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An overview of Public Relations in Latin America Maria Aparecida Ferrari, Ph.D Universidade Metodista de São Paulo São Paulo, Brasil Latin America : 371.5 million inhabitants 26 m. 43 m. 13 m. 189 m. 28m. 9 m. 6 m. 16 m. 3,5 m. 38 m. Structure of the study

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an overview of public relations in latin america

An overview of Public Relations in Latin America

Maria Aparecida Ferrari, Ph.D

Universidade Metodista de São Paulo

São Paulo, Brasil

latin america 371 5 million inhabitants
Latin America : 371.5 million inhabitants

26 m.

43 m.

13 m.

189 m.


9 m.

6 m.

16 m.

3,5 m.

38 m.

structure of the study
Structure of the study

The study is based on research conducted by Vercic, Grunig and Grunig (1996) and explores the importance of identifying six specific applications:

  • Culture (including language);
  • The political system;
  • The economic system;
  • The media system;
  • Level of economic development:
  • The Extent of Activism.
reasons for the lack of integration in latin america
Reasons for the lack of integration in Latin America
  • The cultural barrier imposed by language has hindered the absorption of the PR knowledge base among researches working in Portuguese and Spanish;
  • Spanish is spoken in all Latin American countries except for Brazil, where Portuguese is the national language;
  • The Northern Hemisphere has functioned as the point of reference for management models and local professional practices;
  • The rejection of anything local, to the benefit of the foreign as a model for society, since local cultural practices are ignored.
major obstacles
Major Obstacles
  • Recurrent economic and political crises which have affected the rate of development of all countries in the region;
  • Uneven access to technology has resulted in unbalanced digital inclusion in most countries;
  • Insufficient investments in human resource development and academic research;
  • Low quality of the programs offered by Latin American universities, particularly in the field of communications;
  • The reduced number of research projects and specialized publications on Public Relations.
beginnings of public relations in latin america
Beginnings of Public Relations in Latin America

Country Decade Area Foreign Governmental

Companies Sectors

Brazil 1910 Business X

Mexico 1930 Business X

Colombia 1940 Business X

Panama 1940 Both X X

Peru 1940 Business X

Venezuela 1940 Business X

Uruguay 1950 Governmental X

Argentina 1950 Business X

Bolivia 1950 Governmental X

Chile 1950 Business X

the political system
The political system
  • For the past fifty years, Latin America has been overwhelmed by the power of military dictatorships which deeply affected society as a whole.
  • Few Latin American countries escaped military rule.
  • The power of the military dictatorships rested on the doctrine of National Security, whereby the armed forces were awarded the role of political guardians.
  • Repression and censorship were the principal means for maintaining power.
  • Most of these regimes entered into strategic alliances with the United States of America in their struggle against Communism.

Censorship and dictatorships

Folha de São Paulo – 28/12/2007 – A4

general features of the military period
General features of the military period
  • Strict censorship of mass communication media.
  • Newspapers and radio were the major vehicles for the diffusion of information;
  • Television arrived in South America during the 1950’s and, in practically all countries in the continent, was introduced by the State.
  • Television was an essential component of the manipulation of the mass media by the military, but, paradoxically, it would also become the passport to modernization;
  • The establishment of Non Profit Organizations in Latin America by a substantial number of European foundations was to facilitate the access to political power by community organizations.
the brazilian military and federal law 5 377
The Brazilian military and Federal Law 5.377
  • Federal Law 5.377, published December 11, 1967, regulates the professional practice of Public Relations in Brazil;
  • The law defined the profession through a set of specific controls that established rigid parameters and sanctions for the practice of PR, which was not the case in other Latin American countries.
  • Brazil was to become the first country in the world to adopt specific legislation for the practice of Public Relations;
  • In 1967, the School of Arts and Communication of the University of São Paulo created the first four-year professional university-level degree program in Public Relations;
  • While Brazil instituted a university-level PR degree by Federal decree, neighboring countries created, at first, non-degree granting university-level programs.
the economic system
The economic system
  • The modernization of South America in the 60’s and 70’s was based on a model of economic growth that required the transformation of both the State and society.
  • The military promoted themselves as the alternative to social, political, cultural and labor unrest that had emerged as a by-product of the exploitation, discrimination and oppression of the less able elements of society.
  • In Chile, the presence of the military was associated with the neo-liberal policies that would become the essential element for modernizing the economy.
  • Latin American societies reflect the policies and practices of local political and economic systems.
  • The general behavior of society defines national and organizational culture.
  • As a result of Spanish and Portuguese colonization Latin American countries developed unique national identities that, due to the effect of local culture, created specific management models which are not always easily understood by foreigners.
features of latin american societies
Features of Latin American societies
  • Elitist societies / generalized degree of social dissatisfaction / inequality.
  • Individualistic orientation (personal benefit above all).
  • Oriented to the “here and now”.
  • Low orientation to high performance results.
  • Gender inequality.
  • Low social solidarity.
  • Latin America does not follow the values development of more developed countries, and is currently undergoing profound cultural introspection to reaffirm traditional values.
level of development
Level of development
  • Poverty: The goal to drastically reduce poverty levels, established in 1990, has been achieved by those countries that represent more than fifty percent (50%) of the region’s population.
  • Education: Universal primary level schooling is close to being achieved by most Latin American nations. The increase of secondary level schooling may be more aligned , however, with the reduction of educational inequality as a whole.
  • Gender: The elimination of gender inequality is far from being achieved. Males continue to outnumber females in most professions and organizations.
  • Infant mortality: The reduction of infant mortality by two thirds may be too high for most countries in the region. Infant mortality for children less than five years of age is greatly influenced by neonatal mortality. The reduction of this type of mortality requires the application of specialized medical skills and infrastructure.
the extent of activism 1
The Extent of Activism (1)
  • The influence of activism on governments and on society has been limited, despite the increase in the number of NGOs during the last few decades.
  • In the majority of Latin American countries, large landowners still comprise the most influential social group, and for this reason land reform remains stagnant.
  • NGOs have become a greatly profitable business. The legions of paupers following two decades of neo-liberalism in Latin America have provided NGOs with an inexhaustible source of “target publics”, or an excuse to exist.
  • Through actions in the name of public services with State aid, those organizations are accomplices to the governments, for example, in the sub-contracting of public services.
  • One can not ignore, however, that some issues have been successfully advanced, partly due to international pressure groups whose influence extends to Latin American countries.
the extent of activism 2
The Extent of Activism (2)
  • Society expects that all organizations should be ethical in their operations.
  • Social Responsibility is a way of conducting business that makes an organization co-responsible for social development.
  • The commitment to ethics has become a key factor for the survival of private and public organizations;
  • Business and government is now monitored by organizations which promote business ethics and Social Responsibility.
the media system 1
The media system (1)
  • A substantial part of the media system in Latin America is controlled by important economic groups.
  • Communication systems are defined by profit. Messages are linked to products. Legislation is aligned with the interests of the elite.
  • Public service, education, culture and the arts are restricted to reduced spaces in the media or to public media suffering from financial woes.
the media system 2
The media system (2)
  • The beginning of massification in Latin America coincided with populist governments and with the construction of national identity, where the cultural industry was assigned a significant mission.
  • Television was extensively used to promote national unity in the second phase of the massification process. The first phase of the process relied on the extensive use of radio and in some cases the cinema.
  • With the advent of the new technologies, internet has become the new channel of communication.
  • Research reveals that the internet has afforded “digital inclusion” to millions of individuals who seek instant access with the rest of the world.
current status the influence of foreign pr
Current status: the influence of foreign PR
  • The teaching of Public Relations in Latin America has been significantly influenced by theories developed in the United States of America and, to a lesser degree, Europe.
  • As a result, the region has become dependent on concepts and instruments which, quite often, are not suited to the particular contexts of the region.
  • More than 150 definitions and distorted interpretations of the concept of Public Relations subsist;
  • Theoretical underpinning is deficient, as the rationale for PR is provided by foreign bibliography and, more often than not, is influenced by personal preference;
  • It was only during the 1990’s that local studies and bibliographies began to emerge.
the decline of public relations associations
The decline of Public Relations Associations
  • The associations are not empowered to legitimate the profession and membership is scarce. The problem, moreover, is common to the entire region;
  • Up to the 90’s mission of the Interamerican PR Confederation (CONFIARP) was the integration of national associations with a focus on university-level education as the main building-block for the practice of Public Relations.
  • Private universities multiplied in all the countries of the region. CONFIARP however was unable to monitor the creation and development of university-level Public Relations and Communications programs.
  • The same can be said of national Public Relations associations. In Brazil, for example, ABRP exercised a predominant role in the training of PR professionals and in the promotion of national and international scientific events. However, during the 90’s both ABRP and the official federal organization, CONFERP, saw the wane of their influence and prestige.
general overview of public relations
General overview of Public Relations

1950 1960 1970 1980 1990 2000

Short-term and tertiary courses


University programs

Colleges and Associations

journalists x public relations practitioners
Journalists x Public Relations practitioners
  • With globalization, many organizations sought highly qualified Communications professionals regardless of their degrees.
  • In Latin America, journalists were generally at the helm of Public Relations departments. The reason may be less related to their almost intuitive understanding of the profession than to the influence that Journalism exercises on society as a whole.
  • Public Relations, in point of fact, is a professional activity practiced by Journalists in many Latin American countries.
  • Since many countries in the region paid no attention to the establishment of specific university level Public Relations education, it can be safely assumed that the Journalist, in general, exercises the role of Public Relations in most organizations.
conclusions 1
Conclusions (1)
  • The national plurality of Latin American nations has gone largely unnoticed.
  • The study of the integration of pluricultural and linguistic democracies (as was the case in Europe during the 60’s) is just beginning.
  • It is time to begin the study of these realities in Latin America.
  • The problems to be explained elude the recipes of those nations which speak a single language.
  • Public Relations are developing their own process definition because of the freedom of expression and the political and economic moment enjoyed by most countries in Latin America.
conclusions 2
Conclusions (2)
  • Organizations have become global players whose influence and sphere of action goes well beyond geographic frontiers.
  • The global language is English and its practice has helped to bring the world closer.
  • Formal PR education, developed through university-level programs, has prepared professionals who have acquired the competencies to meet ever more competitive market demands.
  • Today, Public Relations are defined as the management of relationships between organizations and their strategic publics.
  • Social responsibility and sustainability have helped organizations to become transparent with society.
  • The world has become a network of permanent relationships!