Public Relations Theory II
Edited by Carl H. Botan and Vincent Hazelton
Lawrence Erlbaum, 2006
There is much of value for the PR practitioner and for the PR scholar/theorist in this volume, which updates “Public Relations Theory,” published in 1989. The editors note the ”huge changes” in the field since the late 1980s. Botan and Hazelton write that, to be more like colleagues in the social sciences, humanities, and the rest of communication, public relations scholars need to encourage the development of additional and different theories of public relations. Second, they need to engage in frequent and public debates over the merits and weakness of all theories of public relations.
The themes that really jumped out at me:
1. The ‘co-creational’ perspective of PR, which sees publics as co-creators of meaning. Publics are a self-standing and often self-directing force in public relations, and communication makes it possible to agree to shared meanings, interpretations, and goals. The editors argue that co-creation will be at the core of PR theory development in the next decade or two.
2. Excellent PR departments will design their communication programs on the two-way symmetrical model of communication, rather than the press agentry, public information, or two-way asymmetrical models. Two-way symmetrical PR attempts to balance the interests of the organization and its publics. It is based on research, and it uses communication to manage conflict with strategic publics. As a result, two-way symmetrical communication produces better long-term relationships with publics than do the other models of PR. Symmetrical practitioners are loyal to both their employers and to the publics of their organizations.
3. “Relationship management” represents a fundamental change in the function and direction of PR. It’s a movement away from traditional impact measurements, such as the quantity of communication messages produced, or number of stories placed in the mass media. It encourages evaluating PR initiatives based on their impact on the quality of the relationship between an organization and its publics. Communication becomes not the focus, but rather a tool in the initiation, nurturing, and maintenance of organization-public relationships. The quality of relationships results more from the behavior of the organization than from the messages that communicators disseminate.
4. To this day, many PR practitioners continue to think of PR as mostly publicity and media relations. Many others have broadened their vision and see public relations as part of the strategic management function through which organizations interact with their publics, both before and after management decisions are made.
The books is divided into two major sections: “Foundations” and “Tools for Tomorrow.” One group of chapters addresses how PR should be understood and practiced. A second group takes theories that have been fruitful in other areas of communication, the social sciences, or business, and consider their application to public relations. Chapters in the third group theorize about a specific area of public relations practice, for example, crisis communication, issues management, or media relations. Fourth are chapters in which authors reconsider PR theories and research that have been given relatively little attention in the past, or that hold particular promise for the future of public relations.
“We feel quite strongly that whatever emerges as public relations theory in the next couple of decades is likely to be fundamentally different from what has gone before,” the editors write, “in part because it will be more international and intercultural in its assumptions, audiences, and challenges.”