II. International Conference on Communication, Media, Technology
II. International Conference on Communication, Media, Technology and Design
02-04 May 2013
Famagusta – North Cyprus
PUBLIC RELATIONS IN TURKEY: A UNIQUE TRAJECTORY DISTINCT FROM THE USA
The Graduate School of Social Sciences, MA in Corporate Communications and PR Management
Kadir Has University
It has been established that modern conceptualizations of public relations were first theorized in the United States and from there spread
around the world. The core model for this approach is reflected in Grunig and Hunt’s article “4 Models of Public Relations,” published in
1984, which demonstrates that the private sector was the primary focus of attention in the evolution of theories of public relations. The case
of Turkey, however, provides a different model, because public relations began in the public sector as the result of the prevalence of
government monopolies and as such it was the government that first began to apply concepts of public relations. It was only after the 1970s
that enterprises started to understand the importance of public relations in Turkey. This study explores how public relations in Turkey was
impacted by the fact that it was initially applied to the public sector and the implications this has had for the evolution of the concept in
subsequent years. The limitation of this study is that, to date, little work has been done on the subject, and for that reason the methodology
is based on a literature review of the material available and interviews with PR professionals and academicians.
Keywords: public relations in Turkey, public sector, private sector
This study examines the differences between the model of public relations that originated in the USA and its evolution in Turkey through a
brief discussion of examples. However, the main focus of this study is an analysis of the general literature and an exploration of
academicians’ and public relations professionals’ opinions concerning the fact that, in Turkey, public relations in the private sector only
began to develop after the 1970s as the result of the government monopoly in economics. Additionally, this paper will discuss the current
state of affairs concerning the sector as well as possible future trends.
Development of Public Relations in the USA
It is common knowledge that the USA has been a pioneer in the field of public relations profession. Although the beginning of public
relations as an organized profession is often correlated with the founding of the Institute of Public Relations in the United Kingdom and the
Public Relations Society of America, which was founded in 1948, activities that can be considered to be related to public relations date back
centuries (Harrison, 1995, p.13). According to Erdoğan, the first example of public relations in the USA dates back to the 16th century when
Sir Walter Raleigh sent a report about Roanoke Island to England to state that this new land was more fertile compared to England.
Raleigh’s aim in this report was to attract new immigrants to the first British colony in North America (2008, p.51).
Bülbül has noted that the first examples of launching a fund and raising donations date back to 1641, when Harvard University
sent a missionary team to England to publish the first fund-raising brochure called “New England’s First Fruits” (2004, p.18). Historically, it
has been suggested that public relations in a modern sense arose at the end of the 19th century during the Westinghouse electricity crisis,
when Westinghouse made Heinrich the head of the press agency in his company to respond to the claims of his rival, Thomas Edison
(Bülbül, 2004, p.21). Numerous figures have contributed to the rise of public relations as it is known today, and the most influential of these
include Ivy Lee and Edward Bernays. According to Tench and Yeomans, Lee is considered to be the first formal and widely recognized PR
practitioner. He was a publicity agent for the Pennsylvania Railroad; he stated, “business had to build bridges to a skeptical public if they
were to establish understanding and buy in to their practices” (2009, p.10).
With the emergence of social psychology and its usage as a tool of persuasion, Edward Bernays, the nephew of Sigmund Freud,
appeared on the PR stage and became known as “the father of modern PR” through his application of social psychology in his two books
Crystallizing Public Opinion (1923) and Propaganda (1928) (Tench and Yeomans, 2009, p.10). At the same time, Edward Bernays was the
first person to give courses on public relations at New York University (Işık and Akdağ, 2009, p.9). Public relations, however, was not just
used as a tool of persuasion and propaganda; after Ivy Lee’s success in the field, it was also used by “governments on both sides of
Atlantic.” First the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Lloyd George, put it to use in 1912, and later the War Department, as the first client of
Edward Bernays, made use of public relations to inform the public about their policies (Harrison, 1995, p.18).
According to Akdağ and Erdem, public relations underwent rapid development after World War I, and especially after the Great
Depression in 1929 the importance of public relations became more apparent. After World War II, PR became even more important and
widespread, reflected by the fact that a short while after the war, more than 5,000 commercial and industrial enterprises had launched
public relations departments (in Dünden Bugüne Halkla İlişkiler, 2009, p.9-10).
As the examples above suggest, even though the American government made use of public relations as a part of their
administration, public relations was primarily taken up by the private sector due to the competitiveness of the free economy system in the
USA, and only subsequently did it become a tool utilized by the government.
Development of Public Relations in Turkey
Even though this study examines public relations as it exists in recent years of the Republic of Turkey, it will be useful to note that during
the years of the Ottoman Empire, forms of public relations were utilized in the administration of the sprawling multi-ethnic and multiconfessional territories ruled over by the Ottomans. After the collapse of the Empire, relations between the government and public had
largely soured. This was the state of affairs inherited by the ruling elite of the Republic of Turkey, which was founded in 1923 under the
leadership of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, who sought to introduce far-reaching reforms, and this leadership was forced to try and improve this
situation. Bıçakçı and Hürmeriç (2011) have pointed out that the history of PR in Turkey can be traced from Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s PR
efforts in the founding of the Turkish Republic to the government program launched by Celal Bayar in 1946, and from there to the
establishment of the State Planning Organization (DPT) in the 1960s.
With the establishment of the Anadolu Agency in 1920, reforms were directly presented to the public by Atatürk himself (Ekici and
Oyur, 2010, p.34). Most of Atatürk’s applications of public relations both before and after the launch of reforms are examples of PR which
sought to promote the social development of the public. One of Atatürk’s PR strategies was the making of a speech about an issue he was
working on, and then this speech was released through the Anadolu Agency and broadcast on the radio. In this way, he spread his
message to the upper classes and society in general. Later, as a part of his strategy, he began taking trips around the country to introduce
his reforms and announce his decisions to the public (Erdoğan, 2006, p.137).
The first implementation of PR in a modern sense began with the founding of the State Planning Organization (DPT) in 1961
(Bülbül, 2004). As Bıçakçı and Hürmeriç (2011) have noted, Prof. Jan Tinbergen guided Turkey in terms of planned development and he
believed that the idea of planned development could only be successful with the help of a long-term PR plan. In a report issued in 1962 by
the Central Government Organization Project (MEHTAP), it was stated that it would be necessary to get in touch with the community in
every aspect of decision-making and implementation at every level of the government (Ekici and Oyur, 2010, p.36). This report is “important
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since it holds the implementation of PR activities and the formation of a relationship with the audience mandatory for the public institutions”
(Bıçakçı and Hürmeriç, 2011).
With the founding of the Central Population Planning Office in 1962, activities pertaining to family planning took on greater
precedence, and subsequently the Information and Public Education Office was established under the Head Office to further these projects.
As a result of positive feedback, public relations departments took on greater significance and become increasingly common (Bülbül, 2004,
p.43). Public relations were taken into consideration and regarded as important in development plans and annual programs as well. Even in
the First 5-Year Development Plan, it was stated that “the voluntary attendance of the public will be encouraged and evaluated, and
collaboration between the government and the public will be developed to increase its efficiency” (Ekici and Oyur, 2010, p.37).
Haluk Gürgen has claimed that the starting point of PR in the private sector was based on Turkish cinema, which became known
as Yeşilçam. According to Gürgen, industrialist characters were depicted both positively and negatively in Yeşilçam films. Even characters
cast in a positive role were presented as representatives of the new capitalist economy arising at the time, and they were shown as if their
only life goal was to make more money. In this way, representations of the wealthy and wealth were in fact quite negative, and some felt
that this state of affairs needed to be corrected. In light of this, leading holding firms such as Koç and Sabancı felt the need to launch PR
activities to change this perception (Bıçakçı and Hürmeriç, 2011).
In addition to the need for PR activities to change perceptions of the wealthy, PR was also needed in terms of economical
circumstances. Private sector companies which became increasingly powerful after the 1960s adopted PR as a means of defending
themselves against popular arguments against excessive consumerism (Kazancı, 2002, p.12). According to Uraltaş, after the 1970s first of
all banks and then other private companies started to establish public relations departments and launched PR programs similar to those in
the west to facilitate communication with their target audiences (Ekici and Oyur, 2010, p.35).
Alaeddin Asna, one of the doyens of public relations in PR in Turkey, established the first PR agency called A&B PR in 1974, but
the idea of a private agency was not initially welcomed at the time. Later, Betül Mardin, who is considered to be the mother of Turkish PR,
came onto the scene and after extensive experience with various firms including the Turkish National TV Channel and BBC, became a
shareholder in A&B PR (Bıçakçı and Hürmeriç, 2011).
Due to the fact that PR activities and implementations gained in importance, and also because of the launch of associate and
undergraduate degree programs in PR, a greater need arose for professional organizations. After discussions started in 1970, HİD (which
stands for “Public Relations Association”) was founded in 1972 with Alaeddin Asna as president, and he would go on to serve for seven
years as head of the organization (Bülbül, 2004, p.53-54). In 2004, the association added “Türkiye” to their name, thus becoming known as
TÜHİD (tuhid.org.tr). That same year, İDA (the Communication Consultancies Association of Turkey) was founded (ida.org.tr). Currently,
these two leading PR associations are the most important in Turkey.
Neoliberal economic policies in the 1980s brought about rapid economic changes in Turkey which also had an impact on the
development of PR (Erdoğan, 2008, p.173). Bıçakçı and Hürmeriç have noted that as a consequence of these liberal policies, “competition
with foreign products and brands brought about a need for differentiation; over time, as the need for advertising proved to be insufficient,
marketing-oriented PR started to become increasingly popular among companies.” Kadıbeşegil has also pointed out that even though there
were many successful advertising agencies working for companies, it was still difficult for them in terms of differentiation; and in the 1990s,
when times became especially difficult, an important opportunity arose for PR to demonstrate itself (2011).
By the end of the 1980s, almost every company in Turkey had a public relations department. In the 1990s, globalization also
began to impact PR in Turkey, as it had an impact on almost every aspect of business. As a result of the effects of these global trends,
public relations departments began to be replaced by corporate communication departments.
Today, PR in Turkey tends to mimic the American system, although it is generally modified to suit the needs of Turkish political
and commercial culture. These requirements have not only been shaped to reflect local norms and considerations, but also have been
molded by international relations, and especially since the 1990s this process has accelerated under the pressure of the global capitalist
market (Erdoğan, 2008, p.174-175).
Methods and Procedures
Based on a literature review, the general purpose if this study is to provide researchers with information gleaned from PR academicians’
and professionals’ opinions on the subject. For this reason, the methodology of this study was based on in-depth face-to-face interviews
and e-mail interviews. The following questions were directed to interviewees:
How would you define the current state of affairs of the sector of public relations in Turkey?
How do you see the future of public relations in Turkey?
Do you think public relations in Turkey is open to growth?
What are the factors that affect public relations in Turkey, both positively and negatively?
Compared to other countries, how would you rank Turkey as regards public relations?
With the advent of digitalization, do you think dramatic changes will take place in traditional public relations?
A. Cem İlhan
Table 1: Interviewees
Chairman - İDA (Communication Consultancies Association of
Founder & General Manager - Tribeca Communications Consultancy
Dilara Kantemir Toros
Chairwoman - Pret-a-PR Strategic Communications Consultancy,
Lecturer - Kadir Has University
Communications Consultant, Lecturer - Kadir Has University
Founder & Chairwoman - Excel Communications Consultancy
Associate Professor - Marmara University
April 3, 2013
The Current Situation and Possible Future Trends of PR in Turkey
As regards the current state of PR in Turkey, Hakan Tunçel (personal communication, March 22, 2013) stated that PR tends to make
people think of agencies, but in fact it is much more than that and should be conceptualized along with what have recently been dubbed
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“corporate communications” departments and marketing departments which are the real hosts of this sector. Other important figures are the
subcontractors of PR agencies like event and design companies, interactive agencies, freelance consultants and institutions giving public
relations education. However, he noted, the PR sector does not have concrete information about overall revenue. The annual PR revenue
in Turkey is estimated to be 100 million dollars at most, unlike the advertising sector which has an annual revenue of about 15 billion
Tunçel added that PR today is more settled, coordinated and respected compared to 20 years ago. Since the very beginning of the
profession, the primary desire has been that the management function of PR in terms of management consultancy should be shared to a
greater extent, but this has still not occurred. Today “strategic communication consultancy” is mostly used instead of “public relations
consultancy.” Even though this is a pleasant-sounding label, it is doubtful that they have a strategic effect on companies’ business
Again, according to Tunçel, such techniques as planning, presentation, project management and know-how differ little from those in
the USA. Even though media relations and event management dominate the profession, in the last few years crisis management, issue
management and corporate social responsibility have also garnered greater attention in the field and been taken into consideration. Tunçel
also pointed out that an increasing number of people have been applying to study in public relations programs and these tend to be high
caliber students, suggesting that interest in the field is growing.
Like Tunçel, Dilara Kantemir Toros (personal communication, March 29, 2013) stated that she used to work in customer relations
and at that time, PR was only thought of as media relations; she pointed out, however, that this perception has changed significantly.
Particularly with the emergence of social media, people have realized that PR is not just media relations. Also, as a result of crises,
companies have discovered the importance of pro-active crisis management. Moreover, they have discovered corporate social
responsibility even though this arrived slightly late. She also noted that as a professional she thinks that PR in Turkey has improved greatly,
based on her observations of the PRSA meetings she attends yearly. An increase in the number of qualified PR agencies and new
graduates from communications faculties has also contributed to this change, but she added that PR in Turkey needs to be more active in
terms of social media.
Toros emphasized that in the private sector, the point is to make your client earn more money. She noted that even though the
Americans do this very well, PR in Turkey is still not very efficient due to a lack of proficiency with media.
Cem İlhan (personal communication, March 15, 2013) stated that the current situation of PR in Turkey is not very promising for
the reason that it is not valued and this therefore affects its reputation, and he noted that this is the situation even in the USA and Europe.
This situation came about, he argued, when the sector first began emerging; in other words, the sector has a problem of institutionalization.
In addition, most agencies in Turkey have tended to rely on their bosses’ charisma and it has been seen that there is a lack of
organizational depth. Moreover, especially after the 2001 crisis, consultancy fees have dropped drastically, and this has reflected on profits
and investments in employees. As a result, a vicious circle has developed. Moreover, the relationship between the media and PR has
become frayed, İlhan added, just as with other professional fields.
What about the future of PR in Turkey? According to Figen İşbir (personal communication, March 21, 2013), the PR sector has
been used in business life most actively in the last ten years and this will continue to increase in subsequent years. The private sector has
taken the leading role, with government agencies trailing the private sector. However, privatization has changed the approach of
government agencies on PR; for example, in recent years the Central Bank, Halkbank and SSK (Social Security Institution) have organized
pitch meetings for the purpose of communication consultancy. İşbir also added that measurement is a serious problem for PR in Turkey. If
measurement is no longer based on media outputs, the PR sector will be able to break away and launch creative projects.
Ebru Özgen (personal communication, April 3, 2013) expressed her fear regarding the future of PR in Turkey as follows:
“Unfortunately there is no mechanism to control the process in the sector; our professional organization TÜHİD remains inadequate. In this
sense, academics and professionals should come together and come up with a viable procedure.”
Tunçel stated that 15 years ago, he would have said that strategic PR and operational PR would become separated; however, he
stated that as technology has developed, they have become are more united, and in the future this situation will become increasingly
evident. Tunçel also noted that the problem of what should be expected from PR will be solved, as with the emergence of social media, the
need for being seen in traditional media will decrease and PR will acquire a management function in the real sense by targeting other
According to İlhan, the future of Turkish PR is not promising. If the leading figures of the sector do not take the initiative, the future
will not be bright; to put it succinctly, international agencies will dominate the sector based on their alignments.
Toros emphasized that she is doubtful of the future of PR because of the situation of communication faculties and graduates. She
stresses that the curricula of communication faculties should be revised and students should graduate as self-made individuals. However,
they generally do not even know how to conduct research when they come to agencies as interns. Moreover, although PR requires strong
writing skills, they tend to write as if they were tweeting. In this way, they differ from business administration graduates who are better at
keeping up-to-date and since they not only study about PR, they are more knowledgeable of different fields. For these reasons, Toros
stated that the first generation of PR experts such as Alaeddin Asna, Betül Mardin and their contemporaries were much more successful,
and the second generation, which includes their students including Toros herself, is still doing the profession as it requires, but the new
generation will not be very promising unless they start changing.
Whether or not PR in Turkey is open to growth is a controversial issue. Özgen noted that PR is definitely open to development
and the agencies working in this area are very creative, but there are also some agencies that call themselves “PR agencies” but do not live
up to the name.
Tunçel replied that the answer to this question depends on what is understood by public relations. If it becomes stuck in media
relations and event management, it will not be possible for it to develop; but if the dimension of management consultancy increases, this will
reflect on the sector. Still, the dimension of management consultancy is in parallel with the increasing number of qualified professionals and
top executives’ awareness.
According to Toros, due to globalization and its geopolitical position, Turkey has the potential to act as a bridge between Anatolia
and Europe, and Turkey will benefit from this situation as competition increases.
İlhan stated that as Turkey’s economy develops, the sector is also growing. Compared to 2002, 2012’s economy is quite good,
but he added that he is not sure about whether this is healthy growth or not.
As for the factors that have had a positive influence on PR in Turkey, the emergence of international PR agencies and networks
in the Turkish PR scene in the mid-1990s led to the dissemination of know-how, research, measurement and strategic planning, and thus
contributed to the change of the sector, Tunçel asserted. Similarly, Toros also noted that the appearance of international companies and
agencies has been a positive asset for the Turkish PR sector since they have lent strength to the PR discipline. Students may have the
opportunity to work as interns in such agencies where they will be exposed to these cultures of work. In addition, these channels are
increasing day by day. She noted that while the magazine Marketing Turkey contributed to the field, the introduction of international
magazines such as Campaign Turkey has been of great benefit, and these are good communication channels and a positive asset for PR.
İşbir focused on international communication competitions and said that recently the “idea itself” has become important rather
than the discipline from which it emerged. She stated that the PR sector should understand this fact in order to survive and compete
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İlhan cited an example from IDA (the Communication Consultancies Association of Turkey) meetings, saying that 110 PR
professionals attended the last meeting, and added that this is a strong number and is promising for the sector as the meetings are based
on voluntarily attendance.
In terms of negative factors, Tunçel asserted that PR is expected to financially contribute to companies in a very short time just
like advertising contributes to sales; that is why there was a trend towards Marketing PR and as a result the fact that PR makes an
enormous contribution to the corporate reputation of companies in the long-term is often ignored. As a result, PR is often recognized only if
it focuses on media relations and event management.
In a similar way, İşbir stated that perceptions of PR and media relations represent a major barrier for the sector in terms of
demonstrating creativity and versatility as well as developing human resources and attracting intellectual human capital. She also noted that
customers have also contributed to this perception. In the past, customers were often inexperienced; in choosing PR agencies, they tended
to be interested in how many people the agency knows in the media and how popular the president of the agency was. PR agencies
themselves sometimes took advantage of this perception to their own benefit rather than working to change the sector.
According to İlhan, human resources represent a serious problem for PR in Turkey and noted that this is related to the country’s
education system. In American and British agencies, one communications specialist handles media relations, customer relations and
copywriting. However, the situation here, he said, is quite different; people working in communications do not know how to write effectively.
Students from communications faculties do not graduate with knowledge of law, sociology, economics and general knowledge, and thus
tend to be weak in these aspects, which is a negative factor for the development of the sector.
İlhan also depicted the situation from customers’ point of view, saying that most customers still do not know what to expect from
PR; there are some customers who are aware of the importance of PR, but their number is quite limited. Moreover, because of the sector’s
structure, customers are very powerful and this affects PR in Turkey in a negative way.
In addition to inexperienced customers and communication faculty graduates who are intellectually ill-equipped, Toros pointed out
that if PR becomes lost in misunderstood social media, this may bring further harm to the sector.
As regards the global ranking of the Turkish PR sector, Tunçel stated that PR in Turkey lags behind the USA and England, but is
far beyond Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and the Middle East. Just as European PR agencies have become partners with Turkish
agencies or have bought them, Turkish PR agencies have started to open up offices in Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Turkic
Republics; among these, Manifesto PR tops the list.
İlhan claimed that PR in Turkey is still at the beginning of a long path since as a sector it does not have the statistics showing
numbers of employees, their educational backgrounds, work experience, and so on. He added that revenue has increased 10% every year,
but Turkey is still behind the USA, England, Canada, France and Germany, and the reason for this is that consultancy fees are quite low
compared to these countries where they have a more institutionalized structure.
According to Toros, PR in Turkey out-performs the Middle East, Asia, and Africa. The USA is on top, and England is far better
than Turkey in terms of PR; but the situation in England is that most of the agencies there originally came from the USA. She added that
she was doubtful about England, but stated that surely PR in Turkey is far more developed than in Italy, where she lived and studied for
years. Toros emphasized that based on her work experience around the world, Turkish PR is not too far behind.
As regards digital PR and traditional PR, Özgen stated that digitalization has changed PR methods considerably. Companies
should be aware of the fact that physically being in the digital world and being a part of it are not the same. On this point, strategic
communications play an important role, Özgen added.
Toros claimed that digital PR does not affect traditional PR. She asserted that digitalization is quite important and is a must, but
what is done on this platform is still like traditional PR crisis management and event management. Only the medium is different, but the rest
is nearly the same; for instance, a bigger team is needed including programmers and designers in digital PR, but nothing else is really
changed, Toros remarked.
Tunçel stated that digital activities, with their popular social media aspects, used to be conceptualized as if separate experts
should take care of them, and for this reason interactive agencies boomed. He thinks this separation will disappear in the near future
because he says digital or social media tends to merely replace traditional media. Thus, not only for PR but also for other communication
disciplines, online activities have started to become a lifestyle. Tunçel suggested that even though the methods may change, the content
will remain the same; in fact, it will become increasingly important.
İlhan asserted that when the subject of digitalization arises, people make the common error of comparing apples and oranges;
but, İlhan noted, this is also seen around the world, not just in Turkey. Social media has a power that excels; with social media,
communication is still two-way, but it is more interactive. Moreover, in terms of corporate communications, social media is a serious
business that should not be left to individuals incapable of managing it. Young people who are good at technology may enter the job
market, but they may not have the communications experience which is required to manage the whole process, İlhan added.
It has been argued that public relations had its first start in the USA back in the 1600s. In terms of modern public relations, Ivy Lee and
Edward Bernays are considered to be the forefathers with their pioneering work in the private sector in the first years of the 20th century.
Later on, public relations became increasingly important for the public sector as well.
However, a reverse trend has been seen as regards PR in Turkey. While Turkish PR is said to date back to, and even before the
Ottoman Empire, modern PR in Turkey is generally accepted to have begun in the public sector in the 1940s and 1950s. In the late 1960s,
public relations began to be used by the private sector after the transition from a closed to a free economy. Compared to the private sector
in the USA, the private sector in Turkey discovered the importance of PR after a lag of nearly 60 years.
As the PR professionals indicated in this research, this delay has had many different effects on the sector. The findings show that
it is commonly thought that the PR sector in Turkey is not far behind in the global sense; while it may not be among the leading countries, it
is also not at the bottom of the list. Moreover, even though there are some doubts, especially about communications faculty graduates and
human resources generally, PR professionals are not very pessimistic about the sector’s future. In addition, there is a general view that PR
in Turkey is open to development. The positive factors influencing the sector are ranked as the opening of international PR agencies with
Turkish needs in mind, the emergence of new communications magazines as new channels of discourses, the launching of
communications competitions which grant precedence to PR ideas, and enthusiasm of PR professionals in terms of attending meetings to
develop themselves and the field. As for the negative aspects of PR, in particular perceptions about media relations and PR are thought to
be the most problematic issues, and this is followed by difficulties in terms of customers and human resources. On the subject of
digitalization and the role of traditional PR, there are varying perspectives; while some think that digital PR will never replace traditional PR,
some believe they will be united in the future.
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