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Models of Public Relations

Communication may be managed in several ways, depending upon the culture of the organization and the way the organization looks at the world. Grunig and Hunt identified four models of public relations that have been practiced in the history of public relations. By "model," they mean four typical ways in which organizations practice public rela­tions. Some of these "models" of public relations are more effective than others, however. Some also are more ethical.

The press agentry model describes public relations programs whose sole purpose is getting favorable publicity for an organization in the mass media. P. T. Barnum's promotion of his circus was one of the earli­est examples of press agentry. It also is common in the work of publi­cists who promote sports, movie stars, products, politicians, or senior managers.

The public information model is similar to press agentry because it too is a one-way model that sees public relations only as the dissemination of information. With the public information model, an organiza­tion uses "journalists-in-residence"—public relations practitioners who act as though they are journalists—to disseminate relatively objec­tive information through the mass media and controlled media such as newsletters, brochures, and direct mail.

Both press agentry and public information are one-way models of public relations; they describe communication programs that are not based on research and strategic planning. Press agentry and public in­formation also are "asymmetrical" or imbalanced models—that is, they try to change the behavior of publics but not of the organization. They try to make the organization look good either through propaganda (press agentry) or by disseminating only favorable information (public information).

Public relations practitioners who take a professional approach base their communication programs on more sophisticated and effec­tive models. The two-way asymmetrical model uses research to develop messages that are likely to persuade strategic publics to behave as the organization wants. Two-way asymmetrical public relations is scientific persuasion that uses the services of research firms to plan mes­sages. Because it includes research on the attitudes of publics, it is more effective than press agentry or public information.

Two-way asymmetrical public relations is also a selfish model, how­ever, because the organization that uses it believes it is right (and the public wrong) and that any change needed to resolve a conflict must come from the public and not from the organization. The model seems to work reasonably well when the organization has little conflict with a public and the public stands to benefit from a change in its behavior. For example, even though members of a target public for a health campaign may resist changes in behavior to prevent a heart attack or AIDS, they do benefit from changes advocated by the campaign.

Research on these models suggests, however, that two-way asymmet­rical public relations—like its fellow asymmetrical models of press agen­try and public information—is less effective than a "symmetrical" model of public relations. It is especially less effective when an organization ex­periences greater conflict with a public. For example, environmentalists seldom can be persuaded that a polluting organization is not polluting. Antinuclear activists seldom are converted to supporting nuclear power plants. Members of employee unions seldom can be convinced that low wages are high or that poor working conditions are good.

Rather, they want the organization's mission to include the problems they consider relevant. They want to participate in the decisions about what to do with the problems. They want balanced, "symmetrical" communication with the organization. They want dialogue rather than monologue. They want the organization to be persuaded equally as often as they are persuaded.

The fourth model, the two-way symmetrical, describes a model of public relations that is based on research and that uses communication to manage conflict and improve understanding with strategic publics. Because the two-way symmetrical model bases public relations on relations and compromise, it generally is more ethical than the other models. It does not force the organization to make the choice of whether it is right on particular issues. Rather, two-way symmetrical public relations allows the question of what is right to be settled by negotiation. since nearly every side to a conflict—such as nuclear power, abortion, or gun control—believes its position to be right.


Starting to talk about strategic planning, let’s again compare organizations with humans. People tend to plan everything in their lives: they enter universities because they want to get a good job, they take a badly-paid job because they need experience for their career, people always do something for the sake of something else, even when they don’t want to do it but the final target requires it. Those who plan their lives are considered by most people successful, those who don’t – losers that waste their lives. Of course this is a philosophical question, but it is still quite demonstrative. People PLAN things. Why? Because they want to achieve something. Sometimes it takes hours, sometimes – the whole life. Organizations are like people: if they want to get something, they must plan, develop a strategy. If they don’t their actions don’t serve one purpose and are random, so the result won’t be successful, at least not the same as with strategic planning. The idea is that strategic planning is crucially important.

Nowadays especially in Russia things are done without any strategic reasons. Companies don’t usually have any PR specialists, so if they undertakes activities they don’t actually realize for what purpose. For example, it is fashionable now to gain publicity. So companies want to be known “just because”. A good example here would be an oil company that organized several rock concerts for young people. Does an oil company need to be recognized among young people? No, it doesn’t. So what was the purpose? Just because companies do it.

Another example. A KMB bank, which deals with financing small business, conducted a special event. They made a party for orphans and at the end of it let a hundred balloons with their symbols into the air.

So, the point is that an organization should do something not because its boss wants to do it, not because it is fashionable, but because the company needs it.

When a football team steps out on the field, the players have no control over the strategies and tactics the other team will use. Nobody can predict the breaks that will alter the course of the game. In the face of these uncertainties, the coaches develop a "game plan" around which they can organize their actions. The game plan might call for maintain­ing a deliberate, controlled ground game using certain players to run certain patterns at the perceived weaknesses of the other team. Specific plays are selected because they will deliver what the general game plan calls for. The main idea, of course, is to win by doing what your team does best.

Successful organizations also base their actions on a game plan. The process starts with the enunciation of a mission statement. This is an im­portant part of strategic planning, as it was discussed. For a manufacturing company, the mission statement might include "mak­ing a fair profit for our stockholders by developing and distributing the highest-quality goods to a national market." The mission statement also might cover "treating our consumers and employees fairly and being good citizens of the communities where our facilities are located."

A nonprofit organization's mission statement