Developing risk-literate public relations: threats and opportunities

Chris Galloway


This paper argues that without a commitment to developing “risk literacy” in public relations, Palenchar’s positioning of risk communication as “one of the stronger contributions to the public relations body of knowledge” (2010, p. 448) is undermined because the contribution is relatively untapped. Risk literacy is a sufficient familiarity with risk studies and risk communication research to enable them to be applied in productive conjunction with more traditional approaches to risk issue campaigns. It is vital because when it comes to risk, “some forms of communication enhance understanding; others don’t” (Gigerenzer, 2002, p.32). Academics daring enough to expand their disciplinary vision could help produce risk-literate graduates, but would need to adapt curricula. Risk-literate practitioners would pay more attention to the antecedent phenomena of risk perceptions and anxieties that may be the root of the issues and crises they and their clients face. But such changes would spotlight an identity issue for PR: what is its role when other professionals with a specific risk or risk communication mandate are involved? The paper proposes a strategy based on cross-disciplinary partnerships. It concludes that risk-literacy would credential PR’s involvement and build recognition of risk communication’s place in the public relations canon, thereby supporting Palenchar’s assessment.


risk; risk-literate; risk communication; issues; crisis

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The University of Newcastle
ISSN - 1839-8227