Public Relations Theory II

Book Review
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.”

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9 Responses to Public Relations Theory II

  1. Nice summary, Paul. And yes, there is indeed much of value in PRTII. We use this text in our first graduate course, PR Theory & Practice, at Kent State, as it articulates the symmetrical paradigm well, and it moves theory-building forward. That said, our students don’t share this high opinion of Botan & Hazelton’s book, as so much of the prose is downright difficult to access. I can’t argue their point.

    Why we do this to ourselves I’ll never understand. As one of my esteemed colleagues likes to say: Before you submit anything (academic) for publication, you must run it through the “dull-a-tron.” He has accepted convoluted writing as part of the academic culture. I’m still fighting the battle for clarity. I await the day that academe places the same value on clear communication as our sisters and brothers in PR practice. Thankfully, I’m a patient man.

  2. paul says:

    Thanks, Bill. You’re right that it takes determination to plow through some of the prose. When I was a grad student in English I found that the farther along I went, the more arcane the academic language became. Each discipline evolves its own metalanguage, accessible only to insiders. Fortunately, there’s a budding movement within the American Educational Research Association to alert researchers to the benefits of learning to write to a general audience. A panel at the April conference will address that issue. I’m giving a brownbag talk to some grad students here in Madison this week on how to put oneself in the place of different readers coming from different specialties and with different motivations. One brownbag talk won’t change much, but it may lead to more discussion.

  3. That’s great to hear, Paul. As I recall, the legal profession was forced to move in this direction by plain-language legislation (though I’m not sure how one defines “plain”). It stands to reason that if we make our research efforts and monographs accessible, more will benefit from what we do. Also, the profession might just pony up more cash to fund our work. As a former PR professional, I got kind of attached to active voice and subject-verb-object constructions.

    I’ve explored your blog a bit more since this morning. Keep at it. A very useful resource to be sure. Let me know if you ever want to teach this subject. I’m guessing you’d fit right in.

  4. […] with two-way communication with the public yet? It has been said this is PR of the future and I can see it but I’m not hearing from the influencers […]

  5. Adams says:

    I have been much inspired by your book, am a third year university students in university of Dar-es-salaam in Tanzania, persuing Public Relations and Advertising.
    i need your fever in accesing your book.
    hope to hear from you the soonest.

  6. pat says:

    I hate this book. It does not make any sense and my professor is barely teaching out of it. Upon reading class notes and reading this text there is no method of understanding. This book is thick with non-sense words and isn’t helpful on any level.

    • paul baker says:

      Pat, I’m sorry to hear that. I realize the text is quite technical. Perhaps it’s best used by those already in the field with some years of experience. May I ask what school you attend? Paul

  7. […] Erlbaum, L. (2006). Public Relations Theory II [Review of the book Public Relations Theory II]. EducationPR. Retrieved from http://educationpr.org/2007/01/12/public-relations-theory-ii/ […]

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