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 Public relation’s researcher have been exploring different approaches to PR, (Grunig and Hunt, 1984; Murphy, 1991; Grunig and Grunig, 1992; Creedon, 1993; Grunig, 1993), to explain the value of public relations in an organization and describes how the communication function is organized and practiced most effectively in a corporate setting. Excellence theory suggests that public relations must serve in corporate roles that are both managerial and technical nature. In addition, public relations departments must play some role in influencing the company’s strategic management and decision-making (Grunig & Grunig, 2002).

In order to plan more effective communication strategies, scholars and practitioners has identified the Two-way asymmetric communication as the basis of public relations.

This paper will examine the role of public relations in strategic management. But first it will review the theories, specifically the excellence models with focusing on the Two-way symmetric communication, not just as a model in communicating between an organization and its stakeholders/publics, but also as a model in planning the strategic decisions and policies of an organization.



Practitioners and scholars tried to establish a theoretical framework to answer the question, "What is public relations?”. Grunig and Hunt (1984.p7) suggested that most definers of public relations "describe: (1) the kinds of things public relations practitioners do, (2) what effect they think public relations should have, and (3) how they believe public relations should be practiced responsibly."(Cutlip 1995.p x) stated that Public relations -- or its equivalents, propaganda, publicity, public information -- began when people came to live together in tribal camps where one's survival depended on others of the tribe.

Funded by the Foundation for Public Relations Research and Education, Harlow  (1976,p.36) collected hundreds of public relations definitions and interacted with over 80 leading practitioners to develop the following definition:

“Public relations is a distinctive management function which helps establish and maintain mutual lines of communication, understanding, acceptance and cooperation between an organization and its publics; involves the management of problems or issues; helps management keep informed on and responsive to public opinion; defines and emphasizes the responsibility of management to serve the public interest; helps management keep abreast of and effectively utilize change, serving as an early warning system to help anticipate trends; and uses research and sound ethical communication techniques as its principal tools”.

In 1984 J. E. Grunig and T. Hunt offered the broadest definition of public relations when they wrote: "Public relations is the management of communication between an organization and its publics.




One of the most important stages of the public relation’s history was when J. Grunig and Hunt (1984) first identified the four models of communication between organizations and its stakeholder /publics. Although J. Grunig and Hunt acknowledged that there had been "public-relations-like" activities throughout history, they claimed that the press agents of the mid-19th century were the first full-time specialists to practice public relations.




The earliest PR model to appear was press agentry or publicity. It emerged in the late 19th century and was characterized as one-way, source-to-receiver communication. Its purpose was largely propagandistic and the truth was sometimes expendable.


  • Public information model:


The second model – the public information model – was created in the early 1900s to disseminate information. The intention of this model, however, was not to persuade, but to provide objective information to the public (Grunig and Hunt, 1984, p. 21).

By the early 1920s the press agentry model lost credibility with journalists, largely because they had been deceived by press agents too many times. Ivy Lee, a former journalist turned PR practitioner, recognized this problem and sought to address it by sending his Declaration of Principles to journalists.


  • Two-way asymmetric model:


By the late 1920s and early 1930s the new Two-Way Asymmetric model began to emerge. It took advantage of advances in psychology and public opinion polling to understand the attitudes of the public. E. L. Bernays was the leading PR practitioner to apply this model. Bernays had worked as a press agent, but began to encounter problems that could not simply be solved by providing more information to the public.

·        Two-way symmetric model:

The two-way symmetric model use social science theory and methods instead of theories of persuasion when planning and evaluating steps of campaigns because the goal of this model is for the publics to understand and not necessarily be persuaded (Grunig and Hunt, 1984, p. 22).




As the four-model typology became an established conceptual and measurement framework for public relations behavior in public relations research worldwide, J. Grunig and Hunt (1984) advocated the ‘symmetrical model’ of public relations over the ‘asymmetrical’, ‘information’, and ‘press agent/publicity’ models. (pp. 21-43). This model argued that the over-riding purpose of public relations was not persuasion, as suggested by earlier models. Instead, it posited the notion of creating mutual understanding and accommodation between organizations and their publics as the goal of public relations.


The first criticism came from scholars of game theory, persuasion, and rhetoric (Miller, 1989; Murphy, 1991; Van der Meiden, 1993). Their argument was that the symmetry model abandons the organization’s interest in favor of the publics. Borrowing insight from game theory, Murphy (1991) developed the idea of a mixed-motive model. According to this model organizations try to satisfy their own interests while simultaneously trying to help a public satisfy its interests.([1])

In reply to Morph’s criticism, L.Grunig et al (2002 p.309) emphasized that they never have viewed the two-way symmetrical model as advocating pure cooperation or of total accommodation of a public's interest , but as a way of reconciling the organization's and the public's interests.

The second type of critiques came from critical scholars (Gandy, 1982; L’Etang,1996; Pieczka, 1996) who argued that the symmetrical model is unrealistic and strives for unrealistic harmony as the outcome. In reply to this, J. Grunig (2000) and J. Grunig and L. Grunig (1992) emphasized that symmetry describes a process of public relations and not an outcome.

In parallel to the deepened theoretical understanding of symmetry as a mixed motive mindset, a series of quantitative-based methodological critiques have called for close examination of the validity of the four-model typology.

J. Grunig and Hunt (1984) initially proposed a contingency theory of situations in which each of the four models could be effective, depending on the structure of the organization and the nature of its environment. Later,J. Grunig and L. Grunig (1992) dropped the contingency theory and instead put forward a normative theory that the two-way symmetrical model would be most effective in most situations.

Grunig, J. Grunig, and Dozier (2002) conducted confirmatory factor analysis on the four model typology. They compared the competing two-model typology with the four-model typology to see which fit the data best and presented evidence that the four-model typology is a better model than the two-model typology.

In later stage L. Grunig, J. Grunig, and Dozier (2002) and Huang (2001, 1997) came up with  the new  four dimensions as : (1)direction (one-way, two-way),(2) purpose (asymmetrical, symmetrical), (3)channel (interpersonal, mediated), (4) ethics (ethical, unethical).

More recently, Plowman, Briggs, and Huang (2001,cited by Toth,2007) established a number of negotiation strategies that fit into what Plowman called a mixed-motive model that encompassed the entire spectrum between the two-way asymmetrical and the two-way symmetrical models.


The above, does not suggest that excellence theory is fully developed.  As L. Grunig et al. (2002) said: the challenges remain for research in public relations and there is room for growth in the excellence theory, especially in the areas of globalization, strategic management, relationship building, ethics, and change management.



Most of the scholars and practitioners who examined the validity of Grunig and Hunt's four models- Deatherage and Hazleton (1998) and Leichty and Springston (1993)-noticed that practitioners in organizations practicing the press agentry and public information models of public relations will engage in few activities that define the public relations manager role. Practitioners in organizations practicing the two-way asymmetric and two-way symmetric models of public relations are more likely to play the public relations manager role. Organizations that practice the press agentry and public information models need technicians (in house journalists) who are not involved in strategic planning and problem solving.

Publicity/press agentry model organizations spread favorable propaganda about the organization with only moderate regard for information accuracy. Public information model organizations disseminate information with traditional journalistic concerns for objectivity and accuracy. Such low level staff functions do not require practitioners to enact the manager role. In appendix A Grunig and Hunt (1984) explained the differences between the four models in functional and involvement levels.




J. Grunig and D. Dozier (1992) stated that public relations is most likely to be excellent when it is an integral part of an organization's strategic management process and when public relations itself is managed strategically. As Tench and Yeomans (2006,p.41) explained in (appendix B) public relations practitioner as a communicator  will help the  management in solving public relations programs (Issues) and facilitate communication between management and publics (environment).

J. Grunig and D. Dozier (1992, 2002,p.149) suggested that the senior public relations practitioner must be part of the dominant coalition, function at a high level of decision making, and participate in strategic management if public relations is to be excellent and is to make the organization more effective.

Baskin, Aronoff, and Lattimore (1997.p.5) provide this lengthy working definition in their text, Public Relations: The Profession and the Practice:


“Public relations is a management function that helps achieve organizational objectives, define philosophy, and facilitate organizational change. Public relations practitioners communicate with all relevant internal and external publics to develop positive relationships and to create consistency between organizational goals and societal expectations. Public relations practitioners develop, execute, and evaluate organizational programs that promote the exchange of influence and understanding among an organization's constituent parts and publics”.


Moss (1999, p 24.) suggested that most definitions of public relations included in textbooks and professional literature state that public relations is an integral part of management, and that the function of public relations in management is different from other management functions such as marketing or human resources.

Another element is needed for public relations practitioners to operate as managers, they need to assert themselves as members the  dominant coalition, those with the authority to make decisions and set policy. In other words, they need to lead organizations and not just act as "service providers”. Cutlip, Center, and Broom (2000,cited by Austin and Pinkleton,2001,p.4 ).Dozier et al (1995) believe that communication departments must be powerful players in order to implement excellent communication programs. Dozier et al (1995) pointed out that the power of communication departments is frequently informal and excellent communication departments, usually through top communicators, influence the decision making of dominant coalitions without having any formal power or authority to do so.


Toth (2007) agreed with the importance of power or authority as the line between a PR function empowered with a strategic mandate manages all the activities, and a PR function without a strategic mandate manages only limited set of activities. ([2])



J. Grunig and D. Dozier (1992) stated that public relations is managed strategically when it identifies stakeholders, segments active publics from stakeholder categories, and resolves issues created by the interaction of organization and publics through symmetrical communication programs. (interactive or catalytic strategies) early in the development of issues.

Maybe the most important finding of the Excellence Study, a research project funded by the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC).the outcome of the research confirmed that the public relations department should be empowered to play a prominent role in the strategic managerial function of effective organization.

Grunig (1992.p22,23) pointed out that Early theories of inter-organizational relationships predicted that an environmental imperative would determine the structure and communication system of an organization as in (Figure.1) which is  abstracted from the macro-level literature on organizational behavior.


Figure.1 factors influencing the choice of a public relations.

Source: Grunig (1992.p23)

 The (Figure.1) shows that the choice of the symmetrical model of public relations is the key choice made by effective organizations. Also the model shows how the organizations should use public relations to interact with their environments. And why organizations with excellent public relations departments are more likely to manage communication strategically and therefore are more effective than organizations that do not have excellent departments.

Vercic, D., Grunig, L. & Grunig, J. (1996, pp. 37 - 39) listed the characteristics of excellent public relations in nine generic, that are applicable across cultures and political and economic systems:

1) involvement of public relations in strategic management
2) empowerment of public relations in the dominant coalition or a direct reporting relationship to senior management
3) an integrated public relations function
4) public relations as a management function separate from other functions
5) the role of the public relations practitioner (excellent public relations units must have not only technicians but also managers who conceptualize and direct public relations programs)
6) two-way symmetrical public relations model
7) a symmetrical system of internal communication
8) the knowledge potential for managers to conduct symmetrical public relations
9) diversity (gender, race, ethnicity and culture) in all roles.


Toth (2007,p.139) suggested that, in its strategic role, public relations assists the organization to adapt to its societal and stakeholder environment by feeding into the organization's strategy formulation process intelligence with regards to strategic stakeholders (and their concerns or expectations), societal issues, and the publics that emerge around the issues. While Freeman (1984) found that the typical stakeholder map for a corporation contains owners, consumer advocates, customers, competitors, the media, employees, special interest groups, environmentalists, suppliers, governments, and local community organizations Pearce and Robinson (1982, p.62) defined environment as "the sum total of all conditions and forces that affect the strategic options of a business but that are typically beyond its ability to control”. Grunig and Hunt (1984) provide a clear link between an organization and its publics / environmental elements.


 As Grunig and Hunt’s four models theory was born last century (about 25 years ago), many practitioners and scholars may argue its validity in the age of super-high technology and the age of Network media (social media).

Pavlik (2007) pointed out that technological change presents many significant implications for the structure, culture and management of organizations, particularly from the point of view of public relations.

In this line, De Bussy, Watson, Pitt, & Ewing, (2000) indicate that simple models of communication between ‘an organization and its publics’ are either redundant, or at least should be reviewed. From his side The WPP advertising boss Sir Martin Sorrell (2007) summrised this issuse by saying that the next few years will be the age of engagement. It is like the one-way communication is not possible any more and the two-way communication is not enough any more.

Pavlik and Dozier (2007) see that the new IT brought another challenge to organizations, as if the Web to offers a communication tool that can deliver in real-time interactive, individualized messages to any type of public, in contrast, it is the empowers the individuals to create their own communication platforms and along the way it presents significant challenges to organizations trying to manage the communication function in the age of the information superhighway.

Authors such as Blood (2000), noted that the Internet has made protest against corporations and other dominant organizations easier. But they go on to explain that the Internet has also created a new class of protesters and enables them to cooperate very effectively.(pp. 165-169).

Social networking sites such as MySpace and video file sharing sites such as YouTube also have enormous implications for public relations as millions of users populate such Web sites and spend increasing amounts of time immersed in them, these (Pavlik 2007) online environments become increasingly relevant to the communication strategies for organizations.



Throughout the literature on excellent model and excellent public relations management, writers emphasized that public relations department should base its goals and its communication activities on the two-way symmetrical model of public relations. Also the public relations managers and executives must have the professional knowledge needed to practice the two-way symmetrical model. Excellent organization should have a symmetrical system of internal and external communication based on the principles of employee empowerment and participation in decision-making.

Nowadays, public relations theory and practice, must get engaged in a new age of two-way communication,with no dout that the new communications means and tools made a very important shift in corporation communication in changing the way public relations practice and managed.

-         End-




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Journal article by Christina P. Deatherage; Journal of Public Relations Research, Vol. 10, 1998. 15 pgs.

Effects of Organizational Worldviews on the Practice of Public Relations: A Test of the Theory of Public Relations Excellence

Journal article by Christina P. Deatherage; Journal of Public Relations Research, Vol. 10, 1998. 15 pgs.

Journal article by Christina P. Deatherage; Journal of Public Relations Research, Vol. 10, 1998. 15 pgs.

Effects of Organizational Worldviews on the Practice of Public Relations: A Test of the Theory of Public Relations Excellence

Journal article by Christina P. Deatherage; Journal of Public Relations Research, Vol. 10, 1998. 15 pgs.

Journal article by Christina P. Deatherage; Journal of Public Relations Research, Vol. 10, 1998. 15 pgs.

Effects of Organizational Worldviews on the Practice of Public Relations: A Test of the Theory of Public Relations Excellence

Journal article by Christina P. Deatherage; Journal of Public Relations Research, Vol. 10, 1998. 15 pgs.

Journal article by Christina P. Deatherage; Journal of Public Relations Research, Vol. 10, 1998. 15 pgs.

Effects of Organizational Worldviews on the Practice of Public Relations: A Test of the Theory of Public Relations Excellence

Journal article by Christina P. Deatherage; Journal of Public Relations Research, Vol. 10, 1998. 15 pgs.



[1]-Toth (2007, p.87) wrote: “In mixed motives, each side in a stakeholder relationship retains a strong sense of its own self-interests, yet each is motivated to cooperate to attain at least some resolution of the conflict. They may be on opposite sides of an issue, but it is in their best interests to cooperate with each other. Mixed-motive games provide a broad third category that describes behavior as most public relations people experience it: a multidirectional scale of competition and cooperation in which organizational needs must be balanced against constituents' needs. These parties are really cooperative protagonists in the struggle to satisfy their own interests, with the knowledge that satisfaction is best accomplished through satisfying each other's interests as well.


[2] - Toth (2007,pp 140-141) stated that: A PR function empowered with a strategic mandate manages all the activities as set out in points 1 and 2 in the list that follows. A PR function without a strategic mandate has no role in strategic decision making at the top management level, does not formulate PR strategy, and manages only the activities outlined under point 2.


1. The functional responsibilities of PR as a function with a strategic mandate includes:


a. Developing PR strategy that addresses the organization's key strategic goals and positions, culminating in public relations goals and themes that are aligned to organizational goals and positions. This does not refer to ad hoc communication planning where public relations communicates when requested to do so by others in the organization, but a concerted effort to study organizational strategies and goals, identifying strategic goals and positions that need to be communicated and advising organizational leaders accordingly. PR strategy in this instance could be classified as deliberate or prescriptive strategy, a wellknown concept in the strategic management literature (Lynch, 1997). PR goals developed to implement deliberate PR strategy are referred to as deliberate PR goals by Digital Management (n.d.).

b. Developing PR strategy that addresses constantly emerging societal and stakeholder issues that are identified in the organization's issues and stakeholder management processes. PR strategy in this instance could be classified as emergent strategy, a concept developed in the strategic management domain by Mintzberg (1987, 1990). PR goals developed to implement emergent PR strategy are referred to as emergent PR goals by Digital Management (n.d.).

c. Formulating a strategic PR plan to achieve PR goals.

d. Developing, implementing, and evaluating communication plans in support of the PR function's deliberate and emergent strategies.

e. Counseling organizational leaders/managers/supervisors on their communication responsibility toward their employees (how to be a communicating leader).

f. Managing the activities of a support function, as outlined next.


2. The functional responsibilities of PR as a support function includes:

a. Developing, implementing and evaluating communication plans in support of strategies developed at different organization levels (e.g., enterprise/corporate/business unit).

b. Developing, implementing, and evaluating communication plans in support of the strategies of other organizational functions (e.g., marketing, human resources).

c. Developing, implementing, and evaluating communication plans in support of the top management! organizational leadership's communication to employees (so-called management! leadership communication) or other stakeholders. See also appendix D.