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Public Relations

Definitions Approaches PR myths Democratizing PR Applications Methods and tools Objectives

Definitions of PR
the management of communication between an organization and its publics
(Grunig & Hunt, Managing public relations,1984)

using communication to adapt relationships between organizations and their publics

(Carl H. Botan International public relations: Critique and reformulation in Public Relations Review, Vol. 18, No. 2, 1992: 149-152)

historically, most PR has been weak propaganda

(Kevin Moloney, Rethinking PR: The Spin and the Substance, 2000)

Asymmetrical/functional approach
Publics and communications understood as means to achieve organizational ends Purpose of PR:
to generate support, trust, enhance reputation; ultimately to maximise material or other benefits through generating a more conducive social environment

Key theorist: Edward Bernays

Crystallizing Public Opinion (1923) Propaganda (1928) The Engineering of Consent (1947).

Quotes (Edward Bernays)

The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. ... We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. This is a logical result of the way in which our democratic society is organized. Vast numbers of human beings must cooperate in this manner if they are to live together as a smoothly functioning society. ... In almost every act of our daily lives, whether in the sphere of politics or business, in our social conduct or our ethical thinking, we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons ... who understand the mental processes and social patterns of the masses. It is they who pull the wires which control the public mind.
If we understand the mechanism and motives of the group mind [it would be possible to] control and regiment the masses according to our will without their knowing it. . . . Theory and practice have combined with sufficient success to permit us to know that in certain cases we can effect some change in public opinion with a fair degree of accuracy by operating a certain mechanism, just as the motorist can regulate the speed of his car by manipulating the flow of gasoline.

Symmetrical/co-creational approach
Communication, rhetoric and PR understood as joint creation of meaning that involves interested (economic, social, political) actors as well as their publics PR as relationship-management
Publics are partners in the meaning-making process, not means to an end Proposing a more ethical approach to PR

Key theorists:
Ivy Lee J. Grunig

We always tell our clients that honesty is the best policy. [] All our work is done in the open. We aim to supply news. . . . Our plan is, frankly and openly, on behalf of business concerns and public institutions, to supply the press and the public of the United States prompt and accurate information concerning subjects which it is of value and interest to the public to know about.
(Ivy Lee, Statement of Principles, 1906)

symmetrical public relations does not take place in an ideal situation where competing interests come together with goodwill to resolve their differences because they share a goal of social equilibrium and harmony. Rather it takes place in situations where groups come together to protect and enhance their self-interests. Argumentation, debate and persuasion take place. But dialogue, listening, understanding and relationship building also occur because they are more effective in resolving conflict than are one-way attempts at compliance gaining
(J. Grunig, Two-Way Symmetrical Public Relations: Past, Present, and Future, in Handbook of Public Relations, 2001)

Two myths of PR
Bernays myth
that public opinion could be manufactured for a price, bought and sold like any other commodity

Lees myth
that PR is natural, honorable and honest - part of the "twoway street" process of democratic communications between businesses and their "publics"

PR vs. propaganda
Empirically, most PR qualifies as (weak) propaganda
Communication of the powerful Seeking to justify and maintain their dominant position Insistent in tone Impatient with argument Repetitive Mixes emotion with rationality Readier to tell than listen

Notion of propaganda purged from public language in Western democracies

Pluralism, PR, and democracy

Accelerated pluralism
PR as the voice of competing values and behaviours and their representative bodies Challenge to the established power of government, big businesses and institutionalised religion No equal power and influence for all interests PR from business, government and established organizations more influential than that from NGOs, grassroot movements, etc The relatively powerless and marginalised have adopted the communicative form and style of the powerful: they were propagandised against; now they propagandise PR clashes between interest groups; almost no propaganda campaign remains undiscovered and unanswered

Pluralism, and decentralised access to means and mode of communication, is argued to gradually democratise propaganda

Applications of PR
Crisis management Reputation management Issue management Investor relations and labour relations Grassroots PR (astroturf PR)

Methods and tools

Press Conference (or "news conference")
Selection of time and place Selection of journalists Control over agenda

Press Release (or "news release")

Written statement distributed to the press Accommodating media requirements
News story style Third person Quotes Reference to media contacts

Aiming to appropriate gatekeeping function from media

Methods and tools (continued)

The Publicity Event (or publicity "stunt")
Pseudo-events, whose sole purpose is to generate media attention Accommodating media requirements
Deadlines Photo-ops

"The Circuit
Television and radio talk show appearances
Of PR spokesperson or client Tailored to reach specific audiences


Status-conferral function of media (Merton & Lazarsfeld, 1944) News vs. advertising

Management of product or brand related communications between the firm and the general public Informative activity (as opposed to a persuasive one) Aimed at obtaining favourable press coverage for a companies products

Normative concept of publicity

The philosophical concept of publicity
fittest law for securing the public confidence, precondition for putting the tribunal of the public in a condition for forming an enlightened judgment (Bentham) The public use of ones reason must always be free, and it alone can bring about enlightenment among men (Kant) the principle of the public sphere is critical publicity (Habermas)

Publicity as principle of democratic government

Openness Transparency Responsivity Responsibility

Normative shortcomings of PR
Philosophical definition ignored by PR practitioners and theorists alike Justifications of PR practice do contain some elements of the philosophical concept of publicity
PR as information PR as reputation building