Intercollegiate athletics directors (ADs) in the United States are high-profile representatives of their departments and universities. Their publics include media, sponsors, donors, fans, faculty, students, and government officials. However, few studies have explored ADs from a public relations perspective, especially regarding their understandings of public relations. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to learn how ADs understand public relations in the context of their athletics departments. A phenomenological approach was used to pursue this purpose. In-depth interviews were conducted with 12 National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I ADs. Their transcripts were analyzed using comparative-analysis procedures. The findings show that the participants understand public relations as integrated impression management: a combination of image, message, and action/interaction. Integrated impression management ties into ideas from Goffman (1959), as well as systems theories of public relations. However, the results also imply that ADs do not necessarily separate public relations from other disciplines such as marketing.
The author is with the Dept. of Communication, Bradley University, Peoria, IL.