Insights of holistic world view of public relations (James E. Grunig)

Grunig’s Four Models of Public Relations

ModelObjectives and characteristics


Press agentry/publicity


Designed to produce favorable publicity, especially in the mass media. It uses persuasion and manipulation to influence audience to behave as the organization desires.


Public information


Disseminates relatively objective information through mass media and controlled media. It uses press release and other one-way communication technique to distribute organizational information. The PRO is often referred to as ‘journalist in residence’.


One-way asymmetrical


Designed to persuade the audience to behave as the organization desires. It uses research  to develop persuasive messages.


Two-way symmetrical


Based on research and uses communication to manage conflict and improve understanding with strategic publics.
(Grunig and Hunt, 1984)

The early days of public relations knew no theories, no thought – it was just simple idea put into communication plans, tactics, strategies or programs. There was no theoretical foundation on which the practice was based. Public relations in many cases did more harm that good because strategic communication, legal aspects as libel and fraud, we are not considered. Through the evolution of concept, public relations suffered its image, identity and performance (McNamara, 1992). Public relations can mean different thing to different people and often has a negative meaning (Cutlip, Centre and Broom, 1994). This condition has created the bad image of public relations and it has many implications that we can see in today’s practice. 

Dr. James E. Grunig, is a professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Maryland College Park, USA. Grunig is best known for his research on publics, on why organization practice public relations as they do, on the strategic management of public relations, on public relations effects and on science writing.
Grunig served as project director for the US$400,000 research project funded by the IABC Research Foundation, on excellence in public relations and communication management. Grunig’s research is considered to be the greatest academic work in this century. 

Grunig’s research has added many new theories to the body of knowledge that already exists. These theories have helped to improve public relations practice in so many ways. If you are engaged in public relations in whatever level you are, you need to know the theoretical framework of public relations as proposed by the excellence team led by Prof. James E. Grunig (Maryland University) Prof. David M. Dozier (San Diego State University) Prof. William P. Ehling (Syracuse University) Prof. Larissa A. Grunig (Maryland University) Prof. Jon White (City University of London Business School) and Fred C. Repper, public relations consultant from Ingram, Texas (Lindeborg, 1994)

The pragmatic and conservative social roles, which reflect the way public relations is usually practiced, limit the effectiveness of public relations to an organization.

Frederic I. Halperin, the immediate past chair of the IABC Research Foundations, spent much of his time spreading the word about the Foundation’s landmark study Excellence in Public Relations and Communication Management. Halperin listed the attributes of excellent communication in a speech titled ‘Making Excellent Communication by Managing Your CEO, Your Organizational Culture and Yourself’

Three factors have critical influence whether or not an organization will have an excellent communication program :

  1. The value placed on communication by the CEO and the organization’s ‘dominant coalition’
    a. CEOs of excellent communication programs tend to believe that communication should develop mutual understanding between the management of the organization and the public the organization affects.
    b. The research of external environment is done to communicate the organization vision and mission – what they think about the organization. They emphasis dialogue and win-win outcomes.
  2. The role and behavior of the top communicator
    In an organization with an excellent communication program, the top communicator tends to posses knowledge and behavior as the single most important factor in creating excellent communication. He or she
    i. makes communication policy decisions (does not function as a technician)
    ii. participates actively in the organization’s strategic planning and decision making
    iii. works closely with top management to solve organization problems that involve communication and relationships
    iv. facilitates two-way rather than one-way communication
    v. uses formal and informal research to monitor trends and to gain understanding of the environment outside the organization
  3.  The corporate culture of the organization
    a. A participative corporate culture fosters excellent communication, as opposed to an authoritarian corporate culture
    b. Corporate culture is not as important as originally thought. Excellent communication can work in an authoritarian culture, but it is easier to achieve in a participative culture

Symmetry and Asymmetry in Organizations

The authors of the Excellence study believe communication programs often fail because managers observe only part or the environment, based on their mind-set and organizational structure. Grunig cites his earlier work from the book Public Relations Theory (1989), listing the characteristics of organizations that hold asymmetrical and symmetrical world views. 

In organizations with a asymmetrical worldview

  • Members do not see the organization as others see it
  • Efficiency is valued more than innovation 
  • The leaders know best; wisdom is not the product of a ‘free marketplace of ideas’
  • Change is undesirable, change efforts subversive
  • Tradition provides stability and maintains culture
  • Power is concentrated in the hands of the few, with employee having little autonomy

In organizations with a symmetrical worldview

  • Publics and other organizations are not kept out by organizational boundaries
  • Information flows freely between systems
  • Systems seek a moving equilibrium with other systems through cooperation and mutual adjustment
  • The input of all people is valued
  • Employees have great autonomy
  • Innovation is valued over tradition
  • There is a commitment to eliminate the adverse consequences of organizational actions
  • Conflict is resolved through negotiation and communication 
  • The political system is viewed as a mechanism for opening negotiation among interest or issue groups

The value of Public Relations to an Organization 

  • Public relations contributes to organizational effectiveness when it helps reconcile the organization’s
  • This contribution has monetary value to the organization 
  • Public relations contribute to effectiveness by building quality, long term relationship with strategic public

(Gruning, 1996)

If the effectiveness of communication programs is to be measured in economic terms, public relations management must not be viewed as a technical task, but defined in terms of a mission that is socially defensible, organizationally relevant, and quantifiable.

Benefit-Cost Analysis for Program Evaluation (Thompson, 1980) cites the eight-step process

Program Efficiency

1. Identify the decision-makers and their basic concerns
2. Identify alternative programs of action available to the decision makers
3. Identify costs, including both expenses and disbenefits
4. Identify benefits, including both direct and indirect
5. Assign monetary values to the program’s effects
6. Discount if effects occur at different times

Program Fairness

7. Take into account, when appropriate, the distributional equity effects
8. Aggregate and interpret the resultant valued effects

Excellence Study

It is a study of 310 organizations in US, UK and Canada. The study involved communication heads, CEOs, 3,400 employees, resulting 1,700 questions from each organization with 24 qualitative cases. The study questions

  1. The effectiveness
    • How, why and to what extent does communication affect the achievement of organizational objectives
      • CEOs report 186% return on investment in communication function for all organizations
      • CEOs with excellent communication programs report 225% return on investment in public relations
  1. What characteristics of a communication department increase the likelihood that it will contribute to organizational effectiveness
    • Public relations unit is headed by a Manager rather than a Technician
    • Empowerment of public relations in the dominant coalition or direct reporting relationship to senior management
    • Integrated public relations function
    • Public relations a management function separate from other functions
    • Involvement of public relations in strategic management
    • Two-ways symmetrical model of public relations
    • A symmetrical system of internal communication 
    • Knowledge for managerial role and symmetrical public relations
    • Diversity embodied in all roles

Globalization of Public Relations

  • Generic principles
    • The characteristic of excellent public relations
  • Specific applications needed for
    • Culture, political system, economic system, extent of activism, level of development and media systems

Leave a Comment

Similar Posts

Scroll to Top
X