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Module 3: Relations publiques comme une fonction de gestion

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Chapter 1
The Importance of Public Relations: UPS Case
Public relations can truly mean the difference between life and death for an organization, or the
difference between profitability and failure. The following case illustrates the importance of public
relations as a means to maintain ongoing, beneficial relationships, to systematically listen to and
understand the concerns of publics—in this case, internal publics and a labor union and the external
public of news media. Ongoing public relations initiatives, such as strategic issues management,
could have prevented the problems encountered by the organization in the following case. The case
also demonstrates that an organization can recover its footing and repair its reputation and
relationships, once it acknowledges its mistakes and commits to changing course. The following
series of events highlight the importance of ongoing, strategic public relations as the very lifeblood of
an organization. [1]
[1] Case based on classroom lecture and interviews with Kenneth Sternad (personal communication, March 30,
2009; September 2009). Information also based on UnitedParcel Service (2009).
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1.1 A Conflict Unfolds
United Parcel Service (UPS), the world’s largest transportation and logistics company, faced a
difficult set of challenges as the year 1997 began. The company, founded in 1907, plays a vital role in
both the U.S. and global economy. UPS serves more than 200 countries and territories and delivered
more than 3.8 billion packages—15 million packages a day—in 2008. The company achieved $51.5
billion in 2008 revenues and has more than eight million customer contacts per day. It is the second
largest employer in the United States and the ninth largest in the world with 427,000 employees.
UPS carries approximately 6% of U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) and 2% of global GDP.
UPS had a long and, for the most part, positive relationship with the International Brotherhood of
Teamsters, the union that has represented UPS employees since the 1920s. In 1997, that relationship
would be severely tested and the resulting impact on the company would be profound.
Negotiations with the Teamsters began in early January of that year, even though the existing
contract didn’t expire until 12:01 A.M. on August 1, 1997. UPS negotiates a national contract with the
union every 4 to 6 years, and prior to 1997 there had never been a national strike by the union
against UPS. The company is the largest employer of Teamsters in the country, with 225,000
members.
The president of the Teamsters was Ron Carey, a former UPS driver from New York City, who—
according to many accounts—had left the company with a profound dislike for UPS. Carey had won
reelection as president of the Teamsters in 1996, an election that later resulted in an investigation
based on allegations of illegal fund-raising and kickbacks. As negotiations with the Teamsters began,
Carey’s opponents within the union were attacking him, seeking to erode his support and petitioning
for possible new elections. Many believed there was a high likelihood that the federal investigation
would result in Carey’s election being overturned. Although UPS was not aware of it as negotiations
began, Carey had been quietly preparing the union for a strike. He needed to make a show of force
and leadership to galvanize his support in anticipation of rerunning for the presidency if the election
was nullified.
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At the start of negotiations the primary issues focused on traditional areas such as wages and health
and retirement benefits. But two other areas proved to be far more important, especially in the
communication battle that developed as negotiations began to break down. One of these was job
security. UPS had utilized part-time employees for many years, and the Teamsters wanted the
company to commit to the creation of a higher percentage of full-time jobs, with a guaranteed
minimum number of these jobs.
A second underlying issue that heavily influenced the negotiations was control of the pensions for
UPS employees in the union. At the time negotiations began, the Teamsters union controlled the
pension fund, one of the largest funds in the United States. UPS questioned how the fund was being
managed, the future pension security of its employees, and wanted a separate pension fund for its
employees who were Teamsters.
As the negotiations began to deteriorate, the company began planning contingencies at all levels,
including public relations. In 1997, UPS was still a privately held company. The public relations
department was small, with only 10 management employees and a limited budget of $5 million in the
United States. There were few trained spokespeople, since the company did not have the public
disclosure obligations typical of publicly traded firms. The public relations department functions
included product publicity, financial communications, reputation management, and executive
communications through a speaker’s bureau. The function was also responsible for overall message
development, crisis management, sponsorships, and event support. But it was understaffed and
underfunded to deal effectively with the global attention UPS was about to face.
The contract negotiations continued to unravel throughout the summer of 1997 and culminated with
the Teamsters rejecting UPS’s final contract offer on July 30. At that point, federal mediators
intervened and continued negotiations through August 3. As the talks concluded at the end of the
day, the union indicated it would return to the table the next day.
Without any forewarning, the Teamsters union announced to its members that evening that it would
strike. Ron Carey held a press conference early in the morning on August 4 confirming a national
strike and encouraging all UPS workers to walk out. The Teamsters had been developing a full-court
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media blitz, which they launched that day with a well-coordinated campaign using television, radio,
and print.
The UPS strike instantly became the top national and local news story throughout the United States.
The strike affected operations in more than 1,800 locations in all 50 states and generated media
interest in every large- to medium-sized city. The UPS public relations office received more than
20,000 phone calls during the strike. According to Ken Sternad, who headed the function at the
time, “We got slaughtered in the press.”
The strike lasted 15 days and had a severe impact on U.S. and global commerce, costing UPS $750
million in lost revenue and related expenses. In the view of Sternad, the Teamsters won the
communication battle largely because they had “key messages that played well.”
“They focused their messaging around the theme of ‘Part-time America won’t work’ and that caught
on with the media,” said Sternad. “The Teamsters had clearly tested and researched this message and
the others they used. They communicated early and often, including holding twice-daily press
briefings in Washington, DC. The Teamsters stayed in control of the message and it worked for
them.”
Sternad also pointed to the way in which the union put a human face on the issue by showcasing
unhappy UPS workers, especially those with part-time employment. They effectively engaged thirdparty
experts and made effective use of the Internet.
During the strike, UPS established a clear set of guiding principles and never wavered from these.
The company’s number one objective was to get a good contract; winning the public relations battle
was not an objective. “We had decided early on that we would not attack the union leadership and
not make our people a target,” remembers Sternad. He continued,
We knew that we would need our people with us for the long term and we didn’t want to do or
say anything that would tarnish the image of the UPS driver. They will always be the face of the
company and our link to our customers and we didn’t want to alienate them.
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In preparing for the strike, UPS did have a formal crisis communications plan in place and they had
developed a specific communications plan in the event of a strike. The public relations team had
compiled extensive facts and figures about the company and had trained regional spokespeople in
advance of a strike. They had also identified third-party experts who could point out the many
positives of the company.
In retrospect, the company acknowledges that they could have done a better job of handling the
communication before and during the strike. Says Sternad,
We had essentially no communications in the first 24 hours. Our messages simply didn’t resonate
with the media or the general public, including our customers. We realized that we had not
adequately tested our messages before or during the crisis. And we were much slower to utilize
the web than the Teamsters. In the end we just didn’t have the proper resources aligned to
manage the crisis.
UPS learned valuable lessons from the experience that have served them well in preparing for future
crises. Sternad notes,
The real work begins before the crisis hits. The PR team must make decisions for the long-term
and stay focused on priorities. As in all crises, the first hours are the most critical. How the
company responds initially sets the tone for the rest of the crisis period. That is why advance
research is so critical. Message testing is fundamental to effective communications, but it must be
done before the crisis hits.
We also saw clearly that in your messages you need steak and sizzle, facts along with powerful
images that touch people’s emotions, not just their intellect. We now cultivate and use third
parties on an ongoing basis so that we know them and they know us long before a crisis. We
maintain standby web sites that can be turned on instantly in the event of a crisis. As painful as it
was at the time, I think we’re a much stronger and better prepared company because of this
experience.
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Though UPS may have failed to gets its point across in the heat of the 1997 battle, the longer term
story turned out differently. After the strike was settled, Teamsters president Ron Carey was
removed from office, expelled from the union, and banned from participating in labor activities for
life as a result of his involvement with election irregularities.
The Teamsters had retained control of the pension plan after the 1997 strike, but its financial health
continued to erode in the years that followed. Pension benefits were cut, the retirement age was
raised, and UPS ultimately negotiated a separate pension plan for more than 40,000 of its Teamster
employees previously in the union plan. It cost UPS more than $6 billion to exit the union plan and
cover its liabilities, compared to a fraction of that amount it would have cost if they had been granted
control in 1997.
Following the resolution of the strike, UPS saw its strongest growth and most profitable years in
1998 and 1999. In 1999, UPS became a publicly traded company through the largest initial public
offering of its stock in the history of Wall Street.
A year later, UPS was named by Forbes magazine as its “Company of the Year.”
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1.2 What Can Be Learned From the UPS Case?
Although UPS ultimately overcame the setbacks it incurred from the Teamsters strike of 1997, the
company would have much preferred avoiding the strike altogether. Clearly, the strike had an
adverse impact on the company’s reputation, an impact that took years to reverse. The case
demonstrates the importance of developing and maintaining relationships, even with those whom
you may feel are adversaries. In this case, the company underestimated the Teamsters willingness to
call for a strike. They also miscalculated the underlying resentment of Teamsters members toward
the company. Once the strike was under way, the company began to regain its footing. Management
consciously chose not to vilify its employees, even though they had walked off the job. This strategy
proved to be a key in limiting the long-term damage from the strike and allowing UPS to recover its
reputation and rebuild labor relations within a relatively short time.
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Chapter 2
What Is Public Relations?
Public relations is a conduit, a facilitator, and a manager of communication, conducting research,
defining problems, and creating meaning by fostering communication among many groups in
society. The United Parcel Service (UPS) case illustrated the importance of this communication, both
in financial terms—the strike cost UPS about $750 million—and in terms of reputation with strategic
publics.
Public relations is a strategic conversation. As you might imagine, it is an ephemeral and wideranging
field, often misperceived, and because of the lack of message control inherent in public
relations, it is difficult to master. Public relations is even difficult to define. Is it spin or truth telling?
Either way, the public relations function is prevalent and growing; the fragmentation of media and
growth of multiple message sources means that public relations is on the ascent while traditional
forms of mass communication (such as newspapers) are on the decline.
You can find public relations in virtually every industry, government, and nonprofit organization. Its
broad scope makes it impossible to understand without some attention to the taxonomy of this
diverse and dynamic profession. Learning the lexicon of public relations in this chapter will help you
master the discipline and help your study move quicker in subsequent reading.
Corporate and agency public relations differ. These concepts are discussed in detail in a later
chapter, along with nonprofit public relations and government relations or public affairs. For the
purposes of an overview, we can define corporate public relations as being an in-house public
relations department within a for-profit organization of any size. On the other hand, public relations
agencies are hired consultants that normally work on an hourly basis for specific campaigns or goals
of the organization that hires them. It is not uncommon for a large corporation to have both an inhouse
corporate public relations department and an external public relations agency that consults on
specific issues. As their names imply, nonprofit public relations refers to not-for-profit organizations,
foundations, and other issue- or cause-related groups. Government relations or public affairs is the
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branch of public relations that specializes in managing relationships with governmental officials and
regulatory agencies.
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2.1 Defining Public Relations
Among the many competing definitions of public relations, J. Grunig and Hunt’s is the most widely
cited definition of public relations: Public relations is “the management of communication between an
organization and its publics.” [1]One reason this definition is so successful is its parsimony, or using
few words to convey much information. It also lays down the foundation of the profession squarely
within management, as opposed to the competing approaches of journalism or the promotion-based
approach of marketing and advertising that focuses primarily on consumers. The component parts of
Grunig and Hunt’s famous definition of public relations are as follows:
• Management. The body of knowledge on how best to coordinate the activities of an enterprise to
achieve effectiveness.
• Communication. Not only sending a message to a receiver but also understanding the messages of
others through listening and dialogue.
• Organization. Any group organized with a common purpose; in most cases, it is a business, a
corporation, a governmental agency, or a nonprofit group.
• Publics. Any group(s) of people held together by a common interest. They differ from audiences in
that they often self-organize and do not have to attune to messages; publics differ from stakeholders
in that they do not necessarily have a financial stake tying them to specific goals or consequences of
the organization. Targeted audiences, on the other hand, are publics who receive a specifically
targeted message that is tailored to their interests.
As “the management of communication between an organization and its publics,” public relations
has radically departed from its historical roots in publicity and journalism to become a management
discipline—that is, one based on research and strategy.
[1] Grunig and Hunt (1984), p. 4. Emphasis in original.
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2.2 The Function of Public Relations
In 1982, the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) adopted the following definition of public
relations that helps identify its purpose: “Public relations helps an organization and its publics adapt
mutually to each other.” [1] In its “Official Statement on Public Relations,” PRSA goes on to clarify the
function of public relations:
• Public relations helps our complex, pluralistic society to reach decisions and function more effectively
by contributing to mutual understanding among groups and institutions. It serves to bring private
and public policies into harmony.
• Public relations serves a wide variety of institutions in society such as businesses, trade unions,
government agencies, voluntary associations, foundations, hospitals, schools, colleges and religious
institutions. To achieve their goals, these institutions must develop effective relationships with many
different audiences or publics such as employees, members, customers, local communities,
shareholders and other institutions, and with society at large.
• The managements of institutions need to understand the attitudes and values of their publics in order
to achieve institutional goals. The goals themselves are shaped by the external environment. The
public relations practitioner acts as a counselor to management and as a mediator, helping to
translate private aims into reasonable, publicly acceptable policy and action. [2]
As such, the public relations field has grown to encompass the building of important relationships
between an organization and its key publics through its actions and its communication. This
perspective defines the field as a management function and offers insight into the roles and
responsibilities of public relations professionals. The PRSA definition, however, is not perfect: A
main weakness of that definition is that it requires public relations “to bring private and public
policies into harmony.” [3] In reality, we know that the relationships an organization has with all of its
publics cannot always be harmonious. Further, that definition obligates us to act in the best interest
of both the organization and its publics, which could be logically impossible if those interests are
diametrically opposed. A few examples would be class action litigation, boycotts, and oppositional
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research and lobbying; despite the negative nature of those relationships, they still require public
relations management and communication.
The unique management function of public relations is critical to the success of any organization that
engages people in its operation, whether they are shareholders, employees, or customers. Although
many people think of publicity as the sole purpose of public relations, this text will help you
understand that publicity is a subfunction of the overall purpose of public relations and should not
be confused with the broader function.
[1] Public Relations Society of America (2009b).
[2] Public Relations Society of America (2009a).
[3] Public Relations Society of America (2009b).
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2.3 Naming the Public Relations Function
A plethora of terms has come to be associated with modern-day public relations practice. Because of
the disreputable beginnings of public relations that we will briefly discuss next, it is often the case
that organizations will choose to name their public relations function by another moniker. These
various terms create much confusion about the responsibilities of public relations versus overlapping
or competing organizational functions. The term corporate communication is the most common
synonym for public relations in practice today, [1] followed by marketing communication and public
affairs. We view the term corporate communication as a synonym for public relations, although some
scholars argue that corporate communication only applies to for-profit organizations. However, we
view corporate communication as a goal-oriented communication process that can be applied not only
in the business world but also in the world of nonprofits and nongovernmental organizations,
educational foundations, activist groups, faith-based organizations, and so on. The term public
relations often leads to confusion between the media relations function, public affairs, corporate
communication, and marketing promotions, leading many organizations to prefer the term corporate
communication.
We believe that the key component of effective public relations or corporate communication is an
element of strategy. Many scholars prefer to use the phrase strategic public relations to differentiate it
from the often misunderstood general term public relations, or “PR,” which can be linked to
manipulation or “spin” in the minds of lay publics. Strategic communication management, strategic
public relations, and corporate communication are synonyms for the concept displayed in the
preceding definitions. To scholars in the area, public relations is seen as the larger profession and an
umbrella term, comprising many smaller subfunctions, such as media relations or public affairs or
investor relations. The subfunctions of public relations will be delineated later in this chapter.
Academics tend to use the term public relations, whereas professionals tend to prefer the term
corporate communication. Do not be distracted by the name debate and the myriad of synonyms
possible. Whatever name you prefer or encounter, a strong body of knowledge in the field, based on
academic study and professional practice, has solidified the importance of the concepts supporting
the strategic communication function that we will discuss in this text.
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[1] Bowen et al. (2006).
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2.4 Chapter Summary
This chapter has provided an introduction to the purpose of public relations. Although the public
relations function goes by many different names, it is essential to understand that it is a unique
management function that contributes to an organization’s success through its focus on developing
and maintaining relationships with key publics. Those publics are generally employees, financial
stakeholders or shareholders, communities, governments at many levels, and the media. It is also
important not to confuse the overall purpose of public relations with its subfunctions, such as
publicity and media relations. These subfunctions will be defined in the next chapter and covered in
more detail in Chapter 10 "The Practice of Public Relations".
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Chapter 3
Models and Approaches to Public Relations
Although there were ancient public relations—as far in the past as ancient Greece—modern-day
public relations in the United States began with a group of revolutionaries mounting a public
relations campaign to turn public opinion in favor of independence from England and King George.
The revolutionaries effectively used words and actions to mount a successful activist campaign
leading to the Revolutionary War. Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, published in 1776, gave rise to the
sentiment that England’s governance under King George III was unjust. The subsequent Declaration
of Independence and outward acts of protest were largely influenced by the rhetorical arguments
found in Paine’s pamphlet, which has been called the most influential tract of the American
Revolution. Slogans, such as Don’t Tread on Me, and use of printed materials, such as Colonial
newspapers, were key message tactics used to sway opinion in favor of a revolution and a war for
independence. Following the independence, The Federalist Papers were used to ratify the United
States Constitution. These 85 essays were, according to the assessment of Grunig and Hunt,
exemplary forms of effective public relations. [1]
These founding fathers of the United States used public relations to build the public consensus
necessary for a budding nation to form a new kind of government and establish the human rights
necessary for the nation to survive.
[1] Grunig and Hunt (1984).
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3.1 The Historical Development of Modern Public Relations
Modern public relations in the United States can also be traced back to less illustrious beginnings
than the creation of a new democratic republic. [1] P. T. Barnum, of circus fame, made his mark by
originating and employing many publicity or press agentry tactics to generate attention for his shows
and attractions. Barnum was famous for coining the phrase, “There’s no such thing as bad
publicity.” [2] He was even known to pen letters to the editor under an assumed name outing some of
his attractions as hoaxes just to generate publicity and keep a story alive. Unfortunately, Barnum’s
ethics left much to be desired.
One-Way Communication Models: Publicity and Dissemination of Information
Barnum thought that honesty was not the domain of a press agent, and infamously stated, “The public be
fooled.” [3] Droves of press agents followed in Barnum’s tracks, in efforts to get free space in the news for
their clients, ranging from Hollywood figures to private interests, such as railroads, and also politicians.
This approach to public relations was termed press agentry by Grunig and Hunt because of its reliance on
generating publicity with little regard for truth. For modern-day examples, we have to look only to the
entertainment publicity surrounding a new film release, or the product publicity around a new energy
drink or a new technological gadget. Publicity and press agentry are synonymous terms meaning simply to
generate attention through the use of media.
The next historical phase resulted in a new model of public relations that Grunig and Hunt
termed public information. In this approach to public relations, a former journalist works as a writer
representing clients, issuing news releases to media outlets in the same style as journalistic writing. The
idea of the public relations specialist acting as a counselor to management, as opposed to a simple
practitioner of press agentry tactics, was born. The pioneering public information counselor was a man
named Ivy Ledbetter Lee, who revolutionized public relations practice at the time with the idea of telling
the truth. Lee studied at Harvard Law School, but went on to find a job as a journalist. After working as a
successful journalist for a number of years, Ivy Lee realized that he had a real ability for explaining
complicated topics to people, and had the idea of being a new kind of press agent. Rather than tricking the
public, Lee saw his role as one of educating the public about truthful facts and supplying all possible
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information to the media. Ivy Lee opened the third public relations agency in the United States in 1904,
representing clients such as the Pennsylvania Railroad, the Rockefeller family, and the Anthracite Coal
Roads and Mine Company. [4] Lee became the first public relations practitioner to issue a code of ethics in
1906, based on his declaration that “the public be informed”—to replace railroad tycoon Commodore
Cornelius Vanderbilt’s infamous statement, “The public be damned.” [5] Ivy Lee ushered in a more
respectable form of public relations that is objective and factual. His public information approach is still
in use today, especially in government reporting, quarterly earnings statements, and similar reports
intended simply to inform.
Both the press agentry and public information models of public relations are based on writing and
technical skill with images, words, Web sites, and media relations. These concepts are based on a one-way
dissemination of information. They are not management-based models because strategic management is
based on research. Research is what makes management a strategic pursuit based on knowledge and data
that comprise two-way communication, as opposed to a simple one-way dissemination of information
based on assumptions.
Two-Way Communication Models: Strategic Management of Public Relations
The next two models of public relations are based on research. Using research to gather public opinion
data led scholars to label these models two-way rather than one-way because they more resemble a
conversation than a simple dissemination of information. Grunig and Hunt termed the two management
models asymmetrical and symmetrical.
The asymmetrical model was pioneered between 1920 and 1950 by Edward Bernays, nephew of
psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, and is based on the principles of behavioral psychology. Public relations
research seeks to determine what publics know and understand or believe about the client organization,
issues of importance, and so on. Then, in the asymmetrical model, once these beliefs are learned through
polling and other means, they are incorporated into the public relations messages distributed by the
organization. It is called asymmetrical because it is imbalanced in favor of the communicator; the
communicator undergoes no real change, but simply uses the ideas she knows will resonate in
communicating with publics with the purpose of persuading them on some issue or topic. For example, if
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I am a politician running for reelection and my research identifies tax cuts as an important topic with
publics, then I include the importance of tax cuts in my next campaign speech. Research is a key
component of this model, as it seeks to persuade publics to adopt the attitudes and beliefs that are
favorable to the organization based on the collection of data about their existent beliefs.
The symmetrical model was also pioneered by Edward Bernays and several prominent public relations
practitioners and educators between about 1960 to 1980. It seeks also to use research on public opinion
just as the asymmetrical model does. However, it does not use research with the intent to persuade, but to
build mutual understanding between both publics and organizations. Organizations are open to changing
their internal policies and practices in this model based on what they learn from their publics. It is a
collaborative approach to building understanding, and, although not perfectly balanced, it is a moving
equilibrium in which both sides in the communication process have an opportunity to have input and
change an issue. To revise this example, after research identifying tax cuts as an issue, a symmetrical
politician would actually incorporate tax cuts into her belief system and offer ideas supporting those
beliefs on the campaign trail.
In modern public relations, we often see a mixing of the public relations models among multiple tactics or
communication tools within one public relations campaign. It is best to think of the models as theoretical
constructs that, in implementation, become combined through the mixed motives of public relations. In
most cases, public relations professionals not only want to aid their employer or client but also to assist
the publics outside the organization to access and understand the inner workings of the firm. This mixedmotive
approach is based on the real-world contingencies that impact public relations decisions, and the
desire to facilitate communication on both sides of an issue, both for organizations and for publics.
Summary of the Models of Public Relations
In summary, the historical development of the field showed four distinct models of public relations, as
identified by Grunig and Hunt. With this brief background in the history of public relations, you likely
know enough about the models now to begin employing each in your public relations management. All are
still in use in public relations practice today, and these terms are used in the academic literature and in
public relations management. The one-way models are not based on social scientific research but on a
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simple dissemination of information. The two-way models are based on research, which is what makes
them the two-way management model. In order of their development, the models are as follows:
• Press agentry. One-way (information) dissemination focusing on publicity for
persuasion/attention.
• Public information. One-way (information) dissemination providing information.
• Two-way asymmetrical. Two-way (research), which is imbalanced in favor of persuading publics
to support the organizations’ interests.
• Two-way symmetrical. Two-way (research), which is more balanced in terms of creating mutual
understanding; moving equilibrium.
Due to the mixed-motives inherent in the public relations process, public relations professionals will most
likely use a combination of these models in public relations management. These models suggest an overall
philosophy of public relations, while situations require different approaches. Therefore, it is also useful to
have public relations strategies that reflect a contingency of varying approaches, as discussed later in this
volume.
[1] Cutlip (1995).
[2] Grunig and Hunt (1984), p. 28.
[3] Grunig and Hunt (1984), p. 29.
[4] Grunig and Hunt (1984), p. 32.
[5] Hiebert (1966), p. 54.
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3.2 The Subfunctions of Public Relations
Before we delve deeper into the profession, we would like to introduce you to the subfunctions or
specialties within public relations. Think of the public relations function as a large umbrella
profession encompassing many subfunctions. Those subfunctions are often independent units within
an organization, sometimes reporting to public relations and sometimes reporting to other
organizational units such as legal, marketing, or human resources. Learning the subfunctions and
the lexicon of terminology associated with this function is crucial to understanding how to manage
an integrated and effective public relations function. The following subfunctions will be discussed in
more detail later in this volume.
Although there are many subfunctions that make up public relations, most people would identify two
major types, corporate and agency. Corporate, or “in-house,” is a part of the organization or business.
It functions to create relationships between an organization and its various publics. The second type
of subfunction is associated with the public relations agency; its purpose is to assist organizations in a
specific area of expertise.
Typical Corporate Public Relations Subfunctions
It is important to note that each subfunction may differ according to organizational structure and size, as
we discuss in Chapter 5 "Organizational Factors for Excellent Public Relations", “Organizational Factors
Contributing to Excellent Public Relations.” Sometimes the public relations subfunctions overlap and one
department (or even one person) is responsible for many or all of these activities. Large organizations,
particularly those with multiple locations doing business internationally, will sometimes have multiple
units covering just one of these subspecialties in public relations. Oftentimes the public relations function
is structured with a separate department handling each of the responsibilities.
Issues Management
Issues management is arguably the most important subfunction of public relations. Issues management is
the forward-thinking, problem-solving, management-level function responsible for identifying problems,
trends, industry changes, and other potential issues that could impact the organization. Issues
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management requires a formidable knowledge of research, environmental monitoring, the organization’s
industry and business model, and management strategy.
Media Relations
The media relations subfunction is likely the most visible portion of public relations that an organization
conducts because it deals directly with external media. The media relations subfunction is a largely
technical function, meaning it is based on the technical skill of producing public relations materials, or
outputs. Outputs are often related to tactics, and examples of tactics include news releases, podcasts,
brochures, video news releases for the broadcast media, direct mail pieces, photographs, Web sites, press
kits, and social media (digital media).
Community Relations
As the name implies, the community relations subfunction is responsible for establishing and maintaining
relationships with an organization’s communities. Normally this territory implies a physical community,
as in the borders of manufacturing facilities with their residential neighbors.
Philanthropy and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)
Oftentimes the functions of strategically donating funds or services and a corporate social responsibility
endeavor are part of the public relations department’s efforts. The Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 requires
corporations to hold to a code of ethics and to report on their socially responsible conduct. The public
relations subfunction responsible for this reporting usually is called the CSR unit or department and often
is combined with or managed by community relations.
Financial and Investor Relations
Many managers do not realize that public relations is the function responsible for writing an
organization’s annual report, quarterly earnings statements, and communicating with investors and
market analysts. This type of public relations normally requires experience with accounting and financial
reporting.
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Marketing Communications
Marketing communications is also known as integrated marketing communications or integrated
communications. Publicity and product promotion targeting the specific public consumers is the focus of
this subfunction. Public relations strategies and tactics are used primarily through a press agentry model
meant to increase awareness and persuade consumers to try or buy a certain product.
Government Relations and Public Affairs, Including Lobbying
The public affairs of an organization are the issues of interest to a citizenry or community about which an
organization must communicate. Government relations handles maintaining relationships with both
regulatory agencies and appointed and elected officials.
Internal Relations
Maintaining an effective and satisfied workforce is the job of internal relations. Public relations
professionals who specialize in internal relations have the primary responsibilities of communicating with
intraorganizational publics, executives, management, administrative staff, and labor.
Typical Public Relations Agency Subfunctions
In addition to the general media relations activities offered by many public relations agencies, seven
specializations or subfunctions commonly exist.
Crisis Management
Crisis management involves both planning for and reacting to emergency situations. Organizations have a
need for quick response plans and fast and accurate information provided to the news media that public
relations agencies specializing in crisis or risk management often provide and implement in the case of a
crisis.
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Lobbying
As an adjunct to the government relations or public affairs unit of the corporation, an
external lobbying firm may also be hired. Lobbyists normally have expertise with the industry for which
they are hired to communicate, and maintain relationships with legislators, press secretaries, and other
governmental officials. They often provide educational documents, policy analysis, and research to those
in government on behalf of clients.
Member Relations
The public relations subfunction known as member relations, as the name implies, is responsible for
maintaining good relationships with members of an organization. These members may be alumni, donors,
members of activist or support groups, or virtually any group distinguished by a commonality and
requiring membership.
Development and Fund-Raising
The public relations subfunction of development fund-raising often overlaps with member relations in
that it seeks to build support, particularly in the form of financial donations or government grants.
Polling and Research
Polling and research are carried out to such an extent within public relations that specialized firms exist to
conduct these activities full time, usually on a contract or retainer basis. It should be noted, however, that
very large organizations often have their own research “departments” within one or more public relations
subfunctions.
Sports, Entertainment, and Travel Public Relations
Specialized forms of public relations exist as public relations subfunctions for each of these very large
industries.
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Advertising
Although advertising is a separate profession from public relations, it is usually employed as part of a
public relations campaign.
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3.3 Chapter Summary
This chapter has provided the basic knowledge of public relations models and subfunctions (both
corporate and agency) necessary to understand and expand your knowledge of this vast and everchanging
profession. The models and subfunctions are those that generally comprise public
relations, although they do vary by industry. The organization size, type, amount of government
regulation, and even the organization’s competition will determine whether it has all or some of
these subfunctions present in-house, outsources them as needed, or relies on public relations
agencies. Normally an organization will have a majority of the subfunctions on this list. They may be
structured as part of the public relations department, or as independent units reporting to it, to
another function, or to senior management.
Knowing the terminology related to the subfunctions helps to identify different forms of public
relations and combinations of these efforts in practice. In order to achieve the most with public
relations initiatives, it is important to know which subfunctions must exist, which work well with one
another, and which need independence or autonomy. Further in the book, we will apply this
knowledge to examine the structuring of the public relations department and subfunctions. We will
examine how organizational structure has an impact on the models of public relations employed and
the subfunctions that exist in practice.
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Chapter 4
Public Relations as a Management Function
In the opening chapters, we provided an overview of public relations, including definitions, a brief
history of the profession, and a description of the models and subfunctions common in the
profession. In these chapters, public relations was defined as a unique management function that
uses communication to help manage relationships with key publics. In this chapter, we will expound
on this management function, explaining why companies need public relations and how the public
relations function is comprised of specialized roles.
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4.1 Functions of Management
Organizations usually have several management functions to help them operate at their maximum
capacity: research and development, finance, legal, human resources, marketing, and operations.
Each of these functions is focused on its own contribution to the success of the organization. Public
relations’ unique function is to help the organization develop and maintain relationships with all of
its key publics and stakeholders by effectively communicating with these groups. Communication is
key in maintaining a satisfactory, long-term, trusting relationships with publics and stakeholders.
As described earlier, public relations provides the greatest value to an organization when it is
used strategically. But what does this really mean? Think of it this way: In an effective organization,
all the major functions are linked together by a common set of strategies that tie in to an overall
vision of the future and an underlying set of values. Perhaps a computer company has as its vision,
“To become the low cost provider of computing power to the developing world.” From this vision,
senior management develops a set of strategies that address areas like sourcing, the manufacturing
footprint, marketing, design, human resource development, and product distribution. When all the
elements are in sync, the company grows in a steady, profitable manner.
An important component of this set of strategies is a communication strategy. For example, it will be
critical that all employees in the organization understand that strategy and their role in executing it.
Many business failures are ultimately attributable to the confusion caused by poor communication.
How many times have you received poor customer service from an employee in a restaurant or retail
outlet? In all likelihood, the organization that employed this worker intended for him or her to
deliver good service to you. But somewhere along the line the communication flow broke down.
Perhaps the employee’s direct supervisor or the store manager was not an effective communicator.
Whatever the cause, the end result is a dissatisfied customer and diminished loyalty to the
relationship.
In addition to reaching employees, a successful organization must also communicate effectively with
its customers, its suppliers, and if it is a public company, its shareholders. For each key public, a set
of messages must be developed as well as a plan to reach the public in the most efficient way. If the
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company is targeting young people with its message, a high-impact article in theWall Street
Journal is going to completely miss the mark for this strategic public. If instead the public is high
net-worth investors, a clever YouTube video may also not be the right answer.
Although public relations has a unique and important function within organizations, it is often
practiced differently depending on the role the top communicator plays within the organization, as
we discuss next.
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4.2 Public Relations Roles
In general, public relations professionals can be communication managers who organize and
integrate communication activities, or they can be communication technicians who primarily write
and construct messages. Research in this area led to the identification of four specific roles: the
technician role and three types of communication managers.
Most practitioners begin their careers as communication technicians. This role requires executing
strategies with the communication tactics of news releases, employee newsletters, position papers,
media placements, Web site content, speeches, blogs, and social media messaging. Practitioners in
this role are usually not involved in defining problems and developing solutions, but base their
tactics on the technical skill of writing. The expert prescriber is similar to the role a doctor performs
with a patient: He or she is an authority on a particular industry, problem, or type of public relations
and is given the primary responsibility to handle this function as a consultant or with little input or
participation by other senior management. Thecommunication facilitator is a boundary spanner who
listens to and brokers information between the organization and its key publics. According to Cutlip,
Center, and Broom, the goal of this role is “to provide both management and publics the information
they need for making decisions of mutual interest.”[1] The problem-solving facilitator collaborates with
other managers to define and solve problems. This role requires that the professional is a part of the
dominant coalition of the organization and has access to other senior managers. The problemsolving
facilitator helps other managers think through organizational problems using a public
relations perspective.
Research on these four roles found that the communication technician role was distinct from the
other three roles and that the latter three roles were highly correlated. [2] In other words, an expert
prescriber was also likely to fulfill the role of the communication facilitator and the problem-solving
facilitator. To resolve the lack of mutual exclusiveness in the latter three roles, they were combined
into one role: communication manager. The dichotomy between the communication technician and
the communication manager more accurately explained the responsibilities of public relations
practitioners within organizations.
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Research indicates that practitioners in a predominantly technician role spend the majority of their
time writing, producing, and placing communication messages. [3] Typically, those in this role are
creative and talented with language and images. Their capacity to create and produce messages with
powerful imagery and evocative language is very important to the execution of public relations
tactics. However, technicians rarely have a seat at the management table and do not have a voice in
the strategy of the organization. Once the strategy is decided, the technician is brought in to execute
the deliverables (or tactics) in the strategy.
The communication manager is involved in the strategic thinking of an organization and must be
able to conduct research and measurement and share data that informs better decisions for
managing relationships with key publics. The communications manager thinks strategically, which
means he or she will be focused on the efforts of the organization that contribute to the mutually
beneficial relationships that help an organization achieve its bottom-line goals. These efforts are not
limited to communication strategies, but include monitoring an organization’s external environment,
scanning for issues that might impact the organization, and helping an organization adapt to the
needs of its stakeholders.
A study on excellence in the practice of public relations found that one of the major predictors of
excellence was whether the role of the top public relations executive was a manager role or a
technician role. [4] Those in the management role were much more likely to have a positive impact on
the organization’s public relations practice. In order for corporate communication to function
strategically, the executive in charge of the function must have a place at the decision-making table.
[1] Cutlip, Center, and Broom (2006).
[2] Dozier and Broom (1995), pp. 3–26.
[3] Broom and Dozier (1986), pp. 37–56.
[4] Grunig, J. E. (1992).
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4.3 The C-Suite
Virtually all organizations are run by a senior leadership team that is responsible for setting strategy
and carrying out the organization’s vision. Although publicly traded companies, as well as nonprofit
organizations, may be governed ultimately by a board of directors, this board looks to the chief
executive and his or her senior team to operate the company on a day-to-day basis.
The key functions in an organization include finance, headed by a chief financial officer (CFO); legal,
which reports to the General Counsel; human resources, led by a chief personnel officer (CPO);
information services, reporting to the chief information officer (CIO); marketing, often led by a chief
marketing officer (CMO); and communication, which reports to the chief communications officer
(CCO). These functional areas serve the operations of the company, which in some cases report to a
president or chief operating officer. In many cases the CEO also is president/COO (chief operating
officer) of the organization.
Although organizational structures vary from company to company, these basic functional areas are
usually present in the senior team. In some cases, the communication function is subordinated under
another area, such as marketing, legal, or human resources. When this is the case, it becomes more
difficult for the senior communications leader to play a meaningful role in the strategic decisionmaking
process. The communication function brings to the senior team a different perspective from
these other areas. The legal function is focused primarily on compliance with the law; marketing is
focused primarily on the company’s competitive position with the customer; human resources (HR)
is focused almost exclusively on employee compensation and development issues. In other words,
communication is the only function with eyes on all the publics inside and outside of the
organization, and should be included in strategic decision making.
Role of Communication in Decision Making
One of the common denominators for officers in the C-suite is the imperative to make good decisions that
affect their ability to positively contribute to the goals of the organization. The ability to make good
decisions often defines a valuable manager. To make good decisions, managers need good information. By
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definition, good information helps reduce uncertainty in making a decision. Rarely is a decision made
with utter certainty, but managers need enough information to have confidence that their decisions will
result in positive consequences. This information is provided as data regarding these various functions:
product testing, market research, legal precedents, and financial statements. Since public relations’ role is
to help the organization develop and maintain good relationships, it must provide data or information
about how the organization can achieve this. This is how strategic public relations earns its seat at the
executive table.
The communication function looks at all the stakeholders in the organization and uses a variety of tools
and tactics to enhance relationships with these publics. At its best, the communication function uses
research and monitoring methods to keep a finger on the pulse of internal and external perceptions of the
organization. It uses a variety of communication channels to enhance the organization’s reputation. And
most importantly it provides strategic counsel to the organization’s leaders to help the team make better
decisions.
Some have suggested that the communication function serves or should serve as the corporate
conscience. They contend that communication leaders have a uniquely objective perspective that allows
them to weigh the sometimes conflicting needs of different publics and to help the organization make
more balanced decisions. Although there is much truth to this perspective, we add that the conscience of
the organization, its moral obligation to do the right thing, is one that is shared by all who lead it,
including the CEO, the board, and the senior management team.
As the top communication professional, the CCO has an important responsibility to ensure that all key
stakeholders are given due consideration when critical decisions are made. In that regard, the CCO acts as
the voice for many who are not in the room when choices are made. He or she must keep in mind the
minority shareholders, overlooked employee segments, nongovernmental organizations, special interest
groups, elected officials, community leaders, and others who may be affected by the decision and who
have influential roles in their respective areas.
By providing this overarching perspective, the CCO does much more than deliver tactical communication
products. This strategic counsel is what CEOs and other leaders are increasingly seeking in all members of
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the senior team. By delivering it, the CCO enhances the value of the function and ensures ongoing
participation in charting the future course for the company.
Strategy and Profit Motivation
Public relations as a profession is often thought of as nothing more than a simple set of tactics. Far too
often those in the profession are portrayed in the media and in popular culture as a group of emptyheaded
party planners or deceptive flacks willing to say anything to get publicity for their clients. The
tools of the trade—news releases, press conferences, media events, employee newsletters—are considered
as discrete tactics that rarely if ever are driven by an underlying strategy.
This, like other stereotypes, is simply not supported by fact. As practiced by most large organizations and
agencies, public relations is an integral part of overall strategy. Communication programs are developed
based on extensive research to address specific business objectives with stated outcomes, target
audiences, and key messages. The results of these efforts can be measured, both qualitatively and
quantitatively.
Think of it this way: When an organization develops a strategic plan, it usually does so with a relatively
small number of key executives. These leaders look at the company’s strengths, organization, challenging
issues, and potential problems that could arise. They consider the organization’s financial position, its
growth prospects, its competitive position, and the changing landscape in which it operates.
When they have considered all of these factors, they map out a strategy that will build on the company’s
current strengths, address its relative areas of weakness, take advantage of opportunities, and prepare for
looming threats. They may decide, for example, to be the low-cost provider in their industry segment. Or
they may decide to take advantage of their expertise in new product development, or to exploit their
superior distribution network.
At some point, the strategy must be executed by a much larger, geographically dispersed network of
employees. This is where the communication strategy becomes crucial. If a company has a long track
record of fighting with its employees over issues like pay, benefits, union representation, child care
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programs, or workplace safety, it will be much more difficult to call upon them to launch a new initiative
aimed at improving customer service.
In large measure, an important role of the communication function team is to help balance the needs of
all publics—employees, investors, customers, communities—as the organization makes key decisions. For
example, assume that a company is facing financial difficulties due to declining market share in one part
of the United States. They are faced with the decision of closing a regional plant since that level of
manufacturing capacity is no longer needed. In the past, they simply might have turned to the public
relations executive and said, “We’re closing the Milwaukee plant. Try to put a good face on it.” An
organization that views the communication function as a strategic partner instead would say,
We’ve got too much manufacturing capacity; operations is recommending that we close
Milwaukee. We’d like you to take a look at the impact this will have with our employees,
customers, and the community there and help us measure this as we examine the alternatives.
There may be another choice that won’t be as painful to the organization.
Balancing the needs of publics is just one facet of the impact public relations can have on achieving
organizational goals. It obviously depends on the organization, but in almost every case, effective
communication programs help drive strategy from conception to delivery. Successful internal
communication programs can improve the ability of supervisors to motivate employees and build pride in
the organization. Creative external communication programs can improve customer relationships, build
brand recognition, encourage investor interest in a publicly traded company, and increase the
effectiveness of traditional advertising and marketing efforts. Community outreach programs can help
local residents appreciate the impact of a company on the surrounding area in which it operates. The
impact of well-conceived strategic communication programs can be profound, and many companies have
already benefited by recognizing this importance and building upon the strengths public relations brings
to the table.
In 2007, the Arthur W. Page Society, a membership organization of chief communications officers at the
largest corporations, agency CEOs, and leading academics, produced a white paper called The Authentic
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century business. According to this report, the role of the CCO is much broader than it was even a few
years ago. The CCO of today and tomorrow must assert leadership in the following:
• Defining and instilling company values
• Building and managing multistakeholder relationships
• Enabling the enterprise with “new media” skills and tools
• Building and managing trust [2]
The communication executive does not own these responsibilities alone. They are shared with other
members of the leadership team. But the communication executive can and should take a lead role in
ensuring that these responsibilities are fulfilled by the organization.
Business Acumen
Having a seat at the decision-making table is not a right, it is a privilege. Think of it this way: If you were
planning an extended trip to Mexico, you would probably want to brush up on your Spanish before
embarking. You could probably get by without speaking Spanish, but you would be far more effective and
much better accepted by the locals if you at least made an attempt to speak their native language.
It is not so different at the management table. There the participants are speaking the language of
business. They are talking about margin performance and market capitalization and earnings growth.
They are discussing business strategy and market share and competitive position. If you are not
conversant in this terminology and the thinking behind it, you are at a distinct disadvantage as a team
member.
The Page Society surveyed chief executive officers at large multinational corporations to determine how
these CEOs viewed the role of the chief communications officer in a successful executive team. According
to results reported in the Authentic Enterprise white paper, the most important attribute of an ideal CCO
or communications manager was detailed knowledge of the business.
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This is far and away the most critical quality for a top communications executive. All CEOs
believe that their businesses are large and complex entities, and that their companies cannot be
communicated well if their top communications executives do not intimately understand them. [3]
Why does this understanding matter to CEOs and other members of the C-suite? In order to build
persuasive communication programs that advance the objectives of the organization, the communication
team, especially those who lead it, must first understand these objectives. They must also understand the
context in which the organization is pursuing the objectives—both the business context and in external
forces.
It is extremely important to build credibility with the publics you are trying to reach. When a
spokesperson for an organization cannot convey anything beyond what is contained in carefully scripted
talking points, the rec

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