Dr. James E. Grunig, University of Maryland professor emeritus, keynoted the 50th anniversary celebration of the Institute for Public Relations this month. His speech, “After 50 Years: The Value and Values of Public Relations,” is available on the Institute’s website.
Grunig takes issue with those who say that PR tacticians operate without a general theory compared to the elite counselors of our profession. “I believe there have been, and still are, two major competing theories of public relations both in practice and in the academic world,” says Grunig. “I call these approaches the symbolic, interpretive paradigm and the strategic management, behavioral paradigm.
“Scholars and practitioners following the symbolic paradigm generally assume that public relations strives to influence how publics interpret the organization. These cognitive interpretations are embodied in such concepts as image, reputation, brand, impressions, and identity… Communication tactics, this theory maintains, create an impression in the minds of publics that allow the organization to buffer itself from its environment.
“In contrast, the behavioral, strategic management paradigm focuses on the participation of public relations executives in strategic decision-making to help manage the behavior of organizations. In the words of organizational theorists, public relations is a bridging, rather than a buffering, function. It is designed to build relationships with stakeholders, rather than a set of messaging activities designed to buffer the organization from them. The paradigm emphasizes two-way and symmetrical communication of many kinds to provide publics a voice in management decisions and to facilitate dialogue between management and publics both before and after decisions are made.”
What do you think?
President and CEO
Institute for Public Relations