Comprehensively describing what public relations professionals do is difficult because of the varied nature of the work, but essentially public relations professionals focus on building relationships between organizations and their key stakeholders that ultimately contribute to social good through consensus-building. This is accomplished through communication, most often through mass media, on behalf of the organizations public relations agencies represent to build mutually beneficial relationships with their key stakeholders (also called constituent groups, or publics). Hence, the term public relations. This communication can also be on behalf of individuals like politicians and celebrities.
Dialogic Theory Public relations works to convince people of a particular point of view or a favorable image through dialogue—two-way communication that does not involve speaking at them or to them, but with them. Scholars call this dialogic theory, which draws on the idea that genuine dialogue leads to genuine consensus. Dialogic theory, which is rooted deeply in philosophy, psychology, and rhetoric, sees persuasion as a two-way street—a true exchange without manipulation. Persuasion without manipulation involves a mutual search for answers and solutions and also a genuine give-and-take.
Major Features of Dialogic Theory Scholars Michael Kent and Maureen Taylor have summarized five major features of dialogic theory in operation.
Mutuality. An organization and its publics are inextricably linked because without key stakeholders, the organization or entity would not exist. Therefore, collaboration must occur on a mutual basis with a level playing field.
Propinquity. For communication to be genuine, there must be spontaneity in the communication between an organization and its publics.
Empathy. Organizations must be supportive of the opinions and positions of their publics and must confirm the importance of their views, even if there is disagreement.
Risk. Dialogic theory can work only if there is a willingness to interact with individuals and publics on their own terms, which requires vulnerability and thus some level of risk due to unexpected consequences.
Commitment. An organization must be willing to work at understanding its interactions with publics. This is not an easy process, and an organization must be willing to commit to the process.
Dialogic theory offers a framework for a highly ethical form of public relations, but it is not without difficulties. As Kent and Taylor have noted, institutions have many publics, which makes dialogue a complex process. Participants in dialogic public relations put themselves in jeopardy, to a certain extent, because when publics engage in dialogue with organizations, they run the risk that their disclosures will be used to exploit or manipulate them. Even so, discussion about dialogic theory is sensitizing many people in public relations to honesty and openness as ideals in the democratic tradition of giving voice to all. The theory is based on principles of honesty, trust, and positive regard for the other rather than simply a conception of the public as a means to an end.
Public Relations and the Public Good Public relations has potential to make a democratic society robust and vibrant by encouraging the exchange of information and ideas on public issues. Public relations
professionals going back to early theorist Edward Bernays have talked about seeking mutual understandings among constituent groups in society to sort through issues and reach decisions. More specifically, public relations practitioners, when doing their best work, contribute to the common good by:
Communicating the interests of an institution to the public, which broadens and enriches public dialogue.
Seeking mutual adjustments through dialogue between institutions in the society, which benefits the public.
Creating a safety valve for society by helping work out accommodations between competing interests, reducing the likelihood of coercion or arbitrary action.
Activating the social conscience of organizations with which they work.
While some public relations activities fall far short of contributing to the common good, the industry likes to measure how well it can positively affect the functioning of society.
Writing Prompt Apply Your Media Literacy: Public Relations Scope
What are the key elements of ethical public relations on a global scale?
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