Tag Archives: value of PR

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.




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.


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

The state of the PR industry has changed

The PRSA International Conference was held this past week in San Diego, Calif. It’s a time that many PR professionals look forward to because of the pre-conference seminars, keynote speakers, networking and general sessions. By the way, the weather, food and entertainment only add to the excitement.

Of the nearly 25,000 PRSA members, a select group of us (about 325) have the opportunity to represent our local chapters as Assembly Delegates in the National Assembly – a day-long event akin to a session of congress. This marathon day typically entails review of PRSA bylaws, including amendments and resolutions to enhance the structure of our society.

Ralph J. Davila, Tom Duke, APR, Fellow PRSA at Assembly

Akron Area Chapter Delegates: Ralph J. Davila and Tom Duke, APR, Fellow PRSA at Assembly

But this year was different. We were tasked with reviewing and finalizing a complete rewrite of the society bylaws, which would constitute the most significant change in the PRSA since its inception in 1947.

Many thought it would be impossible to achieve such a feat. But after about 10 hours of laboring, conversing, amending, compromising and sometimes arguing, we made it happen.

At about 6 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 7, a majority vote of two-thirds was reached.

What changes were made to the bylaws?
The Assembly made vast changes, but  a few major ones should be mentioned. I will touch on them without going into too much detail since they are still in legal review.

APR Accreditation
The first major change that was debated for quite some time was the APR accreditation among membership and the National Board of Directors. According to a 2009 Membership Satisfaction Survey, 63 percent of the respondents stated that the APR was one of the most important programs offered by PRSA. With that said, the Assembly moved to require that any candidate for National Board have an APR to be eligible.

APR_Logo_smThis amendment makes a critical statement to the profession. It says that we, as PR pros, must work to achieve a higher standard of excellence by attaining an APR status.  The APR sends a strong message that PR is a true profession, and that we hold a stake in all levels of communication and at the management table.

I’d like to add that it’s not all about using your APR accreditation as a sales tool or getting a job. It’s about grounding yourself in the theory and practice of public relations, as well as the confidence you gain.

Membership Criteria
The other main issue discussed at length was how we, as a society, can increase PRSA’s value among the profession. There are approximately 250,000 people practicing PR in the United States, and only about 10 percent, or 25,000 of them, are PRSA members. Additional terminology was added within the language of the criteria that would have allowed other related professions to become members. After much debate, we as an Assembly voted to keep the language focused on public relations professionals as the membership target.

PRSA LogoWe have worked, since the start of the PRSA, to make our society the pre-eminent organization for PR pros. And to make sure that PR is taken seriously among others, we agreed that targeting our efforts on the other 90 percent of practicing PR practitioners would be best, and only strengthen our society and profession.

So, many members and PR pros asked why bylaw changes were made and how it would benefit them. Dave Rickey, APR, chair of the Bylaws Rewrite Task Force said:

The primary objective of the bylaws rewrite is to enable a flexible, nimble governance structure to support the best possible PRSA for members, leaders and the profession.

Final Thoughts
I believe that the rewrite will allow all of us to have a greater voice in decision-making and the direction we take PR and the society. It’s about inclusion, and we are in an age of both traditional and non-traditional communication, which makes this change both critical and timely.

We all have a voice in our society and profession, and need to come together to enhance PR’s reputation and understanding among the masses. Only then will we be appreciated and valued like we should be.

Are PR pros keeping up with the times?

In the past, PR professionals were slow to adopt new techniques – from new ways to pitch journalists to press release styles. We were, and still are to an extent, resistant to change. We’d better be ready to not only float, but sail forward as communications leaders, especially with the immense changes in technology occurring.

Although we once distanced ourselves from new trends and techniques, we made sure to not make that mistake with the advent and development of Social Media. I can recall at the 2007 PRSA International Conference in Salt Lake City a fervent effort to take on the challenges and opportunities Social Media could provide PR pros. Continue reading

Social media releases (SMRs) and why they matter

Value of SMRSince the Social Media Release (SMR) was developed by Todd Defren from SHIFT Communications in 2006, public relations professionals have debated its value. Many ask if it’s needed to be on the cutting-edge of PR, while some question its use against traditional means (i.e. personalized pitch letters, phone pitching, etc.).

Is it really useful? Or is it just a fad?
I believe the SMR has taken the traditional press release, and accompanying news content, and made it relevant to the digital age. It’s harnessed the power of multimedia and Social Media, transforming traditional media communique into technologically robust user experiences. Continue reading

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