Judy Gombita and I have been discussing various issues relating to public relations and publicity via email. Most recently this has been stimulated by the debate between Bill Sledzik and Amanda Chapel.
Bill promotes Grunig’s two-way symmetric model of communications, which although he acknowledges is not the dominant practice model, could become so through social media. He supports PR in the role of the mediator or facilitator of this two-way dialogue.
Amanda takes issue with PR’s credentials to be judge as well as advocate; echoing Jacqui L’Etang’s criticism of the two-way symmetric model as simply a way for PR practitioners to feel good about themselves, whilst actually practising one-sided persuasion – that is engaging in publicity.
One point about social media is that it enables others – with or without PR assistance – to have their voice heard. Holtzhausen critiques PR for its role in maintaining the status quo; being largely in the employ of those holding power in society – suh as the big corporates and politicians.
Social media may help shift power to others – but is Amanda right that PR will continue to protect the interests of those paying the bill? Indeed, aren’t the majority of PR consultancies engaging in social media aiming to simply maintain their position as partisan influencers? How many have really got the message about openness and transparency?
This leads to whether PR should be involved in social media? Richard Edelman’s view that PR is “telling a story well” is classic rhetoric – which is the legacy of PR’s involvement in all types of corporate communication. The control exerted by PR (and marketing) on spokespeople, key messages, and published materials has affected the ability of many CEOs and others within organisations to converse in a genuine manner.
Given that PR has helped create distrust in organisations, can we seriously enable the real people in our organisations participate with our real publics through social media? Do they need PR to do that?
Should PR not just accept that it is part of the bling put out by organisations – it is just one sided publicity, spin, propaganda?
One of the questions on the recent paper for the CIPR Diploma critical reasoning test (CRT) involved whether PR academics were over reliant on Grunig’s management theories and excellence study.
The idea of two-way symmetric communications sees PR as a senior mangement function; part of the dominant coalition. It presents PR as “boundary spanner” meaing it engaged in listening and reflecting external viewpoints to management. But this has come to mean acting as a barrier between the organisation and the external environment – or between management and internal publics. More senior press agentry in effect. Portrayed like Max Clifford as magicians controlling the media puppets.
A second question in the CRT compared Vercic’s view that “Public Relations is the Champion of Democracy” with Stauber & Rampton’s observation that “Today’s PR industry is related to democracy in the same way that prostitution is related to sex”.
“to recognise and acknowledge that we have a problem – despite its growth public relations has if anything a decreasing reputation”.
One good thing is that such debates about PR and its reputation are taking place in open cyberspace – not just in the academic journals. However, I’m not sure how many practitioners ever reflect on their behaviour in this way.
I do feel that PR has a future – I’m just not sure what it is. The problem with those of us who believe it should be a force for open communications and clearer engagement between organisations and their publics (and vice versa), seem outnumbered by the spinners and bling-merchants.