Tag Archives: public relations

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!


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.


To censor or not to censor, Google is the question

Google LogoGoogle has become quite the topic of debate in the last six to eight months. From alleged government hacking to having search content censored, the multi-billion dollar top search engine company has been under fire. According to a recent New York Times article by Jonathan Stray and Lily Lee entitled, “After Google’s Move, a Shift in Search Terms,” the company’s recent unfiltered search update for Chinese users created a flash of buzz and then fizzled. Traffic died after a few days because the Chinese government was slow to move on blocking content. Or should I say, allegedly blocking (hmm).

This move spurred an increase of more than 10 times the normal search traffic for politically delicate topics, such as “Falun Gong” and “corruption.” The article mentions that:

In tests over the weekend from several Chinese cities, users searching for “Tiananmen” or even the names of Chinese government leaders reliably found the site google.com.hk mysteriously inaccessible for a few minutes…The more frequently used Chinese search engine Baidu, which continues to censor its results, remained accessible no matter what users searched for.

Although this seems like the big issue here with Google in China, the bigger story here is the fact that anti-Google sentiment is on the rise and pro-Google sentiment is being “eradicated.” This is occurring through statewide digital mandates to remove any content involving Google or any associated terms, especially content that supports the company. This is one of the reasons that Google has been teetering on withdrawing its Chinese operations, but has yet to fully commit to doing so.

Another article in the Irish Times states that:

Most international companies participating in that market are willing to accept the constraints involved in the belief that this rate of growth will outpace the state’s ability to police and censor it.

Chinese FlagSo, what’s it going to be? Will they remove all operations and cease to fight what they call the good fight or tuck tail and run? Is it in their best interest to be there and maybe wait it out? Is it in the best interest of the people to have accessibility to information?

These questions are but a few that have been posed and remain to be answered. As a PR professional, I think they should remain in China and all other countries they currently operate in. I’m not saying they should become a democratic society, but information and valuable content supports knowledge, economic growth, freedom of thought and so much more. It’s what keeps a living record of our history and reminds each of us of our rich heritage.

Can we really afford to lose that? Chime in… let me know what you think.


Has traditional media relations bit the dust?

This topic is one that hits home for me – media relations and its relevance in our digital world. When I was in college at Kent State University (yes, an amazing school!), I was fortunate to be taught by some of the best practitioners I’ve ever met, even to this day. But one topic that surmounted them all – including top-notch research, strategic planning and writing – was media relations.

Now I am well aware that term can be interpreted in many ways depending on your education, or the type of business or industry you work in. But, at its crux, media relations is building and harnessing mutually beneficial relationships to reach and engage your target public/s. Remember that phrase “mutually beneficial relationships?” Yep, it’s part of, and has been a centerpiece of the Public Relations Society of America’s mission statement for 60 years now.

So, has the traditional media relations I so fondly remember bit the dust? The answer… NO.

What do I mean by traditional media relations?
When I use that term, I am referring to what most of us have done for years now – forging relationships with media contacts through pitching, editorial meetings, tours of newsrooms, etc. Remember the press conference or the media tour? It’s like we’ve forgotten about the all important two-way, face-to-face communications we had drilled into our minds in every PR class. That’s how we used to reach key people in the media – by showing some form of personality and tact. It didn’t matter if you were trying to attain coverage or to learn more about a respective media outlet, it all revolved around connecting with that person on some level. That connection remains of great importance to our field, even with the advent of social media.

Why is traditional media relations still important?
I will argue anyone that utilizing traditional media relations, like picking up the phone and calling a journalist to discuss a story idea or inquire about their needs, is still critical to our profession. Even now, I find myself garnering far better coverage – not to mention quality of coverage – by just calling a reporter and having a candid conversation with him or her.

These people don’t have all day to shoot the breeze though – even with shrinking newsrooms and less time to gather data. But let’s face it, we’re living in a time when these folks crave great content. When we package that content in newsworthy and practical ways, we will reap the rewards of story placement; and more importantly, build trust among the media.

Do college students or entry-level pros get it?
I don’t think college students or young practitioners right out of college really understand the importance of media relations from the perspective I am describing. Many students I’ve met are inundated with the power of social media and the infinite possibilities surrounding this exciting term. Yes, I’m an advocate of using social media tools to reach key media personnel and even score coverage, but that’s only part of the job. Social media platforms are a way to introduce yourself and learn about the person, but a balance of online, social media and traditional pitching are necessary to create a true relationship.

What’s my advice to students on old school media relations?
My advice is simple. Swallow your fear, think strategic (script with bulleted facts), know what you will say and pick up the phone! I assure you, it really works. For those of you who are so bold as to attempt this daunting and horrific task, let me offer my short-list of 10 ways PR professionals can still use media relations to build invaluable relationships with the media:

  1. Create a media list of your local or regional media outlets.
  2. Identify the key players you want to get to know.
  3. Call them up and ask what types of stories they’re looking for.
  4. Extend an offer to meet for coffee or lunch to learn more about them, and for them to learn about you.
  5. Setup an editorial meeting with section editors to discuss your news depending on the level of urgency and news value.
  6. READ their publications as much as possible! (Knowing what they write and how they present it makes a huge difference).
  7. Provide occasional recognition to a published piece. (Don’t pitch here… it’s just a way to let them know you’re paying attention).
  8. Keep them in the loop on what you’re working on as it relates to them. You’d be surprised by the mundane things that can skyrocket to the top of a journalist’s hot list without even realizing it.
  9. Follow their careers as they progress. People quickly turnover and change positions in this industry. Keeping in touch makes a world of difference! (They pass along contact names and other valuable information).
  10. DO NOT be afraid to pick up the phone and call them. Even with social media and email, a phone call goes a long way in showing you care and that you’re genuine. Email and social media can be impersonal and sometimes seem too forward.

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