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First-Ever Encyclopedia of Public Relations Born at the University of Houston

Contributed By: Lisa Merkl, Senior Science Writer/Editor, External Communications, University of Houston

Communication Professor Robert L. Heath Driving Force Behind Long-awaited Professional Resource

HOUSTON, Jan. 11, 2004 - Coming a long way from the promotional antics of P.T. Barnum, the father of modern press agentry, public relations has evolved into serious business.  A team of 146 authors led by faculty at the University of Houston has created a public relations encyclopedia that explores the often maligned profession. 

The first publication of its kind, the "Encyclopedia of Public Relations" explores the evolution of the PR field, with historical examples, key events, changing practices and the significant figures who developed and expanded the profession.  It also explores ethical and strategic challenges facing PR and its practitioners.  The encyclopedia has cemented the importance of this field in a comprehensive resource aimed at completing the bookshelves of students and PR professionals alike. 

Edited by Robert L. Heath, a veteran communication professor at UH, this newly released public relations encyclopedia is a two-volume set from Sage Publications that ranges from the practical and tactical to the esoteric and theoretical.  Its team of collaborators was created and led by Heath. 

"Public relations has been referred to as buzz, spin, publicity and even free advertising," Heath said.  "But it is so much more than that.  From spokespeople to newsmakers, PR people have increasingly become an integral component in helping the news media report and translate world events, research breakthroughs and organizational messages to the public, giving them human interest and meaning." 

Topics covered include practical issues such as identifying the tools of the trade, defining jargon, explaining the roles of media and news, exploring research and analysis techniques, providing tips on crisis communication and delving into ethical issues.  The academic foundations of the profession also are analyzed through discussions of history, key practitioners and theory. 

"This work acknowledges the power of public relations, as well as its thorny reputation," Heath said.  "While the encyclopedia makes an honest assessment of the role of spin, it also covers the advantages to organizations that use public relations to get their message out for the good of the public interest." 

The encyclopedia additionally touches on the fact that public relations is perhaps one of the most ancient aspects of society, with recorded history featuring the role of image making and public information.  For instance, ceremony is inseparable from human society, says Heath. 

Since coming to the University of Houston in 1971, Heath has continually engaged in research and teaching to advance the study and practice of public relations.  He has been instrumental in putting UH on the map - both in the United States and internationally - with his study of issues management, crisis communication and risk communication.  The UH program is considered one of the two most productive programs in the United States in terms of research and publication.  During his time here, Heath has taught principles of public relations, risk communication, crisis communication, investor relations, public relations management and public relations theory.  In addition to the encyclopedia, he has published 10 books, as well as 85 scholarly articles and book chapters. 

Along with Heath, other UH School of Communication faculty participated in this groundbreaking project.  Assistant Professor Shannon Bowen not only wrote several entries, but also served on the advisory board.  Other UH contributors include Professor Garth Jowett, Associate Professor Jaesub Lee, Professor Michael Ryan, Associate Professor Jim Query and Mike Nagy, a former clinical assistant professor at UH. 

Nicole Casarez, an alum of UH who teaches at St. Thomas University, also authored several key pieces on federal regulatory agencies.  Many local practitioners and other UH alumni contributed their expertise to flesh out the breadth and depth of entries covered. 

"This guide also is mindful that academics are not alone in our contribution to the growth of this practice," Heath said.  "Present and past practitioners are featured in biographies, as well as given voice to speak on various topics." 

Other notable contributors include Tom Hoog, chairman of Hill & Knowlton; Betsy Plank, who created the Public Relations Student Society of America and is considered the grand lady of modern public relations; Dick Martin, retired executive vice president of AT&T Corporation; and Wes Pedersen, director of communication and public relations for the Public Affairs Council. 

"This work is invaluable to practitioners, academics and students," said Barbara Langham, a Houston-based PR veteran of nearly 30 years, a contributor to the book and president/CEO of BDL Public Relations.  "It also offers a single source of information for the general public who may know little but be interested in this ancient practice that can play a major role in commerce, government and nonprofit organizations." 

Reflecting the fact that public relations is now practiced internationally, despite its U.S. roots, major international figures and organizations played a role in the project, with contributors from around the world.  Illustrating the ever-increasing expansiveness of this industry, how public relations is practiced internationally is answered by entries on the United Kingdom, Europe, Sweden, Africa, Asia, Australia and New Zealand. 

The entries developed in this work are designed to reach current and future PR practitioners who can serve as opinion leaders within the industry, but also will assist professionals in other fields who may benefit from public relations.  For excerpts and purchase information about Heath''s "Encyclopedia of Public Relations," visit


About the University of Houston

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Lauren Hammit
(713) 798-7595
(713) 798-7413
Author: Lauren Hammit
Phone: (713) 798-7595
Fax: (713) 798-7413
Category: pr