Public Relations
eBook - ePub

Public Relations

Chiara Valentini, Chiara Valentini

Share book
  1. 656 pages
  2. English
  3. ePUB (mobile friendly)
  4. Available on iOS & Android
eBook - ePub

Public Relations

Chiara Valentini, Chiara Valentini

Book details
Book preview
Table of contents

About This Book

What is public relations? What do public relations professionals do? And what are the theoretical underpinnings that drive the discipline? This handbook provides an up-to-date overview of one of the most contested communication professions. The volume is structured to take readers on a journey to explore both the profession and the discipline of public relations. It introduces key concepts, models, and theories, as well as new theorizing efforts undertaken in recent years. Bringing together scholars from various parts of the world and from very different theoretical and disciplinary traditions, this handbook presents readers with a great diversity of perspectives in the field.

Frequently asked questions

How do I cancel my subscription?
Simply head over to the account section in settings and click on “Cancel Subscription” - it’s as simple as that. After you cancel, your membership will stay active for the remainder of the time you’ve paid for. Learn more here.
Can/how do I download books?
At the moment all of our mobile-responsive ePub books are available to download via the app. Most of our PDFs are also available to download and we're working on making the final remaining ones downloadable now. Learn more here.
What is the difference between the pricing plans?
Both plans give you full access to the library and all of Perlego’s features. The only differences are the price and subscription period: With the annual plan you’ll save around 30% compared to 12 months on the monthly plan.
What is Perlego?
We are an online textbook subscription service, where you can get access to an entire online library for less than the price of a single book per month. With over 1 million books across 1000+ topics, we’ve got you covered! Learn more here.
Do you support text-to-speech?
Look out for the read-aloud symbol on your next book to see if you can listen to it. The read-aloud tool reads text aloud for you, highlighting the text as it is being read. You can pause it, speed it up and slow it down. Learn more here.
Is Public Relations an online PDF/ePUB?
Yes, you can access Public Relations by Chiara Valentini, Chiara Valentini in PDF and/or ePUB format, as well as other popular books in Languages & Linguistics & Communication Studies. We have over one million books available in our catalogue for you to explore.


1 Public relations and social influence: Understanding the roots of a contested profession

Chiara Valentini


This chapter introduces the reader to the field of public relations by offering an overview of its core function and purpose. It is argued that public relations is a profession and discipline in the field of communication science that is situated at the crossroads of other social influence disciplines. Then, the chapter presents and discusses three major points of contention in the discipline: the function of public relations, the name, and its object. Next, the chapter proposes partly solving these contentions by moving away from the dichotomic view of public relations as either a managerial function or a socio-cultural practice, and instead embrace a more fluid understanding of what public relations does based on the idea of organizing. The last part of the chapter introduces the structure of the handbook and its four distinctive parts.
Keywords: public relations function, object, social influence, persuasion, organizing,

1 Introduction

Humans, like animals, have always tried to exercise some form of social influence and change the preferences or behaviors of an individual or group. Being able to exercise social influence is an important skill for survival, as humans and animals can facilitate important group dynamics to save themselves from extinction or starvation. In humans, social influence often takes the shape of persuasion, which is an “active attempt by an individual, group, or social entity (e. g., government, political party, business) to change a person’s beliefs, attitudes, or behaviors by conveying information, feelings, or reasoning” (Cacioppo et al. 2018: 129). Communication plays a key role in helping humans to achieve social influence via persuasion. In the Classical period, persuasion was considered a “rhetorical art”; old Greek rhetors had to master persuasion to exercise social influence (Heath and Bryant 2000). The body of literature on persuasion is vast and encompasses several disciplines, including communication, psychology and social psychology, neuroscience, marketing, advertising, and public relations.
The dominant understanding of public relations is linked to the concept of persuasion as a form of social influence (Miller 1989). It is generally conceptualized as a specialized communication function in charge of building, supporting and maintaining positive images as well as respectful and constructive relations with publics and stakeholders through communication and non-communication activities. To achieve these goals, social influence may be exercised in different forms and at different levels. Given the scale and reach of public relations work, there is no doubt that public relations, like other communication disciplines, is highly dependent upon persuasion as a way to produce changes in people’s opinions, behaviors, and attitudes. Sometimes, the changes occur in the target audience; other times, changes occur in the persuaders (Heath and Bryant 2000) who can persuade themselves when it is necessary to change in order to reach a common ground with the target audience.
Although there is nothing inherently wrong with the use of persuasion, the public relations profession has received more criticism than other communication professions for using it. There is a general misconception that public relations is an amoral practice that perpetuates the interests of those in power with no or limited consideration of the implications of its actions for minorities, other voices, and society at large (Lamme and Russell 2010; Coombs and Holladay 2014). Some of the derogative names assigned to public relations include spin, propaganda, demagogy, and pseudo-event (L’Etang and Pieczka 1996). Historically, public relations saw its development during wartime propaganda and post war to push commercial interests in the first half of the 20th century. Today it is often associated with “wicked” individuals and/or organizations that recurrently make headlines in newspapers and media outlets. While it is true that still too many public relations cases involve malpractice or unethical practices, this does not mean that ethical and good public relations does not exist (Coombs and Holladay 2014). Indeed, research on public relations, activism and social engagement shows that public relations can serve more noble purposes and drive positive changes in society (Sommerfeldt 2013; De Moya and Bravo 2016; Taylor and Kent 2016; Toledano 2016). For example, it can increase the inclusiveness and engagement of different social actors and construct new forms of relations and living.
The social influence that characterizes public relations (of which persuasion is one form) should not be seen as creepy. As Heath and Bryant (2000: 174) noted, “persuasion should [
] allow people the power of self-determination” and social influence is necessary to cope with the challenges that humans have had to face since the dawn of civilization. Rather than seeing social influence in public relations as ethically wrong, what we need is a better understanding of the role that public relations plays as an institutional force that shapes our society and culture (Edwards 2018).
One of the aims of this handbook is to show that public relations is neither a manipulative profession nor a candid, unbiased one. According to Fitzpatrick and Gauthier (2003: 195), “criticism results from either a misunderstanding of or lack of appreciation for the function of public relations”. Through reading this handbook, the reader will gain an understanding of the roots of this profession; what it does, how and for what purposes; and become aware of its fundamental questions and issues. It is hoped that this will help readers understand the delicate and often difficult task of balancing the interests that ethical public relations professionals need to consider on a daily basis, and the impact that public relations can have on how diverse social actors think and act on realities that are constructed or co-constructed around them.
In the following, an overview of some of the major points of contention regarding public relations is offered in order to introduce the reader to the field. Many of those points are further articulated, discussed, and advanced in other chapters of this handbook. In addition, the reader is introduced to the various terminologies, approaches, and views that scholars contributing to this handbook have used to present and elaborate on diverse topics.

2 Points of contention in public relations

There are many points of contention among public relations scholars and professionals. In the following, I review three major points that are further discussed in the contributions of this handbook.

2.1 Function of public relations

One of the major points of contention in public relations is the function of the profession. What public relations is and does, and whether it should be considered a profession or a practice, are hotly debated. For some, public relations lacks a clear, defined function in organizations, which can compromise the credibility of the profession (Thurlow 2009) and can make theory-building efforts more difficult to be successful or meaningful (Ferguson 2018).
Historically, public relations is situated in organizational structures with other communication and non-communication functions. Thus, many marketing scholars and professionals consider public relations to be one element of the communication mix that exists alongside advertising, sales promotions, events and experiences, publicity, and direct and personal sales (Moss et al. 1997; Kotler and Keller 2009). For advertisers, public relations is a form of unpaid, spontaneous publicity (Arens 2006; Bivins 2009). For journalists, it is a low-level reporting practice (Merkel et al. 2007; Macnamara 2014; Yoo and Samsup 2014). The problem here is not just semantic, but fundamentally an issue of recognition by other professions. The identity of public relations has been, and still is, contested because public relations professionals frequently work to support other organizational functions and often adopt practices from other professions in order to be more effective. One example of this is media relations activities; through the years, these activities have become increasingly strategic, adapting content production to the media logics that journalists tend to follow in order to increase the credibility of content and increase its reach (Ihlen and Pallas 2014). Arguably, this capacity to adapt and borrow knowledge to perform tasks should be seen as a positive thing, but it can create confusion regarding competence and expertise among different communication-based professions and raise professional encroachment problems. That is why some scholars have suggested departing from its original name to explain its core identity; to them, public relations should be understood as a profession about relations and relating with public(s) in the public sphere (Verčič et al. 2001; Bentele and Nothhaft 2010).
Another point of contention is related to the boundaries of public relations activities, which, most of the time, are based on their professional function. Traditionally, public relations professionals were in charge of activities that involved crafting, producing, and delivering messages through different channels and in different formats. However, an increasing number of public relations activities today, particularly those at the senior level, involve the creation and maintenance of relationships and constructive flows of communication and interactions among groups of individuals, such as consumers, customers, clients, suppliers, employees, political actors, activists, or communities.
This variation in public relations activities has led some scholars to define their function based on the effects they produce. Those who see public relations as having a symbolic function primarily believe that its main role is to construct and manage positive images and reputations, whereas those who see it as a behavioral function identify its main role as producing positive behavioral effects by, for example, building and maintaining good relationships with publics and stakeholders (Grunig J. 1993). The latter function has been perceived as superior because it is considered to involve less persuading and instead focus on reaching a common understanding that can help establish mutually beneficial relationships. Yet, it can be argued that social influence exists even in the behavioralist view in the form of, for instance, personal influence, which has been shown to be highly relevant for building and maintaining good relationships (Valentini 2010). Other scholars, particularly those who view public relations through a rhetorical lens, see this distinction as artificial and forced. For them, symbolic actions can produce noticeable behavioral effects, and behaviors often perform a symbolic function.
Although the debate on the nature of public relations is not yet settled, another debate has emerged based on the functionalistic view of public relations, according to which public relations is a function in organizations. In such debates, scholars wonder whether public relations should be defined as a specific managerial activity, thus limiting public relations to organizations, or as a social and cultural practice in its own right (Edwards 2018). The latter view detaches public relations from the mainstream understanding of an organizational function, instead positioning it as a sort of social agent with performative and agentic effects in multiple domains and contexts.
As some scholars have noted (Grunig J. 1993; Ihlen and Verhoeven 2009), the symbolic and behavioralist views are not mutually exclusive; when practiced ethically, they can coexist and serve each other’s purposes. For example, constructing a positive image of an organi...

Table of contents