German public relations
Dr Randy Hines
Susquehanna University, Pennsylvania, USA
whose products and services may not be on a
Public relations has a 150-year history in par with those in Deutschland.
Germany, starting with promotional efforts in Trust in their companies remains high for
railroad and industry. The German Council for Germans, although it has suffered a slight
Public Relations, the country’s major public decline compared with the previous year,
relations organisation, was founded in 1958 in according to the 2009 Edelman Trust
Cologne. Its recent survey found lots of Barometer (Edelman, 2009), its 10th annual
misunderstanding regarding the role of public worldwide survey of opinion leaders. It found
relations in German society. More than three that 73% of Germans trust their companies less
out of four respondents think public relations is than in 2008, compared with the global average
a form of journalism and about six out of 10 of 62%. Yet, despite the economic crisis in
said public relations and advertising are the 2009, German ‘trust in businesses to do what is
same. right’ remained relatively steady, dropping
Formal cultural customs are also followed in from 35% to 33%, based on the Edelman study.
the public relations workplace. Meetings are Yet, “trust in government to do what is right”
punctual, last names are used, and office doors increased in Germany from 27% to 35%.
are usually closed. “The most trusted companies are
headquartered in Sweden, Germany, and
Introduction Canada. These three countries have held the
Germany has been known for decades as an ‘most trusted spot’ for the past three years of
industrial leader. Its many products have had Trust Barometer surveys” (Edelman, 2009, p.
sterling reputations throughout Europe and the 8).
world. They have earned a major competitive Public relations experts in Germany would
edge in international markets. Munich-based want to use these findings to help their clients
BMW, for example, is the global sales leader in and organisations deal with this loss of trust.
the luxury-car market. The largest car Information from a CEO or government official
manufacturer in Europe is Volkswagen AG, has less credibility than in previous years. It hit
another German company. VW’s Audi AG line a low of only 19% in Germany, according to
is the world’s third-largest luxury car maker. the survey. Globally, outside experts are
The list, of course, could go on to include perceived to be the most trusted spokespersons
drug manufacturing (Bayer), electric devices for a company. An academic or industry expert
(Braun), and earth-moving equipment (Bomag). was considered extremely or very credible by
Six million people visit Munich for its 16-day 59% of the respondents (Edelman, 2009, p. 13).
annual Oktoberfest, celebrating the country’s
world-famous beer. Germany, a country of 83 Deutsche Public Relations Gesellschaft
million people, is the largest exporter in the (DPRG)
world and has Europe’s largest economy. All of The German phrase for public relations is
this quality production has created a “Öffentlichkeitsarbeit,” which means “public
marketplace in which German companies may work” or “working in public with the public
sense that the necessity of public relations and sphere and for the public sphere” (Verčič,
advertising is not as crucial as it might be for Ruler, Bütschi, & Flodin, 2001, p. 376). One
other organisations can see the application of that phrase with the
global definition of public relations that
Hines, R. (2009). German public relations. PRism 6(2): http://praxis.massey.ac.nz/prism_on-line_journ.html 1
includes in the public interest. The German • Direct communications (meetings,
Council for Public Relations (DPRG) was corporate fitness, incentives)
founded on 8 December 1958, in Cologne. It
created an ethics commission in 1988 and The PowerPoint contained ‘PR Images in
issued its code in 1991, which is binding on all Deutschland’ conducted by the University of
members. Similar to other public relations Leipzig. This undated survey does indicate
bodies, the organisation some misunderstanding about the role of public
(http://www.dprg.de/statische/itemshowone.php relations in German society. For the statements,
4?id=140) conducts conferences, workshops, the general public agreed by the following
contests, and networking opportunities for its percentages:
membership. Within the past few years it • PR is a form of journalism 77%
instituted an optional accrediting exam for its • Lobbying is a form of PR 66%
members. Almost half of its members are • PR and advertising are the same
employed as public relations counsellors. 59%
Unlike other professional organisations—such • PR and propaganda are the same
as the Public Relations Society of America or 54%
the International Association of Business
Communicators—there are no student campus The survey also asked the public about trust
chapters of the DPRG yet to help groom the in occupations and institutions. The public
next generation of public relations professionals relations profession was judged below average
(although they can join DPRG). Underfunded by the respondents. Ranked at the top on the
German universities have been victims of one (no trust) to five (high trust) scale is the
protests as proof they too need quality public federal constitutional court at 4.0. It was the
relations programmes for themselves. only one ranked four or higher on the five-point
“Thousands of less coddled students scale. Others above the three-level for trust
recently staged protests across Germany were police (3.9), radio (3.7), newspapers (3.6),
against their conditions. ‘Back journalists (3.4), television (3.3), army (3.2),
education, not banks’, demanded and Internet (3.1). Below the three-level were
protesters fed up with overcrowded public relations consultants (2.8), church (2.8),
lecture halls, crumbling campuses, trade unions (2.8), advertising experts (2.4),
tuition fees and a chaotic conversion and political parties (2.4).
from the traditional diploma to a Training for public relations employees was
European two-tier degree system” (The typically handled by the DPRG in the 1960s
Economist. p. 57). and 1970s. Public relations courses were
offered at several universities starting in the
An online English-language PowerPoint
1980s. A training and examination process was
(Luetzler, 2006) from DPRG’s Web site lists
started in 1991, called Deutsche Akademie für
several activities of its membership. Under
Public Relations, or German Academy of
instruments of external public relations are:
Public Relations (Boatner, 2009). Several other
• Oral communications
private training institutes provide skills for
• Direct media relations
public relations practitioners. No degree,
• Arranged media relations
certificate, or specialised training is required to
• Print media
enter the profession. Today about 20,000
• Event management/communications
individuals work in the public relations
• Electronic media
profession throughout the republic. Almost half
• Political PR
of them are employed in departments within a
• Other (product placements, surveys,
Germany celebrates a national Public
Relations Day, although the date lately has
Instruments of internal public relations are:
varied from May to August. The annual event
• Media transfer (employee publications,
started back in 1966.
intranet, press clippings)
Hines, R. (2009). German public relations. PRism 6(2): http://praxis.massey.ac.nz/prism_on-line_journ.html 2
DPRG is synonymous with the voluntary anything that might lead the public to wrong
self-regulating German Council for Public conclusions and to wrong behavior. I have to be
Relations. Three other organisations involved honest and truthful.
in its activities are the German Association of 2. With my work I serve my principal or
Political Consultants (DEGEPOL), the Federal employer. I commit myself to act as responsible
Association of German Press Officers (BdP), advocate of his interests and to keep him from
and the Association of German public relations harm.
Agencies (GPRA), which consists of only the 3. By my work I am involved in the
largest agencies in the country. As is attempted activities of an organisation. I am faithful to the
in most nations, these organisations self- targets and the policy of the organisation which
regulate the profession to avoid governmental I represent, as long as these are in line with the
interference in their affairs. dignity of man and his basic rights and the
All communication is vulnerable to resulting laws and rights.
dishonesty. Should the legislator 4. If I should work for an organisation
intervene in such cases? In order to which in communicating with the public fails to
avoid state interference, two institutions respect the dignity of men and fairness against
were created in early post-war Germany other organisations, I will use my best
to support the voluntary self-regulation endeavours to encourage them to correct this
of those working in the communication behaviour. If necessary, I will give back the
sector: the Press Council and the assignment.
Advertising Council. The Public 5. I will be honest and accurate in all
Relations Council, the last of the three communications to the best of my knowledge
larger institutions and founded as and belief. In communicating with journalists
recently as 1987, deviated from this and other bodies assuming public responsibility
pattern. It was established because of I will not use any unfair means. I will not
the notoriously bad reputation of the induce them to accept any kind of advantages.
public relations guild. However, today, 6. I will respect the independence and
even the Press Council claims the freedom of my interlocutors. Therefore, I will
protection of the reputation of the press not apply any instruments of power against
as an important reason for its existence them. Above all, I will refrain from any
(Avenarius. 2008). coercion.
7. I consider public relations work as a
The DPRG conducts ethical misconduct
necessary assignment to create trust, public
hearings quite unlike that of the US Public
interest and to review one’s own behavior.
Relations Society of America. The latter only
Therefore, I will not deliberately damage the
deals with its own members and has very little
reputation of my profession.
enforcement powers other than dismissal from
the organisation. The DPRG, on the other hand,
Public relations in practice
can censure not only members, but non-
members as well as individuals not even Public relations is not a new development
employed within the public relations within Germany, even though most scholars
profession. Rather than holding meetings credit the United States with its modern
behind closed doors, it publicly announces and development. “By 1890, Alfred Krupp’s
publicises its findings (Avenarius, 2007). company had a ‘news-bureau’ composed of as
The German Public Relations Council many 20 staff members” (The German public
encourages all public relations practitioners to relations business, 1987, p. 8). US practitioner
adhere to ethical standards. It publishes and and author Fraser Seitel maintains that the
promotes the seven self-commitments of a practice of public relations began in Germany
public relations practitioner (Avenarius, 2008, much earlier than many thought.
p. 14): “As in Canada, public relations developed
1. By my work I serve the public interest. I more or less simultaneously in Europe and the
am aware of the fact that I am not allowed to do United States during the 20th century. In
Hines, R. (2009). German public relations. PRism 6(2): http://praxis.massey.ac.nz/prism_on-line_journ.html 3
Germany, in particular, public relations The existence of a ‘PR bunny’
writings appeared in the early 1900s.” (Seitel, stereotype among female public
2007, p. 31) relations professionals shows a new
Wilcox and Cameron (2009) added to this devaluation of women’s soft skills by
early history of German public relations in their women and offers initial confirmation
widely used introductory textbook: of Fröhlich’s (2004) model of the
“Railroads and other large business ‘friendliness trap,’ which argues that the
enterprises began publicity efforts as far stereotyping of women as ‘natural born
back as the mid-19th century. Alfred communicators’ is being accompanied
Krupp, who founded the Krupp by a recoding process of female
Company, the premier industrial firm in attributes as deficiencies in managerial
Germany … , wrote in 1866, ‘We think tasks, professionalism, and public
… it is time that authoritative reports relations competence and, therefore,
concerning factory matters, in fundamentally threatens women’s
accordance with the facts should be ability to overcome the glass ceiling
propagated on a regular basis through effect. Interesting enough, this recoding
newspaper reports which serve an process is also applied by women when
enlightened public’” (p. 43). judging other women (p. 247).
Aspects within German culture of being Public relations practitioners have had some
formal and serious also transfer to the of their work eased when laws were passed
workplace. Employees are hard-working and allowing comparisons between competing
detailed. They prefer to follow agreed-upon products. Comparative advertising where one
guidelines exactly. Meetings and presentations item was shown as inferior to another had been
are always punctual, unlike in many other illegal. Discounts and longer shopping hours
global offices. There is a long and slow have also allowed more promotional work,
decision process that takes place. Information is especially amongst retailers. One of the recent
not readily shared since most German major public relations efforts in Germany, also
companies are compartmentalised. Office doors echoed in other countries, is encouraging
are usually closed, unlike the practice in the tourism within Germany by its own citizens.
US. Although Western traditions are slowly Caused by the economic downturn, local
being adapted in some cases, first names are holidays within the republic are increasingly
still infrequently used in the office. Co-workers being promoted as Germans eschew longer,
are addressed formally and with titles. As is more expensive trips to their normal
true in the US and other countries, women destinations, such as southern Europe.
make up a majority of the employees within Americans who come to Germany to
public relations. “In Germany, the number of conduct public relations typically make other
women in public relations is currently at 53%” mistakes beyond just conversational
(Fröhlich, Peters, & Simmelbauer. 2005, p. 80). misunderstandings of the language.
A major study about gender stereotypes in Introductions are rather formal and titles are
German public relations agencies was always important. Other cultural errors made by
conducted by Fröhlich and Peters (2007). The outsiders are being too informal (calling
authors conducted extensive interviews with 13 everyone by first names), speaking louder than
females experienced in the public relations necessary, dressing too casually, talking about
field. They determined that the field was World War II, and using product names that
becoming much more female-dominated. The backfire. Sunbeam’s Mist-Stick was a failure,
researchers developed a new gender stereotype for example, when the American company
called “the PR bunny.” discovered that mist in German was a word for
dung. Although Germany places restrictions on
Our study provides interesting findings
speech or messages promoting Hitler or Nazis,
for our understanding of women’s
it has a casual attitude toward nudity in the
careers and problems in public relations
media and advertisements. In a seven-country
by identifying ‘new’ gender stereotypes.
Hines, R. (2009). German public relations. PRism 6(2): http://praxis.massey.ac.nz/prism_on-line_journ.html 4
study regarding nudity of female models in Q: Do you think the attitude used to be, “If
primetime television commercials, German ads it’s a quality product, why promote it?”
ranked as having the highest levels of nudity, A: No! This may only be the attitude of
along with Thailand (Nelson & Hye-Jin, 2008). family-owned and family-run small specialised
“In Germany, many business managers are companies, or those that monopolise their
still convinced that an excellent product sells markets or market segments. German
itself” (Hinner. 2009, p. 45). Publicity shyness companies know that it is not enough to be
is still a factor in society. Hinner indicates this convinced about the first-class technical quality
could be because of the strong regional of their products to be successful. Therefore,
differences that contributed to the concept of the vast majority of German companies do
consensus and parity. Thus, a company might heavily promote their products, but as
not wish to extol all of its virtues and stand out mentioned before, they prefer advertising tools.
from the crowd. One example of this is this Depending on what they produce and sell, they
chapter’s US author’s consultancy with a four- do TV, print, radio or billboards if they offer
star hotel. It was suggested that a big sign be consumer products. Manufacturers of technical
erected on the back of a kiosk facing the river products attend fairs and distribute brochures,
that the hotel fronts. Cruise boat passengers and or advertise in specialised magazines. Germany
motorists on the other side of the river could is the export champion of the world. This is
easily see the sign promoting the nearby hotel. only achievable if you not only have excellent
But the German owner strenuously objected, products, but also promote your products
saying it would be “tacky” to install such a aggressively.
sign, especially on a kiosk. Q: Do you think the promotion picture has
A recently retired marketing and advertising changed and in what ways?
executive with 30 years of experience in the A: Yes, this has changed over the past 30
consumer goods industry agreed to be years. But the change is much bigger in
interviewed (anonymously) regarding public advertising spending than in public relations
relations activities in the republic today (Hines. efforts. Public relations is even now the
personal e-mails. June 22, 29, & 30, 2009). stepchild in marketing departments. If public
Q: May I ask you about the practice of relations is done, then it is company public
public relations in German companies? relations—very rarely product public relations.
A: First of all, I want to make sure we are There is one exception: If a company has a
talking about the same thing: public relations as serious image or product problem (health-
defined as all efforts to let other people—such related or legal concern), then it discovers the
as journalists and opinion leaders—talk value of public relations activities. Over the
positively about your own company or years, companies have learned to handle issues
products, and not about paid advertising. of this kind actively with the help of public
Q: Do you think German companies are as relations tools.
publicity shy as they used to be? Q: So that’s when public relations comes
A: Basically, yes, although there are off the shelf to save the CEO’s or the
improvements over the past 20 years. It company’s reputation?
depends on the size of the company. Big A: You hit the point and made it clear and
corporations are more open to public relations concise. Exactly. That is the behaviour in
activities as mid-size or even small ones. Germany. I always appreciate how Americans
Generally speaking, German companies would can express an issue in one sentence where
rather spend money in product or company Germans need a whole paragraph to say the
advertising than in product or company PR. same.
This may depend on the fact that advertising
effects are better measurable, and that Media
companies have almost always an advertising Journalists and public relations employees are
department, but not so often somebody who is more closely aligned in Germany than in many
responsible for PR. other countries, especially the UK. A credible
Hines, R. (2009). German public relations. PRism 6(2): http://praxis.massey.ac.nz/prism_on-line_journ.html 5
public relations counsellor or firm is viewed as popular throughout Germany. The weekly
a valuable source of information by members of magazines hit newsstands on Mondays or
the media. Thursdays. About 6,000 trade journals and
The traditional media landscape is changing consumer magazines are published. The two
as much in Germany as elsewhere. The news best known ones are the news weekly Der
wire service German Press Agency (DPA) is Spiegel (the mirror) founded originally in 1946,
losing revenue and clients as circulation and and the illustrated weekly Stern (star), started in
advertising income declines at member 1948. Major competitors include the monthly
newspapers. The same is true for Agence Reader’s Digest (German edition), and
France-Presse and the Associated Press, weeklies Bunte (lifestyle) and Focus (news).
according to an article in the news magazine Started in 1993, Focus was initially criticised
Der Spiegel (Brauck, Hülsen, & Müller, 2009). for short articles and lots of colour (similar to
Public relations writers send news releases the USA Today launch earlier in the US).
to major print media regularly. German (Focus magazine also created some publicity
readership rates are amongst the highest in for itself when it tried to prevent Ford Motor
Western Europe. About three out of four Company from introducing its Ford Focus
Germans over age 14 regularly read model into Germany. The magazine worried it
newspapers, compared with about half in the could lose revenue by the confusion. A German
United States. Almost all publications today court, fortunately, ruled that its citizens would
also have an online edition, thus increasing the not confuse the two.) Capital is one of many
opportunities for public relations writers to German business/financial magazines.
place content in both print and online versions. SUPERillu started in 1990 in East Berlin and
The largest quality newspapers are the still focuses most content toward the former
Süddeutsche Zeitung and the Frankfurter East Germany, where it is the highest-read
Allgemeine Zeitung. Magazines are quite magazine.
German newsstands are full of options. This section contains just a few of the
specialised magazines for law, business, and politics.
Photo Courtesy of Hotel Günther. Boppard, Germany.
Hines, R. (2009). German public relations. PRism 6(2): http://praxis.massey.ac.nz/prism_on-line_journ.html 6
Journalists adhere to ethical standards and and worked for several years in
do not expect favours from public relations Germany.
practitioners. The University of Leipzig- I say this not out of cynicism for the
sponsored survey (mentioned above) validity of the results, or a skepticism of
determined that more than three out of four this as potentially being one of
German respondents considered public Germany’s many strengths—I just
relations a form of journalism. The two share haven’t experienced enough anecdotal
many professional interests, but do follow examples of where I have seen this first
ethical guidelines. Bribing media hand to say, ‘Yes, that makes sense,’
representatives for positive portrayal in their despite lots of exposure to both markets
publications is much rarer in Germany than (Porter, 2008, n.p.).
elsewhere around the globe. Based on a white Television is still a major media source for
paper from the Institute for Public Relations, 66 most German citizens, who must pay an annual
countries were ranked on the likelihood that fee for each television set they own. As in other
journalists would accept gifts or cash in parts of Europe, German households have
exchange for news coverage: access to cable television. In many cases, public
Bribery of the media, according to the relations efforts are adopting more of an
study, is most likely to occur in China, integrated marketing communications (IMC)
Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, Bangladesh and approach. It enables an organisation to work
Pakistan. By contrast, those countries cohesively so the identical message is
with the best ratings for avoiding such reinforced by various factors within the
practices are Finland (first place); company. So advertising, marketing, public
Denmark, New Zealand and relations, sales, and IT are all delivering the
Switzerland (tied for second place). unified message to persuade targeted audiences.
Germany, Iceland, and the United One such IMC campaign was called “Aktion
Kingdom tied for third place, followed Meditech,” where more than a dozen German
by Norway. Austria, Canada, the medical technology companies worked together
Netherlands, Sweden, Belgium, and the to convince the public, governmental agencies,
United States had the fifth best rating physicians, and patients about the value of
(Kruckeberg, & Tsetsura. Institute for advanced medical technologies (Schmitt &
Public Relations White Paper. p. 1). Beeres, 2006). It used such tools as news
Germans have had mobile phones (originally releases, newsletters, brochures, TV and radio
called handies) for quite some time. In fact, spots, emails, reports, speakers, special events,
there are more mobile phones than people in interviews, websites, and dinners. It combines
Germany. Consumers buy the latest gadgets, two-way communication in an advocacy role to
including iPods, BlackBerry phones, and influence behaviour or attitude change. The
iPhones. However, social media devices (blogs, authors listed the lessons learned from the IMC
Twitter, YouTube) were slightly slower in campaign:
catching on. Still, based on a recent survey, We would like to summarise the lessons we
Germany leads other Western European nations learned from our PRs, public affairs and
in using social networking tools. Ronna Porter, political lobbying campaigns. Our key
who works in Germany, wrote that the rate of learnings are:
adoption is 72% in Germany, compared with • It takes time to establish our key
59% in the UK. messages and to promote our technologies. We
While the reasons behind this must have to realise that public relations campaigns
remain the subject for some future are a marathon, not a sprint.
research, this result will surprise • Associations, companies and
many—not the least of which is me. I stakeholders need to join forces!
have a foot in both camps as a British • We need stories and tools that
business communicator having lived emotionalise.
• We need more patient stories, pictures, online.de/upload/downloads_70upl_file/The
films. German Council for Public Relations.pdf.
• We need allies in communicating to a Boatner, B. (2009). Public relations in
broad public. Germany. Public Relations Student
To summarise it: Success takes patience and International Coalition. Retrieved 29 July,
well-informed patients! (p. 208). 2009, from
Another successful IMC branding project
was conducted in 2006 by Weihenstephan, a Brauck, M., Hülsen, I., & Müller, M.U. The
major dairy company near Munich solitary curse: Hard times for a German
(http://www.molkerei- news wire. Der Spiegel, 16 April 2009.
weihenstephan.de/wanderfuehrer00.0.html). F Edelman, R. (2009). 2009 Edelman trust
& H Porter Novelli, a full-service public barometer. New York: Strategy One.
relations firm in Munich, handled the Retrieved 30 July, 2009, from
successful multi-faceted campaign. Wanting to http://www.edelman.com/trust/2009
re-connect with its Bavarian roots, the dairy
developed a hiking guide for that region’s Fröhlich, R., Peters, S. B., & Simmelbauer, E.
popular sport. The “Weihenstephan Hiking M. (2005). Public relations und Fakten Der
Guide” was released along with a famous geschlechtsspezifischen Berufsfeldforschung
Bavarian actor providing voiceover for a [Public relations: Data and facts from
premier edition of the German hiking audio gender-specific research]. München,
podcast. News releases were sent to various Germany: Oldenbourg.
media outlets. Fröhlich, R., & Peters, S. B. (2007). PR bunnies
The 2006 “Weihenstephan Hiking Guide” caught in the agency ghetto? Gender
and podcast were also available from the stereotypes, organizational factors, and
dairy’s website. Copies of the guide were women’s careers in PR agencies. Journal of
provided to Bavarian tourism offices, hotels Public Relations Research, 19(3). pp. 229-
and restaurants. Another aspect of the campaign 254.
was a raffle with more than 500 entries co-
sponsored with a regional daily newspaper. The The German public relations business has not
winners would receive a hike led by the popular yet declared itself essential for industry and
Bavarian actor Elmar Wepper. it still has to prove itself. (April 1987). PR
According to one study, almost three out of World, p. 8.
four Germans used the Internet during 2007, Hinner, M. B. (2009). Culture’s influence on
more than the European average. But the use of business as illustrated by German business
the Internet had not impacted traditional media culture. China Media Research, 5:2. pp. 45-
usage. Most citizens still get brand information 54.
from their televisions (Quoc and Favier, 2008).
Kruckeberg, D., & Tsetsura, K. (2003).
Much progress in the use of social media will
International index of bribery for news
be a major agenda item for German public
coverage. White Paper for the Institute for
relations departments in the future.
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the interests of open dissemination of scholarly
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