts with a stronger foundation.”

Philip Bakelaar
Montclair State University

“This volume provides a comprehensive, and easy-to-read, review of the fundamental theories that have informed the rise of public relations.”

Dr. Burton St. John III
University of Colorado-Boulder
Key features

  • Timely and engaging case studies cover prominent campaigns such as KFC’s creative response to a chicken shortage, Amazon’s internal communications efforts to shape employee culture, and the rise of the #MeToo movement on social media.
  • Contemporary and international examples allow students to think about public relations with a focus on digital and social media and with a global perspective.
  • Chapter-ending review questions provide students an opportunity to revisit the content as they think through a list of questions.
  • A final Chapter 10: The Future of Public Relations Theories outlines current thinking about the future of public relations and includes case studies that demonstrate how new technologies might require the revision of older theories.

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