PR History James Grunig and Todd Hunt used four categories of communication relationship with publics, placed in a historical context (see handbook p. 11): 1. Press agentry/publicity model 2. Public information model 3. Two-way asymmetric PR 4. Two-way symmetric PR A press agent or publicist aims to secure coverage for a client, and truth is not an absolute requirement. This type of PR is most common in showbusiness – celebrity PR – where individuals are promoted through media coverage. Understanding is not necessary for this kind of PR, which is likely to measure success in column inches or airtime. An example of this kind of PR is the American circus owner P.T. Barnum, who in the 1850s obtained massive coverage for his ‘Greatest Show on Earth’. He coined the phrase ‘there’s no such thing as bad publicity’ and used stunts such as the ‘marriage’ of circus stars Tom Thumb and Jenny Lind to gain massive media coverage ‘pseudo events’ = activities created solely for publicity purposes. David Boorstin: “Contrary to popular belief, Barnum’s great discovery was not how easy it is to deceive the public, but rather, how much the public enjoyed being deceived.” Barnum’s successor today is publicist Max Clifford, who has a reputation for securing front page coverage for his clients, though he also claims that much of his work is spent keeping them out of the papers. One of Clifford’s most memorable coups is the Sun’s front page headline ‘Freddie Starr ate my hamster’. Another example might be publicity activity surrounding a famous artist, which has been orchestrated by a number of public relations consultancies (Celebrity PR) influenced the news content of daily newspapers, as well as providing the material for magazines This kind of communication provides information to people – where accuracy is now important and essential. This model does not seek to persuade the audience or change attitudes, but to release relevant information to those who need it one-way communication, from sender to receiver. Ivy Leadbetter Lee at the turn of the twentieth century; a business journalist who tried to obtain information about the highly secretive US industrial conglomerations that dominated the economy of the time. An early illustration of his principle in practice was his advice to a rail company to tell the truth about an accident instead of concealing it. Lee’s advice to the Rockefeller family on how to respond to the Ludlow Massacre at the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company plant and counter their image as greedy capitalists by publicising the money they gave to charity. Local and central government continue to practise public information communication through press releases giving details of committee decisions, budget allocation, or movement of personnel. In recent years, the shift from public to private sector utilities has placed a similar emphasis on the need to explain pricing policies to customers ‘transparency’ by improved technology via the internet This model introduces the idea of feedback or two-way communication. It is asymmetric or imbalanced because the intended change is in the audience’s attitudes or behaviour rather than in the organisation’s practices. It is also described as persuasive communication relies on an understanding of the attitudes and behaviour of the targeted publics (e.g. health campaign) Planning and research are important to this kind of public relations. Edward L. Bernays established to advise the US government during the First World War wartime propaganda (see handbook p.14) Bernays’ idea to extend Lucky Strikes’ sales of cigarettes to women by persuading ten debutantes to smoke while walking in New York’s Easter parade. In 1929, General Electric hired Bernays to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of Thomas Edison’s invention of the light bulb arranged ‘Light’s Golden Jubilee’, persuading many of the world’s utilites to switch off their power all at the same time to commemorate Edison. Bernays was the first PR academic started the first PR education course at New York University in 1924. Today propaganda is seen as undesirable and persuasion as suspicious– which partially accounts for the general distrust of public relations. Examples of positive persuasive communication are public health campaigns, such as reducing smoking or encouraging safer driving. Another timeless example is political campaigning at elections, where each candidate seeks to influence their constituents. Persuasion is not, of course, confined to the public sector and two-way asymmetric public relations is probably the most widely used type of PR. Advertising is perhaps the most extreme version of this approach and some theorists (such as Noam Chomsky) say persuasion often slides into propaganda, because the benefits are largely enjoyed by the advertiser, not the consumer. This model is sometimes described as the ‘ideal’ of public relations. It describes a level of equality of communication not often found in real life, where each party is willing to alter their behaviour to accommodate the needs of the other. The symmetric model involves ideas of dialogue mutual understanding Grunig suggests that there are few examples of two-way symmetry in practice and that most of this approach is theoretical, as taught in universities rather than practised in the workplace. These days PR often involves persuading the organisation to change its practice in the face of public pressure. Supermarkets’ response to public opposition to genetically modified foods (see the Marks & Spencer case study in Chapter 10) illustrates how an astute PR awareness of public concern can create opportunities for organisations willing to change their behaviour. The growth in focus groups and market research to ascertain public opinion on a wide range of political as well as consumer issues could illustrate growth in twoway symmetric PR. However, genuine two-way symmetry can occur only where both parties have equal power to influence the other the rarest form of PR. Examples of Marks & Spencer press release on the launch of organic food and the ban of GM ingredients (see handout p. 159 & 160) How would you fit the following examples of public relations into Grunig’s and Hunt’s four models: • • • • Campaign to reduce teenage pregnancy. Launch of a new car. Leaflet giving details of new bank charges. Invitation to discuss plans for new supermarket. The launch of a Hollywood children’s movie might involve: billboard posters; images on packets of crisps, sweets and lunchboxes; the organisation of a premiere in the West End of London; guest appearances by stars on children’s TV shows; and articles about the use of special effects in film or general media. Which of these are public relations? What are the others?