Its dissertation season for media and public relations university students. Here are more than 40 potential areas of study.
Bachelor students are refining their topics and proposals and Masters students are working on proposals.
For the last three years I’ve been a Visiting Professor at Newcastle University, supporting the university and students through teaching and mentoring.
I’m frequently asked by public relations students at Newcastle and elsewhere for advice on choosing a dissertation topic.
Professor Benno Signitzer at the University of Salzburg wrote a chapter on this topic in Public Relations Research: An International Perspective. It’s worth seeking out. Thanks to Professor Dejan Ver?i? from the University of Ljubljana for the reference.
My answer is always to follow a passion and ideally use it as an opportunity to set yourself up for your career. The ideal is a topic aligned to a developing area of practice.
“I’d say to make it as specific to your dream career as possible. Even if career visions change in the future, you’ll enjoy researching and writing it at the time and therefore won’t get bored and find more motivation,” said Livi Wilkes, Digital Public Relations Executive, Aira.
“My dissertation was on using public relations strategy and tactics to help raise your profile to find a job. I used my blog as a case study. It worked,” said Anne-Marie Lacey, Public Relations and Communications Director, Filament PR.
Avoid populist topics and go deep. The best dissertations are original and niche. They make a genuine contribution to the professional body of knowledge.
“Explore a very small, easily defined area and use rigorous academic research methods to establish new knowledge or explore a topic from a new perspective,” said Liz Bridgen, Principal Lecturer, Department of Media Arts and Communication, Sheffield Hallam University.
I recently asked my network on Facebook for suggestions for areas of study. I got called out by several people for short cutting an important area of the research process.
This wasn’t my intention. Instead I wanted to share issues that are challenging practitioners. Each suggestion is a jumping off point for further investigation.
I’ve consistently said that we need to encourage better engagement between research, teaching and practice. If that’s not your view, please look away now.
Thank you to everyone who participated in the discussion.
The only way is ethics
How does post truth or fake news change the way public relations operates and how does it sit alongside codes of practice?
Should social media should be held to the same journalistic standards as other media outlets?
How important is the truth versus storytelling.
We’ve always believed good public relations should be open, transparent etc. But what if we’re wrong? What if good public relations is actually as dishonest, ugly and brazen as you can make it?
How should practitioners ensure that messages resonate in an era of fake news and post truth?
The importance of trusted brands in a post-truth world. In other words – why the claims about your cornflakes are held to a higher standard than the claims of political candidates.
What does transparency in public relations look like?
Aly Sandhaus Saxe
Does anyone have the right to be forgotten?
Data and the science of measurement
How can public relations be measured more effectively; focusing on whether public relations campaigns should be treated the same as marketing ones; using the same tools such as Salesforce and Marketo.
Measuring the effectiveness of video as a means of communication in the social sphere.
Test measurement frameworks for Paid, Earned, Shared and Owned communications and content.
How can data be used to improve the impact of campaigns? Is this a route to improving the perception of public relations in society?
Data visualisation looking not just at economist infographics and similar but a historical review of people such as Florence Nightingale who understood the importance of conveying a story succinctly in an as easy to understand form as possible.
Does reputation have a monetary value?
The business of influence
Study the behavioral economics aspects of the science of influence – influencing perceptions in order to influence market behavior – how individual minds work, as well as the collective.
What does influence look like for the next generation?
What makes a brand invincible? How and why do some brands die due to reputational harm, while others seem to shrug it off and carry on regardless?
Evidence based research showing how trust in the conventional has been eroded over the past decade and the impact this has on society and business.
Characterising the public relations profession
Explore the lack of diversity in the public relations profession; LGBT, women at the top, disability, ethnicity and social mobility.
How do CEOs perceive public relations and what needs to be done to improve understanding of the strategic value it can add?
What skills and understanding does the communications advisor to the board need to be credible? Should reputation sit above sales and marketing in the corporate hierarchy?
Why are ethnic minorities under-represented in public relations?
Why do so many women leave public relations?
Is social media helping to reduce inequalities – or is everything staying the same?
Is public relations dead? We tend to work in wider communications roles now and need knowledge and skills to survive.
How do you build mental resilience in journalism and public relations, particularly post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) through exposure to traumatic events and materials, as well as the wider issues around the job and its impact on mental health?
Media and platforms
Is the news cycle dead?
I did ‘is the ‘lad mag’ dead’ back in 2003. It was. James Brown’s ‘Jack’ died in the water around the same time. Maybe worth asking now is print journalism dead?
Does the connected economy increase the need for niche specialism?
The rise of online and social echo chambers and the impact they have on decision-making.
How low can production values be? We’re in the social media age, with Facebook Live, YouTube live streaming as video-based platforms, and Facebook and LinkedIn and lots more as type-based platforms. So how garbled can the sound be, how fuzzy can the video be, how distorted can the speakers be, and so on?
How can global, US-run social networks effectively deal with personal attacks, death threats or even define trolling, when they have a US President that is normalising [trolling]?
Explore emerging strategies as companies increasingly need to market to an algorithm [rather than a human being].
Future of public relations practice
What is the role of paid media in public relations programmes?
The impact of artificial intelligence on content creation and distribution. Explore ethics, impact on jobs, and the relationship between the quality and quantity of content and the role it plays in manipulating the human brain.
Explore digital as a means of genuine business transformation, compared with when it is used as a bolt on or stick plaster.
Public relations education
Are we teaching students the necessary skills to succeed in the industry locally, nationally, and globally?
How do leading public relations companies and agencies perceive the validity of public relations education?
Public relations in practice
Explore the fundamental changes of internal communication due to internal social media.
Explore the use of social media by parties in a political campaign.
Paula Clare Keaveney
Explore the application of social media in hospitals as part of the patient journey.
What role should public relations play in a hostile takeover? How can it be justified, and used as a positive promotion of the business?
Should public relations practitioners own or participate in the company narrative or content strategy as part of an integrated public relations approach?
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