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Public Relations Theory and Practice

Public Relations Theory and Practice


The relationship between the public and organizations is a key factor in public relations. For public relations to be valued in organizations, the public relations practitioners have to demonstrate that their efforts are channeled towards attaining the objectives of the organizations. This in turn establishes a long term relationship with the public. This concept justifies the importance of relationship management theory. In addition to relationship management, the ability to persuade the public has been noted to be critical in dealing with the public. According to Dainton and Zelley (2010: pp. 103), the world today is inundated with persuasion messages and influence in every aspect of life; be it relational, political, economic and social. This creates the belief that understanding the power of persuasive messages is essential for survival in matters public relations. Politicians, for instance, face the daunting challenge of effectively using the power of persuasion integrated with their ability to manage public relations for them to get the masses behind them during campaigns. This paper discusses the relevance of relationship management theory of public relations and persuasion theory of communication with respect to election campaigns in Australia. Organizations in this case refer to the South Australian State.

According to Boie (2012), the relationship between an organization and the audience forms the main concern for public relations practice. In the research, Boie pointed the importance of measuring the quality of this relation. This could be achieved through various indicators that include trust, mutual control, satisfaction and commitment. Further emphasis on the importance of relationship management was made by Ledingham (2003: pp. 181). This was made by stating that the perspective of relationship management points to the balancing of interests between organizations and the public when the organization- public relationship is managed. Based on this perspective, public relations can be seen as a management function that is used to establish and maintain a relationship that is mutually beneficial to the organization and the public.

The development of relational perspective in public relations came about because of four key concepts. One, it was because of the recognition that relationship had a central role in the public relations practice. Second, there was the need to re-conceptualize public relations so that it becomes a function of management. The emergence of strategies for measuring components of relationships and the relationships between organizations and the public created a link between these relationships and the attitudes, knowledge, perceptions and behaviours of the audience. Finally, models were constructed so as to accommodate antecedents of relationships, processes as well as consequences of the relationship between the public and organizations. These developments were the beginning of exploration of the importance of relationships n public management. In fact, the success or failure of the organization depends on the relationship it holds with the public, or otherwise, the people it intends to offer service to. Effective management of organizational relationships with the public involves creating common goals and shared interests and over time, a mutual understanding is created which will be beneficial to both the public and the organization (Rhee, 2004).

The relationship of this theory with public relations comes in many forms. To begin with, it is a representation of the fundamental change that has occurred in the direction and function of public relations. With this notion, focus has shifted from communicating to the public to establishing a relationship with them. This has also created a shift from the traditional way of measuring the impact of public relations to measuring and evaluating the initiatives of public relations. In addition, strategic planning has become a key factor in the process of making decisions in PR. There is also the view of analyzing the bigger picture against small details whenever problems are being assessed. Another expression of the relationship between PR and the relationship theory is the way relationships empower the public relation function. Great relations with the public create answers to the long standing questions with respect to the public relations of an organization.

The importance of the relationship perspective in public relations was further stressed by Ledingham (2003: pp. 182) when he stated that it emerged as an important and necessary change in the primary public relations mission. Further, Dozier (1995) argued that an organization’s purpose and direction, or its mission, is affected by the relationship it has with its key constituents, who are the public. Under this perspective, the importance of communication cannot be ignored. This is because communication is a key function of strategic management that can be used in managing relationships that shape the mission, objectives and goals of the organization. This underscored the shift of validating initiatives of public relations from communication measures to behavioral outcomes.

Through relationship management, the essence of public relations is questioned. This entails questioning what PR is, what it does vis-à-vis what it should do and its value and function in the structure of the organization and the society at large. The argument by Dozier (1995) confirms the fact that goals are built, or should be built around relationships. However, this does not stop there. Communication has to be used as a strategic tool by which the goals can be achieved. The process of evaluating the objectives of this relationship should involve measuring the efficiency of communication. This leads to the need to have the communication of goals, mission and objectives passed across to the public in an effective manner. How can this be achieved?

In order to modify the beliefs, attitudes and values of people, the communicator has to influence them. This can be attained by persuading. In communication theory, persuasion has been used as a means of influencing people through modification of their beliefs, their attitudes and values. Three objects are involved in the art of communication. These include the sender, the means of communication and the receiver of information. Before these objects can consider something to be persuasive, the persuasion has to involve a goal and an intention from the sender for the goal to be achieved. To achieve this goal, communication is used. Finally, the receiver of information must have free will. In essence, persuasion is not an accidental occurrence, and neither is it coercive, but communicational.

According to Petty and Brinol (2008), persuasion is used everywhere, from politics, education, religion and to daily social interactions. People are often trying to persuade others and similarly, they are also targets of influence from other people. The ability of politicians to influence individuals during campaigns is critical during the campaigns. The importance is stressed more by the fact that there are many aspirants who would like to get the votes from the people. the difference in ideologies cannot be received through mere communication of the ideologies but through the ability to convince the people into believing in the ideologies and believing that they are the right ideologies to take the Southern State forward. Persuasion has been stated to have an effect o the attitudes of people. The attitude of people towards the individual communicator, to the organization and to the message of the communicator influences their decision on the message. This implies that persuasion has to involve influencing the attitudes of people based on the objectives of the information.

Various theories are used to influence the aspect of persuasive communication. To begin with, Ledingham (2003) presented the social judgment theory in persuasion. This theory supposes that individuals make judgments on the content of information they get based on their stance on the particular message. In addition, the attitude of the person can be placed into three latitude categories that include latitude of acceptance, rejection and non-commitment. These three respectively refer to the ideas that a person has an idea about, those that they have no idea about ad those that they have divided opinion about. The position of the person on the topic being presented to them influences their reaction to the persuasive message being passed across. Social judgment theory therefore supposes that when a map of an individual’s attitudes on a certain topic is drawn, it will be dependent on the individual’s involvement of their ego. When the persuader knows whether the individual has their ego involved on the topic, they can make certain judgments on how the message has been received by the individual.

The second theory on persuasion, the elaboration likelihood model, considers persuasion as an event that is cognitive. This implies that the target audience of the persuasive message utilizes mental processes of reasoning and evaluation to either reject or accept the message. On the other hand, the cognitive dissonance theory assumes that for one to persuade an individual, enough ammunition has to be provided so as to influence their beliefs and attitudes. Politicians during campaigns have to be able to use tangible information in form of facts about the message they are passing across. F the message involves convincing the individual on the agenda of their campaign and their ideologies, they have to use facts that will influence the public to believe that the ideologies are development minded. The ELM theory believes in using strong and logical arguments to persuade the people, with the belief that the public is an able and motivated audience that wants to hear what makes them happy. Finally, the narrative paradigm is another of the persuasion theories. This theory believes in influencing people through narration or storytelling. Whenever a narrative is used, with god reasons as to why the message is important, then the people shall be influenced into believing in the message. This theory has been used by some politicians during their campaigns. However, this theory has to be used when the narrator believes in their oratory skills and the ability of the skills to influence the mass (Ledingham, 2003).

A reflection on the use of relationship management theory and the theory of persuasion during the South Australian State campaigns further demonstrated the importance of these theories in influencing the public and making them believe in what the aspirants believed in. each of the politician had their own manifestos and ideologies to pass across. While some focused on cost of living and employment, others were focused on creating industries as others focused on reducing wastage of resources within the state (ABCNews, 2014). All these represented the goals and objectives of their candidature, and what they expected to accomplish if they were elected into office. The main challenge for the aspirants was not to get the messages across to the public, but rather, it was in getting the people to believe in their messages and subsequently voting them into office. Going into the elections, the public already had some attitudes towards some political parties and did not feel the parties should be back in office. This represents the concept of the social judgment theory. The bottom line of the campaign was in getting the people to believe in the message by influencing them; hence use of the theory of persuasion (Stromback and Kiousis, 2011). To add to that, the relationship between the aspirants and the people had an influence on their attitude towards them and this would affect the numbers behind them. This is the aspect of relationship management in public relations.


Public relation has had a shift in its concept and perceptions. Traditionally, the practice involved mere communication of a message to the people. Over time, it has shifted to include the importance of relationships between the people and the organization. Further, the importance of getting the message passed across to the people has narrowed down to use of persuasion techniques so as to influence the audience to a common belief in goals and objectives. This has been used effectively during the South Australian Campaigns.

List of References

ABCNews, 2014, South Australia Election: Campaign Launches with Jay Weatherill Focusing on Jobs, Steven Marshall Promises Review of Expenditure, Accessed on May 15, 2014 at:

Boie, C. 2012, Public Relations and Relationship Management Theory: Institutional Perspectives, Romania: Babes-Bolyai University.

Dainton, M. and Zelley, E. 2010, Applying Communication Theory for Professional Life, UK: Sage Publications.

Dozier, D. 1995, Manager’s Guide to Excellence in Public Relations and Communication Management, UK: L. Erlbaum Associates Publishers.

Ledingham, J. 2003, ‘Explicating Relationship Management as a General Theory of Public Relations,’ Journal of Public Relations Research, 15(2), 181-198.

Petty, R. and Brinol, P. 2008, ‘Persuasion: From Single to Multiple to Metacognitive Processes’ Association for Psychological Science, Vol. 3, No. 2, pp. 137-147.

Rhee, Y., 2004, The Employee-Public-Organization Chain in Relationship Management: A Case Study of a Government Organization, Unpublished Doctoral Dissertation, University of Maryland, College Park.

Stromback, J and Kiousis, S. 2011, Political Public Relations: Principles and Applications, New York: Routledge Publications