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European Perspectives on Public Relations. Instructor: Richard Bailey. Excellent organisations. ‘In short, excellent organizations realize that they can get more of what they want by giving publics some of what they want.’ Grunig and White 1992 p46. Critique of symmetry / excellence.

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European perspectives on public relations

European Perspectives on Public Relations

Instructor: Richard Bailey

Excellent organisations
Excellent organisations

  • ‘In short, excellent organizations realize that they can get more of what they want by giving publics some of what they want.’

    Grunig and White 1992 p46

Critique of symmetry excellence
Critique of symmetry / excellence

  • ‘We are dealing with an attempt .. To propose a normative theory of excellent public relations. What such a position means is that vast areas of activity (three of the four of Grunig’s models) can be seen as public relations that is not quite right, dysfunctional.’ Pieczka 1996 p153

Critique of symmetry excellence1
Critique of symmetry / excellence

  • ‘What is wrong with a normative theory? Well, what is wrong with the Ten Commandments? Only that they make perfect and profound sense to the converted, but appear problematic to those who operate outside them.’ Pieczka 1996 p154

Critique of symmetry excellence2
Critique of symmetry / excellence

  • ‘How can it be possible to talk about decentralization, empowerment and trust, and at the same time claim that to be effective public relations needs to be in the dominant coalition?’

    Pieczka 1996 p154

Critique of symmetry excellence3
Critique of symmetry / excellence

  • ‘The lack of challenge leads to the development of a somewhat confused or hybrid form of systems theory achieving the status of ideology within the public relations canon.’ Pieczka 1996 p156

Critical perspectives
Critical perspectives

  • ‘Educators [in the UK] turned to the USA for undergraduate-level textbooks, especially Cutlip, Center and Broom and Grunig and Hunt… The consequence of this cultural borrowing had some interesting effects. It led to the proselytizing of the rather heavenly ‘symmetrical communication’ model, which could allow students and their teachers to feel good about their occupation and side-step criticism that they were trainee propagandists.’

    L’Etang 2008 p248-9

Critical paradigm
Critical paradigm

  • ‘The dominant paradigm in public relations has tried to build theory in a coherent way that is useful (functional) for practitioners. While there is nothing wrong with that, there are other ways of exploring and understanding public relations practice.’ L’Etang 2008 p11

Critical paradigm1
Critical paradigm

  • ‘The critical paradigm is very clearly outside the dominant paradigm. It points out the limitations of systems by asking hard questions about the possession and use of power, the nature of authority, morality and political economy. Critical academics explore questions about propaganda, corporate power, the public sphere, culture and commodification. They might also ask questions about class, race and exploitation.’ L’Etang 2008 p256

Critical paradigm2
Critical paradigm

  • ‘Postmodernism… aims to free PR from its narrow definition as organizational communication management to argue that symmetry can be seen as manipulation and management control.’ L’Etang 2008 p258

Toxic sludge is good for you
Toxic Sludge is Good for You!

  • Positive uses of PR ‘do not in any way mitigate the undemocratic power of the multi-billion dollar PR industry to manipulate and propagandise on behalf of wealthy special interests, dominating debate, discussion and decision-making.’

    Stauber and Rampton 1995

A century of spin
A Century of Spin

  • ‘This book is an attempt to reassess some of the history of popular democracy in the twentieth century by looking at how corporations have used public relations – propaganda – to secure their interests.’

    Miller and Dinan 2008 p1

Rethinking public relations
Rethinking Public Relations

  • ‘The major conclusion remains that PR has manipulated public opinion in favour of ideas, values and policies that economic and political elites (some elected) have favoured.’

    Moloney 2006 p41

  • Public sphere reconceptualised as ‘persuasive sphere’ (Moloney 2000)

Rethinking public relations1
Rethinking Public Relations

  • ‘If the Grunigian paradigm concentrates on the symmetries of organisational relationships for analysing PR, and the rhetorical approach privileges symbolic exchange between entities, the preferred concentration here is on power distributions among PR producers and consumers, and those observing their messaging.’ (Moloney 2006 p55)

Pr and the public sphere
PR and the public sphere

  • Habermas (1962, 1996) argued that PR was publicity to advance the political interests of business and advertising was publicity to advance its market interests. As such it was outside the public sphere and a negative influence on it.

    Moloney 2006 p49

Pr and propaganda
PR and propaganda

  • ‘PR is ‘white’ or ‘grey’ propaganda and will be described here as ‘weak’ propaganda’. (Moloney 2006 p71).

  • ‘Our contention is that there are no real moral distinctions: both practices are essentially amoral, capable of serving any cause.’ (Morris and Goldsworthy 2008)

Pr and democracy
PR and democracy

  • ‘The link argued here is that PR is the voice of rival interests competing for advantage in a form of public communication consistent with liberal democracy.’ (Moloney 2006 p74)

  • What is presented here is two forms of co-existence: PR propaganda and a type of democracy surviving together (neutral co-existence) without benefit to democracy; and PR/propaganda producing benefits for that democracy (beneficial co-existence). (Moloney 2006 p75)

Pr and democracy1
PR and democracy

  • ‘PR ‘sours’ pluralism through endless public argument, and tends towards a culture where ‘having arguments’ takes precedence over ‘making arguments’. PR also expresses the negative side of civil society where special pleading predominates and reinforces structural inequalities in it.’ (Moloney 2006 p87)

Pr and democracy2
PR and democracy

  • ‘[This book] argues that British PR has been on a long journey away from the exclusive servicing of dominant business interests and of government, towards more inclusive use by subordinate interests.’ (Moloney 2006 p90)

Hemispheric communications
‘Hemispheric communications’

  • ‘People who because of their defined role in society such as lawyers, advertisers, lobbyists and public relations practitioners express messages that speak to only half the landscape. Like the shining moon, they present only the bright side and leave the dark side hidden.’

    Jensen (1997) cited in Moloney 2006 p106

Public sphere
Public sphere

  • ‘The public sphere is where issues are debated and policy made’ (L’Etang 2008 p108)

  • ‘The public sphere constitutes that societal arena in which citizens convene and discuss social problems freely.’ (Ihlen et al 2009 p7)


  • ‘Public relations invades the process of ‘public opinion’ by systematically creating news events or exploiting news that attracts attention... ‘Engineering of consent’ is the central task. (Habermas 1989 p193-194 cited in L’Etang 2008 p108)

Societal perspectives
Societal perspectives

  • ‘We argue that the instrumental and administrative perspectives that currently prevail must be supplemented with societal approaches that expose what public relations is in society today rather than only what it should be at the organizational level.’ (Ihlen, van Ruler, Fredriksson 2009 p4)

Public relations as planned persuasion
Public relations as planned persuasion

  • ‘PR is the planned persuasion of people to behave in ways that further its sponsor’s objectives. It works primarily through the use of media relations and other forms of third party endorsement.’

    Morris & Goldsworthy 2008 p102

  • ‘Their [Grunig and Hunt’s] thinking would leave most real-life practitioners bemused.’

    Morris & Goldsworthy 2008 p107

Pr s persuasive intent
PR’s persuasive intent

“Our definition of public relations as the management of mutually influential relationships within a web of stakeholder and organizational relationships reflects a belief that public relations does have a strong persuasive component.”

Coombs and Holladay 2007 p2

Pr operates in the marketplace of ideas
PR operates in the‘marketplace of ideas’

  • ‘A tenet of our democratic society is the free exchange of ideas. The metaphor of the “marketplace of ideas” is often used to describe the process… Public relations is a way for people to be involved in the marketplace of ideas... Just as all defendants have the right to an attorney, all people have a right to have someone help them be heard.’

    Coombs and Holladay 2007 p23

Global perspectives
Global perspectives

  • ‘The Western definition of public relations assumes a democratic political structure in which competing groups seek legitimacy and power through public opinion and elections’ (Sriramesh and Vercic 2009 p7)

Global perspectives1
Global perspectives

  • ‘With an increase in the level of democratization of a society has come a concomitant increase in the level of sophistication of the public relations profession. There is little doubt however that strategic public relations flourishes in pluralistic societies.’ (Sriramesh and Vercic 2009 p7)

Global perspectives2
Global perspectives

  • 82% of the world’s population lives in a media system that is not free (Freedom House figures, cited in Sriramesh and Vercic 2009).


  • ‘The coordinated effort of a group that organizes voluntarily in an effort solve problems that threaten the common interest of members of the group. In the process of problem solving, core members of the group attract other social constituents or publics, create and maintain a shared collective identity among members for the time being, and mobilize resources and power to influence the problem-causing entity’s decision or action through communicative action such as education, negotiation, persuasion, pressure tactics, or force.’ (Kim and Sriramesh in Sriramesh and Vercic 2009 p82)


  • Hypothesis: ‘higher levels of economic prosperity result in concomitantly higher levels of activism’ (Kim and Sriramesh in Sriramesh and Vercic 2009 p87)

  • ‘Societies that have pluralistic political systems, free or at least partly free media systems, and greater individualism among the populace, are more likely to foster higher levels of activism requiring more symmetrical or strategic approaches to public relations practice.’ (Kim and Sriramesh in Sriramesh and Vercic 2009 p92)


  • Coombs, T and Holladay, S (2007) It’s not just PR, Blackwell

  • Grunig, J (1992) Excellence in Public Relations and Communications Management

  • Ihlen, O, van Ruler, B and Fredriksson, M (2009) Public Relations and Social Theory: Key Figures and Concepts., Routledge

  • L’Etang, J and Pieczka, M (eds) (1996) Critical Perspectives in Public Relations, Thomson Business Press

  • L’Etang, J (2008) Public Relations: Concepts, Practice and Critique, Sage

  • Miller, D and Dinan, W (2008) A Century of Spin: How Public Relations Became the Cutting Edge of Corporate Power, Pluto Press

  • Moloney, K (2006) Rethinking Public Relations: PR Propaganda and Democracy, Routledge

  • Morris, T and Goldsworthy, S (2008) PR: A Persuasive Industry?, Palgrave Macmilan

  • Moloney, K (2nd ed 2006) Rethinking Public Relations: PR Propaganda and Democracy, Routledge

  • Sriramesh, K and Vercic, D (revised ed 2009) The Global Public Relations Handbook, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates