Introduction to PR

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
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
 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
 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
 It is also described as persuasive communication
 relies on an understanding of the attitudes and
behaviour of the targeted publics (e.g. health
 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
 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
 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?