The aspect of public relations (PR) ranks amongst the most important components in the management disciplines. PR has been a subject of interest amongst different scholars, which has led to the emergence of diverse paradigms and theories on how to implement it. Westbrook (2014, p.106) affirms that the focus of PR has shifted from a single media relations to the integration of the diverse activities undertaken in order to ensure effective and efficient transfer and sharing of information with the target stakeholders.
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This essay evaluates the assertion that some scholars have regarded the excellence and asymmetry approach as the ‘dominant paradigm’ based on findings of other studies conducted by PR scholars. The approach adopted in the paper links the concept of excellence theory and the two-way symmetric communication in PR practices.
The dominant Paradigm
In his 1996 study, Kuhn defined paradigm to include the set of values, beliefs, and techniques shared by members of a particular society regarding a particular element (Bardhan & Weaver, 2011, p.84). Subsequently, paradigms refer to unified mindsets or worldviews regarding a particular aspect.
Paradigms are subject to shift due to studies conducted to deal with possible anomalies associated with the old model. Additionally, new standards might arise due to the conceptualisations of some aspects outside the existing paradigmatic assumption. Therefore, it is possible for disparate paradigms, which are in tension with each other, to emerge without displacing the different paradigms.
For example, the studies conducted by different scholars on the excellence theory have led to the emergence of new paradigms. The excellence/symmetry approach has been touted by different scholars, such as James Grunig, as the ‘dominant paradigm’ in PR.
The validity of the excellence/symmetry approach
Managing strategic relationships constitutes one of the fundamental principles of PR (Toth, 2009, p.80). Isaac and Ahmed (2014, p.117) assert that PR enables organisations to deal with possible conflicts that might arise. Furthermore, PR enables organisations to develop and maintain a long-term mutual relationship with the political and social environments.
Subsequently, PR enables organisations to minimise the cost of operation by establishing a mutual relationship with the public. L’Etang (2007, p.14) contends that the excellence theory is focused on the role of PR in developing a robust organisational relationship. Therefore, organisations should perceive PR management as an essential element in their decision-making and conflict resolution activities.
The ‘excellence approach’ is one of the views that have been formulated in an effort to explain the best philosophy that an organisation can adopt in order to attain its goals. The excellence approach is based on the systems’ framework, which entrenches the concepts of measurability, organisational effectiveness, and interdependence (L’Etang, 2013, p.61).
Additionally, the excellence approach emphasises the importance of appreciating the internal and external environments in organisational management processes. Therefore, organisations must collect and utilise available foreign intelligence to gain new knowledge in various aspects, hence enhancing the degree of organisational excellence.
The excellence theory argues that attaining organisational excellence depends on the management team’s commitment to satisfying the internal and external stakeholders (Toth, 2009, p.81). Failure to take into consideration the internal and external stakeholders exposes an organisation to internal and external sources of pressure, which might affect the formulated organisational policies and goals negatively.
Furthermore, the excellence theory underscores the importance of ensuring that an organisation operates in a socially acceptable manner. Thus, it is imperative for organisational managers to conduct an extensive evaluation of the environment in which they operate with the objective of identifying the different public groups who might be affected by their organisational decisions and policies. This aspect highlights the extent to which the excellence theory is focused on developing a mutual relationship with the public.
The significance of the excellence theory in the 21st century management field has further been enhanced by the assertion of other scholars. According to Marsh (2013, p.74), the excellence theory is increasingly being perceived as one of the strategic roles in public relations. Despite the existence of dissenting opinions from other scholars, most scholars cite the excellence theory as the ‘closest public relations paradigm’ (Marsh, 2013, p.75).
However, the successful attainment of organisational excellence is only possible if effective communication is adopted, which underscores the importance of taking the symmetrical model. The concept of excellence in public relations is based on the two-way balanced approach.
However, most organisations experience a challenge balancing between asymmetry and symmetry in their communication process. The proportioned plan assumes that it is imperative for organisations to major on promoting a high level of interdependence with other schemes that are established within the commercial setting and free flow of information.
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Grunig and Dozier (2003, p.69) are of the view that the excellence concept is grounded on the symmetrical PR model. According to Dozier (2003, p.69), “the symmetrical model is not based on total accommodation or pure cooperation with the public”. On the contrary, it highlights the importance of reconciling the interests of the various stakeholders. Findings of past studies on the concept of excellence affirm that it is tightly linked to the extent to which proportional relationships have been developed to attain mutual benefits.
Models of PR and the dominance of the two-way symmetrical perspectives
Communication is strongly entrenched in the excellence concept of public relations. According to Botan and Hazleton (2013, p.112), communication forms the basis upon which an organisation interacts with the public. The symmetry approach emphasises the significance of establishing a balance between the organisation and the society through communication.
The two-way communication model has extensively been regarded as the normative model in PR practice, hence leading to its entrenchment in the excellence theory. Moreover, the notion of two-way proportioned standpoint adheres to propositions of the system’s premise as illustrated by James Grunig and Todd Hunt in their 1984 study on the typology of PR.
The system’s theory argues that organisations are comprised of sub-systems that interact with each other in order to attain a particular outcome (Grunig & Dozier, 2003, p.93). The study led to the “development of diverse models, which include the press agentry, two-way symmetric communication, two-way asymmetric communication, and public information” (Grunig & Dozier, 2003, p.93).
Press agentry/ publicity model is a one-way model and it is intended to create and spread propaganda (Grunig & Dozier, 2003, p.81). Thus, truth is not a key element in the press agentry model of PR. Additionally, the model is characterised by minimal research. Some of the areas in which press agentry is applied include sports, product promotion, and theatre.
However, the application of press agentry in the contemporary society is minimal and it is estimated to be 15%. Similar to the press agentry model, the public information model is one way and its core objective is the dissemination of information. Minimal research is involved in this model. However, unlike the press agentry model, truth is essential in the public information model.
Currently, the application of the public information model is evident in different areas, such as business, non-governments, and governments. Its usage is estimated to be 50 % (Grunig & Dozier, 2003, p.82). The focus of two-way asymmetric communication is a scientific persuasion. However, two-way asymmetric communication leads to imbalance.
This model is mainly practised by competitive businesses and its usage is estimated to be 20%. Conversely, the two-way symmetric communication is aimed at developing mutual understanding between different parties. The dominance of the two-way symmetric communication is evidenced by the fact that it leads to the development of balanced effects. Despite its appreciation of the existence of distinct boundaries between organisations and the external environment, the excellence theory asserts that organisations must interact and relate with external systems to attain excellence.
Thus, organisations have a duty to develop a web of connections to attain long-term sustainability, which underscores the importance of establishing balance during the communication process. Consequently, the two-way symmetrical approach has been regarded as the most provocative theoretical concepts of excellence.
According to the symmetrical dimension, communication forms the basis upon which individuals and organisations adjust their behaviour and ideas in order to align with diverse stakeholders as opposed to controlling their behaviour (Heath, Toth & Waymer, 2009, p.140). Thus, efforts to illustrate the application of the symmetrical dimension in attaining organisational excellence led to the conceptualisation of the two-way perspective.
This perspective is concerned with developing a win-win situation between the organisation and the public, which underscores the fact that the concepts of excellence and symmetry align with the role of public relations in fostering optimal strategic management function.
Several studies have been conducted to evaluate the dominance of the various PR models. One of the most renowned studies entails ‘The Excellent Project’, which was undertaken by the International Association of Business Communicators [IABC] in the period of 1980-1990. The study emphasised the importance of incorporating ‘best practices’ in order to attain excellent PR. The study recognised the existence of the four models of PR (Fawkes, 2014, p.90).
According to the study, public relations practitioners have a duty to interact with the internal organisation environment to gather sufficient data and relay information from the internal and external environments. This aspect means that the role of PR should not only entail generating news. On the contrary, a participative culture between the internal and external stakeholders must be created.
However, this goal is only capable if dominant coalition between the internal and external stakeholders is established, which is only possible through the integration of symmetric communication. Fawkes (2014, p.94) further affirms that effective negotiation should be applied to develop a participative culture. This aspect underscores the importance of incorporating optimal diplomatic skills to succeed in addressing the needs of diverse stakeholders.
Therefore, organisational managers should act as mediators between the public and the organisation in order to develop a mutual relationship with the public. Moreover, the internal organisational stakeholders and the external stakeholders must adjust their behaviour to accommodate the diverse needs. Therefore, the symmetry/excellence approach eliminates monologue type of communication, which leads to the creation of balance amongst the various stakeholders.
Excellence and ethics
The dominance of the symmetric/excellence approach in PR is further enhanced by the fact that the approach has integrated the concepts of ethics. Past studies show that ethics constitutes one of the fundamental elements in organisational management. Moreover, ethics enhances the likelihood of attaining organisational excellence (Fawkes, 2014, p.86). Amongst the various PR plans that have been developed, only the two-way regularity contact replica has integrated the importance of principles.
Fawkes (2014, p.86) asserts that it is impossible for an organisation to practice public relations without taking into account socially responsible and ethical practices, which is not possible through asymmetric communication. Symmetric communication is inherently moral because it is based on generally acceptable codes of conduct.
Other studies conducted by Bowen in 2007 and McElreath in 1996 consider the concept of ethic as a critical component in underpinning ‘best practices’ in organisations. The studies conducted by McElreath and Bowen show that is one of the most vital excellent factors that influences an organisation’s success in implementing excellent PR practices (Fawkes, 2014, p.88).
Application of the excellence and symmetric approach in the contemporary business environment
Several aspects evidence the support of the excellence and symmetry approach as ‘the dominant paradigm’ in public relations. However, one of the most notable areas of application relates to the integration of the concept of Corporate Social Responsibility [CSR] in organisations’ operations.
Currently, organisations are increasingly adopting emerging social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, LinkedIn, and Google+ in an effort to interact with the public. This aspect insinuates that organisations are adopting the concept of interactive communication as opposed to communicating to the public.
Furthermore, the two-way symmetric communication has presented organisations with an opportunity to address issues that emerge. For example, the successful execution of the two-way regularity communication at Mark & Spencer, which is a cosmopolitan clothing vendor, experienced harmful exposure due to its decision to augment the price of bras above DD-cup size by £ 2. However, the organisation’s management team dealt with the negative publicity by adopting two-way symmetric communication.
Due to the extensive outcry on social media, the organisation was forced to withdraw the decision to raise the price of the DD-cup size underwear (Poulter, 2009, par.8). This aspect highlights that the emergence of Internet-based technologies has strengthened organisations’ ability to undertake two-way communication, hence entrenching the likelihood of nurturing ‘best practices’ in their operation.
The importance of the joint symmetric interaction in attaining organisational brilliance is evidenced by the assertion by Watson and Noble (2007, p.56) by affirming that communal anxiety can have adverse effects on an organisation’s commercial status Subsequently, it is imperative for organisational leaders to appreciate the needs of the external stakeholders [public] in order to implement excellent PR successfully.
Critic of the symmetric-excellence approach
The concepts of excellence and symmetry approach as the dominant paradigm in PR have been criticised by different scholars. Some scholars are of the view that the PR is in nature, asymmetrical. Moreover, other scholars and practitioners are of the view that the balanced approach is an idealised position, which is difficult to implement, thus making it unrealistic.
For example, it is difficult for organisations such as Shell Oil Company to integrate the balanced approach to develop a mutual relationship with the public comprising of unskilled workers. In their opinion, the critics argue that organisations hire PR representatives who are charged with the duty of practising asymmetrically. Therefore, most organisations tend to incorporate both symmetrical and asymmetrical model.
This aspect shows that organisations should practice public relations by integrating the ‘mixed-motive’ approach, which entails developing a professional continuum comprised of symmetrical and asymmetrical practices. Grunig and Dozier (2003, p.111) think that the extent of collaboration amongst various stakeholders may be hindered by the existence of conflict between the interest groups.
For example, an organisation may be forced to adopt confrontational response in situations whereby activists are unwilling to collaborate. Studies conducted by Van der Meiden in 1993 show that taking the symmetrical model would force organisations to ignore their self-interest at the expense of the public interest, which is quite unrealistic and ill-advised (Grunig & Dozier, 2003, p.112).
Another major criticism of the theory of excellence and the symmetric approach as the dominant paradigm in PR is based on the concept of collaboration. The success with which organisations integrate excellence and symmetrical communication depends on the extent of cooperation developed between the internal and external stakeholders (Grunig & Dozier, 2003, p.114).
However, it is quite challenging to develop such collaboration due to the existence of diverse barriers. Some of the significant obstacles that may limit organisations’ commitment to cooperation with the external stakeholders include institutional disincentives, ideological and historical boundaries, and cultural differences.
The symmetric-excellence model is based on the assumption that all groups within a particular society are interested in engaging in an organisation’s decision-making process, hence the need to establish a ‘participative culture’ to foster dialogue.
The existence of differences in national culture may hinder collaboration between an organisation and the public. For example, the presence of high individualism index in the US may hinder the effectiveness with which firms in the region develop a mutual relationship with the public. Conversely, it is relatively easy to develop a collaborative approach in countries such as China, which are characterised by a low individualism index.
Findings of studies conducted in Europe and Latin America show that the national culture plays a significant role in the implementation of PR practices (L’Etang, 2007, p.86). Therefore, attempts to integrate symmetrical-excellence approach to PR may be hindered by cultural barriers, which limit the relevance of the symmetric-excellence model as the dominant paradigm in PR.
Organisations should not be concerned with entrenching symmetries in their PR practices. On the contrary, they should appreciate the existence of differences in society and determine how to attain homoeostasis by minimising the existing differences.
Organisations are established with the goal of attaining long-term excellence. However, this goal is only possible if optimal practices are adopted. Available literature shows that the concept of public relations has undergone remarkable changes over the past decades, as evidenced by the emergence of diverse paradigms.
One of the fundamental aspects that organisations should consider entails developing a strategic relationship with internal and external stakeholders, which underscores the importance of PR. The excellence approach is concerned with integrating ‘best practices’ in organisations’ public relations processes.
According to the excellence approach, organisations should focus on developing a strong relationship with other stakeholders. The relevance of this assertion hinges on the view that the degree to which organisations attains optimal performance is significantly impacted by the society within which they operate. Nevertheless, to achieve excellence, organisations must develop optimal market intelligence.
The information gathered from the public forms the basis upon which organisations base their decision. In a bid to do well in collecting pertinent data from the community, it is imperative for organisations to focus on establishing an interactive culture to generate an atmosphere for discussion.
In order to achieve discussion, it is imperative for organisations to integrate effectual interaction. However, available literature shows that different models emphasising on the concept of communication have been developed. Some of the standard plans of PR include press agentry, public data, and joint asymmetric and mutual symmetric approaches.
However, the two-way symmetry communication model is the most dominant as it underscores the importance of balancing the interests and needs of different groups. The dominance of the two-way symmetric communication is evidenced by the high rate at which organisations are adopting interactive communication through social media platforms.
Despite the criticism and different perspectives on the concept of symmetry-excellence, the critics have not succeeded in formulating theories on PR that can replace the symmetry-excellence approach, which sustains its strength as the dominant paradigm in PR. Furthermore, the dominance of the symmetry-excellence approach is underscored by the view that it incorporates the concept of ethics.
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