19 October 2012
Jo Field, Associate Director

Public Relations - Back to our roots

Tree roots

Rooting through my loft this week and I’ve come across my, somewhat dusty, university dissertation. In an attempt to summarise 12,000 words, it looked at the application of academic PR models to three businesses based on the South coast in Hampshire.

A typical response to academia by those in industry is the well-worn cliché it may be true in theory but it doesn’t work in practice’. But with so many different and new media channels competing for our attention and with a smorgasbord of audiences to satisfy, I think that now more than ever, there is merit in re-visiting the thoughts of our PR grandfathers!

The model I want to look at is one of the better-known models - this is the two-way symmetrical model by Grunig and Hunt. The key point to this model is that in order for communication to be successful, it must be a dialogue. I think this is a really important point. There are different elements that make up the model but my overall interpretation and understanding is that in order to constitute a true dialogue, communication must serve the needs of both parties.

So looking at this in practice, generally speaking when an organisation wants to talk about a specific issue or news flow, the aim is to transfer specific messages to a certain readership. The communication will only be successful if it meets the needs of the journalist too. There are a range of factors or ‘fundamentals’ that are key here, and always need to be taken into account when we talk to journalists on behalf of our clients. The list is long but some of the factors we must consider each and every time are whether it is relevant for the right readership, is the story topical, is there a genuine news angle, do the timings work for the publication, has it been covered before…the list goes on but are all factors that could prevent the communication process from being unsuccessful.

Not all communications are positive however, and when they are negative, the same model can be applied to manage conflict situations, for instance, when it is in the interests of an organisation to keep a story out of the media (perhaps to limit damage to a brand or to avoid upsetting a specific customer group), but it is in the interests of a journalist to cover and publish the story (maybe they want to secure the scoop that will help with their promotion). In this situation, dialogue must be used to find an acceptable outcome for both parties. For example, could the organisation offer the journalist an in-depth exclusive if they agree to hold off publishing a story until the organisation is in a commercial position to publicly talk about it. There are, of course, those who look to use conflict to their gain – Michael O’Leary, CEO of Ryanair likes nothing better than flying in the face of convention and providing controversial commentary.

Despite all of this modern context, the Grunig and Hunt principles still apply. Going back to the basics should never be overlooked and certainly not underestimated. If the likes of Pythagoras' theorem, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and Newton’s Laws are still considered current and applicable, I don’t see why it should be any different for PR.


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