Public Relations: Faculty Research

Liz Gardner, Ph.D., in class

Liz Gardner, Ph.D.

The graduate faculty in public relations is a group of researchers with overlapping interests in public relations and strategic communication, including foci in political communication and health communication.

At TTU, public relations research is an umbrella concept that encompasses how organizations, be they private or public, use strategic communication. This includes mediated and interpersonal communication designed to cultivate and maintain relationships with strategically important publics (i.e., stakeholders), where persuasion either acts as a means for advancing these relationships or as a strategic goal that is achieved through fostering these relationships.

As such, from our perspective public relations research casts a wide net, encompassing media effects, persuasion, political communication, health communication, crisis communication, organizational communication, strategic communication, and media relations.

Please click the links below to learn more about our research in health communication and political communication.


Health communication research combines evidence-based best practices and theoretical principles from a range of academic disciplines to promote health-related knowledge, attitude, and behavior change. In the Department of Public Relations, this research is supported by connections with faculty in related disciplines, access to underserved populations, strong ties with the College’s Institute for Hispanic and International Communication, and state-of-the-art equipment and facilities (such as eye tracking, psychophysiology labs, dedicated experimental labs, and focus group and interview rooms).

Our health communication research often takes one of two paths: campaigns and lab experiments.

Theory-based health communication campaign design and evaluation typically involves creating and testing messages and strategies designed to improve health outcomes then implementing and evaluating a campaign with the public. These projects allow us to not only test theoretical principles, but also to apply those principles to create real-world change with the communities who need it the most.

Examples of recent campaign research:

Dr. Autumn Shafer along with two faculty members in journalism has recently begun research for a funded campaign development project in partnership with the Komen Breast Cancer Tissue Bank to encourage more Asian-Americans to donate healthy breast tissue in support of breast cancer prevention and treatment research.

Drs. Coy Callison, Trent Seltzer, and Liz Gardner are working with emergency departments in a Northeastern hospital system to sustain internal communication training for healthcare providers, with the ultimate goals of reducing medical errors, fostering a culture of support among staff members, and improving patient satisfaction.

Dr. Autumn Shafer, in partnership with a colleague at the University of Texas at Arlington and the directors of two major eating disorder treatment clinics, are evaluating the effects of a health communication campaign that was designed to promote caregiver wellbeing for parents of children with eating disorders.

Lab-based experimental research on health communication frequently examines individual processing and effects of health-related media and messages. This experimental research seeks to advance the field of health communication by testing and building theory and informing future campaigns.

Examples of recent experimental research:

Dr. Liz Gardner is working with colleagues in the College and at the University of Missouri to develop message strategies, such as narrative structure and focusing on consequences to friends/family, that reduce resistance to health recommendations for diabetics, focusing primarily on Hispanic diabetics.

Dr. Autumn Shafer is working with an undergraduate student to study differences in the content and characters shown on episodes of MTV’s 16 and Pregnant, which may lead to different effects on pregnancy avoidance beliefs and behaviors in teens and young adults.

Dr. Liz Gardner is conducting a study with several graduate and undergraduate students using psychophysiological methods to test the cognitive and emotional processes involved in resistance to health recommendations, in an effort to understand how message creators might circumvent this resistance.

Dr. Autumn Shafer is examining the effects of exemplars and statistics on key persuasion variables for the promotion of STI testing and treatment among college students.


Simply put, political communication research investigates the interface between communication and politics. It is a process by which political actors and institutions, media, and citizens exchange information and construct meaning on messages that have consequences for the conduct of election campaigns and governance.

The political communication researchers in the Department of Public Relations have expertise in two major areas. First, we combine the media effects approach and public relations theories to comprehensively examine the interface between political communication and public relations, be it social capital theory and relationship management theory (RMT) in the public relations literature or between agenda building and agenda setting and RMT. Dr. Seltzer and Dr. Zhang are among the first to apply RMT theory and models of organization-public relationships (OPR) to the election campaign and public policy issue contexts and investigate how strategic communication endeavor influences the relationships between political entities and their specific publics.

Sample publications in this area are:

Seltzer, T., & Zhang, W. (2011). Debating healthcare reform: How political parties’ issue-specific communication influences citizens’ perceptions of organization-public relationships. Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, 88(4), 753-770.

Seltzer, T., & Zhang, W. (2011). Toward a model of political organization-public relationships: Antecedent and cultivation strategy influence on citizens’ relationships with political parties. Journal of Public Relations Research, 23(1), 24-45.

Zhang, W., & Seltzer, T. (2010). Another piece of the puzzle: Advancing social capital theory by examining the effect of political party quality on political and civic participation. International Journal of Strategic Communication, 4, 155-170.

Our second research stream lies in the crucial role of new media, especially social media, in the political process. Working with researchers from other departments within the College, we investigate the influence of social network sites in social capital, civic engagement, and political participation. At present, we are examining the dual effects of social media (polarization and mobilization) in the 2012 presidential election campaigns. Our ultimate goal is to understand the crucial relationships between social media use, strategic communication and public relations effort and public opinion, political behavior, and public policy.

Sample publications in this area are:

Johnson, T.J., Zhang, W., Bichard, S.L., & Seltzer, T. (2010). United we stand? Online social network sites and civic engagement, in Z. Papacharissi (ed.) Networked self: Identity, community, and culture on social network sites (pp. 185-207). New York: Routledge.

Zhang, W., Johnson, T., Seltzer, T., & Bichard, S. (2010). The revolution will be networked: The influence of social network sites on political attitudes and behaviors. Social Science Computer Review, 28, 75-92.

Center for Communication Research

The Center for Communication Research (CCR) is housed in the College of Media & Communication, and it provides comprehensive research services to Texas Tech University and clients in both public and private sectors. The CCR's position within the university allows it to undertake research projects that are both academic and applied in nature.

The CCR is equipped with a 20-station computer-assisted telephone interviewing (CATI) phone bank, Internet survey technology and focus group facilities. As such, the CCR provides telephone survey, focus group, mail survey, and interviewing research services to faculty as well as business clients.

The CCR also provides public relations faculty with state-of-the-art research technologies, such as the Ortek, an Electrodermal Response system and an eye-tracking system.

The Ortek is a continuous and instant data collection system that records audience reaction to media content during consumption of the content. The Ortek system is uniquely suited to gauge real-time perceptions of radio and television messages. The system is commonly employed in copy-testing advertisements and in the gathering of audience reactions to televised political debates and speeches. Faculty members are currently utilizing the system in research efforts aimed at uncovering how corporate response to crisis is perceived by stakeholder publics at the very moment that information is conveyed from public relations practitioners to audiences.

The Electrodermal Response, or EDR, system measures heart rate, skin conductivity and facial responses. The EDR measures media effects on a person's subconscious and below the threshold of conscious consideration. Currently faculty members are using the ERD system to determine what components of a message draw attention from consumers.

The eye-tracking system is the key to conducting research on readers' and viewers' attention to messages or stimuli in advertisements, news stories, commercials and/or information contained in newspapers, magazines, computer screens and televisions. The eye-tracker measures eye responses to movement, color and images based on the person's interest and fixation. How the structural features of a message draw gaze, and ultimately interest, is of key concern to public relations researchers who are attempting to uncover how messages can best be constructed to achieve intended results.