Tag Archives: PR profession

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


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!


Your Blog is Dead… So Give Up

Benson J. Lossing, The Pictorial Field-Book of the Revolution (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1851)I:101
I thought my blog was dead and that I should give up until I read a blog post by Bill Sledzik today called “The death of blogging? Kill me now!” I have to admit that’s a pretty killer title for a post. But this guy’s a self-proclaimed storyteller for God’s sake! So his title had better be. All joking aside; he’s a legitimately excellent and qualified storyteller, and he makes a great point in his post.

Bill said (while paraphrasing) that according to a USA Today article, brands are…

“bailing out of their blogs in favor of social channels that are less labor intensive and more connected to their audiences…”

What a terrible excuse! This is true laziness on the part of corporate America. PR pros and marketers alike need to use the mediums that effectively reach their target publics to reach their objectives. Just because you can pop out a 140-character post in less than three minutes doesn’t mean you should discount the power of a blog. Companies are killing their own blogs by drowning their readers in self-promotion and ego-centric posts. It’s no wonder they’re not getting any ROI from their blogs.

A blog needs to be strategic like any other communication vehicle we use. Why would it be any different? Because we’re lazy? Well, the answer is YES. I’ll be the first to take the blame. It’s a pain in the ass to keep up with a blog. But if it’s done with a central strategy in mind, carefully planned and well-written with rich content it may just work!

It’s always been about content. If you’re a technical company, it may take 1,500 words with technical diagrams to effectively reach and engage your audience. If you’re a consumer-driven company selling candy, quick 100-200 word snippets with several fun photos may be the solution.

In either case, if a blog is identified as a tool that will help reach your business objectives, use it if you can. Sometimes the easier and faster solution isn’t the best one.

Thanks to Bill Sledzik, my former prof from Kent State University and beer drinking pal, for inspiring me to write this post. Check out his blog ToughSledding.


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.


Three steps to creating mutual expectations

I thought you said you said you were going to do more today! What's the deal?

Part two of a two-part series on setting expectations in your personal and professional life (Read first part)

Us PR folks all try and “get er done” at our jobs, but sometimes we go a little overboard. We take on so much that we begin to drown in a sea of self-imposed work. To better manage your workload and the expectations surrounding each project, consider these three simple rules of setting and managing expectations. You might just find that taking on that project isn’t the best use of time and resources for both you and your organization. Try and:

  1. Know your limitations and stay within them – We’re constantly put in positions to “learn on the job.” That happens, but be realistic. Can you do the project you’re attempting? Do you need more professional development? It’s better to admit your limitations than to fail because of pride.
  2. Be honest with yourself and your clients/bosses – We have a tendency to be “yes” people to everyone because we love to be the clutch player. That’s how we’re built. Know how much work you can handle to be successful and stay within those boundaries.
  3. Have a plan that’s realistic and routine – We’re planners and strategists, right?  So why shouldn’t our expectations be rooted in the same thought process? Well, they should. Think about your strengths and weaknesses and work to enhance your strengths and turn your weaknesses into strengths. Routine and constant learning do this. Know how much time and energy you can dedicate to each area and stick within those boundaries.

In the end, the insane world of PR can, to a certain degree, be managed. It takes setting realistic and mutual expectations, knowing  your limitations, having a routine and being honest with yourself, your bosses and clients.

Here’s a few other recent posts discussing PR as one of the top-ten most stressful jobs:


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.


Let’s get it started!

I haven’t posted in a while, but there’s a good reason. I started a new digital PR and interactive strategies agency called Soda Prop LLC. with a great friend and business partner, Zach Linquist. We wanted to start something new and that’s why when you visit our site, you’ll see something a bit different… a blog, not a traditional static website.

We did this because we wanted to immediately create engagement and a great conversation among our audience. And what better way to have companies and organizations want to utilize our services than to lead by example – showing them how WE can successfully use social media and PR efforts for ourselves!

A Little About Soda Prop

With a fun, flavor-filled, strategically focused, forward thinking mindset, we’re refining and redefining the way companies and brands communicate with their audience.  Plus, our unique ability to integrate cause-infused ideas and strategy only adds the extra fizz needed to help elevate companies and brands to even higher levels of success.

On the Horizon
Soda Prop is just the beginning of the many other business and non-profit concepts we have in mind. We have some pretty sweet other business ideas being prepped for launch soon!

I’m going to keep this one short and sweet, making a quick announcement about my new venture. But check back to see my thoughts on PR, social media and communication, as well as my steps to try and make a significant impact on our profession.


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