Teaching on the Information Superhighway
MERGING THE TEACHING
OF ADVERTISING AND PUBLIC RELATIONS CAMPAIGNS
ONTO THE INFORMATION SUPERHIGHWAY
Robert L. Gustafson, Assistant Professor--Advertising
Steven R. Thomsen, Ph.D., Assistant Professor--Public Relations
Department of Journalism
Ball State University
Muncie, Indiana 47306
Submitted to: Association for Education in Journalism and Mass
Advertising Division, Teaching Research-In-Brief Session
1995 Conference--Washington, D.C.
The American Association for Higher Education is interested in how
computers and online communication technologies can help contribute to the
teaching and learning process. There are ways, it believes, for
to incorporate the use online services into their courses without
rethink their approaches to teaching. The authors raise the issue as to
whether advertising and public relations curricula have kept up with
advances in this technology. They argue and discuss the need for, and
merits of, incorporating the Internet and related services into the
teaching of campaigns and techniques courses and offer some applications.
A leading business magazine recently featured a cover story which
proclaimed that the Internet would change the way business is conducted
around the world ("The Internet," 1994). Indeed, we know that it will,
because the process has begun and has started to accelerate.
When Bell Atlantic opened its World Wide Web (WWW) site on the Internet
in the fall of 1994, for example, the Philadelphia-based
and information services provider joined a growing number of business
that are quickly converting what was once the exclusive domain of
academics and government scientists into what they hope will become the
"virtual mall" of the next century.
Bell Atlantic's WWW site was installed only months after the company had
gone online with an e-mail "listserv," which it uses to distribute
releases and public relations materials to the media, government
and interested Internet "surfers." According to Eric Rabe, who was
responsible for Bell Atlantic's entrance into cyber-public relations, the
e-mail distribution program has signed up more than 400
times the number of people reached in the days when the company relied
lusively on the postal service to mail press releases to the media (E.
Rabe, personal communication, September 28, 1994). Rabe, Bell Atlantic's
director of corporate relations, is aware that those 400 individuals
include government regulators, Clinton Administration officials,
consumer advocates, and even competitors. The goal of the service, he
explained, was to extend the company's influence among communication
policy-makers and to project the image that the company is on the cutting
edge of technology.
In the fall of 1993, Bell Atlantic made its first entrance on the
information superhighway with the establishment of a gopher server--a
location on the Internet that allows users to browse through documents
materials stored by an organization in a public site--and an "ftp"
archive--a site that allows users to download documents from a remote
computer system to their own. In one 60-day period, shortly after the
gopher server was launched, more than 20,000 "connections"--individuals
logged onto the server--were made and more than 60,000 documents were
examined. "We were actually stunned by that," Rabe explained (E. Rabe,
personal communication, September, 28, 1994).
The "Web" site, ftp archive, and gopher site provides users with access
to company histories, recent press releases, profiles of corporate
officers, texts of testimonies given by Bell Atlantic executives to
Congressional committees, product and service information, and the names
and e-mail addresses of FCC commissioners. The "Web" server even
sample letter supporting Bell Atlantic's position on a FCC-related
regulatory issue and allows the user to electronically send the letter with
his or her name attached.
As many as 21,700 commercial domains or "storefronts"--from J.C. Penneys
to Embassy Suites Hotels to Tupperware--are available on the "Web."
represents more than a 200 percent increase in the past three years
Internet," 1994). The Web allows users to see video, hear the voice of
sales person, and to scan through attractively designed "ads" of
that range from cars, to boxer shorts, to fine art. By clicking their
on a photograph, for example, they are reconnected instantly to another
system that allows them to see and hear video footage related to the
By clicking on the name of a product, users receive additional information
about the product as well as information on how to order it.
The popularity of the "Web" as a "business address" has spawned cottage
industries that include "Internet entrepreneurs," marketing experts,
advertising agencies that specialize in getting customers to enter the
world of "digital commerce" ("The Internet," 1994; Lewis, 1995; Wiseman,
1994). The "Web" has been described as the Internet's "business
with the cost of setting up shop online ranging from about $14,000 to
$50,000 (Bollinger, 1995).
Thousands of businesses flocked to the Internet in 1994, and giant
corporations are investing billions of dollars in digital technology
needed to link them with their
customers and suppliers through all sorts of "interactive" services. All
are chasing an emerging market of millions of affluent and
customers--as many as 200 million by the end of the next decade--in a
rapidly expanding global marketplace.
(Lewis, 1995, p. C1)
While the online market may be in its infancy, business users are
encouraged by the slow, but steady diffusion rate. Currently, about 33
percent of U.S. households have personal computers and that number is
expected to reach 60 percent by 1998. Twelve percent of those household
users have modems, and 6 percent subscribe to online
two or more (Decker, 1994). Several company's are now racing to develop
technology to allow for the encryption of credit card numbers in hopes
simplifying online transactions (Smith, 1994; Kim, 1994). One expert
predicts that by the year 2000 commerce on the Internet will exceed $2
billion (Forbes, 1994).
In the world of advertising, for example, the e-mail capabilities of the
Internet and online communication services have created "virtual
facilitating changes in the way staffers interact with their "office."
Much has been written about the remodeling of Chiat/Day's offices. Last
year, Chiat/Day went "virtual" using technology to let staffers
work without assigned work spaces, often on half-day intervals. When
they're not in the office, they are connected by the Internet and e-mail.
People are free to work at home or out of their car and are encouraged
spend more time at their clients' businesses. This way, according to
Chiat/Day, the company's assets ar more likely to be working 24 hours a
day. Good work requires thinking and access to information. Showing up
work doesn't necessarily get the job done ("Making virtual office,"
Laurie Coots, director of business development at Chait/Day,
It really doesn't matter where you are at 9 a.m. or 5 p.m.; what matters
is that the
client's needs are being met. Sometimes that means a team meeting;
means e-mail from the beach. ("Re-engineering," 1994)
Schell/Mullaney claims to be the world's smallest global agency and,
according to Advertising Age, it might be right. The 30-person New
York-based agency in one week produces advertising that runs in 29
countries. Thanks to the Internet, and various online services, the agency
communicates with its clients via e-mail worldwide ("Re-engineering,"
Richard Grove, chief executive officer of the public relations and
media-consulting firm, Primetime, has created a "virtual" boardroom for a
"virtual corporation." Without formal offices, Primetime employees
their clients' publicity campaigns in their "virtual" environment of
networks and faxes, usually working from their houses. "I can offer
something most other public relations firms can't--freedom," explains
Grove. By passing problems and information through time zones, companies
can work around the clock to deliver solutions. And, according to
"The one who gets there first with the information is the winner"
techno nomads," 1994).
"The Internet is not just a process; it's potential," wrote Agency
magazine editor Geoffrey Precourt. "As it will clearly change the way we
communicate with one another, so it will change the ways that agencies
to make a connection with their customers" ("Networking," 1995,
It should be no surprise then that Darin Richins, product public
relations manager for Utah-based WordPerfect Corporation, suggests that
future advertising and public relations professionals will spend
increasingly more time managing and using database and information services
as well as going online to connect with clients, the media, and customers
(D. Richins, personal communication, August 11, 1993) .
Purpose of this Paper
This raises the issue, however, as to whether public relations and
advertising curricula have kept up with the advances in technology.
Further, it raises questions as to how online technologies, and the
Internet in particular, can be incorporated into classroom instruction. The
purpose of this article is to suggest ways in which the Internet, e-mail,
and online services can be used as an effective teaching tools in
undergraduate courses. The paper draws upon the experiences of the authors,
who have incorporated the use of this technology in capstone advertising
and public relations courses in their department. In one sense,
may be introduced to the virtual office of the future, by being
a virtual classroom experience today.
Where the Highway Begins
The Information Superhighway may be an unfortunate metaphor. A recent
Freedom Forum study reports that the term is not clearly descriptive
broad communication system and uses it tries to describe. However, this
is the name commonly used to label the advanced technological
of the telephone, television and computer, resulting in an interactive
media system. On one side of the highway there are those interested in
creating media and messaging. On the other side there are those
in receiving information ("Separating fact," 1994).
At a panel discussion sponsored by the Freedom Forum Media Studies Center
in February, 1994, Philip Elmer-Dewitt of TIME noted that the Information
Superhighway means different things to different people. For example:
The regional Bell operating companies (RBOCs) view the highway as a way
to increase sales by providing people with new ways to transmit
data and graphics over their network. They are also eyeing the
transmission of video
Cable and Broadcast
The cable and broadcast companies are interested in distribution of their
new forms. They are particularly interested in expanding the number of
cable channels and programs and interactive technology.
Computer-related companies see the highway as a connection of computer
who connect online with databases, interest groups and bulletin boards.
aspect is the most fully developed through the Internet and recent
introduction of consumer online services such as CompuServe, Prodigy
("For techno nomads," 1994)
About the Internet
The Internet is a global web of approximately 30,000 computer networks,
2.2 million computers and 20 million people in more than 70 countries.
connects users to thousands of databases and allows people to
worldwide almost instantaneously. No one really runs the Internet;
more of a cooperative. Internet was established by the U.S. Defense
Department in 1969 to connect the Pentagon with defense researchers in
academia and business.
In 1986, the National Science Foundation promoted the non-defense use of
the Internet by creating a special network, NSFNet. Universities
plugging into NSFNet and by the late 1980s, students at many colleges
obtained Internet access. As new technology and on-line services made it
easier to use, more individuals and businesses started using Internet
communication, selling, shopping and research ("The Internet," 1994).
Anyone with a personal computer and a modem can get connected to the Net
for as little as $15 a month. Online services such as CompuServe,
Online and Prodigy offer limited access to the Internet. Other
such as Delphi Internet provide direct Internet accounts.
Perhaps one part of the Internet that is now the easiest to use is the
World Wide Web, which operates like the "help" screens on a Windows or
Macintosh computer. The World Wide Web is useful for "cyber surfing"
information and is quickly being expanded for commercial purposes by
media and marketers.
Like Bell Atlantic, both advertising agencies and public relations firms
are starting to realize the more and more consumers are collecting
information from the Internet. Most have targeted the World Wide Web, an
information-retrieval system that allows the use of multimedia.
than broadcasting messages, which are loathed in cyberspace, many
are setting up databases which allow consumers to browse at will. The
databases combine graphics and sound plus a variety of files that can be
opened for additional information.
Communication or e-mail is probably the easiest and most powerful
application of the Internet that a company can employ. Because the virtual
electronic post is so much faster than telephone calling and traditional
postal services, people are doing things with e-mail they never could
before. E-mail users can share their thoughts with dozens of others
instantaneously around the world. It is typically no more expensive that
postal mail. It saves trees. It eliminates phone tag and can be
at any time. It is a key contributor to the "Information Revolution."
Merging onto the Information Superhighway
The American Association for Higher Education is seriously interested in
how computers and other technologies can help contribute to teaching.
There are ways, it believes, for professors to incorporate the use of
computers in coursework without necessarily rethinking their approaches
teaching ("Making higher education," 1994).
The authors' premise is that Advertising and Public Relations Campaigns
courses offer professors and students a variety of opportunities to
computer-related technology and traditional coursework. Further, this
range of opportunities can rather easily be tailored to fit an
university's available resources.
The majority of four year colleges and universities and a smaller
percentage of community colleges already are connected to the Internet.
Access to the Information Superhighway will soon be universal. The
the Clinton administration is to have all the nation's schools and
libraries connected by the year 2,000 (Boldt, Gustafson, & Johnson, 1994).
Some of the benefits of incorporating the use of e-mail and the Internet
in marketing and economics courses have been discussed in several
articles. These overall benefits also apply to Advertising and Public
Relations Campaigns. Three strong pedagogical reasons are:
1. The use of the Net increases students' knowledge of
telecommunications and computer networks.
2. The use of the Net requires writing. And, according to the Writing
Across Curriculum (WAC), the more writing students do, the better
writing and analytical skills become. (Hansen, 1994)
3. The use of e-mail and the virtual classroom increases the opportunity
for student-teacher involvement. Students may be less intimidated about
asking questions via e-mail and instructors may reply confidentially.
E-mail may also
foster more student teamwork as it increases contact and collaborative
opportunities. (Baker, 1994)
Unquestionably, the use of the Internet requires and improves upon a
number of skills including: verbal, written, critical thinking,
and telecommunications. Educators have an obligation to students and
employers to develop these essential skills (Hansen, 1994).
Suggestions for Steering a Campaigns Course
In the past year, both authors (one advertising professor and the other a
public relations professor) have experimented with and incorporated the
use of e-mail and certain aspects of the Internet in their upper-level
Advertising Campaigns and Public Relations Techniques courses. The
following discussion will include the various applications/assignments
implemented, the benefits incurred, student reactions and additional
of the "Net "yet to be tried.
1. Electronic Mail--Reporting
For an Advertising Campaigns class the use of e-mail communication was
written into the syllabus as a course requirement and grading
consideration. The class was divided into competitive "agency teams"
assigned a semester-long project to develop an integrated marketing
communications campaign for a national brand.
Each student was given his or her own individual e-mail address as well
as a team distribution e-mail address. The instructor listed his
address on the course syllabus. Consequently, the instructor could
communicate via e-mail with all team members privately or collectively.
Personal and group e-mail communications were possible among each team
students. In effect, we created a virtual classroom and virtual
Each team was required to file contact/status reports via e-mail within
48 hours after weekly meetings with the instructor (client). These
were considered as part of "account service" and were factored into the
team's final grade.
The contact e-mail reports help the students organize their work and stay
on top of projects. Students learn how to write effective reports and
grow more familiar with the Internet and virtual office concept.
Importantly, e-mail reporting allows the instructor to monitor each team's
progress more effectively and provide immediate feedback.
2. Electronic Mail--Collaboration
Beyond the benefits of more frequent status reports, tighter control,
clearer expectations and immediacy, there was a noticeable increase in
instructor-student involvement and group teamwork. Both individuals and
teams frequently contacted the instructor via e-mail to ask questions
"bounce ideas around." The Net seems to be a less intimidating outlet
some students to ask questions or contribute ideas. If responses get
lengthy or complicated, they can be stored on the computer or printed out
for future use.
One complaint often heard when teaching a campaigns class is that
students have trouble finding a convenient time to meet as a team. Some
have conflicting class schedules, others work and so on. While e-mail
cannot replace the need for team meetings, it certainly can contribute
better communication and teamwork. The instructors found that the
appreciated the opportunity to establish closer working relationships with
their teammates via the Net and to have "around the clock" access. Teams
often met in the evening or late night and on many occasions would
e-mail messages for the instructor to be read first thing in the
"so everyone could be on the same page."
3. Computer-Assisted Research
When most people talk about the Internet, or the Information
Superhighway, they usually refer only to the e-mail capabilities of
network. That is like driving across country and never stopping to
out the scenery, sample the local cuisine, or visit the local
Learning how to use the Internet to conduct research "searches" is
important to advertising and public relations students and employers.
Campaigns students, especially, need recent information not found in
textbooks. Both of the authors devised a number of exercises designed to
help their students get on and off the superhighway in order to assist
their research activities.
In an upper-division public relations writing and techniques course,
students were given a series of "case" situations involving actual
companies. Although fictitious products were used in the assignments,
students were expected to obtain actual company information. This
historical background, data on current senior-level company officers,
product and service information, and company background information
relating to key issues and actions.
A frequent "client," for example, has been Apple Computer. In one "case"
situation, the students were told they were required develop a media kit
to be distributed at a press conference to unveil a new line of
In order to complete the assignment, students were required to produce
corporate history and biographical sketches of key Apple executives.
Students were instructed on how to access the Apple information online,
which they used to collect the information needed to produce the
ritten assignments. Students were also able to access company
that was incorporated into the press releases which appeared in their
media kits. Another recent assignment involved writing press releases
announcing the appointment of senior-level executives. Students were
how to access the Bell-Atlantic "Web" page and how to connect to the
biographical sketches of key executives with that company.
In order to teach students to use the Internet for research purposes, the
instructor has developed a guide, "Computer-Assisted Research: A (Very
Modest) Guide to Surfing the Internet." In this guide students are
instructed on how to access gopher servers, the Usenet and other
newsgroups, ftp archive sites, and how to conduct an "Archie" search.
Telnet and "finger" commands also are reviewed. The students also are
introduced to WWW sites.
For example, students are provided step-by-step directions on how to
access the gopher sites maintained by NASA and the National Institute of
Standards and Technology (NIST), where they are directed to archives
press releases, media advisories, additional story ideas and contact
sources, and general information. The NIST, for example, maintains a
section on its server called the "NIST Science Beat," where it "pitches"
story ideas and provides background for reporters who cover that
governmental agency. Students are also shown how to access the "Electronic
Newsstand," a gopher server that allows them to conduct, by topic and
publication, online searches of more than 100 current and recent news and
trade publications, such as Business Week, Computerworld, The
Inc. Magazine, the Internet Letter, Labor Trends, and the Western
of Medicine, to name just a few. The guide also instructs students on
to access government information available at ftp sites, such as the
complete text of the original Clinton Health Care Reform Proposal.
The goal of the exercises are to familiarize students with the resources
available online. They learn to search for information about their
"clients," their competitors, and about issues and background information
that might directly or indirectly impact their clients. Student
has been very positive. One measure of success is the quality of
being produced for the written projects and assignments. Students are
to produce "professional quality" materials using real world
and scenarios. Many include the assignments from this class in their
4. Electronic Information Services
This summer the authors' university will make available another
computer-assisted research application--Lexis/Nexis from Mead Data General,
Inc. For more than 15 years, Lexis-Nexis has provided computer-assisted
research services to business and universities. Users simply ask the
system to look for documents containing key words of their choice. The
system then scans hundreds of databases for documents and can provide
full-text or references only. Sources include: business and trade
information, news and current events, regional information, company
financials, regulatory data, government information and legal records.
Lexis/Nexis is a proverbial gold mine of information for a campaigns
class and offers a "real-world" opportunity of experience in that many
companies currently use it as a primary information resource. In one
run, the authors looked at a search of 1994 business articles containing
three key words: CHRYSLER and NEON and ADVERTISING. Our search found
articles. In future semesters, student teams will be assigned time to
Lexis-Nexis to assist their situation analyses of industries,
In addition to Lexis/Nexis, public relations students are also exposed to
information about other online services such as Dow Jones News/Retrieval,
DataTimes, Dialog, and a number of industry-manufacturing specific
services, such as EEI-Online, which is operated by the Edison Electrical
Institute. In the Public Relations Techniques course, for example,
are shown how these online services are used in media relations, news
tracking, and issues management. In addition to the news archives
maintained by these services, the students are also shown how "real-time"
searches are conducted using these services. "Real-time" searching
practitioners to track stories as they move across dozens of different
and business wires, reducing a process that once took days and weeks down
to just hours and minutes.
Overall, students embraced the idea of incorporating the Internet and use
of e-mail in their campaigns classes. They used the system throughout the
semester to file status reports, ask questions, collaborate on ideas and
schedule meeting dates with their instructor and among themselves.
reported that e-mail made communication easier and fostered better
An informal classroom survey was conducted in one Advertising Campaigns
class in order to learn more about student attitudes toward e-mail.
5-point scale (from #1 strongly disagree to #5 strongly agree),
were asked to respond to two statements:
1. It is important to learn how to use e-mail and Internet as
many companies will expect employees to use it in the future.
2. Writing e-mail conference reports is one more way to develop
good writing skills.
The mean score for the first question (n = 38) was 4.5 and 3.8 for the
second, indicating that students, overall, felt that the use of e-mail
the Internet were valuable learning experiences.
As has been argued and discussed in the paper, the authors believe that
advertising and public relations instructors must find innovative ways
incorporate the "Information Superhighway" and its services into our
curricula. Students must be introduced to the services available online
shown how those services will be applied in their work-a-day worlds.
The Internet will gradually change the way business is conducted around
the world. It will affect the physical corporate structure and
will affect the way companies communicate internally and externally. It
will create new markets. These changes provide both new challenges and
opportunities to advertising and public relations instructors. As
discussed, there is a myriad of ways to meaningfully incorporate the use of
the Internet in campaign and techniques courses. The results are better
teamwork, an improved end-product, and a more real-world experience.
effect, as we've explained, students are introduced to the virtual
of tomorrow by being exposed to a virtual classroom environment today.
We recommend that future research seek to establish an empirical link
between e-mail and Internet use and students' satisfaction, writing and
research performance. We encourage the additional sharing of "case
explicating the creative and innovative ways in which online technologies
have been incorporated into classroom instruction. Students and
alike will benefit from these exchanges.
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