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Discussion on Grunig and Hunt’s Public Relations Model Essay


Grunig& Hunt (1984) established four models of public relations (PR) that are widely used today. The ‘Four Models of Public Relations’ include: press agency/publicist, public information, two-way asymmetrical and two-way symmetric. These theories were drawn from the systems theory and were based on the authors’ view of organization and management practice. Their approach to public relations was in line with what they considered public relations to entail.

They believed that public relations include the activities that are vital to organizational management, communication in the organization and to the public. In further research, Grunig came to understand that for PR to be excellent, it has to be “symmetrical, idealistic, critical, and managerial” (Blaike 2002).

Critics argue that the model of two-way symmetrical that emphasized PR excellence was “over-idealized” and this has led to problems in the theory and practice of PR. Furthermore, these models have been cited as not being realistic. For this paper, it is important to define the following terms since the following discussion is based on the nature of these definitions as constructed by Grunig& Hunt (1984).

Press agency/Publicity

These include the attraction by the media due to the activities of an organization.

Public information

This represents the means by which information is generated to the public about an organization.

Two-way Asymmetric

This is a system that allows an organization to communicate with the public and receive feedback about the same information conveyed to them. However, the writers believed that the organization does not need to respond to the public in the way it is requested of them. This implies that an organization cannot change its policies due to the public feedback, but tends to put forward an alternative to the public which the organization believes is effective (Wilcox & Cameron 2012).

Two-way Symmetric

This model calls for free and equal movement of information between the organization and the public. This implies that there is an understanding between the two principles since both can communicate.

I will investigate the social, cultural and economic issues related to the theory proposed by Grunig and Hunt. Furthermore, I will discuss the relevance of these models to public relations models, academics, and their critics.

Role of the Models in Understanding Public Relations

Organizations must understand the social, economic and cultural setting of their customers to increase their profits. Moreover, these are vital in reaching the cross-cultural markets around the globe. Therefore, in designing a communication model for organizations the above issues must be considered to be successful in their service delivery (White 2003).

Factors such as the cultural differences, language barriers, values and beliefs of the customers must be well understood through mutual communication to understand the customers so that the organization can deliver its products in the most efficient manner. Grunig and Hunt’s model of two-way symmetric is important in dealing with such issues (Szondi 2006).

The theory of public relations states that problem in the organization and the public need to be resolved in a fair way (Edward 2006). This concept is clear in Grunig and Hunt’s definition of two-way symmetric model of public relations. In regard to this model, Grunig and Hunt propose that communication is two-way between the organization and the public. These conflicts and problems should be resolved through negotiation, and communication of the concerned persons.

Recent research into the models reveals that two-way symmetrical is rarely used in organizations. Grunig and Hunt’s public relation models enable organizations to know the importance of mutual communication so that they can solve the social, economic and cultural issues that is a barrier to marketing by organizations (Grunig 2001).

The public relation models moreover provide the public relations managers the role of being responsible as they act as the controller of the communication between the organization and the public. This enables the organizations to be effective in the delivery of their services and to build a stronger relationship with the public through mutual communication.

The model of two-way symmetry enables the organizations to observe the importance of ethics in management. Ethics is vital in the mutual understanding of the organization and the public and this is how the organizations should be run. Observing ethics allows the attitudes of the public to be assessed and also how the public views the organization to act as the way forward in reshaping the organization’s culture and behavior. In return, this should be done to the public (Grunting 1992).

However, critics argue that such systems are dominant in the academic PR literature and that the literature does not give a clear understanding of how PR should be managed. Critics such as Pieczka (1996) believe that such a model is over-rated, cannot be relevant in the contemporary practice and that the foundation of the model is a “hybrid” of systems theory.

Grunig and Hunt’s model cannot maintain its theoretical integrity. Critics argue from the point of view of the development of the two-way symmetric model and the way it originated. The excellent managing of the organization implies that this model was based on the systems theory to draw a line on how the organizations work and the operations of the PR within such system.

Grunig& Hunt (1984) selected a variety of system paradigms to fit their model. Clearly, models are based on a variety of “ontological and epistemologies” that are rarely ignored. Their models are based on an ideal situation and this causes a lot of contradictions in their practical application For example, the use of different systems adopted in their models to explain how an organization’s PR functions is contradictory.

The two-way symmetrical model, for example, enables us to look at the functions of an organization as being “bounded” that is important in understanding the relationship between the organization and the public. Therefore, for an organization to have a mutual understanding with the public, it is established from these models that it must develop an open system.

However, in a real situation, it is not easy to come up with an open system. To achieve a mutual understanding between the organization and the public calls requires the adoption of an adaptive system that considers an organization’s hierarchy and management cooperation to counter for the open and organic system (Watson 1992).

Grunig and Hunt believe that their two-way symmetrical model is normative and therefore runs the organizations in the most efficient manner possible. However, this is not always considered important as it is like imposing some form of dictatorship on others by the organization’s management (Dozier 2002).

Comparison and Contrast of the Models in Relation to Communication

The above models of public relations represent a way in which communication should to be done in organizations. The two-way asymmetric and two-way symmetric models present two different ways in which organizations present their information to the public and vice versa.

In the two-way asymmetric models the sender, which is the organization, is only concerned with giving out information that is not in the requested manner by the public. This implies that the organization does not take the receiver into account and therefore it is hard for organizations to change their policies to suite the public interest (Kalberg 1996).

Two-way symmetric communication implies that there is mutual communication between the public and the organization and therefore the organization is able to take into account the interest of the public and can proceed to change its policies and way it functions to public demand.

The public can put forward their views on how they feel the organization should be run to cater for their interests, including their culture and social responsibility. This is unlike what is proposed in the two-way asymmetric model where there is unequal communication and rarely the organization and the public understand each other. Symmetric communication means that the organization and the public can influence each other’s decisions.

Managers in the organization view information as the main reason for communication as seen in the public information model. The way the information reaches the public is their main concern and therefore efficient distribution of this information, communication track, feedback, quality control, communication channels is concerning to them.

Their work is to manage the transfer of such information properly. The control of this information is the main job of managers, as is conveying the information to the right people and at the right time. With this, the organization is making a positive presence on specific people (Leitch & Neilson 2001).

In these models, the writers present communication to the public and the organization and therefore the public relations professionals act as spokespersons of the organizations.

This call for the organizations to use both the traditional one-way communication, such as organizing press conferences, creating new releases and public relations material, and the two-way models for effective communication with the public. All these models are vital in the organization and no single model is superior to the other and must be used interchangeably.

Analysis and Applications in Different Countries

The use of media has been vital in the implementation of the two-way communication model in different countries such as the Singapore and Malaysia. These countries have realized the importance of such communication as they give an opportunity for the stakeholders and the organizations to share ideas in a mutual way.

Most organizations in these countries use interactive features, such as the web, to get the government’s feedback on their organization and to give feedback to the government and other stakeholders. The media and the two-way symmetric models have found their use in these organizations through enhancing their communication with different stakeholders (Murphy 1991).

Research has realized the importance of interactive media in two-way communication in most organizations. The need for transparency is emphasized in Singapore as it calls for participation and equality as factors of democracy. Democracy in Malaysia has improved as the model of two-way communication is widely used in the government and other organizations and this takes into account the value of the society being involved in decision-making processes (Pieczka 1996).

Case Study

I conducted a case study on Jah Company in Singapore to see how Grunig and Hunt’s public relations models are used in today’s organizations as part of their strategic management.

Communication has found itself at the heart of these organizations in the improvement of its services and having a clear understanding of the customers’ cultural and social well-being. Grunig and Hunt’s models of press agency and public information can be seen as the one-way traditional model and the two way symmetric and asymmetric models present the modern models that are in use in most organizations.

These models help to solve problems related to communication (Plowman 1998). The research I conducted included issues such as how the organizations manage their public relations and the way they conduct their interviews with the public. I realized that there were issues related to individual interviews in these organizations, group interviews, and poor understanding of the customers, and this was attributed to lack of proper communication channels (Pollner 2002).

This showed that Grunig and Hunt’s theory models provide an understanding of the public’s characteristics, behaviours, and attitudes that are often not considered in decision-making in most organizations. A lack of proper communication can lead to both management and public issues and to problems with cross-functional conversation in organizations.


Grunig and Hunt’s models of public relations have changed in later years due to a significant amount of research. In this essay, I argued that such models were based on ideal situations and rarely apply in today’s organizations. Several critics have arisen to argue about the reality in these models.

Several writers claim that Grunig and Hunt’s models are more theoretical and do not apply in today’s organizations. However, whatever the case these models have been useful in the running of organizations and in having a deeper understanding of the public that are the customers these organizations are serving.


Blaike, N 2002, Exploring Public Relations, Pearson, Harlow.

Dozier, D 2002, Models of Public Relations, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, New Jersey.

Edward, L 2006, Systems theories: emergence of public Relations Research, Pearson Education Ltd, Harlow.

Grunig, J & Hunt, T 1984, Managing Public Relations, Holt, New York.

Grunig, J 1992, The Effect of Worldviews on Public Relations Theory and Practice, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Hillsdale, New Jersey.

Grunig, J 2001, Two-way symmetrical public relations: Past, present and Future, Handbook of public relations.Sage, London.

Kalberg, M 1996, ‘Remembering the public in public relations research: From theoretical to operational symmetry’, Journal of Public Relations Research, Vol. 10 (4), pp. 237-261.

Leitch, S & Neilson, D 2001, Case Studies: PR practice, Sage, London.

Murphy, P 1991, Symmetric and Asymmetric public relations, Hillsdale, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Pieczka, M 1996, Public Relations Critical Debates, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, New Jersey.

Plowman, K 1998, ‘Power in Conflict for Public Relations’, Journal of Public Relations Research, Vol. 10 (4), pp. 237-261.

Pollner, R 2002, Public Relations, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, New Jersey.

Szondi, G 2006, International context of public relations, Sedge, NY.

Watson, J 1992, Communication, Public Relations and Effective Organisations, Hillsdale, New Jersey.

Wilcox, D & Cameron, T 2012, Public Relations Strategies and Tactics, Pearson Education, NJ.

White, J 2003, Communication in Public Relations, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, New Jersey.

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