Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department

Mass Communications

Major Professor

Kelly Page Werder, Ph.D.

Co-Major Professor

Scott Liu, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Michael Mitrook, Ph.D.


safety communication, public relations process model, situational theory of publics, theory of reasoned action, organizational activism


This study explored the effect of public relations message strategies on beliefs,

attitudes, and behavioral intentions of individuals regarding boater safety. An experiment

was conducted using seven safety messages. Specifically, Fishbein and Ajzen’s (1975)

theory of reasoned action and J.E. Grunig’s (1997) situational theory of publics were

used to examine the communication effects of message strategies proposed by Hazleton

and Long’s (1988) public relations process model.

The findings of this study support the predictions of the theory of reasoned

action—that salient beliefs predict attitude toward behavior and attitude toward behavior

and subjective norm predict behavioral intent. Of the three attitude items measured—

attitude toward message, attitude toward issue, and attitude toward organization—salient

beliefs had the greatest effect on the attitude toward issue measure. Subjective norm was

shown to be the stronger predictor of the three attitude items.

In addition, support was found for the predictions of the situational theory of

publics. The independent variables—problem recognition, constraint recognition, and

level of involvement—were found to predict information seeking behaviors. However,

the use of public relations message strategies in boater safety communication produced

minimal effects on the same variables. It was determined that the power strategies, threat

and punishment and promise and reward, would be most effective when communicating

to a passive public such as the sample tested in this study.

This study is significant to public relations literature because it examined how

active boaters and non-boaters perceive safety messages. There appeared to be no

research on the use of safe boating messages. Thus, there was no research on how public

relations messages about boater safety affect boaters’ attitudes, awareness, and behavioral

intentions prior to the implementation of this study. Determining effective boater safety

messages will help to reduce boater accidents, injuries, and fatalities in years to come

(U.S. Coast Guard, 2009), making this study both necessary and original.