Symmetrical PR meets the ‘Cluetrain Manifesto’

September 25, 2008

Every serious student of social media must read the Cluetrain Manifesto. If you haven’t, it’s available free online. Many consider Cluetrain the seminal work about social media as they relate to business.

For a good many 30something PR and marketing bloggers, Cluetrain was the great “aha!” It described a new open system of communication that shifts the locus of commerce from persuasion and selling to relationships and conversations.

True believers in social media have worshiped at the Cluetrain altar for almost a decade now. Most books on SM marketing and PR that followed  took their direction from Cluetrain authors Weinberger, Searles, Locke and Levine. The book has stood the test of time, whether or not you agree with its premise.

Have social media altered the communication landscape? Of course. But while Cluetrain broke new ground in describing business-consumer relationships in a digital world, it wasn’t all that “new” — at least not for the more serious students of public relations. (I won’t speak for the marketing types, as PR and marketing are distinct disciplines.)

If you’ve kicked around the PR world as long as I have — as practitioner and educator — the central concepts of the Cluetrian Manifesto don’t surprise you. Fact is, PR began focusing on a “two-way symmetrical model” (2WS) more than 50 years ago — long before scholars Jim Grunig and Todd Hunt defined 2WS in 1983, and way, way before the Cluetrain arrived. Read the rest of this entry »

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The ‘4 Models’ of public relations practice: How far have you evolved?

August 10, 2008

While preparing to teach my first PR class back in ’85, I happened upon “Managing Public Relations,” by Jim Grunig and Todd Hunt. Though I lost track of my copy long ago (never loan textbooks to students — never), one element of that book influenced how I taught and practiced PR for the past 23 years.

Grunig & Hunt’s “4 Models” of public relations practice went on to became the most talked-about theory in the discipline. The “4 Models” describe distinct approaches to public relations in the context of a 130-year timeline that shows how public relations has evolved. In the process, Grunig & Hunt identify an “ideal” approach to public relations — something they call the 2-way symmetrical model — and place it at the top of the evolutionary pyramid.

For me, the 4 Models became more than a teaching tool. When Grunig & Hunt published their theory, I was a full-time PR practitioner working for marketers who saw PR as promotion and publicity, period, and with no ethics component. The 4 Models helped me see the potential of public relations and, in part, inspired me to open my own shop so I could get beyond marketing and do some serious PR.

Here’s a summary of the models. If you’re like most of us, you’ve spent a little time in each of them. Read the rest of this entry »


A sort-of-unified definition of public relations — without a single mention of ‘marketing’

July 20, 2008

When I took my first PR class in ’74 — one of only two offered at my alma mater then — I didn’t know a damn thing about the field. By the end of Week #1, I’d had memorized Cutlip & Center’s definition — one that’s as relevant today as it was then. More on that later.

Search the literature and you find about 500 definitions for the term “public relations,” which may explain why this field is so misunderstood. Ironic, isn’t it? The very people charged with shaping the organization’s reputation can’t project a unified picture of themselves. Read the rest of this entry »


Public Relations 101: A primer for my friends/adversaries in marketing

July 15, 2008

Almost since my first post here at ToughSledding, I’ve debated with readers who define “public relations” differently than I. Never once have I said they “don’t get it,” though a number have said or implied it about me. Most with whom I spar define themselves as marketers, and as such tend to view PR as a tool of the marketing craft, i.e., another way to support the sale.

My exchanges with our “evil twins” in marketing have been cordial most of the time and only occasionally combative. And while I’ve enjoyed every one of the debates — and even the blow-ups — I’m troubled by them as well. You see, I’ve actually taken the time to learn about marketing and what it does. It doesn’t seem the marketers have done the same when it comes to PR — especially the many bloggers who use the terms interchangeably. So I’ll see if I can’t fix that. Read the rest of this entry »


The ethics of persuasion: What public relations can learn from two old sociologists and a PR prophet

June 26, 2008

During a long bike ride yesterday, I got to thinking about the late Pat Jackson. I invoke Pat’s name a lot on this site, since he is the “prophet” most responsible for my world-view in public relations. If you don’t know of Pat’s contributions, read about them here.

Pat understood that to gain the respect of top management, public relations must move behavior. CEOs care about action, not awareness. PR’s mission, said Pat, was to change the human outcomes. Behavior is the ultimate measure of our success — and in the end, it’s the only one that matters. Read the rest of this entry »


Thinkin’ about marketing, pseudo events and why men don’t study public relations

January 17, 2008

s23315429_34756649_7468.jpgMy attention span this week measures in nanoseconds.

Nothing like the start of a semester to destroy all focus. Take today. I sent my first email at 7:22 a.m., my most recent at 7:56 p.m. It was my 50th email sent today and I ain’t done. I received and read nearly 100. And I missed lunch — dammit.

We all have those days, but I have them every day. So since I don’t have time to write a thoughtful post, I offer these random rambling thoughts.

male.pngPR is looking for a few good men — but I’ll settle for one, maybe two. My PR Case Studies class, for the second semester in a row, is 100% female. In the previous year, just 7 men completed this gateway class and moved on in the major along with 36 women. Our 90-10 ratio reflects a national trend in the field.

I’ve written about this in the past, but now I’ve decided to do something about it. This semester, my PR Case Studies class will examine the gender imbalance in PR education and they’ll try to determine what’s causing it. We hope to survey freshman at 5 large universities, but I also expect my students will interview professionals and high school advisers, and, of course, examine past research on the topic. More about this as the project unfolds.

But let me speculate for a sec. Does PR need a new name? When last I wrote on this issue, my friend and Kent State alum Dino Baskovic posted this comment:

Not to be crass, but is PR viewed as a “chick” degree? It didn’t seem so when you took me in (from those cold, dreary days of architecture studio). It did seem odd that I was outnumbered 10-1…so maybe it gets back to recruiting.

Maybe Dino’s right. Maybe we just need a more aggressive effort to reach men. But I wonder if the term “PR” is too “soft” for the testosterone-driven among us. Might some young men see “relationship building” as too touchy-feely. Just thinkin’ out loud. I do that a lot here.

Bojinka Bishop, a colleague at Ohio University (my alma mater), added this comment to an email we exchanged yesterday. She gave me permission to share it.

An interesting anecdote – I also teach in what used to be called the “Global Learning Community” — about 85% female. The name was changed to the Global Leadership Center a couple of years ago — now we are 60% female. It would be interesting to see how many males vs females are in programs called marketing communication or corporate communication.

What’s in a name? Apparently quite a bit. Read the rest of this entry »


Why I don’t trust marketing: Part II

December 13, 2007

Relax! I’m not gonna say another word on the topic that sparked such a lively thread this past week. But since 4 other bloggers were moved to write about the post, I figured I’d point you in their direction.

The fact that other bloggers are writing about MY post is either very cool, or further evidence that bloggers have no lives. Decide for yourself.8238783_069643f7ab_m.jpg

Rich Becker’s post is insightful and well-written, like everything he does. And it includes a spirited exchange with the Geoffster.

photo.jpgGeoff Livingston goes a few rounds with Rich, then does his own post. He morphs the discussion into an “identity crisis” for PR, and he includes a quote from me to sum it up. I’m flattered, but I guess I’m on Geoff’s shit list, as he didn’t include my last name or a link to the original post. No offense taken, Geoff. I’ve been an outcast since high school.

august-2007.jpgBob Batchelor, PR prof at U of South Florida, brings his academic and professional knowledge to bear in his post about the post. Smart guy, Bob, and he’s both a Kent State grad (M.A.) and a Steelers fan. That, in my book is approaching perfection. Here is your final test: How do you feel about the designated hitter rule?

Jason Falls also offers a balanced view on the PR-marketing debate, but more from the marketer’s perspective. He bookers.jpgstrives for a simple view of PR, but I worry that it may be a tad too simple.

Jason does some innovative work in social media that you can read about at his blog, “Social Media Explorer.” But I like him mostly because his agency, Doe Anderson, represents Jim Beam’s boutique bourbon lines. If my friends are listening, a bottle of Booker’s would be great under the Christmas tree. (Sorry, J, but I only had room for one picture. I know you’ll understand!)

While Heather Yaxley didn’t write about my post at her blog, she did chime in with the most perceptive comments of all. Also, her post at PR Conversations includes more insight (IMHO) than all of our nattering combined. Thanks to Judy Gombita for the reminder, as this post goes back to August.

Finally, speaking of reminders, my son Chris walked in while I was starting this post, and it reminded me of a comment about blogging that he made on his first and possibly his only post:

“See how quickly the echo chamber starts to suck you in?

Blogs are wonderful conversations, indeed. But let’s keep it in perspective — all of it.