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The Value of Ethics, Symmetry and Persuasion… Can They Coexist Together?

As a preface to this post, I must state that I decided to publish it after it sat some time, and that it’s written with a focus on theoretical constructs and their relationship within a course I took at Kent State University. If you dare challenge yourself to read this post, you’ll certainly become inundated in some old and new theory. The theories I will review include: Grunig’s Symmetrical Model of mutually beneficial relationships and Excellence Theory, Porter’s argument for a Post-Symmetrical Model of persuasion and the concepts of values and ethical reasoning Shannon Bowen describes.

My research on Grunig’s Symmetrical Model and PR acting as a mutually beneficial discipline, helping shape both the organization and the public at large, is central to my own beliefs and arguments. The following post will touch on the history of PR and the resulting next generation of theorists and how they contributed to the profession. My goal is to then find similarities between the theories and how

A Historical Perspective

Public relations was conceived in the late nineteenth century with the “public be damned era,” working to generate publicity at any cost and without morals or ethical considerations. Edward Bernays and Ivy Lee were the founding fathers of what is now PR.

Ivy Lee

When they took the reigns they called their work propaganda and with Ivy Lee, the concept of ethics in PR arose with his “declaration of principles,” shifting the profession into a “public be informed era.” (Bowen, 2007)

John W. Hill was also a powerful proponent of PR ethics as it related to issues management  and “far-reaching effects of corporate policy.” He originated the idea that PR practitioners are the “corporate conscience” of an organization. (Hill, 1958)

Bowen sums up the vast historical account of PR in a great fashion when she states:

“Despite the strides made in modern public relations toward becoming ethical advisors in management, the field holds a ‘tarnished history’ in the words of one scholar (Parsons, 2004, p. 5)… the historical development of public relations shows a progression toward more self-aware and ethical models of communication… the historically negative reputation of public relations, as well as its potential for encouraging ethical communication, we can see the maturation of the profession from one engaged in simple dissemination of information to one involved in the creation of ethical communication.” (Bowen, 2007)

These originators of PR set the stage for the next generation of theorists. I will focus my research and analysis on three theorists who made a significant impact on the public relations profession, which include: Dr. James E. Grunig, Lance Porter and Shannon Bowen, Ph.D.

The Next Generation of PR

After the shift from propaganda to the roots of PR, which were still in its infancy, we come to a time when theory is largely shaping the dynamic of the public relations field. The following chart shows the concepts each theorist subscribes to and the criteria in which they support the respective theory. These theories have been contended, modified and change in some cases. But in this instance, to create a benchmark to begin our understanding of these theories, the power struggles between each, as well as the correlations, we will start with a holistic view.

Grunig

Porter

Bowen

Symmetrical Model Post-Symmetrical Model Systems Theory (Values and Ethics)
Mutually beneficial relationships (organization and publics) Persuasion through rhetoric, dialogue and advocacy of ideas PR practitioners are the “social conscience” of the organization
PR is a strategic management function (built on honest and transparency) Influencing attitudes and behaviors Social and ethical decisions are tied to communicating with management and c-suite
Ethics is central Ethics is central Ethics is central
Tied to Excellence Theory (Empowerment of PR through effectiveness and proper management to affect change for organization and public) Looks to philosophers like Plato and Aristotle for rhetorical reinforcement (participate in rhetoric to persuade, but also to be good citizens) Utilitarian philosophy (Looks to more recent theorists in social sciences like John Stuart Mill on outcomes of decisions and ethical decisions based on publics’ greater good)

After assembling this chart and reviewing the separate and somewhat disparate thought processes, there are commonalities throughout, including:

  • The centralization of ideas as tools to create change
  • Ethical PR is central, from rhetoric as the framework for PR to social and ethical decisions being a PR function
  • Utilizing PR as a tool to be a good citizen and make ethical decisions for the masses (Even though the Post-Symmetrical Model heavily seeks to persuade it is designed to be executed in an ethical fashion)
  • Language, symbols and dialogue (rhetoric) all play a part in each of the theorists’ principles
  • A common end-game is always at play (i.e. changing perceptions, increasing sales, maintaining ethics). The specific mode that is operationalized is all that changes, and it is only a modification of a prior theory.
  • Grunig relied on Systems Theory, discussed in-depth by Bowen to examine the “direction and flow – not the ethics of communication.” (Porter, 2010, p. 129)

Breakdown of Each Theorist

The first theorist I will review is Grunig. He and his wife are quite possibly two of the most renowned PR theorists in existence. One of the many theories Grunig is most famous for is his Symmetrical Model of public relations, which is rooted in PR acting to create mutually beneficial relationships between its stakeholders/organization and the public as a whole. In the following video, Grunig discusses his Symmetrical Model in tandem with his Excellence Theory, which looks at:

“… the value of public relations to organizations and society based on the social responsibility of managerial decisions and the quality of relationships with stakeholder publics. For an organization to be effective, according to the theory, it must behave in ways that solve the problems and satisfy the goals of stakeholders as well as of management.” (Grunig, 2008)

Porter is the next theorist I will tackle. He is a more contemporary practitioner and theorist, with approaches I would call more aggressive than his counterparts.

The interplay between the three theorists, notwithstanding others such as Heath, Toth, Trapp et al, show how PR can have a diverse range of concepts to work from, but still draw from common themes.

Sources:

Bowen, S.A. (2007) Ethics and Public Relations. Syracuse University.

Grunig, J. E. (2008). Excellence theory in public relations. In. W. Donsbach (Ed.), The International Encyclopedia of Communication, Volume 4 (pp. 1620-1622). Oxford, UK and Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell 2008.

http://faculty.buffalostate.edu/smithrd/PR/pioneers.htm, retrieved October 8, 2012

http://pr.wikia.com/wiki/Ivy_Lee, retrieved October 8, 2012

http://pdnetworks.wordpress.com/2010/06/10/persuasion-rhetoric-ethics/, retrieved October 8, 2012

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Symmetrical Thinking, the Art of Storytelling

As a preface to this post, I must state that it’s written with a focus on theoretical constructs and their relationship to PR for my master’s theory course.

If you dare challenge yourself to read this post, you’ll certainly become inundated with some old and new theory. The thrust of this post will be how Grunig’s Symmetrical Model of mutually beneficial relationships and Excellence Theory and Thomas Mickey’s Sociodrama play in tandem with the art of storytelling in the PR profession. We are, at our roots, storytellers who craft narrative in all shapes and forms.

This post is designed to reveal my thoughts on how several theories of communication can both diminish and enlighten the PR practitioner’s ability to weave compelling stories.

Some Earlier Thoughts

Several important pieces of commentary arose from prior class posts that I believe need to be shared again to set the context for this discussion. I wrote about how the brand persona has long been a powerful force in sales because it focuses on “creating a powerful brand narrative… the articulated form of the brand’s character and personality.” More recently, practitioners have realized the value of extracting this brand persona within storytelling to “drive the continuity for the overall brand message” and drive target publics to a specific action. (Crystal and Herskovitz, 2010)

As an advocate for the Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) model, I work to weave IMC into my client’s messaging and stories. Malcolm, McDaniel and Langett describe IMC as connecting a brand directly with the customer. They say that “IMC is a story or narrative that encourages action on the part of those within and outside the organization.”

Real-World IMC and Collegiate Experience

I previously discussed how my work with GE Lighting provided me with the perfect outlet to live the brand’s powerful persona and allowed me to craft compelling stories with human interest elements and depth. I mentioned how having all the functions, from product development to marketing communications, involved and working together, could ensure that the brand’s message conveyed its persona.

Persona-based storytelling, tied to the brand and executed within the IMC model, is a powerful set of tools to launch a successful brand. When Malcolm and Langett stated that IMC is dependent upon an “enlarged mentality” they were not kidding. IMC is one of the most challenging models to successfully achieve in any organization, because it requires c-suite and staff buy-in, support, imagination, and an attitude – as Malcolm and Langett would mention – that is similar to a “self-conscious pariah.” (Benhabib, 2000, p. 29)

Within the art of storytelling and IMC lies the discussion of Sociodrama, as discussed by Thomas Mickey. This theory is tied to Symbolic Interactionism by Mead and Cooley, and how people interpret and react to objects and symbols. This interpretation is based on sociology and how we are all “social participants in society… making meaning,” through language-based approaches. (Horn, Neff, 2008, p. 122)

I end my thoughts on persona-based storytelling and Sociodrama by saying that:

From feature stories to newsletter articles to social media posts, the art of storytelling is directly paralleled to Sociodrama and the sociology of the human race and condition. As long as we, as PR professionals, remember we hold the keys to reaching people and compelling them to act through words and visual imagery, we will have a special type of power that we must respect and take great care in using.

What are your thoughts on storytelling from this theoretical perspective? Can it legitimately be applied? If you’re not sure quite yet, read on and see what others and I think about the topic.

The Art of Storytelling from a Kent State University Professor

My Perspective on Storytelling

Crafting a powerful, compelling and memorable story is easier said than done. Only the best writers can compose a story that elicits strong emotions, while allowing the reader relate directly to the piece.

Using Grunig’s Symmetrical Model, which focuses on creating and maintaining mutually beneficial relationships between an organization and its publics, I find that it allows me to be able to flesh out more effective message strategy. When I am thinking about how the brand message and tone affect the internal and external audiences, I am much more effective in creating content and messaging that ethically resonates with both. The following is a video from Dr. James Grunig himself talking about the Symmetrical Model tied to PR.

‘‘ A brand narrative without a well-defined, recognizable, memorable, and compelling persona can become a series of disconnected adventures.’’ (Crystal and Herskovitz, 2010)

I have found that, when used together, Symmetrical thinking can open many new doors of thinking, such as brand tonality, voice, character, traits and personality. When I prepare messaging platforms I look to find the various perspectives Mickey discusses, including: interactional, interpretive and cultural perspectives. (Hanson-Horn, Neff, 2008, p.122)

It’s hard to ignore that Mead and Cooley’s theory of Symbolic Interactionism when I prepare messaging as well. Symbolic Interactionism “explores how people create meaning for themselves and the broader society… people actively create meanings of themselves and society through dealings with others.” (Horn, Neff, 2008) Mead and Cooley also suggested that “social research should take a humanist form and explore world views, cultures, and life experiences of different groups.” (Smith, 2001)

A Varied Approach to Message Development

When I develop messaging, I don’t just think of how the target publics would be affected by it, I look at how the brand – if it were a person – would interact with the publics. The brand persona, through symbols, personal traits and character are what connect people to brands. It’s akin to people relating to like people; but the other person is the brand in this case.

I work from this perspective when I develop messaging platforms. My content is driven by the creation of the truest brand persona, always acting the part. The key here is that the brand goes beyond the message. The employees, executives and closest constituents need to act the part as well. This is where Mickey’s Sociodrama comes into play. We are all “actors” in the literal and figurative sense, and must embody the brand. Whether it’s a customer service representative answering the phone or the CEO presenting in front of shareholders, the message and persona must be accurately portrayed. This is true IMC at its best with the core of Excellence Theory infused. I seek to find how we can use best practices for the good of the organization to bolster messaging that can live across the organization and compel my target publics to act.

This is how I ensure that the brand persona, character, and traits connect with the business objectives, goals and messaging. Get in the mind of the brand; live it, breathe it, and it will become part of people’s lives. The best brands, like Coca-Cola®, Hershey’s® and Jet Blue® do it extremely well; and that’s why they are worldwide business leaders.

Bibliography:

Web –

Print –

  • Hanson-Horn, Tricia and Neff, Bonita. Public Relations: From theory to practice. Boston: Pearson Education. 2008. Print.
  • Herskovitz, S. and Crystal, M. “The essential brand persona: storytelling and branding.”  Journal of Business Strategy, (2010): 31, 3.
  • Mickey, Thomas. Sociodrama: An Interpretive Theory for the Practice of Public Relations. University Press of America. 1995. Print.
  • Smith, Philip. Cultural Theory: An Introduction. Malden, Mass. Blackwell, 2003. Print.

I’m a man on Pinterest! Don’t judge me…

I recently spoke on the topic of “Selling with Social Media” at the University of Akron’s Taylor Institute for Direct Marketing. I went through the standard protocol of what social media is, why use it and how to strategically use it, as well as the top social media networks out there. This year, I spoke about Pinterest and its value.

When I got to that social network, I made a mention that I enjoy using it. But before I could get into why and how I – as a male user – use Pinterest, I received the stereotypical laughter and giggles from the audience that I was in the minority. Was I using it to plan my dream wedding? Was I using it to post pictures of cupcakes? How about my favorite flower bouquet?

My Pinterest Page

It was none of them! As the smiles faded a bit, I quickly told them about how I like to use this female-dominated social outlet. And in retrospect, I think they were laughing with me, not at me! Regardless, I told them of how I can, as a guy, pin photos and videos of the things that reflect my personality. These things include photos of my motorcycle and cool accessories I want, social media infographics to share with others, really sweet products I like, have or want, and more.

I immediately showed how brands like World Market and the NBA and C&A Harley Davidson in Columbus, Ohio (about 2 hours away from where I live) use their pages to reach all types of demographics, including men. An image is certainly worth a thousand words, and remember those words aren’t always directed at a female audience on Pinterest!


SOPA and PIPA kill Freedom of Speech

Google's homepage during the 24-hour black out

We’ve been inundated in the media with the proposed legislation of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP Act (PIPA) acts, which were written by lawmakers to stop online piracy.

But as a PR professional, I find it ridiculous that the core thrust of this legislation arose from intensive lobbying efforts by Hollywood movie and music industry conglomerates.

Having worked in industries that heavily lobby and done a bit of lobbying myself for causes, I know how it works. To discuss important issues with our legislative delegates is important and needed, but to use the influence and funding this industry has for specific and self-serving purposes really ticks me off.

Hey, I love movies and music as much as the next person, but to black out sites because they just “might” be breaking this law is heinous. That’s why we created the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act, according to Julianne Pepitone in a recent article from CNN Money. More importantly, websites that provide information and provide products and services among many others, would have no right to due process or to appeal.

A Potentially Illegal Video


*If I shared this video as an example, the Attorney General would have the power to shut this blog down even though I am attributing it to Editor-in Chief, Evan Hansen, from Wired.com!

Can you imagine YouTube just shutting down the moment this bill was passed? Businesses link to millions of their videos hosted on YouTube; bloggers use YouTube to upload and embed videos on their blogs; and let’s not forget that YouTube is the world’s second largest search engine! That’ll impact Web searching, as well as possibly end social search, or at least be a huge detractor.

Think about the sheer amount of invaluable information that would be reduced to rubble and how we, as a society, would react. We rely on the Internet like we rely on breathing. Well, stop breathing people if this bill is passed.

And the whole concept of content marketing, creation, distribution and aggregation would be almost impossible to achieve. Our country is founded on the First Amendment and freedom of speech; and we as PR pros and communicators base our existence on this as a guiding light to promote our messages, changes perceptions and educate the communities we serve.

A Final Thought
My final thought on this subject for the moment before Federal officials take down my blog (insert frown emoticon) is that we better fight this. If we don’t, we’ll be at the mercy of relentless Federal legislation restricting our use of content, in every form. PR pros, agencies and organizations like Shel HoltzOgilvy Public Relations Worldwide and the Public Relations Society of America as a united organization have opposed these bills. Follow their lead!

A News Flash
The only positive news recently released today was that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid indefinitely postponed the Congressional Hearing this coming Tuesday (Jan. 24).

Find your local representative and contact them

A Voice that Counts
There’s still time to voice your opinion though and join forces on opposing SOPA and PIPA before we join the company of China, Iran and other superpowers that have censored the Web to no end. Take action! Check out Wikipedia’s page to look up your local public officials and sign the petition.


Top 5 ways you know you work at an agency

In the cynical and crazy world of PR, advertising, marketing and social media, there are many areas and niches we work within.

These include the areas of municipal, non-profit, corporate, solo and – last but not least – agency. The agency person is a very auspicious, motivated individual who thrives on the strategic plan, but equally loves the unknown. I liken this person to a creature of the wild, hunting and foraging for its prey, awaiting the final strike.

Okay, that’s a bit much, but here are my top 5 ways you know you work at an agency (in no particular order):

    1. You live life one billable hour at a time
    2. You can sit back and roll around in your chair while completing a scenic tour of each department (or at least a few)
    3. You’re surrounded by a wall of industry awards when you walk in the office lobby
    4. You start accidentally using words like “deliverables” and “client expectations” with your friends and family!
    5. You tend to have a bunch of games strewn around the office like dart boards, bean bags, chess and the infamous pinball machine!

We expect the world of you… can you deliver?

Illustration by Marie-Michelle on Deviant Art

Why did I say yes to all this work?

Part one of a two-part series on setting expectations in your personal and professional life

After reading Andrew Worob’s recent post on Ragan’s PR Daily entitled, “10 reasons PR is a tough job,” I thought to myself, “Yep, he’s dead on with that list. PR people do live in one crazy, non-stop world!”

In Andrew’s article, he talks about the complexities and demands of our profession. Some of these demands include tough clients and bosses, meeting high (sometimes ridiculous) expectations, always being on call, and worst of all, getting no respect! Having any semblance of a work-life balance can seem impossible as well, unless your life is your profession.

Managing expectations is tough work!

So, if you want to have some sort of life outside of your career, it’s critical to manage your personal and professional expectations.

I can say from experience that our profession is extremely demanding, and our bosses, boards of directors and clients place extraordinarily high expectations on us. Sometimes those expectations are floating in outer space, and sometimes they’re within our atmosphere.

But I’m certain that most people reading this are a jack of many trades, doing whatever is needed from whomever asks. We’re the people behind the large curtain that make things happen. On any given day, we’ll write a press release, create an e-blast, present a strategic plan to a client and put out several fires, all before lunch time!

You think you’ve met expectations…

Even after we do all of this, there’s always more to be expected. Even Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz is a tough cookie to please. When she and her entourage come face-t0-face with the man behind the curtain, she forcefully proclaims:

“If you were really great and powerful, you’d keep your promises!” 

This response is funny, but true. When we think we’ve knocked it out of the park, we get flack and perceived failure. That’s our fault though. In most cases that means we didn’t properly set and manage  mutual expectations. If we did, then we’d all be on the same page respectively.

"There's no place like home..." I think this is what she wants me to do. I hope I meet her expectations of me!

I think Dorothy taught us a valuable lesson here. When you think you’re succeeding, take a step back in your sparkly red heels and say to yourself, “Is this what my boss or client expects of me?”  That simple question will allow you to know if you’re on or off track. I’m sure Dorothy wasn’t expecting that grand, imposing voice to be some elderly fellow using old hi-fi equipment to create the illusion of omnipotence.

Sometimes expectations can be based on illusion just like in the Wizard of Oz, especially in the PR business! We should, however, work to ensure expectations are transparent and realistic. Because if you don’t, someone will flip open that infamous green curtain to reveal the truth. You’ll definitely be in hot water if you get caught spinning wheels and pushing buttons when they find you.


Foursquare… annoying, yet addictive

Many people don’t know that Foursquare originated from a social media network called Dodgeball created in 2003 by Dennis Crowley and Naveen Selvadurai. The duo formed Dodgeball to connect people so they can share their experiences at places like restaurants and stores. As Dodgeball began to grow, it was bought up by mega-giant Google in 2005. They tried to grow the site’s user base during the next year, anticipating success.

Well… guess what? It didn’t work. Due to the slow inner workings of Google and a lack of technology at the time to support geo-location based sites, it fizzled. So Crowly and Selvadurai went back to the drawing board rather disgusted at what transpired. During the next few years, they worked day and night on a spin-off of the first venture. They waited in the wings until Google’s non-compete passed, and in January 2009, they launched Foursquare.

Now, this new concept was launched at the South by Southwest interactive festival – the mecca of technology, video, film and music innovations. It was hailed the “Breakout App” by Mashable and other social media blogs. According to an article in Wired Magazine,

Having heard the news that Foursquare might be the next big thing, early adopters around the globe began clamoring for it to come to their city. Foursquare was quickly becoming the darling of the new media community.

The Difference
What really set apart the launch of Foursquare versus Dodgeball was the fact that iPhones, Blackberries and Droids now used GPS. This allowed for an app that could more effectively be used cross-platform to automatically find where you are and list the people and places around you. The user can then check-in to places, battle to become the “mayor” of a location, like Starbucks or even an airport terminal, gaining discounts and rewards by some participating establishments. Users can also be awarded “badges” that are like pieces of flair (remember Office Space the movie?) to show what they have accomplished.

My Foursquare profile page

Hey, I have a bender badge, unlocked a Marc Jacobs free gift badge in Chicago and a super-user badge! I feel very important… at least to myself.

I don’t know what it is, but this app is addictive. I find myself compelled to check-in everywhere, especially when I’m traveling and bored. Hmm, when I’m bored I use the app the most. Is it a way to pass the time like a game? Or is it something that actually connects with people and places to help me build my network and learn about cool restaurants and bars?

Some say this app, much like Twitter and Facebook, play on a person’s vanity and ego, providing them with a gateway to express their own self-worth and imagined persona. Maybe so to a degree, but I think if it’s used to encourage personal connection and business opportunities, it may be of value. I have to admit, I am torn as to why I spend a second messing with this app, but I still do (going on about five months now).

My Foursquare Future
Will I stop using it or slow down like I have with this blog? Maybe, but I hope I remain engaged in both to keep in contact with my network and learn new things – some random and worthless and some extremely beneficial to me personally and professionally. If anyone is still listening out there and reading this blog, let me know what you think and post some comments on your experiences with Foursquare and other geo-location apps like Cause World, etc.

Your comment may just boost my self-worth and imagined persona!


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