What is the history and evolution of public relations?

Thomas Business and Industry Supervisor
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3.1 INTRODUCTION
This chapter provides a perspective for the study of public relations practice and education at a
global level. Firstly, the term public relations is conceptualised. A critical overview is then
provided of some of the approaches to defining public relations, including reference to the
evolvement of the profession and worldviews affecting the conceptualisation of the field.
Primary research paradigms in public relations are set out next, followed by the selection of a
working definition and a research paradigm for this study. The conceptualisation of public
relations selected for this study is further related to globalisation and the potential role of public
relations to contribute towards global unity and understanding.
Next, an overview is provided of the developmental history of public relations. The systems and
structural approaches are identified as examples of possible points of departure for a study of the
historical development of public relations. The structural approach, with its focus on
professional development, is selected, to provide an overview of the development of public
relations practice and education at a global level.
Because public relations in its modern form originated in the USA, the developmental history is
first discussed with reference to America. Thereafter an overview of international development
follows. African development is discussed next, with specific reference to South Africa. In line
with the global mindset adopted for the study, an overview is provided of global connectedness,
which currently exists in the field of public relations practice and education. Reference is made
to the recently established Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communication
Management, as well as other international organisations attempting to unite public relations
practitioners and educators around the world.
This is followed by a discussion of the impact of globalisation on public relations practice and
education, in terms of new competencies required. An attempt is made to provide insight into
CHAPTER 3: PUBLIC RELATIONS PRACTICE AND
EDUCATION: A DEVELOPMENTAL AND THEORETICAL
PERSPECTIVE
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how public relations is influenced by the forces of globalisation, and the changing role of the
profession and new education needs that result.
It is evident in the literature consulted, that public relations has the potential to play a role in
counteracting those disintegrating forces of globalisation covered in the previous chapter.
Consequently, the role of public relations in the measures outlined in Section 2.7.4 to counteract
disintegrating forces of globalisation, is discussed next. This discussion is structured under the
same headings as those in Section 2.7.4 in Chapter 2.
Lastly, a theoretical perspective is provided for the study of public relations practice and
education. Although public relations has frequently been criticised for its lack of a theoretical
base, this does not mean that different principles and models applicable to public relations cannot
be identified (Windahl, et al., 1992:91).
Although there have been attempts to link the study of public relations to theoretical approaches
such as pragmatism (Van der Meiden, 1993:8-11), social exchange theory (Kendall, 1992:17-18),
rhetorical theory (Vestheim, 1992:23-30), ethnography, persuasion models, radical theory of
pressure groups, symbolic interactionalism, the excellence model, critical, situational and
organisational theory, etc. (Holtzhausen & Verwey, 1996:30-35), systems theory traditionally
seems to be the widely used framework for the study of public relations. Angelopulo (1994:41)
regards the systems approach as one of the most fruitful approaches to public relations
management, while Holtzhausen (quoted by Holtzhausen & Verwey, 1996:30) confirms, based
on an overview of theory application, that the systems approach is the most important theoretical
approach to public relations.
As systems theory ties in with the aim of this thesis, it is regarded as suitable also for this study.
As this study deals with globalisation, systems theory is approached from the viewpoint of
complex, dynamic systems and its related paradigm of chaos theory. In the second part of this
chapter systems theory is explained in general, and also as applied to public relations practice
and education. The network approach, which forms part of systems theory, is discussed next,
followed by an outline of the concepts complex, dynamic system, chaos theory and learning
organisation. This discussion, as well as the global mindset adopted in the previous chapter,
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provides the basis for the formation of a general theoretical framework in the next chapter, on
which to develop a model for globalisation in vocationally-oriented public relations education.
3.2 TOWARDS A CONCEPTUALISATION OF PUBLIC RELATIONS
A large number of definitions of public relations have been formulated worldwide. In fact,
Wilcox et al. (1992:5) report that a pioneer public relations educator once compiled about 500
definitions from almost as many sources.
3.2.1 Defining public relations in terms of its evolvement
Kendall (1992:13) argues that the maturity of practice in public relations is determined by the
maturity of the definition accepted. The available definitions reflect a range of sophistication in
the duty owed by the function to the society at large. According to Kendall, this range of
perceptions is evident today, as well as throughout the history of the field. Hutton=s conclusion
(1999:200-201) that a review of public relations= history reveals how the field has evolved in
terms of definitions and metaphors, confirms this viewpoint. According to Hutton (1999:200-
201), public relations has evolved through history from >the public be fooled= to >the public be
damned= to >the public be manipulated= to >the public be informed= to >the public be involved or
accommodated=.
Other theorists who define public relations in terms of its evolvement include Grunig and Hunt
(1984:21-43), who introduced four models to explain how public relations has developed through
history. These models also reflect the different ways in which public relations is still practised
today.
The first two models portray public relations as a one-way flow of communication between an
organisation and its publics. The third and fourth models portray public relations as a two-way
flow of communication between an organisation and its publics, and highlight the importance of
research.
* press-agentry/publicity model. This model represents public relations in its earliest form,
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as practised by organisations that equate public relations with publicity or promotions.
Practitioners in these organisations concern themselves mostly with getting media
attention for their organisations or clients, and their communication with publics is onesided
and rather propagandistic in nature.
* public-information model. This model emphasises the information dissemination
function of public relations by means of the mass and minor media.
* two-way asymmetric model. This model describes public relations as an effort to plan
communication with the publics of an organisation to achieve maximum change in
attitude and behaviour, with the emphasis on persuasion. According to Grunig and Hunt,
public relations based on this model has a manipulative nature.
* two-way symmetric model. This model describes public relations as an effort to attain
mutual understanding between an organisation and its publics. The emphasis is on social
responsibility and investment.
Grunig and Hunt (1984:43) accept that all four models still have a place in today=s society, as a
different model works best for different problems. However, as there are few definitions in
public relations literature that describe the first two models, it can be assumed that these models
can be discarded in the search for a general definition of modern public relations. Lubbe
(1994a:6-7) points out that the two former models are primarily based on the >technician= role of
public relations, whereas the latter two models utilise both the technician and the management
role in their application.
If it is taken into account that there is general acceptance today of the importance of research in
public relations (e.g. Mersham & Skinner, 2001b:74; Seitel, 2001:105-106; Paluszek, 2000:28;
Steyn & Puth, 2000:18; Center & Jackson, 1995:3), as well as the recognition that public
relations should be practised at the level of management (e.g. Mersham & Skinner, 2001b:67-68;
Seitel, 2001:174-175; Steyn & Puth, 2000:21; Kinnick and Cameron, 1994:74) the two-way
asymmetric and symmetric models should be accepted as the most applicable and advanced
models of public relations today.
Grunig and Hunt (1984:100-101), however, regard the symmetric model as the best reflection of
public relations in its mature form. In addition, they argue that asymmetric models of public
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relations are used by authoritarian dominant coalitions who see the symmetric model as a threat
to their power (Grunig & Hunt, 1984:100-101).
Although Grunig and Hunt=s notion of the asymmetric and symmetric models is widely accepted
by other theorists of public relations (e.g. Cutlip et al., 2000:409; Dozier and Ehling, 1992:177;
Sriramesh & White, 1992:597; Wilcox et al., 1992:57; Windahl et al., 1992:91-93; Brownell &
Niebauer, 1991:83-84), this viewpoint is not shared by all.
According to Van der Meiden (1993:9), one of the main opponents of Grunig and Hunt=s
symmetric model is G. R. Miller, who denies the possibility of a symmetric concept while public
relations is interwoven with effective persuasion and control over relevant aspects of the
environment. Miller (1989:45) argues that there is a close correlation between effective
persuasion and effective public relations, because both are concerned with symbolic control over
the environment. Effective, ethically defensible persuasion and effective, ethically defensible
public relations are virtually synonymous - in practice public relations professionals rely on
persuasive strategies frequently if not almost exclusively (Miller, 1989:45,63).
Van der Meiden (1993:9) also does not share in the viewpoint of Grunig and Hunt. She argues
that objective or neutral communication, as implied in the symmetric model, is not possible in
public relations, as the latter is inevitably a controlling instrument. As an organisation cannot
disconnect its communication activities from its immediate or remote interests, the public
relations function of that organisation is essentially a manipulating force. According to Van der
Meiden (1993:10), the distinctive perception of asymmetric and symmetric elements is neither
realistic nor practical, and cannot be a valid starting point for positioning public relations in
society.
Other critics of the symmetric model also claim that the approach is unrealistic or idealistic.
They argue that public relations professionals are appointed to advance the interests of their
organisations, and that clients would not appoint practitioners who do not practise asymmetric
public relations (Grunig & White, 1992:46). To this end, Grunig and Grunig (1992:312)
acknowledge that, in practice, professional public relations involves both asymmetric
(compliance-gaining) tactics and symmetric (problem-solving) tactics. They also acknowledge
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that the symmetric model is normative and idealistic. However, they describe the two-way
symmetric model as characteristic of excellent public relations, reporting research that shows
that the symmetric model is more ethical and effective than the other models (Grunig & Grunig,
1992:303-308).
3.2.2 Worldviews affecting the conceptualisation of public relations
Grunig and White (1992:31-64) attribute acceptance or criticism of the symmetric model, to
different worldviews. Broadly speaking, two worldviews have influenced practitioners and
scholars of public relations. The dominant worldview in public relations is that the latter is a
way of getting what an organisation wants, without changing its behaviour or compromising.
This dominant view in essence reflects an asymmetric worldview. Press agentry, public
information and two-way asymmetric models are practised from an asymmetric worldview.
They all attempt to change the behaviour of publics without changing the behaviour of the
organisation (Grunig and White, 1992:39).
The second worldview is, in essence, a symmetric worldview. A symmetric worldview sees
public relations as a non-zero-sum game in which competing organisations or groups can both
gain if they play the game right. Public relations is a tool by which organisations and competing
groups in a pluralistic system interact to manage conflict for the benefit of all (Grunig, 1992:9).
Grunig and White (1992:51) argue that both the dominant, asymmetric and the alternative,
symmetric worldview are influenced by presuppositions about the role of public relations in
society. They identify the following three worldviews on the social role of public relations,
which lead to asymmetric public relations: a pragmatic social role, a conservative social role and
a radical social role (Grunig & White, 1992:51-54).
The view of a pragmatic social role approaches public relations as a useful practice, something
that can be used to meet the objectives of an organisation in a way that benefits the organisation.
The pragmatic worldview sees society as composed of competing groups, target audiences and
markets, from whom commercial advantage is to be won. This view may also underlie
arguments against the development of codes of conduct or ethical standards, because they may
interfere with what can be done to achieve the client=s objectives.
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Public relations based on a conservative social role is essentially aimed at maintaining power by
defending the status quo and an ideal capitalist system from attack. The view of a radical social
role presupposes that public relations contributes to change and reform by providing power and
influence through knowledge and information. Both the latter two worldviews see public
relations as a tool to be used in a war among opposing social groups.
Grunig and White (1992:53-54) identify the following two worldviews on the social role of
public relations, which lead to symmetric public relations: an idealistic social role and a critical
social role.
The idealistic social role viewpoint assumes that a norm of reciprocity governs society and that
a diversity of views and their reconciliation lead to social progress. This worldview presupposes
that public relations serves the public interest, and facilitates a dialogue to develop mutual
understanding between organisations and their publics. The critical social role viewpoint sees
organisations and society as constructed systems which can be deconstructed and reconstructed.
Scholars and practitioners who operate from this worldview, criticise public relations for poor
ethics, negative social consequences or ineffectiveness, and advocate more effective practices.
In addition to presuppositions on the social role of public relations, Grunig and White (1992:49-
50; 54-55) identify another two factors which influence worldviews in public relations. These
include gender differences and technical vs managerial presuppositions about public relations.
With regard to gender differences, traditionally men were regarded as better managers because of
their inclination towards competition and toughness. The viewpoint is, however, emerging that
women=s preference for nurturance and relationships may be what is needed by managers in the
future. Grunig and White (1992:50) believe that the feminine worldview approximates the
symmetric worldview better than the masculine worldview, and predicts that the female majority
in public relations in many countries could move the field toward excellence, as the symmetric
worldview of most women begins to replace the more asymmetric worldview of most men.
Grunig and White (1992:55) also believe that the common view that public relations is a
technical function is associated with the press agentry and public information models of public
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relations and reinforces the asymmetric worldview. They argue that there is a need for both a
technical and a managerial role to move public relations to a position of excellence.
Grunig (1992:10) concludes that excellent public relations embodies a worldview that defines the
communication function in organisations as symmetric, idealistic, critical and managerial.
3.2.3 Hutton=s alternative framework to conceptualise public relations
An alternative framework to defining the field of public relations is provided by Hutton
(1999:199-212). Hutton (1999:212) challenges the wide acceptance of Grunig and Hunt=s four
models, arguing that these models do not meet the requirements of a theory, and have failed the
test of empirical confirmation. According to Hutton (1999:199), public relations still lacks a
central organising paradigm. For this reason he introduced a three-dimensional framework with
which to compare competing philosophies of public relations, and from which to build a
paradigm for the field. These dimensions also explain the substantive differences among various
orientations or definitions of public relations. These dimensions are referred to as the >Three Is=:
interest, initiative and image (Hutton, 1999:204):
* interest refers to the degree to which public relations is focused on client vs the public
interest. At one extreme lies a philosophy of >the public be damned=, while at the other
extreme lies a belief that the public=s interest should supersede the client=s interest.
* initiative refers to the extent to which the public relations function is reactive vs proactive.
Examples of pro-active techniques include stakeholder surveys, communication
audits, crisis planning, issues management and strategic communication planning.
* image refers to the extent to which an organisation is focused on perception vs reality, or
image vs substance. This dimension represents the general focus of an organisation=s
philosophy, thoughts and actions. A publicity stunt may represent one end of the
continuum and an anonymous corporate gift to a charity the other extreme.
Hutton (1999:205) argues that, while a given public relations function can cover a range of
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territory on each dimension, it is usually possible to locate an organisation=s general orientation
along each dimension.
According to Hutton (1999:205-208), the following six distinct orientations, models or
metaphors of public relations practice become apparent when the above framework is used to
analyse definitions of public relations:
* Persuasion. This includes those philosophies of public relations that are pro-active and
oriented towards persuading audiences to think or act in ways that benefit the client or
organisation.
* Advocacy. This is similar to persuasion in its intentions, but different in that it arises out
of controversy or active opposition. It is reactive in nature and is usually triggered by a
crisis or other catalyst.
* Public information. This refers to the style of public relations in which a client or
organisation serves primarily as an educator and information clearinghouse. Examples of
organisations practising such function include member service organisations and
government agencies.
* Cause-related public relations. This is also called crusading, compliments advocacy
insofar as it tends to serve a broader public interest rather than any special-interest group.
* Image/reputation management. This focuses on the image of the client or organisation,
as measured by its popularity or value.
* Relationship management. This is based on the identification of mutual interests, values
and benefits between a client or organisation and its publics. The emphasis is on mutual
trust, compromise, cooperation and, whenever possible, win-win situations.
Based on the argument that only the latter category has the power to serve as an organising
philosophy, Hutton (1999:208,211) proposes >relationship management= as a dominant paradigm
for modern public relations, together with the short definition >managing strategic relationships=.
Based on the latter definition and the framework of the >Three Is=, he formulates the following
hierarchy of public relations= primary role, functions and tactics (Hutton, 1999:211):
Definition
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>managing
strategic relationships=
Situational roles
persuader, advocate, educator, crusader,
information provider, reputation manager
Primary functions performed
research, image making, counselling, managing,
early warning, interpreting, communicating, negotiating
Tactics/tools utilised
publicity, product placement, news releases, speeches,
interpersonal communication, websites, publications, trade
shows, corporate identity programmes, corporate advertising programmes, etc.
Hutton (1999:211-212) suggests that the above hierarchy encourages scholars to distinguish
between the umbrella definition and the primary purpose of public relations in a given context, as
well as between public relations roles and their functions and tactics.
3.2.4 Definitions based on the symmetric model and Hutton=s paradigm
Both the definitions endorsed by IPRA and the South African national professional body for
public relations fit the two-way symmetric model, as well as Hutton=s proposed dominant
paradigm. The latter body used to be called the Public Relations Institute of Southern Africa
(PRISA), but was renamed in 2002 to PRISA, the Institute for Public Relations &
Communication Management (Moscardi, 2002b:1). The abbreviation >PRISA= will be used
hereafter in reference to this body.
IPRA endorses a definition formulated by Harlow (quoted by Windahl et al., 1992:89-90), which
reads as follows:
>Public relations is a distinctive management function which helps establish and maintain mutual
lines of communication, understanding, acceptance and cooperation between an organisation and
its publics; involves the management of problems or issues; helps management to keep
informed on and responsive to public opinions; defines and emphasises 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
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and sound and ethical communication techniques as its principal tools.=
The definition of PRISA reads as follows (Mersham & Skinner, 2001b:67):
>Public relations is the management, through communication, of perceptions and strategic
relationships between an organisation and its internal and external stakeholders.=
Other definitions that fit the two-way symmetric model include those adopted by many other
public relations societies worldwide. Two examples include the definition adopted by the
Institute of Public Relations (IPR) in Britain in 1987 (Mersham et al., 1995:10) and the often
quoted definition accepted by the First World Assembly of Public Relations Associations held in
Mexico City in 1978. The former definition reads as follows:
>Public relations practice is the planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain goodwill
and mutual understanding between an organisation and its publics= (IPR, 2002).
The latter definition reads as follows:
>Public relations is the art and social science of analysing trends, predicting their consequences,
counselling organisational leaders and implementing planned programmes of action which will
serve both the organisation and the public interest= (Steyn & Puth, 2000:4).
It seems that, in spite of scepticism from authors like Van der Meiden and Miller about the
application of a two-way symmetric model, definitions which endorse this model are widely
accepted today by professional associations in public relations. Many of these definitions also
endorse Hutton=s conceptualisation of public relations as >the management of strategic
relationships=.
3.3 RESEARCH PARADIGMS IN PUBLIC RELATIONS
Rhetorical, critical and systems perspectives are three major research paradigms apparent in the
body of knowledge of public relations (Toth, 1992:3-4). According to Toth (1992:3,12), these
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three perspectives are complementary, and, combined, provide for pluralistic studies that have
enriched understanding of the field of public relations.
3.3.1 The rhetorical perspective
This paradigm in public relations is primarily concerned with the use of symbolic behaviour to
create and influence relationships between an organisation and its publics (Toth, 1992:5). The
areas of corporate advocacy and issues management are of particular concern.
According to Bredenkamp (1997:87), the rhetorical approach can be and is used to put an
organisation=s best foot forward. Heath (1992b:24), however, argues that rhetoric can be viewed
as one-way, manipulative communication, but also as contested examination of issues and
actions - as dialogue. It can thus be deduced that the rhetoric perspective in public relations
could include both asymmetric and symmetric models.
3.3.2 The critical perspective
This paradigm also focuses on the symbolic processes of organisational behaviour, but with a
view to being confrontational towards organisational interests, power and domination (Toth,
1992:7,11). Heath (1992b:33) suggests that critical judgment is needed to improve skills and to
ensure that a profession is responsible and sound.
According to Heath (1992a:39), the critical perspective in public relations entails not only
examination of public relations tactics, but also standards and judgments regarding the worth of
statements in their service to society at large, and not merely the interest of the client or
organisation. If applied in this way, criticism is based on the norm provided by the symmetric
public relations model.
3.3.3 The systems perspective
The systems approach is multidisciplinary (Bredenkamp, 1997:84) and approaches organisations
as open systems consisting of subsystems and forming part of suprasystems (Grunig, 1989:38).
The systems perspective in public relations is based on the premise that organisations should
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concern themselves with the environment in order to survive, and seek to maintain an
equilibrium with their environment through input, throughput and output (Toth, 1992:8).
According to Toth (1992:11), systems theorists use criticism in search of excellence in public
relations.
Grunig and Hunt=s symmetric model approaches organisations as open systems (Grunig,
1989:38). As an open systems approach, the symmetric model is based on the following
presuppositions: equality; autonomy of people both inside and outside the organisation;
innovative thinking; decentralisation of management; responsibility; conflict resolution; and
interest group liberalism (Grunig, 1989:38-39).
3.4 THE DEFINITION AND PARADIGM SELECTED FOR THIS STUDY
In line with the endorsement of the symmetric model by professional public relations
associations through the definitions they adopt, this study accepts this model as the most suitable
portrayal of excellent public relations. By the same token, the study accepts the worldview that
defines the public relations function as idealistic, critical and managerial. Being normative and
idealist, the symmetric model complements the normative definition of globalisation formulated
for this study, and the responsibility the study assigns to public relations to contribute to
harmony and unity in the global community. The acceptance of the symmetric model for a study
based on the presupposition that technikons should function as learning systems in a global
environment, is also in line with Grunig and Grunig=s argument (1992:298) that the practice of
two-way symmetric public relations is especially important when environments are complex and
turbulent. According to Dozier and Ehling (1992:182), the concept of symmetry suggests that an
organisation should adjust to the environment on which its survival and growth depends. In the
process, the organisation itself changes.
Furthermore, it is not accepted that symmetric public relations excludes the use of rhetoric and
control. It is assumed that public relations can serve the well-being of society while
simultaneously functioning as a controlling instrument. A programme aimed at social
investment and development is, in the opinion of the author, a case in point. While the goal of
such a programme is aimed at the well-being of the recipient, the communication applied to
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reach this goal is of a controlling nature, as it involves changing the behaviour of both the
organisation implementing the programme and the social, economic and physical conditions of
the community the programme is aimed at.
At the same time, this study accepts Hutton=s proposal of relationship management as a dominant
paradigm for public relations. In spite of Hutton=s criticism of Grunig and Hunt=s four models,
the relationship paradigm fits the symmetric model of public relations.
However, while Harlow=s definition endorsed by IPRA and Hutton=s hierarchy set out above, are
accepted as a summary of the most important functions of public relations for the purpose of this
investigation, the study needs a definition which emphasises the responsibility of public relations
towards the global community. A definition formulated by Kendall (1992:15) is suitable for this
purpose, as it focuses on the social responsibility aspect of public relations and its commitment
to the well-being of society as a whole:
>Public relations is a phenomenon within societies by which advocates of a social entity manage
that organisation=s performance in the public interest in order to:
* nurture mutually beneficial associations with all groups interdependent with the
organisation, by means of
* the responsible use of all the appropriate instruments of one- and two-way
communication.=
This definition has certain implications which are of special importance to this study. It implies
firstly that the ethical function of public relations is social welfare, and secondly, that public
relations activity involves the intentional advancement of a cause. It also implies that an entity=s
performance should conform to what is in the best interest of the entire society - in this case the
global society - and that its social responsibility should be proactive rather than reactive
(Kendall, 1992:15-16).
Kendall=s definition reinforces the view of the public relations function as the >social conscience=
(Leonard & Ströh, 2000b:36; Verwey, 2000:64) of organisations. According to Black
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(2000:105), social stability and ethical behaviour are the essential underpinning of public
relations. Leonard and Ströh (2000b:42), in turn, assign to public relations the role to operate as
the ethical and moral consciousness of an organisation, and to help guide the establishment of
organisational values, which will determine the nature of all external behaviour.
Kendall=s definition also corresponds with the view that public relations strives towards harmony
in society. Seib and Fitzpatrick (1995:1) describe the moral purpose of public relations as that of
social harmony. Through their work, public relations professionals promote peaceful existence
among individuals and institutions. >Serving the public interest while serving one=s own has
always been the hallmark of good public relations work= (Seib & Fitzpartick, 1995:2). Black
(2000:104) reinforces this view by arguing that public relations is conditioned by reputation,
credibility, confidence, harmony and mutual understanding.
Kendall=s definition is extended, for the purpose of this study, to cover the global community, to
make provision for the practice of public relations across borders and globalisation in public
relations. Transnational public relations is known as international public relations, an area that
has grown extensively since the advent of globalisation (Black, 2000:103).
Wilcox et al. (1992:409) define international public relations as >the planned and organised effort
of a company, institution or government to establish mutually beneficial relations with the
publics of other nations=. They define these publics as >the various groups of people who are
affected by, or who can affect, the operations of a particular firm, institution or government.
Each public is united by a common interest vis-à-vis the entity seeking acceptance of its product
or programs= (Wilcox et al., 1992:410).
Globalisation in public relations implies, firstly, relationships that exist across national borders
and, secondly, relationships - even in one country - which are influenced by global developments
(White & Mazur, 1995:18). Globalisation in public relations furthermore implies that the
functions of public relations as the social conscience of an organisation, striving towards
harmony in society, are extended to the global society.
International public relations through globalisation necessitates an appreciation of the
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sensitivities of unfamiliar organisations and individuals, that need to be harmonised (Black,
2000:106). It superimposes an overall perspective on a programme executed in two or more
national markets, recognising the similarities among audiences, while necessarily adapting to
regional differences (Anderson, quoted by Grunig & Grunig, 2000). International public
relations should thus include central consideration of cultural diversity (Banks, 1995:32),
planning globally, but acting locally (Black, 2000:103).
Kendall=s definition - extended globally - could contribute towards recognising the full potential
of public relations on a global basis. The focus of this definition on ethical behaviour that is in
the best interest of the entire society, corresponds with the point of departure of this study,
namely that public relations practice and education could contribute towards the common good
of the global society.
By focusing on the relationship between public relations and global integration, the study
emphasises the potential of public relations to contribute to a move towards global consciousness
and understanding. If public relations practitioners and educators aim their public relations
activities towards global unity, they practise public relations in its mature form, as represented by
the symmetric model. In addition, they follow the emerging paradigm of energy and
connectivity, as discussed in Chapter 1 (see Section 1.3).
The research paradigm adopted for this study is the systems approach. This study, with its focus
on public relations education programmes, and technikons as systems being influenced by global
changes, needs a research paradigm which allows investigation of how these systems are
influenced by, and need to adapt, to the global macrosystem. The systems paradigm is regarded
as best suited for this purpose, as it allows for critical focus on global influences (input) and
skills, knowledge and attitudes that need to be transferred (throughput and output). The systems
perspective also allows for the incorporation of a global mindset, network thinking, chaos theory
and the requirements of learning organisations into the paradigm chosen for this study. This
paradigm makes it possible to focus on the turbulent nature of the global macrosystem as a
Network Society, and is in line with the acceptance of Kendall=s definition, extended globally.
3.5 APPROACHES TO REVIEWING THE HISTORICAL DEVELOPMENT OF
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PUBLIC RELATIONS
According to Lubbe (1994a:3), the historical development of public relations can be reviewed
from either a systems or a structural perspective. The systems approach focuses on the widening
scope of public relations in relation to the social and economic development of a society,
whereas the structural approach depicts the professionalisation of public relations in terms of the
establishment of professional bodies, codes of conduct, accreditation, etc.
In the available literature, the earlier history of public relations is discussed mostly from a
systems perspective, whereas the state of public relations in its modern form is discussed mostly
from a structural perspective.
According to Roodt (1988:18), the knowledge dimension can be regarded as the most
fundamental requirement in the professionalisation of any profession, and particularly of public
relations. According to a model of professionalisation formulated by De Beer (1982:13-14), the
knowledge dimension of professionalisation comprises the following attributes: knowledge,
education, skills, research and subject literature.
As education, the topic of this study, is one of the attributes of professionalisation, it can be
deduced that a discussion of public relations development in terms of the structural approach will
be more relevant to this study. Therefore, while a brief overview is provided of the development
of public relations according to the systems approach, the emphasis in the rest of the chapter is
on the structural approach.
3.6 HISTORICAL DEVELOPMENT OF PUBLIC RELATIONS IN TERMS OF THE
SYSTEMS APPROACH
A study of the available literature on public relations history from a systems approach reveals
two tendencies.
The first is to focus on the changing role of public relations as it adapted to changes in the
environment. The four models formulated by Grunig and Hunt, as discussed in Section 3.2.1, are
a case in point. Grunig and Hunt (1984:25) even assign certain historical periods to each
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developmental model: press agentry - 1850-1900; public information - 1900-1920; two-way
asymmetric - 1920s onward; and two-way symmetric - 1960s onward.
Another case in point is the identification by Aranoff and Baskin (1983:15-19) of three major
phases in the development of public relations - manipulation, information and mutual influence
and understanding. Manipulation is associated mostly with the techniques of 19th century press
agents, information with the work of the publicity officers at the beginning of the 20th century
and mutual influence and understanding with public relations as a management function in its
modern form.
The second tendency is to link public relations to historical events and periods in the world.
Such a study of public relations history reflects the social, economic, political and technological
changes the world went through, the influences of these changes on communication and the
impact of public opinion.
The origin of public relations is, for example, linked to efforts to inform and persuade in the
earliest civilisations. Seitel (2001:25-26), Cutlip et al. (2000:102), Wilcox et al. (1992:36),
Moore and Kalupa (1985:24) and Grunig and Hunt (1984:15) refer to techniques used by leaders
in ancient societies such as those of Egypt, Greece, India and Iraq, to inform, to persuade and to
impress. Wilcox et al. (1992:36), Truter (1991:35-37), Grunig and Hunt (1984:15) and Van der
Meiden and Fauconnier (1982:121-122) refer to Biblical figures like David, Solomon, John the
Baptist and Paul, who understood the art of influencing large groups of people. Reilly (1987:13)
also refers to historical persons like Napoleon, Catherine the Great and Charles Dickens as
examples of public figures who used public relations techniques to promote personal image and
to influence public opinion.
The development of public relations is also discussed with reference to: propaganda by the early
Roman Catholic Church (Seitel, 2001:26; Wilcox et al., 1992:36); the invention of the printing
press by Gutenberg and the development of mass communication (Truter, 1991:36; Grunig &
Hunt, 1984:16-17); social changes such as the Renaissance and Reformation, the rise of
Humanism and the abolition of censorship (Grunig & Hunt, 1984:17); economic changes
brought about by industrialisation (Seitel, 2001:29; Wilcox et al., 1992:42); political changes
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such as the American Revolution (Cutlip et al., 2000:102; Grunig & Hunt, 1984:17) and the rise
of trade unions (Truter, 1991:37); technological development and the onrush of the global
information age (Cutlip et al., 2000:135-136); and the emergence of consumer rights and activist
organisations (Grunig & Hunt, 1984:13,18).
Cutlip et al. (2000:106) also link the most important growth periods in public relations to some
of the world=s most significant crisis periods such as World Wars I and II, the wars in Vietnam
and Korea, the Great Depression, the Cold War, the invasion of Panama and the Persian Gulf
War.
3.7 HISTORICAL DEVELOPMENT OF PUBLIC RELATIONS IN TERMS OF THE
STRUCTURAL APPROACH
A structural approach to the history of public relations focuses on its professional development.
The discussion that follows focuses mainly on aspects of developmental history which relate to
professional bodies and education.
3.7.1 American development
This section provides an overview of the development of public relations practice and education
in the USA.
3.7.1.1 Public relations practice
Public relations as it is known today originated in America (Seitel, 2001:30-31; Jefkins, 1992:5;
Grunig & Hunt, 1984:14). Public relations in this country has in fact produced many >firsts=.
The first book on public relations, Crystallizing Public Opinion, was written in 1923 by Edward
Bernays, an American whom Grunig and Hunt (1984:39) regard as >the intellectual= of early
public relations.
The oldest existing public relations society, the Religious Public Relations Council, was formed
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in America in 1929 (Jackson, 1988:28). The American Council on Public Relations was formed
in 1939 (Seitel, 1992:39). In 1947 this organisation merged with two others societies to form the
Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) (Grunig & Hunt, 1984:41). In 1968 the Public
Relations Student Society of America was founded by the PRSA, to facilitate communication
between students and professionals (Seitel, 2001:38). The PRSA adopted its Code of Conduct in
1954 and in 1964 approved a voluntary accreditation scheme, whereby it accredited members by
means of an examination (Skinner et al., 2001:20).
An umbrella organisation, the North American Public Relations Council, was founded in 1980 to
produce a uniform accreditation system and code of ethics (Jackson, 1988:28). This council was
later replaced by the Universal Accreditation Board. Accreditation is still a voluntary
programme in America today, and is available to practitioners with at least five years of
experience (UAB, 2001).
The PRSA also formed a task force in 1986 to develop guidelines for professional development,
and to codify a body of knowledge for public relations in America. This body of knowledge was
published in 1986 (Jackson, 1988:28).
Today the PRSA is the world=s largest organisation for public relations. It has nearly 20 000
members, organised into over 100 chapters (PRSA, 2001).
The PRSA assists with education of Russian public relations students by means of a joint PRSARussian
Public Relations Association (RPRA) programme established in 1992. This programme
enables Russian students to do an internship in America (Epley, 1993:4).
The PRSA decided in 1997 to make global outreach one of its priorities. A Global Initiatives
Committee was consequently formed, to open the lines of communication with other public
relations associations regarding the idea of global collaboration (Pelfrey, 2001:39).
Another influential public relations body in America is the International Association of Business
Communicators (IABC), founded in 1970 (Skinner et al., 2001:20) as an international network,
aiming to improve the effectiveness of organisations through strategic interactive and integrated
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business communication management. This organisation has more than 13 700 members in over
58 countries all over the world. The IABC has its headquarters in San Francisco, and is
organised into chapters in different districts and regions. The South African chapter of the IABC
is based in Johannesburg. The IABC also has a research and development arm in the form of the
IABC Research Foundation (IABC, 2001).
3.7.1.2 Public relations education
The first course in public relations was taught by Edward Bernays at the New York University in
1922 (Grunig & Hunt, 1984:39). The first master=s programme in public relations was
established at Boston University in 1947 (Ogbondah & Pratt, 1991-1992:37). The first education
department in public relations was established in 1949 at the Boston University (Jackson,
1988:28). Thereafter followed a period of phenomenal growth in public relations education. By
1951, twelve American universities had introduced education programmes in public relations
(Seitel, 2001:38). Post-graduate courses were introduced on large scale in the late 1970s (Hesse,
1984:22). Today, approximately 300 colleges and universities in America offer at least one
course dealing with public relations. Of these, approximately 200 offer a public relations
sequence or degree programme (Seitel, 2001:38).
An organisation that plays a major role in public relations education in the USA is the
Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC). The AEJMC has
a Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, which accredits public relations
sequences in schools of journalism and mass communication (IPRA, 1990:25). The AEJMC has
a membership of approximately 3 300 from more than 30 countries (AEJMC, 2001).
3.7.2 International development
This section provides an overview of the development of public relations practice and education
at an international level.
3.7.2.1 Public relations practice
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Formal professional organisation of public relations came into being in Europe in the late 1940s
and early 1950s. The second known public relations society in the world was formed in the
Netherlands in 1948 (Van der Meiden & Fauconnier, 1982:127). A public relations society was
established in the same year in England (Skinner et al., 2001:21). The Public Relations Institute
of Ireland (PRII) was founded in 1953 (Carty, 1993:21).
According to Josephs and Josephs (1994:14), the UK has the second biggest public relations
industry in the world, surpassed only by America in size and dynamism. This view is reinforced
by White (1991:183), who refers to the UK as >the second most developed centre of public
relations practice after the USA=. The Institute of Public Relations in Britain is also the largest
professional association for public relations in Europe (Anon., 1998:29).
The European Confederation of Public Relations (Confederation Europeenne des Relations
Publiques - CERP), a regional confederation, was established in 1959 (Skinner et al., 2001:21).
CERP established a body charged with the development of public relations and research in
Europe. It was called CEDET. In 1990 CEDET became a new body called CERP Education.
Full membership is restricted to colleges and individuals concerned with public relations
education in Europe. Colleges and persons outside Europe may, however, become
correspondence members (Black, 1990b:15).
The 1960s and 1970s saw professional bodies for public relations emerging all over the globe.
Examples include: the Public Relations Institute of Australia (PRIA), formed in 1960 (Wilcox et
al., 1992:47); the Arab Public Relations Society, founded in 1966 (Borhan, 1993:19); the
Advanced Institute for Press and Public Relations, established in Iran in 1970 (Kamalipour &
Rad, 1997:30); Asean, a public relations body representing the South East Asian region and
formed in 1967; and the Federation of Asian Public Relations Organisations based in the
Philippines and formed in 1977 (Noeradi, 1992:39).
According to Seitel (2001:476), public relations evolved more slowly in Asia than in the West,
although sharp growth in this region was experienced in the 1990s. Asian countries with active
public relations sectors include Japan, Korea, Indonesia, Taiwan, Singapore (Hickson, 1998:26;
Seitel, 2001:476), the Philippines (Virtusio, 1998:23), HongKong, India, Pakistan, Malaysia and
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Thailand (IPRA, 2001c).
Public relations developed rapidly in China after it was first introduced to the country in 1981.
By 1990 nearly every Chinese city had an active public relations society. The first academic
programme in public relations was introduced at Shenzhen University in 1985. By 1990 more
than 100 universities and colleges offered public relations education. Shenzhen University=s
distance learning programme also reaches students from HongKong and Macao (Black, 1990-
1991:29-30).
According to Seitel (2001:475), the public relations field in Latin America is most developed in
Mexico, where most corporations have public relations departments, and many employ local or
American public relations agencies. Tertiary institutions in this country also offer education in
public relations. Kotcher (1998:26) foresees that, in the light of flourishing media fuelled by
democratic reforms, and the growth of online communication in this region, public relations will
play an increasingly critical role in Latin America. Seitel (2001:475) also predicts growth in the
industry in this region, especially as far as Argentina, Brazil, Venezuela and Chile are concerned.
Public relations started growing in the former Eastern Bloc after the collapse of communism in
this region. The Hungarian Public Relations Association (HPRA) was formed in 1990 (Tabori &
Szeles, 1992:41) and has since developed an accreditation process modelled after that of the
PRSA (Hiebert, 1994:364). The Soviet Public Relations Association and the Polish Public
Relations Association were also founded soon after the demise of the Iron Curtain (Anon.,
1992a:14). Examples of other Eastern Bloc countries where public relations associations were
formed include Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, the
Ukraine (IPRA, 2001c) and Estonia (GAPR&CM, 2001). IPRA also established the Eastern
European Task Force to deal with matters relating to these countries (Tabori & Szeles, 1992:41).
Although press freedom became a reality in the former Soviet Bloc in the 1990s, Hiebert
(1994:364) points out that public relations was slower than advertising to emerge from
communism. Guth (1998:53) adds that, in Russia, public relations in the commercial sector is
still lagging behind that of public relations in the government sector, as far as development is
concerned. Seitel (2001:477), however, suggests that the approximately 370 million consumers
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in Eastern Europe and the well-established mass communication system in the region mean that
the prospects for public relations expansion are immense. Djuric (1998:24) further points to
considerable growth in the number of public relations practitioners in the former Yugoslavia,
especially in banks and privately-owned companies.
According to Seitel (2001:478), the public relations profession is less active in the Middle East,
although it is growing in this region. Seitel (2001:478) mentions the admission of 20 women
students into the public relations major programme at the United Arab Emirates University in Al-
Ain in 1995, as a sign of the growth of public relations in the Middle East, and cites Saudi
Arabia as an example of a country where there is an increased recognition of the significance of
public relations. Another example is Iran, where the first book on public relations was published
in 1966 and the first B.A. degree in public relations was introduced in 1983 (Kamalipour & Rad,
1997:31). Egypt is said to be the first country in the Middle East to look upon public relations as
a profession. The Arab Public Relations Society is based in Egypt, but includes members from
other Middle Eastern countries. Since its inception this association has participated in more than
50 conferences and world congresses (Borhan, 1993:19).
International organisation of public relations originated in Europe. The idea came into being in
1949 when two Dutch and four British public relations persons met in London to discuss
international liaison. They formed an international committee, which eventually led to the
establishment of IPRA in 1955 (IPRA, s.a.: 1,8). IPRA held its first congress in 1958 in Brussels
(Oeckl, 1976:2).
This body aims to bring together public relations practitioners at a global level to further the
skills and ethics of the profession. The UN recognises IPRA as an NGO. IPRA also holds a
consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council, and has been awarded the right to
participate in UNESCO-funded programmes (IPRA, 2001a).
IPRA formulated its first code of conduct in 1961. In 1965 the organisation adopted the Code of
Athens, a European code of professional conduct formulated in the same year by CERP (Skinner
et al., 2001:21). This is a moral code, inspired by the UN Declaration of Human Rights (IPRA,
2001b). IPRA publishes a journal which was recently renamed IPRA Frontline (IPRA, 2001a:3).
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Today IPRA has members in 92 countries all over the world, including Europe, the Americas,
Asia, Britain, Scandinavia and Iceland, Africa, the Middle East, Australia and New Zealand, as
well as on various islands (IPRA, 2001c).
IPRA is instrumental in assisting the growth of public relations in emerging markets such as
Russia, Bulgaria and Estonia, and runs the world=s largest public relations website and Internet egroup
(Sutherland, 2001).
IPRA also has a student section, membership of which is open to students of public relations
worldwide. Membership entitles students to IPRA=s virtual library and publications, as well as a
student members= chat room and guestbook on IPRA=s website (IPRA, 2002a).
Other regional public relations federations in the world include the Inter-American
Confederation of Public Relations Associations (FIARP), based in Argentina and Uruguay
(IPRA, 2001c), and the Pan-Pacific Public Relations Federation (PPPRF), based in Thailand
(Skinner et al., 2001:22).
There are also a number of global organisations in the field of communication, examples of
which include: the International Communication Association (ICA); the World Communication
Association (WCA) (Gibson, 1992-1993:47); the International Association for Media and
Communication Research (IAMCR); the International Society for Intercultural Education,
Training and Research (SIETAR); and the International Federation of Communication
Associations (IFCA) (IAMCR, 2001; IFCA, 2001; SIETAR, 2001).
3.7.2.2 Public relations education
A principle objective of IPRA is the encouragement of education (IPRA, 1997:5). Through its
involvement with the UN and UNESCO, it contributes to public relations education, particularly
in developing countries (IPRA, s.a.:7).
Since the first public relations course was introduced in America in 1923, public relations
education has been developing at educational institutions for eight decades. However, it was
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only after the publication of IPRA=s Gold Paper No. 4 in 1982 that there has been major
international development in public relations education beyond the basic bachelor=s degree
(IPRA, 1990:6).
This Gold Paper was the result of work of an International Commission for Public Relations
Education, set up in 1980 to assist the IPRA Education and Research Committee to produce a
model and recommendations for public relations education worldwide. Based on the belief that
public relations should have an intellectual base, and aiming to provide students with a common
body of knowledge, it was suggested in Gold Paper No. 4, among other recommendations, that
public relations education should go beyond the bachelor=s degree (IPRA, 1982:4-6).
Since then, major post-graduate courses in public relations have been introduced. Examples
include: an M.A. in European Public Relations, introduced in 1991, and offered jointly by
universities in Britain, Belgium, France, Italy and Portugal; an M.Sc. degree in public relations
offered by the University of Scotland; an M.Sc. degree in communication specialising in public
relations, offered by the University of Helsinki; and an M.Sc. in public relations started by the
Nigerian Institute of Public Relations in association with the University of Nigeria (Okereke,
1993:23; IPRA, 1990:31,34-36 ). Stirling University in Britain started an M.Sc. degree in public
relations by distance learning in 1991. This course is also available to students outside Britain
(Black, 1990b:16). India also started preparing for the introduction of public relations graduate
programmes at various universities (Basu, 1992:10).
Public relations education worldwide is also available in the form of certificate and diploma
courses offered by various kinds of institutions, including professional public relations
associations. In some countries, such as Switzerland and the Netherlands, the latter enjoys
official government recognition (IPRA, 1990:26). In some countries, such as Australia and New
Zealand, the local public relations association formally accredits courses in public relations
(Ferreira, 2000:67).
Foreign individuals and organisations have been instrumental in assisting the countries of the
former Eastern Bloc to introduce education programmes in public relations. For example, an
education model based on international standards was developed in the former Yugoslavia in the
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early 1990s in collaboration with IPRA and Prof. Van der Meiden from the Netherlands (Djuric,
1998:25). And in Russia, American universities, private foundations and government agencies
have assisted in the establishment of education programmes at various universities and colleges
(Guth, 1998:54).
3.7.3 African development
This section provides a brief overview of the development of public relations practice and
education on the African continent.
3.7.3.1 South African development
3.7.3.1.1 Public relations practice
The structural development of public relations on the African continent first started in South
Africa. Although professional organisation in the country started somewhat later than in
America and Western Europe, public relations saw a massive growth in the last four decades of
the last century. South Africa has two >firsts= to its credit, being the first country to research and
evolve a body of knowledge for public relations (Skinner et al., 2001:3), and the first public
relations institute in the world to obtain certification for quality management from the
International Standards Organisation (ISO), a body for quality assurance (PRISA, 2002a). In
terms of membership, PRISA is the third largest public relations institute in the world behind
PRSA and the IPR in Britain (Rowe, 2002:4).
The first public relations officer in the country was appointed by the South African Railways in
1943, and the first public relations consultancy was established in Johannesburg in 1948 (Skinner
et al., 2001:22).
The profession in this country is organised into PRISA, which was established in 1957 (Skinner
et al., 2001:22). By 2002 PRISA had more than 4 400 members in sub-regions throughout South
Africa and neighbouring countries, as well as countries such as Canada, America, Australia and
Britain (Richardson, 2002).
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The PRISA Students= Association, now known as the Public Relations Student Chapter (PRSC),
was launched in 1995. PRISA holds regular student conferences and publishes a newsletter for
members of the PRSC (Anon., 1995b:1). PRISA also has a chapter for consultants.
PRISA established a directorate in Johannesburg in 1986 (Anon., 1986:2), and has a full-time
staff who coordinate various membership services.
Members of PRISA subscribe to a code of conduct based on the international Code of Athens
and the IPRA Code of Conduct (Lubbe, 1994a:5).
In 1993 PRISA introduced a new system for membership registration, by which points are
allocated, based on qualifications and experience, to determine an individual member=s level of
membership. The new registration system makes provision for the following membership
categories: Affiliate and Associate (non-voting), Public Relations Practitioner (PRP), Chartered
Public Relations Practitioner (CPRP) and Accredited in Public Relations (APR) (Skinner et al.,
2001:22-23).
The South African body of knowledge for public relations was completed in 1980 as part of
PRISA=s professionalisation action launched in the late 1970s (Krause, quoted by Ferreira,
1990:34).
PRISA appointed its first education committee in 1957, and introduced its first short course in
1958 (Lean, quoted by Roodt, 1988:60). The Institute appointed a full-time director of education
(now called managing director) in 1989 (Ferreira, 1990:36), and has since established the PRISA
Education & Training Centre (PE&TC) - which is registered as a separate company - at its
directorate in Johannesburg. Full-time staff members of the PE&TC serve on the advisory
committees for public relations education at a number of technikons, and also act as moderators
for the subjects Public Relations III and IV for a number of technikons in the country. In
addition, the managing director of the PE&TC serves on the NSB for Business, Commerce and
Management Studies, and two other staff members serve on the SGB for Public Relations and
Communication Management (Van Niekerk, 2002a).
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The PE&TC is conditionally registered as a private higher educational institution by the South
African Department of Education (PE&TC, 2002:3). The Centre offers a number of public
relations courses including introductory, specialisation and continuing education learning
programmes; a public relations management course aimed at senior practitioners; and a threeyear
tertiary diploma. In designing these courses, PRISA made provision for a non-formal career
path as well as a formal career path in public relations, both leading to accreditation status. The
formal career path is followed by candidates who have a three-year diploma or degree, whereas
the non-formal path is followed by candidates without matric (PE&TC, 2002:3,5).
PRISA has a licence agreement with several commercial colleges in South Africa and
neighbouring countries, as well as a number of technikons to offer some of its courses (PE&TC,
2001b).
In terms of an agreement signed with Technikon Witwatersrand in 2000, graduates of the threeyear
PRISA Diploma can further their studies at this technikon through higher degrees in Public
Relations Management (Anon., 2000:4). The PRISA Diploma is also recognised internationally
by the IPR in Britain. This is the first qualification outside Britain which has been recognised by
the IPR (Anon., 2001b:5).
The PE&TC facilitates an annual academic conference which is attended by academics involved
with public relations and communication education (PE&TC, 2001a:3). The first conference of
this kind was held in 1992. In the same year PRISA introduced an educator=s award, a prize
awarded annually to a meritorious public relations educator (Anon., 1992b:5). The first award
was presented in 1993 (Moscardi & Honiball, 1993:6). The Institute=s magazine, Communika,
also has a regular section on education.
PRISA introduced a voluntary accreditation examination in 1987 (Skinner & Von Essen,
1995:23). Accreditation enables a practitioner to use the designation APR as a symbol of
professional status (Skinner et al., 2001:23). A new system for accreditation, doing away with
the written examination, was introduced in 1997 (Anon., 1997:1). The new process was based
on an oral assessment, and one of two routes could be followed to gain admission. The first was
successful completion of the PE&TC course in Public Relations Management, while the second
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entailed presenting a proposal document. In both instances candidates first had to obtain 70
points under the PRISA registration system, which means that comprehensive experience in the
practice or teaching of public relations was required (PRISA, 2001). In January 2003 the
accreditation examination process was changed again, with the new format consisting of selfstudy,
a two-day workshop and both written and oral assessments (Moscardi, 2002b:1).
PRISA negotiated cross-recognition of qualifications with other countries, resulting in
accreditation status of PRISA members being recognised in the USA, Canada, Britain, Australia
and New Zealand (Anon., 2002:22; PE&TC, 2001a:4).
A process is also underway to register PRISA=s accreditation programme with the National
Qualifications Framework in South Africa, which will mean that APR status will be recognised
by the Government as a professional qualification (Van Niekerk, 2002a).
PRISA=s contact with the rest of Africa takes place mainly through IPRA. The PRISA
Directorate also occasionally receives newsletters from public relations societies in Kenya,
Zimbabwe and Nigeria. Some consultants in Africa use PRISA for networking, while countries
such as Nigeria and Mozambique send practitioners to South Africa to complete PRISA courses
(Van Niekerk, 2002a).
Apart from PRISA, there are a number of smaller public relations societies in South Africa.
Examples include the Institute for Municipal Public Relations Officers (IMPRO); the Southern
Africa Institute of Fundraising (SAIF); UNITECH, the organisation that unites public relations
practitioners employed by technikons and universities; and the Exhibition Association of
Southern Africa (EXSA) (EXSA, 2000; Moscardi, 2002a; SAIF, s.a.).
3.7.3.1.2 Public relations education
According to Roodt (1988:59), public relations education is by far the most developed
knowledge attribute of the profession in South Africa. At tertiary level, public relations can be
studied at public and private universities and colleges, technikons, through the Institute of
Administration and Commerce (IAC) and through PRISA.
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At public universities in South Africa, public relations is taught as part of a degree in
communication, journalism and media studies, communication management or business
communication (Anon., 1995a:12-13). Students may also continue their studies and specialise in
public relations at the honours, master=s and doctoral level. At some universities, public relations
is also taught as a separate management function, as part of business economics within a
bachelor of commerce degree (Moscardi & Honiball, 1993:5) or an MBA. A number of
universities have also recently introduced structured master=s degrees in corporate
communication. Examples include the Rand Afrikaans University (RAU), Potchefstroom
University for Christian Higher Education (PU for CHE) and the University of the Free State
(UFS).
Communication education at universities began in South Africa in 1960 when the PU for CHE
launched a degree programme in journalism. The University of South Africa (UNISA) followed,
with the introduction of a post-graduate diploma in journalism in 1963 (Gerbner & Schramm,
1990:17), which was replaced by a degree programme in communication in 1969 (Fourie,
1990:3). After this, many other universities introduced degrees in communication, with
subdisciplines like mass communication and public relations (Fourie, 1990:2). In 1978 the
Southern African Communication Association (SACOMM) was founded, to promote
Communication Science as an academic discipline (SACOMM, 1995:1). In 1999, SACOMM
expressed an interest in joining IFCA, and intends to do so when the envisaged restructuring of
the former association is completed (Ströh, 1999:1-2).
A three-year N Dip Public Relations was introduced in 1981 at Technikon Witwatersrand,
Technikon Pretoria, Natal Technikon (now called the Durban Institute of Technology) and Cape
Technikon. By the mid-1980s, the Port Elizabeth Technikon, ML Sultan Technikon (now also
part of the Durban Institute of Technology) and Vaal Triangle Technikon had also introduced
this programme (Ferreira, 1990:38). Technikon SA introduced this diploma, as a distance
learning programme, in 1994.
In 1988 a task group was formed by the relevant technikons, to revise the existing diploma and to
plan further qualifications in public relations (Ferreira, 1990:39). The revised diploma and two
new qualifications, the National Higher Diploma and the M Tech Diploma in Public Relations,
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were approved by the Minister of National Education in 1991 (Garbers, 1991:1; Klopper,
1991:1). In 1993 the Technikon Act (no. 125) was amended, allowing technikons to issue
degrees (SA, 1993:1-26). The Higher and M Tech diplomas have consequently been phased out,
and replaced by the four-year B Tech and a five-year M Tech degree in Public Relations
Management, approved by the Minister of Education in 1994. The D Tech degree in Public
Relations Management was approved by the Minister in the same year (Strydom, 1994:1). The
name of the three-year diploma simultaneously changed to that of N Dip in Public Relations
Management.
Eastern Cape Technikon started offering the N Dip in Public Relations Management in 2002
(Ndaba, 2002).
The IAC introduced a three-year course in management with specialisation in public relations in
1987 (Ferreira, 1990:39). The IAC administers the examination and the course can be studied
through various colleges (IAC, 2001).
In accordance with the Higher Education Act (1997), private higher education providers are
required to register with the South African Department of Education. The courses that these
institutions offer are accredited by the Council on Higher Education (CHE), established in 1998
(SAQA, 2002b). In accordance with a new academic policy for higher education, including a
diploma/degree structure, private and foreign higher education providers can apply to the CHE to
offer degrees (CHE, 2002). PRISA has submitted an application to change its three-year
diploma to a degree course (Van Niekerk, 2002b), while a number of private institutions, such as
the Graduate Academy of South Africa, Bond South Africa and the Midrand Graduate Institute,
have conditionally registered degree courses in public relations or communication with SAQA
(SAQA, 2002a).
An honours degree in communication, the three-year N Dip in Public Relations Management
offered by technikons and PRISA=s three-year diploma are all accepted by PRISA as equal
qualifications for membership registration purposes (PRISA, 2002b). Private education
providers who offer three-year diploma or degree courses in public relations still need to apply to
PRISA to obtain formal recognition of those courses for registration purposes (Van Niekerk,
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2002b).
3.7.3.2 Development on the rest of the continent
This section provides a brief overview of the development of public relations practice and
education on the rest of the African continent.
3.7.3.2.1 Public relations practice
In most countries in the rest of Africa, professional organisation in public relations started later
than in South Africa (Ferreira, 1999:32). One exception is Zimbabwe, where an association for
public relations - now called the Zimbabwe Institute of Public Relations (ZIPR) - was also
established in 1957 (Dickens, 1997).
According to Rhodes and Baker (1994:287), in the Southern African region, the practice of
public relations is most advanced in South Africa and Zimbabwe. In the other nine countries,
public relations is served by few practitioners, although the industry is growing in size.
Swaziland recently formed its own public relations association (IPRA, 2001c), while Botswana,
Lesotho and Namibia rely on neighbouring PRISA for professional organisation and education
and development (Ferreira, 1999:36). PRISA has recently formed chapters for practitioners in
Namibia and Botswana (Van Niekerk, 2002a).
Examples of public relations societies established not long after PRISA include: the Nigerian
Institute of Public Relations, formed in 1963 in the form of the then Public Relations Association
of Nigeria; the Public Relations Society of Kenya, established in 1971; the Sudan Public
Relations Association, formed in 1973; and the Public Relations Association of Uganda, formed
in 1976 (Mutabaah, quoted by Ferreira, 1999:32; Njuguna, quoted by Ferreira, 1999:38;
Borhan, 1993:19; Ogunmakin, 1993:71-73).
In 1975 an organisation that attempts to unite public relations practitioners in Africa was formed
in Nairobi, and named the Federation of African Public Relations Associations (FAPRA)
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(Opukah, 1992:16). FAPRA was established to cover both the Francophone and Anglophone
parts of Africa, although Opukah (1993:15) regards the Anglophone sector as more active as far
as public relations is concerned.
3.7.3.2.2 Public relations education
Education courses in public relations in Africa are varied, and range from in-service training by
employers and within government ministries (Mazrui, quoted by Ferreira, 1999:39) to formal
tertiary diploma, degree and post-degree courses. A variety of short courses are offered in
different countries by development agencies, professional institutes and private colleges
(Ferreira, 1999:39-40,47). At tertiary level, many public relations programmes in Africa are
taught as part of a B-degree in communication, mass communication or journalism (Ferreira,
1999:41). Some universities also teach public relations to complement other disciplines such as
marketing and business management (Nartey, 1988:26). A number of distance learning
programmes in public relations are also available in Africa. Examples include degree and postdegree
courses offered by UNISA, the diplomas offered by the IAC and Technikon SA and the
M.Sc. distance learning programme offered by the University of Stirling in Britain (Ferreira,
1999:46-47; Pieczk, quoted by Ferreira, 1999:47).
3.7.4 Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communication Management
The latest development in the global organisation of public relations was the establishment of the
Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communication Management in 2000. This new entity
is an alliance of associations worldwide, and provides a framework for collaboration in public
relations at a global level. Twenty public relations associations from all over the world were
involved in the founding of this organisation.
The need for an alliance of this kind came with the realisation that more and more public
relations practitioners represent organisations that transcend national boundaries, and that
everyone is increasingly affected by global trends and issues. The Global Alliance aims to
enhance networking opportunities for practitioners, and to serve as a vehicle for examining
ethical standards and universal accreditation options (GAPR&CM, 2001:1). Other areas of
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mutual interest being explored include education and professional development (Anon., 2001a).
PRISA was one of twenty associations which founded the Global Alliance for Public Relations
and Communication Management (GAPR&CM, 2001:1). The executive director of PRISA also
currently serves on the board of the Global Alliance (Van Niekerk, 2002a).
3.8 THE IMPACT OF GLOBALISATION ON PUBLIC RELATIONS PRACTICE
AND EDUCATION
It is evident in contemporary literature on public relations that this profession is no exception to
increasing exposure to the forces of globalisation covered in the previous chapter. Firstly,
increased global contact in public relations practice and education is evident in the existence of
IPRA, the IABC, the Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communication Management and
other international associations mentioned in the previous sections. Secondly, the emergence of
global public relations consultancy networks is evidence of the need of organisations to practise
public relations outside the borders of their own country. Thirdly, various authors emphasise the
need for public relations practitioners to redefine their role and acquire new competencies to
adapt to emerging forces of globalisation and resulting changing paradigms in business, social
and other spheres of life. In fact, White and Mazur (1995:50) argue that nowhere is a global
outlook more important than in communication: >Regardless of nationality, professionals who
have created cross-border public affairs/public relations networks are at the forefront of helping
their organisations present a coherent and consistent approach.= Verwey (2000:64), in turn,
suggests that shifting geographic boundaries, and the evolution of virtual communities, impose
new demands on public relations practitioners for counselling based on improved access to
relevant information from around the world. This requires new broad-based competence in a
number of fields, and a redefinition of the role of practitioners, in order to remain relevant in
emerging global trends. She singles out the ability to interpret external developments and to
predict future trends and formulate plans to address them, as being of particular importance to
practitioners in the new global environment (Verwey, 2000:52).
As was stated in the introduction to this chapter, public relations has the potential to play a role
in counteracting those disintegrating forces of globalisation covered in the previous chapter. In
the process it could contribute towards global unity and understanding, as suggested in previous
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sections. Changes needed in the role and functions of public relations practice and the
competencies required in order to contribute to measures to counteract the disintegrating forces
of globalisation, are discussed in the rest of this section. This discussion is preceded by an
overview of how public relations is influenced by three major forces of globalisation, as outlined
in the previous chapter: the New Economy, the Communication Revolution and the Network
Society. Lastly, possible measures to counteract a particularly damaging disintegrating force in
public relations brought about by the Internet, namely online sabotage, are suggested.
3.8.1 The influence of global forces on public relations
This section provides an overview of the impact of globalisation on public relations practice and
education, in terms of new competencies required.
3.8.1.1 Public relations and the New Economy
It is suggested by various authors that the emergence of the New Economy broadens the scope of
public relations and calls for a redefinition of the role of the latter. According to Capozzi
(2001:16), the arrival in every market of more and more international corporations is creating
demands for public relations services in both existing and emerging markets everywhere.
Geimann (2001) mentions globalisation of businesses and rapid mergers as some of the factors
necessitating a new role for public relations practitioners. Goldman (1998:43) mentions
international competition as a force redefining public relations work, forcing practitioners to be
more entrepreneurial, flexible and independent, and to expand marketing and public relations
efforts. Salerno (2001:12) suggests that demands for public relations services are at an all-time
high owing to the creation of new markets by the Internet and virtual companies. Furthermore,
Verwey (2000:53) suggests that the New Economy brings about a need for business
transformation which represents a fundamental shift in the relationships of corporations to
individuals and to society as a whole. As a result of increased competition, media relations have
to become more knowledge-based, necessitating new, imaginative forms of information
distribution and more narrowcasting - i.e. programming customised for the individual (Verwey,
2000:54).
Hirigoyen (2000:40) suggests that, as a result of the blurred boundaries between economies,
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together with the global 24-hour news cycle and diverse audiences, all public relations
practitioners are engaged in global public relations. According to Watson (1991:113), a
significant portion of the large volume of current communication traffic is involved in
conducting business, and it is therefore not surprising that international business-to-business
public relations is blossoming. Wilcox et al. (1992:411) identify public relations as an essential
ingredient in the global marketing megamix created as a result of the New Economy, and call for
managers as well as employees to learn to think and act in global terms.
3.8.1.2 Public relations and the Communication Revolution
According to Wilson (1996:10), few things have more profoundly affected the practice of public
relations than the dawn of desktop computers, followed by the advent of instantaneous global
communication. These two forces have converged to create a revolution in public interaction,
based on digital telecommunication. Grupp (2000:34) suggests that, in the context of new
technology, public relations practitioners have become e-communicators and managers of online
strategic relationships. He also assigns to practitioners the role of stewardship for the content of
the Internet, that otherwise is just an unfiltered commodity.
The Communication Revolution has brought about many benefits and new opportunities in
public relations, but also new challenges and the need for new skills.
According to Geimann (2001), the Internet has accelerated the evolution of public relations and
created all-day news and information consumers. As a result of the Communication Revolution,
being physically located in a particular centre is no longer a prerequisite for participation in
global public relations. Advanced telecommunication, which instantly disseminates news and
information around the globe, means that audiences today are multinational and even global
(Hirigoyen, 2000:39). In this regard, Seitel (2001:474) suggests that while the new media will
increasingly capture public attention in the most creative ways, public relations professionals
will have to be equally creative to keep up with the new media and harness them for persuasive
purposes.
Some of the major benefits and opportunities of the online media for the practice of public
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relations, include: increased contact with publics, including opportunities for interactive
communication and immediate feedback; ease of collecting information about competitors and
other relevant topics; opportunities for global media coverage; the means to narrowcast
information to reporters, opinion leaders, consumers, etc.; instant delivery of news - including
text, video, sound and photographs - to reporters by means of media kits and online media
rooms; e-mail interviews and chat rooms to facilitate discussion; online promotions; ease of
archiving documents for easy reference and ease of updating documents; communication with
employees by means on intranets, including online newsletters, questionnaires, online
discussions, etc.; communication with specialised external audiences by means of extranets; the
opportunity for prearranged cyberconferences; the ability to respond instantly to emerging issues
and market changes; providing easy access to copies of speeches, publications, new product
information, executive biographies, historical information, contact names and numbers, etc. by
placing these online; providing frequently-asked-questions sections; the ability to track and
trace transactions and build portfolios of customers; ease in building alliances and soliciting
partnerships; and the opportunity to use an Internet website during times of crisis, to deal with
the onslaught of customers and media requests (Mersham & Skinner, 2001b:202,205;
Schenkein, 2001:31-32; Seitel, 2001:304-305,308-316; Grupp, 2000:34; Ha & Pratt,
2000:30,33).
While the Internet has revolutionised public relations communication, it has also brought about
new challenges, as new technology makes organisations more open to scrutiny by customers.
Dissatisfied customers can use the Internet to tell computers around the world about their bad
experiences with a company=s product or service (Eisenberg & Goodall, 1997:313). In this
regard, one of the major threats to public relations is that of online sabotage in the form of ethical
terrorism or >anti-sites=. This refers to the practice of critics building websites to stage attacks on
an organisation=s practices (Waltz, quoted by Geimann, 2001). Fringe groups can also spread
damaging messages across the globe in an instant by means of e-mail, organisations can receive
falsified information and organisations or individuals can be harassed (Ha & Pratt, 2000:30).
Skills needed by public relations practitioners with regard to the new media and measures to deal
with the threat of online sabotage are outlined in Sections 3.8.2.9 and 3.8.2.10.
3.8.1.3 Public relations and the Network Society
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Globalisation in public relations brings about opportunities for the establishment of networks.
Vallun (1999:28-29), who points out evidence that global communication budgets are changing,
with a growing share going to public relations at the expense of advertising, argues that nonmultinational
clients can also benefit from the trend of globalisation in public relations, because
of the sharing of intellectual property brought about by international partnerships. Nonmultinational
clients can also benefit from increased access to experience in other parts of the
world; the opportunity to network with multinational clients in pursuit of future business spinoffs;
access to public relations support in other parts of the world when embarking upon export;
foreign investment or foreign fundraising initiatives; and exposure to global standards of
performance and delivery.
As no one public relations practitioner, department or consultancy could possibly possess the
necessary knowledge to operate effectively in all global markets, the use of global professional
networks becomes essential in launching programmes across borders. Black (2000:107) suggests
that public relations across borders can be organised by employing the services of large
international consultancies with offices worldwide, or public relations networks operating on an
informal basis. Alternatively, practitioners can plug into a network, but coordinate activities
themselves (White and Mazur, 1995:75). Other options include recruiting public relations staff
in each individual country. This can be an effective solution where a proper local
communication network is established. Yet another is to include the services of global networks
of independent consultancies (Haywood, 1991:23). Black (2000:108) also argues in favour of
global partnerships to achieve public relations goals.
Stevens (1998:18) regards the founding of the Council for Public Relations Networks in 1997 as
evidence of the growing interest in using the network approach in public relations, in order to
share expertise, resources and information. This Council was the first-ever association of
international public relations networks, and was formed to market the advantages and benefits of
such an organisation.
A number of authors refer to sponsorship as a tool which can be used within the global
communication and promotional mix of an organisation, and for the establishment of networks.
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Black (2000:112) regards international sponsorships as an >international calling card= which can
be used effectively as a tool of global and international communication. According to Norman
(1991:133), some of the benefits of international sponsorship include a statement of the >global
nature= of a company; the fact that sport, music and environmental sponsorships rarely need
translation; and the opportunity for the development of global relationships, for instance with
governments and business.
Mersham and Skinner (1999:205-206) mention the Internet, intranets and extranets as networks
affecting the nature of public relations work. While an organisation=s Internet website can be
regarded as the public face it presents to the world, an intranet is a structure for internal
communication, allowing for the formation of employee networks. Extranets tend to be used for
business-to-business communication and transactions, allowing for communication between an
organisation and its customers and suppliers on a more >selective= basis than on the Internet.
Thus, extranets allow for the creation of more specialised external networks. Verwey (2000:57)
mentions that new media networks could also be used to promote dialogue between public
relations professionals, suggesting that networking between practitioners could be particularly
beneficial during times of transformation.
3.8.2 The potential role of public relations in counteracting the disintegrating forces of
globalisation
This section provides an outline of the potential role of public relations in the measures outlined
in Section 2.7.4 to counteract disintegrating forces of globalisation.
3.8.2.1 Research followed by multilateral dialogue
Howard (2001:42) refers to the potential role which public relations can play in the current
backlash against globalisation. She argues that the backlash occurs because of a breakdown in
communication. Public relations professionals can assist in resolving the resulting conflict by
stepping in to offer services to those being targeted, either to play a role in developing solutions,
that include establishing dialogue with those on the other side, or to work at keeping the client
out of the headlines. Vogl (2001:21) takes this view further, by assigning to public relations
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professionals the responsibility to initiate research and education in the area of global corporate
social responsibility issues, in response to the NGO criticism of aspects of global corporate
behaviour winning the attention of the world=s media.
3.8.2.2 A people-centred approach
According to Verwey (2000:55), paradigm shifts driven by new technology manifest in a new
social complexity, to which organisations have to adapt. This implies a new relationship to
individuals and society as a whole, with major implications for public relations. One of the
manifestations of this change is greater input from humanitarian groups, and pressure on
organisations to be more responsible and to accept accountability for the way in which they use
resources and contribute to the environment (Verwey, 2000:55).
A number of authors point out the role that public relations can play in enhancing social justice
in the global environment. According to Howard (2001:43), practitioners can develop
programmes to integrate human-rights strategies into the business planning and implementation
process. Vogl (2001:22) suggests that, in response to the anti-globalisation movement, corporate
public relations executives should help their enterprises to strive for the highest levels of global
corporate citizenship, by demanding a responsibility of their corporations to contribute to social,
humanitarian, environmental and economic development. Delahaye Paine (2001:47), in turn,
argues that the role of public relations practitioners in the 21st century should not be one of
managing >reality=, but of shaping the actions and deeds of their companies. This implies that, as
reputation managers, practitioners should assist their organisations to new heights of social
responsibility and institutional respect, not just craft messages.
Banks (1995:25) adds to the task of public relations the responsibility to nurture positive and
supportive communities. He suggests that organisations should recognise that their long-term
ability to survive, depends on fostering an attitude of social responsibility that nurtures socially
healthy communities among their various publics (Banks, 1995:20).
3.8.2.3 Global restructuring
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Cole-Morgan (1991:165) suggests that public relations can make a contribution to raising
awareness of the world environment and imbalances that have been created. He argues that
individuals, commercial organisations and governments throughout the world need to be
convinced that action is needed to restore the balance, and that no public relations programme
should ignore this responsibility.
Howard (2001:42) argues that the backlash against global capitalism is really a cry for leadership
to develop a new framework that will help narrow the divide between wealth and poverty. In
this regard, she suggests that public relations practitioners should work with corporate leaders to
identify global trends which affect them, and play a role in developing strategy when the new
frameworks for the global economy are being developed (Howard, 2001:43).
Vogl (2001:21) suggests that public relations executives participate in meetings that aim to build
consensus, and forge standards between government, NGOs and business, on key global issues.
He also calls for greater involvement of practitioners in key international conferences on
corporate social responsibility, and for corporate sponsorship of new initiatives on key issues by
respected NGOs (Vogl, 2001:22).
3.8.2.4 Global regulation and ethics
Vogl (2001:19) assigns to public relations professionals the responsibility to assist their
companies to agree to societal responsibilities, as called for by UN Secretary General Kofi
Annan, rather than leaving global social responsibility issues to corporate lawyers or ethics
officers. Verwey (2000:64-65) regards public relations as the change agent of an organisation,
and suggests that it should challenge the dominant worldviews and practices of organisations
when these are perceived to be unjust.
Vogl (2001:20) identifies the following as some of the global issues currently on the global
public relations agenda: ethics and compliance with government rules, regulations and laws;
human rights and labour issues; the elimination of corruption and money laundering;
environmental issues; and supporting free-market systems and structures that assist
governmental policy-making to build competitive, transparent and well-regulated markets. He
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suggests that public relations professionals assist in these issues by ensuring that their
corporations are seen as meeting larger societal responsibilities.
Vogl (2001:20) argues that public relations is uniquely placed to track, understand and dialogue
with organisations that are defining global social responsibility. He suggests that the
practitioners track the role of global organisations such as NGOs, religious groups, shareholder
groups, organised labour and international agencies such as the UN, WTO, etc., in order to
implement pro-active programmes which will secure images of their corporations as global
leaders in the area of social responsibility.
Public relations staff should also ensure that their corporations develop a code of ethics and that
employees know and understand this code (Vogl, 2001:22).
3.8.2.5 Effective government framework
Public relations can contribute to effective governance in the area of social investment, by
working in partnership with government in the implementation of corporate social investment
programmes. Furthermore, as change agents, public relations professionals are in a position to
influence public policy.
Mersham et al. (1995:78) point out that, as change agents, public relations practitioners occupy a
special place in the networks of decision-makers as identifiers of issues, and counsellors to
policy makers. They often have direct access to top management, and are represented on key
policy-making committees. By definition, public relations has an advisory role, keeping
management informed and responsive to shifts in social needs.
In this regard, it can be assumed that public relations can act as change agent also in government
processes. Owing to their advisory role, public relations executives are placed in a position
where they can lobby and participate in the process of policy-making, to reconstruct social norms
and order, to create a technological infrastructure in rural areas, to empower rural citizens by
increasing access to information, etc.
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3.8.2.6 Improved regional strategies
Public relations can play a role in preventing disintegrating forces of globalisation resulting in
loss of cultural identity and community, by adapting programmes to the needs of local
communities.
Kruckeberg and Starck (quoted by Banks, 1995:19) advance the idea that public relations is
uniquely positioned in contemporary society to restore and maintain the sense of community that
was lost with the advent of mass media and high-speed transportation. They argue that public
relations can be used to re-create the sense of community, but only if practitioners enact the role
of communication facilitators with the primary goal of altruistic community support, instead of
enacting the role of institutional advocate with the primary goal of enhancing the role of the
institution=s reputation and gaining assent (Banks, 1995:20).
Verwey (2000:54) stresses the necessity to unite local and global interests within a global
business and communication strategy, and the need to understand and value diversity.
According to Vogl (2001:20), local community and national cultural issues pertaining to the
social behaviour of organisations are affecting global public relations. Public relations
professionals should assist their corporations towards social responsibility by implementing
programmes which enhance respect for national customs, traditions, religions, etc. (Vogl,
2001:19-20).
Howard (2001:43), in turn, suggests that practitioners employed by multinational companies
operating in developing countries, should work with country-specific teams to create
programmes that do not upset the balance within the local cultures.
3.8.2.7 Emphasis on development
Authors such as Mersham et al. (1995), Jefkins (1992), Mersham (1992) and Al-Enad (1990)
recognise the potential of public relations to contribute towards development in Third World
countries. Jefkins (1992:230) states that nowhere else are public relations techniques of greater
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value than in developing countries. According to Al-Enad (1990:26), this value lies in the fact
that public relations can be used as a trigger for positive societal changes. Mersham et al.
(1995:26) support this view by suggesting that public relations is at the cutting edge of social
change, and is increasingly charged with communicating development messages and facilitating
the development process in developing countries. This is culminating in a >secondary= role for
public relations, namely that of agent for development communication and change (Mersham et
al., 1995:30).
Areas in which public relations professionals can contribute towards the development process in
the Third World include: the facilitation of communication between local institutions, leaders
and other groups, and First World development facilitators; the employment of communication
skills to overcome negative stages of hostility, prejudice, apathy and ignorance, which often
hamper development strategies (Mersham et al., 1995:26, 77); and the education of
organisational managers on the importance of social accountability and social investment
(Mersham, 1992:54-59).
3.8.2.8 Appropriate managerial paradigms
This section provides an overview of the application to public relations of those managerial
paradigms identified in Section 2.7.4.8, to counteract disintegrating forces of globalisation.
3.8.2.8.1 A holistic, global perspective
Anderson (quoted by Black, 2000:103) argues that historical developments of momentous
importance since World War II make it imperative for everyone in public relations to acquire a
global perspective on behalf of employees and clients.
Wakefield (2000:36) calls for public relations practitioners who >can see the big picture=. He
suggests that, in the new global arena, practitioners need to be problem-solvers across borders,
because, with the variety of global channels for monitoring and pressuring corporations today,
those who do not show empathy for societal problems will not prosper.
Hayes (1998:10) calls for a holistic approach in global public relations, to plan and bring about
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true integration between in-house functions and external advisors.
As has been pointed out in the previous chapter, new managerial paradigms call for flatter
hierarchies and the empowerment of employees. This implies new challenges for public
relations professionals, as employee communication becomes more important (Verwey,
2000:57). In this regard, utilising an intranet as a structure for internal communication can be
beneficial. The intranet is bringing about changes in management style, which entail a move
away from hierarchical structures, facilitating employee participation (Mersham & Skinner,
1999:206).
3.8.2.8.2 A global mindset in strategic communication
Haywood (1991:21) is of the opinion that few organisations today can have a totally domestic
perspective, even if they are not operating outside their own national borders. This is because
the issues that are concerning people often have a relevance around the world. Thus, national
public relations is increasingly becoming part of the bigger, global public relations scene.
Linscott (1991:101) supports this view by stating that the dramatic growth of information
technology means that public relations operates in the international arena. Even practitioners
who specialise in the home market, need an appreciation of global activities, in order to be truly
successful.
White and Mazur (1995:71) argue that, if globalisation of business is a reality, then globalisation
of communication strategy and programmes cannot be far behind. Eisenberg and Goodall
(1997:6), in turn, suggest that success in global business requires global and international
communication skills, and that globalisation requires organisations to communicate in ways that
transcend time and space.
According to Leichsering (1998:35), globalisation necessitates that public relations professionals
follow an integrated and global approach in communication strategies. Corporations have to be
extremely fast and flexible in the ways they communicate and react, and communication should
be multicultural and integrated.
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3.8.2.8.3 Standardisation vs adaptation: making an appropriate choice
According to White and Mazur (1995:(xvi)), one of the biggest challenges facing public relations
in the global context is managing programmes across borders consistently and effectively. What
contributes to the complexity is the multicultural aspect, but also different markets, which are at
different stages of development.
Geimann (2001) suggests that, as national boundaries are becoming irrelevant, customising a
message based on geography is risky. However, various authors argue in favour of practising
adaptation rather than standardisation in public relations across borders. Haywood (1991:22)
suggests that, though many organisations are international in operation, they have learnt that
communication is extremely local and very personal. While some transcontinental messages
may be acceptable, most of those that affect people=s lives need to be presented to them from a
short range, in a language and style that they can accept.
Heylin (1991:19) also argues in favour of the adage >think global, act local= in planning
communication strategy. She argues that, as cultural, regulatory, financial media and
government relations vary from country to country, public relations practice should be adapted to
local needs and conditions.
3.8.2.8.4 Multiculturalism
According to Goldman (1998:44), one of the reasons why public relations is expected to grow in
the global era, is the need to manage communication in far-flung organisations that span many
cultures and languages. According to Verwey (2000:54), as a result of globalisation, the targets
of public relations programming are becoming increasingly multicultural and diverse. The
challenge for practitioners in the increasingly multicultural context is not just a matter of
overcoming language barriers, but also of understanding the cultural nuances that can impact on
the execution of public relations strategies. Macdonald (1991:43) points out that, when
operating across different time zones, often in different languages, timing and wording are even
more important than when working in a single market. According to Mersham et al. (1995:182),
practitioners in the global environment have to negotiate a multiplicity of languages, customs
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and values, in order to create mutual understanding.
The above implies a need for focus on cultural diversity in public relations. According to Banks
(1995:32), who argues in favour of a multicultural perspective in public relations, people are
aggregated into target groups on the basis of their perspectives on an issue. In this sense, all
relevant publics are cultural groups, and public relations communication efforts can be viewed as
attempts at intercultural communication. Banks (1995:21) defines multicultural public relations
as >the management of formal communication between organisations and their relevant publics to
create and maintain communities of interest and action that favour the organisation, taking full
account of the normal human variation in the systems of meaning by which groups understand
and enact their everyday lives=.
3.8.2.9 Education
As the public relations profession is redefining itself in the global context, new competencies are
called for. The literature consulted emphasises a need for knowledge of global forces, broadbased
multidisciplinary education, multiculturalism and skills pertaining to the new media.
Mersham et al. (1995:182) point out that business and government will increasingly require
practitioners who have a substantial knowledge of international aspects of the social sciences,
humanities, business law and cross-cultural communication.
The Commission on Public Relations Education of the PRSA spent two years working on
recommendations for a new public relations curriculum. In its final report in 1999 it
recommended, among others, knowledge of multicultural and global issues (Geimann, 2001).
With regard to multiculturalism, Capozzi (2001:16) suggests that learning the geographies,
cultures and practices indigenous to different locales is a necessity in managing the increasingly
global practice of public relations. As the average young practitioner=s public relations
experience is not likely to be of a global nature, Capozzi recommends that consultancies with
international exposure provide opportunities for internships for young practitioners.
Wakefield (2000:36) suggests that, in the new global context, public relations practitioners
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should be skilled not only in communication, but also in global economics and politics,
mediation and cultural anthropology.
Grupp (2000:34) argues that the task of managing and protecting the online image of an
organisation belongs to public relations and not to information technology staff, lawyers or the
sales and marketing department. This implies that public relations staff should be trained ecommunicators.
Fogelman-Beyer (2001:28) suggests that public relations staff keep up with
technological changes, and possess the latest knowledge, skills and ideas in this area, including
knowledge of software products - e.g. Vocus Public Relations - which can be used to build and
manage campaigns. Practitioners need the necessary technical competencies to facilitate media
coverage via the Internet. They need to know how to compile e-mail media releases,
accompanied by graphics, file attachments and links to websites, and how to establish an online
media room complete with current media releases, fact sheets, contact information and
continuous updates (Schenkein, 2001:31). Lissauer (2000:28) points out that practitioners need
to know how to provide information in the format required by an online newsroom. For
example, they need to know the difference between .jpeg, .gif, .eps and .tif files. They also need
to know how to deliver their information in downloadable and multimedia form, including
streaming video and audio, corporate logos and graphics, PowerPoint slide presentations,
financial spreadsheets and photography (Lissauer, 2000:26-28). Mersham and Skinner
(2001b:210) also suggest that practitioners possess knowledge of multimedia design. Seitel
(2001:259-260), in turn, suggests knowledge of writing for the Internet, as this calls for a style
that is different from writing for other media.
Practitioners also need to be aware of their additional responsibilities with regard to Internet
communication. Ha and Pratt (2000:30,32-33) point out that practitioners neglect to regularly
update websites, neglect to mention when the information was last updated, neglect the issue of
privacy of visitors and fail to include interactive devices and some form of survey and feedback
section on their company websites.
As far as media relations across borders are concerned, a number of authors suggest, as a starting
point, knowledge of a number of major media with a global reach. Black (2000:111) points out
that, while it is more difficult to draw up a media list when working across borders, knowledge
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of international newspapers such as the Financial Times, Wall Street Journal and International
Herald Tribune could be a starting point. Barnett (2001:30) adds the websites of global media
such as CNN.com, BusinessWeek.com, Newsbytes, etc. In South Africa, knowledge of online
news services such as News24.com, Channelafrica.org, News by Industry, 365Press.com, the
news sections of search engines such as Ananzi and Internet websites of national media such as
the Financial Times, Daily Mail & Guardian, FutureCompany and Summit, can also be helpful.
Of particular importance is the South African branch of PR Newswire, a worldwide
communication support service to public relations and industrial relations professionals. This
website specialises in the electronic delivery of breaking news releases and information directly
from consultancies, companies and institutions through satellite feed, fax and Internet networks
(PR Newswire, 2002). SAPressRelease.com offers a similar service for regional coverage, with
tracking provided to more than 1000 African newsrooms (Anon., 2002c).
3.8.2.10 Counteracting online sabotage in pubic relations
Grady and Gimple (1998:24) argue that online sabotage, as discussed in Section 3.6.1.2, should
be of great concern to public relations staff. They point out that, since the new media lower the
point of entry into mass publishing, virtually anyone can publish anti-company sentiments on a
global platform via the Internet.
Horton (2001:58) suggests that the best way to begin to handle activist charges, is to ascertain
whether they are true, as crisis management begins with facts. In this regard, practitioners need
to establish a monitoring programme that tracks online activists . Global organisations should
maintain a database of criticisms that can be analysed to see how issues are advancing or
retreating. One way to find the sources of criticism and to learn the extent of negative opinion, is
through content analysis. If charges have a factual base, the organisation can make changes to
resolve the issue. If charges are not true, it is best to track activists= progress without necessarily
getting involved with them. However, if rumours become serious and begin to affect the
organisation, the organisation needs to act (Horton, 2001:58-60).
Grady and Gimple (1998:24-27) offer a number of methods to act on online sabotage.
Organisations can firstly purchase the rights to web addresses that might otherwise become anti181
sites; add megatags to their websites to push anti-sites out of view on search engines; have their
websites included in a search engine channel; and use media relations strategies to the online
world. Public relations staff can also communicate with the owner of an anti-site in an effort to
identify complaints and to try to solve them. A last option is to consider legal action.
3.9 THEORETICAL PERSPECTIVE FOR THE STUDY
As stated in Chapter 1, the theoretical approach selected for this study is a combination of the
systems and network approaches, and chaos theory. Systems and networks are approached from
the perspective of complex, dynamic systems and its related paradigm of chaos theory. In
addition to this, it was stated in Chapters 1 and 2 that the global mindset is adopted for this study.
Daniels et al. (2000c:215) describe a global mindset as follows:
* to be open to new experiences and change over time
* to be willing to learn new skills in order to exploit a global presence
* to operate on the premise that cultures can be different without being better or worse than
one another
* to dedicate itself to become informed about different value systems, norms of behaviour
and assumptions regarding reality
* to accept diversity and heterogeneity as natural and as a source of opportunities and a
strength rather than a necessary evil.
The following discussion of a theoretical perspective for this study, as well as the development
of a generic model for vocationally-oriented public relations education in the next chapter, are
completed with the above principles in mind.
3.9.1 The systems approach
Several theorists of public relations link the latter to systems theory. Examples include Cutlip et
al. (2000:228-245); Marlow & O=Connor Wilson (1997:7); Windahl et al. (1992:83-94);
Fauconnier (1985:120-122); and Grunig and Hunt (1984:8-11,92-111).
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Systems reasoning is also found in most definitions of public relations (Windahl et al., 1992:89).
Systems thinking is also implied by Grunig and Hunt=s two-way asymmetric and symmetric
models, and Hutton=s proposed paradigm for public relations, discussed earlier in this chapter.
According to Littlejohn (1999:40), the roots of systems thinking began at least as far back as the
19th century with the theory of Georg Hegel, who explained historical development in terms of
the dynamic process of dialectical tension between opposites.
A major contribution to the study of systems was made by the work of an American mathematics
professor, Norbert Wiener, on cybernetics (O=Connor & McDermott, 1997:236). Wiener
(1954:15) introduced the term >cybernetics= in the late 1940s to embrace the wider field of theory
of messages, including the study of messages as a means of controlling machinery and society.
Cybernetics focuses on how a system functions - regardless of whether the system is living,
mechanical or social - and how the system controls itself by means of feedback. Wiener
proposed that the same general principles that control the thermostat may also be seen in
economic systems, market regulation and political decision-making systems (O=Connor &
McDermott, 1997:236).
The Austrian-American biologist, Ludwig von Bertalanffy, is generally regarded as the founder
of general systems theory (Littlejohn, 1999:41; Neher, 1997:28; Fauconnier, 1985:100). Von
Bertalanffy (1969:3-248) applied systems theory to a wide variety of systems - natural and social
ones - and disciplines. The basic idea of general systems theory as developed by Von
Bertalanffy, is that the whole equals more than the sum of its parts (Windahl et al., 1992:83).
Von Bertalanffy (1969:37-38) defined a system as >a set of elements standing in interaction=, and
proposed general systems theory as a general science of wholeness. He drew a distinction
between closed and open systems, defining the former as a system which is isolated from its
environment and the latter as a system which maintains itself in a continuous inflow from, and
outflow to, the environment (Von Bertalanffy, 1969:39).
According to Von Bertalanffy (1969:91), general systems theory tries to derive, from a general
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definition of >system= as a complex of interacting components, concepts characteristic of
organised wholes such as interaction, sum, mechanisation, centralisation, competition, finality,
etc., and to apply them to concrete phenomena.
According to Littlejohn (1992:53), general systems theory is not a singular theory, but should be
seen as a broad, multidisciplinary approach to knowledge, based on systems concepts and aiming
to integrate accumulated knowledge into a clear universal framework. Biological, psychological
and socio-cultural systems follow an open model (Littlejohn, 1999:41,44). General systems
theory deals with systems primarily from this open perspective (Littlejohn, 1992:41).
Present-day scholars of communication science, such as Barker, et al. (2001:24), Neher
(1997:108-109) and Fauconnier (1985:100-101), assign the following characteristics to open
systems, based on the earlier work of Von Bertalanffy (1969:39-40,46,55,66,160-161,208-
209,211-215):
* Boundaries. Systems are defined by, and set off from, their environments by boundaries,
so that one can differentiate the system from its environment.
* Wholeness. In a system, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and has its own
characteristics. Thus, systems theory is holistic.
* Interdependence. The parts are dependent upon one another, and affect individual
elements and the system as a whole.
* Hierarchy. Systems and subsystems are connected at hierarchical levels.
* Self-regulation. Systems are goal-seeking entities, and maintain their equilibrium by
means of feedback.
* Adaptability. Self-regulation implies the possibility of changing and adapting to
environmental changes.
* Input, output and throughput. A system=s survival depends upon importing inputs into the
system, performing some operation on these inputs internally (throughput) and then
returning some output to the environment.
* Specialisation and coordination. The subsystems of a larger system perform different
functions, and need to be sufficiently differentiated and coordinated.
* Sequences of events and life cycles. Systems go through stages, both as single systems
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and as populations of similar organisations. Each individual system repeats a regular
cycle of events involving input-throughput-output.
* Equifinality. Systems have the capacity to achieve the desired result in various ways.
A system may be composed of many smaller subsystems, or form part of a larger system
(O=Connor & McDermott, 1997:5). Each of the subsystems is made up of constituent parts, or its
own subsystems. The various subsystems do not exist in isolation, but in continuous relationship
and interaction with other subsystems (Neher, 1997:106). Checkland (2000:A23) proposes that
systems thinking covers at least three levels: those of system, subsystem and wider system.
Cutlip et al. (2000:232) refer to the latter as a suprasystem. When dealing with a hierarchy of
systems, individuals may make different judgments about which level to take as that of >the
system=. The concepts >system=, >subsystem= and >wider system= or >suprasystem= are thus relative
terms, and dependent on the choice of the observer (Checkland, 2000:A24).
According to Littlejohn (1999:56), systems theory has been a popular and influential tradition in
communication. This is probably because communication and communication processes easily
lend themselves to a systems approach (Fauconnier, 1985:112). In fact, Jansen and Steinberg
(1991:41) suggest that general systems theory offers the most complete description of
communication from a process point of view. Furthermore, the focus on interaction as the
lifeblood of a system, is compatible with the view of organisations held by communication
scientists. Consequently, general systems theory was particularly welcomed in the field of
organisational communication, and has remained the dominant viewpoint in this field (Mersham
& Skinner, 2001a:25).
3.9.1.1 Benefits of systems theory
One of the main benefits of systems thinking is that it provides a means to cope with very
complex processes (Checkland, 2000:A24). As the world is becoming increasingly
interconnected, it is also becoming increasingly complex. According to O=Connor and
McDermott (1997:(xiv-xvi)), systems thinking enables individuals to gain influence over their
lives by seeing patterns that drive events. It is a way in which some rules can be discerned, and
provides some measure of control, as it enables individuals to predict events and prepare for
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them. In organisations, systems thinking assists with teams and teambuilding, as teams act as
systems.
The issue of complexity is of particular importance to this study, with its emphasis on
globalisation. To extend an education programme=s applicability to the global society, is to add
enormous complexity.
Systems theory also allows for holistic thinking. According to Checkland (2000:A3), systems
thinking in its various forms could be taken to be the very paradigm of thinking holistically.
This makes systems thinking particularly suitable for this study, which is based on a holistic,
global mindset (see Section 2.9).
3.9.1.2 Criticism of systems theory
As with many other theoretical approaches, there are various points of criticism of systems
theory. Littlejohn (1999:58) points out that some critics question whether the systems approach
is a theory at all, claiming that it has no explanatory power. He also refers to critics questioning
the ability of systems theory to generate research. Littlejohn (1999:58-59) attributes these
criticisms to the extreme generality of the systems approach, and suggests that actual systems
theories of communication should be evaluated on their own merit: >The many theories of
communication that make use of systems principles are specific, and help us understand concrete
experiences.=
The criticisms mentioned above are not seen as a problem in the context of this study, as the
latter involves specific systems models (see Sections 4.4 and 4.8).
According to Vorster (1985:49), the single most important disadvantage of the systems approach
is its inability to make accurate and quantifiable predictions about the future of systems. As this
study is based on the assumption of an unpredictable environment caused by forces of
globalisation, this point of criticism is not regarded as a problem for this study, as the latter aims
to provide a method of dealing with the said unpredictability, rather than to make predictions
about its future.
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Another point of criticism concerns the detached view offered by systems theory. According to
Jansen and Steinberg (1991:43), systems theory offers no insight into the peculiar characteristics
of a particular system, but concerns itself only with the maintenance of the status quo of systems,
regardless of the human consequences that their operation may have. Neher (1997:115) adds that
an organisation=s overall goal is usually seen as being maintenance of homeostasis or stability.
The organisation=s communication is therefore concerned with regulating information inputs and
outputs, and the flow of information through the subsystems. Organisations may thus be seen as
relatively passive processors of external information. Furthermore, Mersham et al. (1995:48)
suggest that the systems approach lacks a human perspective, and ignores the complicated
process of exchange of meaning in human communication. Human beings are seen as machines,
components or robots acting within a mechanistic system in the >interest of society=.
Bormann (1980:254), however, points out that systems studies in communication focus on
collectives, rather than images of human beings. As this study involves a number of large
organisations and extends beyond national borders, the points of criticism of Steinberg and
Jansen, Neher and Mersham et al. are also not seen as applicable to this study.
While cognisance is taken of the limitations of systems theory, it is nevertheless accepted that the
complex nature of this study necessitates a broad framework, such as that provided by the
systems perspective, to link the great number of variables involved. Furthermore, in order to
broaden the application of this perspective, systems theory is extended, for the purpose of the
study, to also cover complex, dynamic systems and chaos theory.
3.9.1.3 The systems approach applied to organisations
Katz and Kahn published a book in the 1960s, attempting to extend the description and
explanation of organisational processes by shifting away from earlier emphasis on traditional
concepts of individual psychology and interpersonal relations, to systems constructs. The work
of Katz and Kahn was directed at the utilisation of an open systems point of view for the study of
organisations (Katz & Kahn, 1966:(vii)). They provided a model of an organisation as an
energetic input-output system, taken from the open systems theory as promulgated by Von
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Bertalanffy (Katz & Kahn, 1966:18).
Katz and Kahn (1966:13,28) advanced the idea that a social organisation could be regarded as an
open system dependent on its environment. According to this viewpoint, organisations share the
characteristics of other open systems, such as importation of energy from the environment, the
throughput or transformation of the imported energy into some product form which is
characteristic of the system and the reenergising of the system from sources in the environment.
Social organisations also share the characteristics of negative entropy, feedback, homeostasis,
differentiation and equifinality, as advanced by Von Bertalanffy.
In the 1970s, systems theory gained popularity in describing organisations as living, functioning
systems. Systems theory has become especially popular among scholars and theorists of
organisational communication (Neher, 1997:61,112).
According to Mersham and Skinner (2001a:29), the systems approach combines the best
elements of the scientific and behavioral approaches to organisations. It viewing an
organisation as an open system, the systems approach portrays it as open to new information,
responsive to the environment, dynamic and ever-changing. The systems approach also
acknowledges the potential that new information technology and new communication media
have in removing boundaries and allowing subsystems to interact better with each other. In
terms of this approach, communication keeps the system vital and alive, relates the various parts
to each other and brings in new ideas (Mersham & Skinner, 2001a:29).
Organisations engage in constant input, throughput and output to attain goals. Inputs originate
outside the organisation and enter the organisation through openings in the boundary.
Throughputs are the activities performed by organisational members - the passage of materials,
energy and information from point to point within the organisation, to its exit. Control processes
are established to govern and regulate throughput activity. Output activities describe the return
to the environment of the materials, energy and information that have been processed (Eisenberg
& Goodall, 1997:105).
Organisations, like biological organisms, are subject to environmental pressures to change,
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adapt, mutate or die off (Neher, 1997:106). Organisations rely on information and feedback in
order to monitor themselves and adapt to environmental pressures. Turbulent information
environments are associated with increased information load, and organisations in such
environments need to give special attention to subsystems for dealing with communication load.
These subsystems should consist of structures and channels capable of handling and
disseminating environmental information throughout the entire system (Neher, 1997:112).
One of the contributions of Katz and Kahn - mentioned at the beginning of this section - to
organisational theory, is the identification of the following types of generic subsystems as typical
of most organisations (Katz & Kahn, 1966:39-47):
* Production or technical subsystems. These are concerned with the throughput (energetic
or informational transformation), i.e. the work that gets done.
* Supportive subsystems. These are concerned with maintaining a favourable environment
for the operation of the system.
* Maintenance subsystems. These are aimed at maintaining good internal relations and
tying people into the system as functioning parts.
* Adaptive subsystems. These are concerned with organisational change, in order to adapt
to changes in the environment.
* Managerial subsystems. These comprise the organised activities for controlling,
coordinating and directing the many subsystems of the structure.
Of particular importance to this study are the supportive and adaptive subsystems, as these
highlight the importance of interaction with the environment, while the maintenance subsystem
does the same for the internal systemic relationships of an organisation (Neher, 1997:110).
3.9.1.4 The systems approach applied to public relations
As the unit of analysis in systems terms is a relationship (Windahl et al., 1992:85) and public
relations by definition implies the existence of relationships, it follows logically that systems
theory could be useful for studying public relations.
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Angelopulo (1994:40-41) suggests that, as an open system, an active outward orientation of an
organisation is best attained with the intervention of a facilitating agent. This facilitation is most
appropriately the function of public relations.
Public relations can be regarded as one of the subsystems that make up an organisation. Public
relations is one of several areas of planned communication with a bias towards continuous,
strategic and institutionalised communication (Windahl et al., 1992:87).
According to Fauconnier (1985:120-121), the public relations function of an organisation could
be described as a policy and a totality of techniques, developed by a specific system with a view
to its continual self-regulation, by which it systematically controls, maintains or improves its
relations with the environment and with its subsystems.
As implied by the public relations definitions discussed earlier, public relations strives towards
mutually beneficial environmental and internal relationships. The systems approach in public
relations entails proactive and reactive involvement with an organisation and its publics. The
accumulation and distribution of information is crucial is this regard (Angelopulo, 1994:48).
Relying on input from the environment and subsystems within the organisation, the practitioner
plans public relations activities to maintain, strengthen or change existing knowledge, attitudes,
etc. held by publics with regard to the organisation (Mersham et al., 1995:47). The value of
public relations in the process of strategy development in organisations is that it is a source of
intelligence regarding the social environment. This intelligence needs to be fed into the groups
or individuals responsible for strategy development (White & Mazur, 1995:25). From a systems
point of view, public relations therefore has the role of adaptation, based on feedback and action
taken (Angelopulo, 1994:48).
Boundary spanners, individuals who maintain communication links across systems and
subsystem boundaries (Neher, 1997:114), are particularly important from a systems perspective.
This boundary spanning function is assigned to public relations (Leonard and Ströh, 2000b:41).
Cutlip et al. (2000:231-233) describe different ways in which levels of systems can identified in
public relations. Firstly, an organisation and its publics can be viewed as a system. In this view
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the organisation and its various publics constitute the different entities making up the system.
The task of the public relations practitioner is to maintain mutually beneficial relationships
between these entities. An organisation-publics system can, however, be viewed as part of a
larger social system, such as the national system or even the world. Viewed in this manner, the
organisation and its publics form a subsystem within a suprasystem.
3.9.2 The network approach
A network consists of a system of links among components such as individuals, work groups or
organisations (Miller, 1999:84). Network theory is based on individual interactions among
network members, which build up into a macrostructure (Littlejohn, 1999:324). A network
analysis studies the maps of relationships and communication flow among network components
(Miller, 1999:83-84).
The network approach is related to the systems approach in that systems consist of networks.
Network analysis provides a means to study the interconnections among system components, and
the arrangement of those components into systems and suprasystems (Miller, 1999:83).
According to Neher (1997:114), network analysis has become a primary method of
communication study in the systems theory approach. Eisenberg and Goodall (1997:295)
attribute the current focus on communication networks in organisations to a general acceptance
of systems theories, which emphasise the connections between people, and the relationships that
constitute an organisation. A communication network is a structure that is built on the basis of
communication relationships (Monge, 1989:241). These networks are the patterns of contact
between communication partners, which are created by transmitting and exchanging messages
through time and space (Monge & Contractor, 2001:440). Typical communication relations are
>shares information with=, >talks to=, >receives reports from= and >discusses new ideas with=
(Monge, 1989:243).
Networks exist within systems, but also cross organisational boundaries in the case of open
systems (Eisenberg & Goodall, 1997:299). The latter type of networks are known as
interorganisational networks. Interorganisational networks demonstrate that an organisation can
never operate in isolation, but is always part of an environment that affects its operation and
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culture (Littlejohn, 1999:306). Interorganisational networks are essential sites of dialogue and
cooperation with other systems. Organisations can participate in interorganisational networks by
means of strategic alliances and joint ventures (Eisenberg & Goodall, 1997:299-301).
In recent years, the focus on networks has broadened from connections among people within
organisations, to connections among people in the global society. Communication networks
have also been transformed by the Internet and network marketing (Eisenberg & Goodall,
1997:301-302). According to Mersham and Skinner (2001b:155), the Digital Age and New
Economy are characterised by the coming together of the technical computer network and human
networking, which means that the goals of business, information and communication
technologies are converging. An extremely complex social and communication infrastructure is
resulting from the rise of new communication technology and virtual communities (Van Dijk,
1999:24). This is what was referred to in the previous chapter as the Network Society.
Networks have certain advantages, some of which include the facilitation of communication; the
sharing of new ideas and information; facilitation of cooperation and collective action; and the
ability to act as change agent (Windahl et al., 1992:79; Monge, 1989:243).
Network analysis provides a holistic explanation of how a network is structured (Windahl et al.,
1992:76). Windahl et al. (1992:76) suggest that the following properties of networks should be
taken into account when studying and planning networks:
* Connectedness. This is a measure of the extent to which the members of a network are
linked to the network. A highly connected network offers greater potential than a loosely
connected one for disseminating information to members.
* Integration. This is a measure of the degree to which members of a network are linked to
each other. Higher integration indicates more potential communication channels.
* Diversity. Greater diversity indicates that ideas may enter the system relatively easily
through weak ties (Granovetter, quoted by Windahl et al., 1992:76).
* Openness. This indicates how well a certain group, system or network communicates
with its environment. A close group will be harder to reach from the outside.
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According to Littlejohn (1999:305), centrality is one of the most frequently studied aspects of
networks. Centrality refers to the overall closeness or reachability of networks. A network
member who has a number of contacts has high centrality, whereas a network in which the
average number of contacts is high, has network centrality. Density is the ratio of actual to
potential contacts (Monge, 1989:244).
Centrality or density can be studied by focusing on the roles that individuals play in networks. A
communication role in a network is determined by a member=s influence on information flow
(Eisenberg & Goodall, 1997:297). The following types of roles are said to typically exist in
networks (Eisenberg & Goodall, 1997:297-298; Windahl et al., 1992:77; Monge, 1989:242):
* Isolate roles. These are held by individuals to whom few are linked.
* Group member roles. These members communicate mainly within an informal clique.
* Bridge roles. These members have significant communication contact with at least one
member of another formal group.
* Liaison roles. These are held by individuals who link together clusters in the network.
* Star roles. These are held by individuals who are linked to a large number of other
individuals.
* Non-participant roles. These are held by individuals who simply perform their task within
a network, without communicating with the rest of the network.
The interdependent and interactive nature of all parts of a system suggests a rule for influencing
systems, in that the more connections a person or group has, the more possible influence will
result (O=Connor and McDermott, 1997:15). Networking thus brings influence. O=Connor and
McDermott (1997:15) suggest that successful managers spend four times as much time
networking as do their less successful colleagues. Furthermore, is has been found that people
who are frequently involved in joint activities are likely to be well connected in networks.
Denser networks increase members= likeliness to accept new ideas and to adapt to change
(Eisenberg & Goodall, 1997:297). Weak links thus decrease access to new information.
Understanding network roles, together with the structural aspects of networks, allows for
prediction of the extent to which information will move within a network. Network >stars= could
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be used in communication campaigns to spread information through a network (Windahl et al.,
1997:77).
With regard to the global Network Society, Van Dijk (1999:26-27) advances an interdisciplinary
analytical framework to study this system. He proposes that the Network Society be studied in
terms of the following aspects. These could be regarded as subsystems which constitute the
Network Society:
* technology
* economy
* politics and power
* law
* social structure
* culture
* psychology
3.9.2.1 The use of networks in public relations
Marlow and O=Connor Wilson (1997:124) argue that networking communication competencies
will be the most highly valued skills in the organisation of the future. These competencies are a
prerequisite for designing and sustaining the network organisation of the future.
According to Stevens (1998:18), individual public relations firms are increasingly using the
network approach to share information, expertise and resources with one another. In similar
fashion, international and domestic nonprofit organisations have discovered that using public
relations networks can be highly effective in communicating non-commercial messages. Stevens
(1998:19) predicts that global professional alliances in general, and public relations networks in
particular, will be a growing influence in the 21st century, and that the public relations sector can
benefit from information-sharing with global networks in other professions.
Mersham et al. (1995:140) suggest that public relations practitioners make use of networks, by
discovering or initiating them to provide feedback to management. Identifying and developing
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networks of influentials is also an essential starting point in community relations.
Some existing regional and global networks in public relations have already been covered in
Sections 3.7 and 3.8.1.3.
3.9.3 Complex, dynamic systems
According to Eisenberg and Goodall (1997:100), the concept of dynamic systems was born with
the advent of relativity and the initiation of analogies between organic systems and human
societies.
According to Baldwin Leveque and Poole (1999:79,81), complex, dynamic systems relate to the
development of higher order systems theories. The latter incorporate complex, dynamic and
emergent properties in older, more static systems research, and allow for a new awareness which
they term systems thinking. Baldwin Leveque and Poole (1999:97) note that the foundations of
systems thinking - dynamism, complexity and emergence - counter the shortcomings of
functionalism, an older systems perspective, which emphasised equilibrium, and did not have the
ability to model conflict and disruption in a social system. They argue that newer systems
approaches are highly flexible, and not only suggest the interaction of multiple forms of analysis,
but actually require it.
Laszlo (1987:9,20) terms the new paradigm of complex, dynamic systems the >evolutionary
paradigm=, pointing out that it is the acceptance of the divergence property of dynamic systems
which challenges the concept of equilibrium and determinancy of older systems theory. The
evolutionary paradigm provides a framework for studying the evolvement of both natural and
socio-cultural systems. Laszlo (1987:20) notes that the science of complex, dynamic systems
shows that evolution occurs when a system is in the third state. Systems in the first state are in
equilibrium and dynamically inert. Those in the second state are near equilibrium. These
systems are not inert, but tend to move towards equilibrium as soon as the constraints that keep
them in non-equilibrium are removed. Systems in the third state are nonlinear, occasionally
indeterminate and far from equilibrium. Such a system enters a transitory phase characterised by
randomness and some degree of chaos. The system in now in a phase of bifurcation, which
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means that the smallest variation in an initial condition can give rise to widely differing
outcomes. This chaotic state is not entirely random, but is governed by chaotic attractors.
Chaotic attractors are complex and subtly ordered structures that constrain the behaviour of the
seemingly random and unpredictable system. The chaotic phase comes to an end when the
system settles into a new dynamic regime (Laszlo, 1987:21,35,41-43).
According to Baldwin Leveque and Poole (1999:85), the paradigm of complex, dynamic systems
implies a concern with the role of social dynamics in theory building, and encourages the
construction of an explanation of a phenomenon, rather than simply a description. It prompts
questions critical to systems analysis, relating to growth, decline, transition, modification and
transformation over time. It also acknowledges the need to build complexity into models of
organisation. To summarise the different ways in which complexity may be expressed, systems
or theories that are considered more complex tend to (Baldwin Leveque & Poole, 1999:88):
* contain more elements
* have elements that are more densely interconnected
* incorporate changes over time
* assume complex time-shape relationships between elements in the system
* relate system elements using higher order functional forms
* suggest recursive relationships between system elements.
According to Laszlo (1987:41), the chaotic behaviour discovered in natural systems in the third
state, has resulted in an entire discipline within complex, dynamic systems theory. This
discipline is devoted to the study of the properties of chaotic attractors and of the systems
governed by them. It became popularly known as chaos theory. This theory is discussed next.
3.9.4 Chaos theory
Despite its name, chaos theory seeks to eliminate, rather than discover or create, chaos. It studies
the processes that appear chaotic on the surface, but on detailed analysis prove to manifest subtle
strands of order (Laszlo, 1987:41).
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According to Goertzel (1994:4-6), chaos theory picks up where the general systems theory of the
1940s and 1950s left off. Chaos theory studies the irregular and unpredictable time evolution of
nonlinear systems (Baker & Gollub, 1996:1). It represents a paradigm shift, in teaching that
forces of disorder, nonlinearity, unpredictability and instability are controlling the universe
(Elliott & Kiel, 1998:1-2).
Although chaos theory originated in the fields of meteorology (Yuhas Byers, 1997:30),
chemistry (Eisenberg & Goodall, 1997:102) and thermodynamics (Çambel, 1993:136-139), it is
also applied to the humanities in fields such as psychology, linguistics (Goertzel, 1994:43-87),
politics, economics (Elliott & Kiel, 1998:3) and organisational management (Wheatley,
1994:121-137). In the context of this thesis, chaos theory is especially useful as a new means to
understand the state of the contemporary work environment, where predictability and stability
are becoming a thing of the past (Yuhas Byers, 1997:29-30). In addition, it provides an
understanding of the increased complexity and turmoil in the global society, brought about by the
forces of globalisation.
Chaos theory studies how order emerges from the interaction of parts of a whole (Yuhas Byers,
1997:30). It focuses on the capacity of a system to respond to disorder or non-equilibrium with
renewed life (Wheatley, 1994:11). Chaos is the final state in a system=s movement away from
the familiar state and often predictable environment (De Wet, 2001:70), and can be described as
the times, in an organisation, when people are confused and feel overwhelmed (Rensburg and
Ströh, 1998:56).
As pointed out by Laszlo (1987:41), chaos theory is central to the perspective of complex,
dynamic systems, in that a dynamic system lends itself to periods of chaos when entering the
third state. Goertzel (1994:3), a mathematician, however, warns against interpreting >chaos= as a
synonym for >complex system science=, explaining the distinction as follows: >Chaos theory has
to do with determinism underlying apparent randomness. Complex systems science is more
broadly concerned with the emergent, synergetic behaviours of systems composed of a large
number of interacting parts.=
According to Wheatley (1994:18), chaos theory teaches that the world is inherently orderly and
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that fluctuation and change are part of the very process by which order is created. Chaos theory
teaches that disorder can be a source of order, and that growth is found in disequilibrium rather
than in balance. It shows that, when looking at a system from the perspective of time, it always
demonstrates its inherent orderliness. Chaos theory, therefore, moves away from linear thinking,
in viewing chaos and order, or change and stability, as two complementary aspects in the process
of growth (Wheatley, 1994:20-21).
Self-renewal and self-organising abilities of systems are therefore important concepts of chaos
theory (Ströh, 1998:23). Self-renewing systems use their energy to recreate themselves, and to
change to new forms to deal with new information (Ströh, 1998:24). Thompson (1997:241, 247)
suggests that organisations do this by making creative use of their environments.
Weick introduced the idea in the 1970s that evolving organisations move through cycles of
enactment, selection and retention, to adapt to their environment. Weick=s model capitalises on
the resemblance between organising processes and the process of natural selection in species
evolution (Weick, 1979:130). Enactment is to organising, as variation is to natural selection. It
refers to the act of isolating and studying changes in the environment. Selection means choosing
interpretations in an effort to make sense of a confusing environment. Retention is the process of
storing the products of successful sensemaking (referred to as >enacted environments=) to impose
on future environments (Weick, 1979:130-132,147,213). According to Weick (1995:86-88),
organisational sensemaking is of particular importance in environments characterised by
information overload, complexity and turbulence.
According to Thompson (1997:241-242), the processes of enactment, selection and retention are
what enables organisations to make creative use of their environments. According to Eisenberg
and Goodall (1997:116), the concept enacted environment is especially important in the
contemporary business world, in which environmental scanning is crucial to an organisation=s
survival. Enactment allows members of human organisations to reduce uncertainties in complex
and unpredictable environments, in order to achieve self-renewal. Unlike theories of species
evolution, in which degrees of environmental variation are determined objectively, in
organisational environments people look for clues to threats or opportunities. Organisational
success therefore requires an ongoing examination of current issues (Eisenberg and Goodall,
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1997:115-116).
Ongoing self-renewal, based on environmental scanning, enables an organisation to becomes a
learning organisation, which is discussed next.
3.9.5 Learning organisations
The concept >learning organisation= refers to the ability to learn and adapt (Eisenberg & Goodall,
1997:10). According to Jordaan (1998:35), learning organisations are characterised by the
capability to sense change, to learn lessons from past failures and successes, and to utilise these
lessons learned to respond creatively to increasingly turbulent and uncertain environments.
Authors such as Senge et al. (1994:7) and Eisenberg and Goodall (1997:114), regard systems
thinking as a prerequisite for a learning organisation to develop. Systems thinking implies
holism and interdependence, and holds that for any one member to succeed, all members must
succeed (Eisenberg & Goodall, 1997:114). Systems thinking leads to a new understanding of
organisational change as a participative process at all levels, rather than a top-down or bottom-up
process. When systems thinking is employed, the structure of an organisation is not seen simply
as the organisational chart, but as the pattern of interrelationships among key components of the
system, including the hierarchy and process flows, attitudes and perceptions, the way in which
decisions are made, the quality of products, etc. Systems thinking allows organisations to see
how to change systems more effectively, and to act more in tune with the larger processes of the
natural and economic world (Senge et al., 1994:6-7,89-90).
Learning organisations are akin to the complex, adaptive systems advanced by chaos theorists.
Stacey (1996:284) describes a complex, adaptive system as applied to human organisations as a
number of agents interacting with one another according to rules of behaviour that require them
to inspect one another=s behaviour and adjust their own in the light of the behaviour of others. In
other words, complex adaptive systems learn to evolve, and they usually interact with other
complex adaptive systems. They survive because they learn or evolve in an adaptive way: they
compute information in order to extract regularities, building them into rules of behaviour that
are continually changed in the light of experience (Stacey,1996:284).
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From a chaos theory point of view, organisations need to function as complex, adaptive systems
to create order out of a rapidly changing environment, and to cope with perpetual uncertainty
(Yuhas Beyers, 1997:31). This means that they need to be capable of responding with flexibility
to external and internal change, rather than struggling against the environment because they see
it as a source of disruption and change, and focusing efforts on maintaining defensive structures
(Wheatley, 1994:90-91). In this regard, learning organisations are more adaptive and generative
than traditional organisations. They seek deeper understanding, rather than quick-fix solutions.
They possess a commitment to openness, and an ability to deal with complexity. As complex,
adaptive systems, learning organisations are also prepared to face the anxiety associated with the
unknown and unfamiliar (Yuhas Beyers, 1997:32).
According to Eisenberg and Goodall (1997:114), learning organisations practise the following
disciplines - in addition to systems thinking:
* Personal mastery. Members share a personal commitment to learning and self-reflection.
* Mental models. Because learning is a form of self-renewal, it must begin with selfreflection,
particularly on the paradigms that shape and limit an individual=s
interpretations and actions.
* A shared vision and the abolishment of tight hierarchical control. Members act in concert
because they share a common organisational vision, and understand how their own work
contributes to that vision.
* Team learning. Team members communicate in ways that lead the team toward
intelligent decisions, with an emphasis on dialogue.
3.9.6 Complex, dynamic systems, networks, chaos theory and learning organisations
applied to globalisation and public relations
Systems theory provides a holistic perspective of the global society. The perspective of
complex, dynamic systems is particularly suitable to deal with the complexity of the world as a
macro-human society. Viewed in terms of systems theory, the global society can be regarded as
a macrosystem, consisting of a vast number of subsystems comprising different countries, the
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global political order, global economic order, the global media system, etc. From a systems
perspective, the global society can be viewed as a integral whole, whose components are linked,
and influence one another. The emphasis is on the interconnectedness of the diverse subsystems
in the world, which explains why an event on one side of the globe can have consequences for
those who live on the opposite side. Global communication can be regarded as the glue that
keeps subsystems connected, and allows for feedback, which enables the system to change, adapt
and regulate itself. Viewing the global society from a systems perspective also allows for the
study of relationships and networks between the different subsystems, and the impact of these
relationships and networks on the world community.
The paradigm of complex, dynamic systems allows for focus on the divergent nature of the world
as a globalising entity. Chaos theory, in turn, can be used to explain why chaos occurs in the
global system. Laszlo (1987:92) regards technology as major cause of societal change, leading
to turbulence and growth. History shows that all major technological revolutions created
instability, pushing society to new levels of organisation (Laszlo, 1987:93-101). In this regard,
globalising forces and the Communication Revolution could be regarded as factors subjecting the
contemporary global community to destabilisation, pushing it in a new direction. As a result of
the disintegrating forces of globalisation, together with the backlash of economic globalisation,
the global society at times seems unstable and out of control. Ströh (1998:39-40), in fact, terms
the new millennium >the age of chaos and change=.
Chaos theory, however, teaches that a system in chaos is a system which is ready to grow.
Chaotic systems, in terms of chaos theory, correlate with the notion that dynamic systems have a
divergence property which can lead to critically disturbed systems, which drives the evolutionary
process (see Section 2.6.6). Therefore, contemporary chaos in the global system should be
viewed as a transitory phase, which could move the global community towards a higher order
and consciousness.
Chaos theory can also be used to explain what can be done to assist the global system in selforganisation
and a return to a state of stability. Human beings have free will. Therefore, unlike
natural systems, the members of a societal system have the capacity to intervene in its evolution,
and to consciously influence its outcome. Laszlo (1987:128) states that it is possible to master
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the evolutionary process of high-energy technological societies by purposeful action based on a
sound knowledge of socio-developmental dynamics. With reference to the current era, Laszlo
(1987:141) suggests that a more mature and dynamically stable global society could be created
by an atmosphere of mutual trust, and the phasing out of narrow, short-term and self-centred
economic and political strategies antithetical to long-term cooperation. He argues that
individuals with communication skills, and in key positions, could make a crucial difference in
this regard, by creating and mobilising a critical mass of people, and exploring suitable channels
of communication with governmental and nongovernmental organisations and with business
enterprises to gain support for humanistic causes (Laszlo, 1987:147-148).
It can be deduced from Laszlo=s reasoning, that public relations practitioners, as communication
agents and managers of strategic relationships, have the capacity to intervene in the evolution of
the global community, and to assist in driving it to more mature and stable state. Chaos theory
provides a framework to study the specific responsibilities and changing role of public relations
to reach this aim. Some responsibilities which relate to the global system at large, have already
been covered in Section 3.8.2, which outlines public relations= potential role in measures to
counteract the disintegrating forces of globalisation.
With regard to organisational responsibilities, the function of public relations during periods of
chaos within the organisation is to act as an integrating force. This is done through
communication and the management of relationships within the organisational system.
Communication defines an organisation. It is the means through which the subsystems organise
themselves and work together. Communication can therefore be seen as the glue holding the
system and subsystems together, allowing for units to function in sync with one another (Yuhas
Byers, 1997:28-29). Furthermore, healthy relationships within organisation are necessary for the
achievement of goals. Communication thus becomes the basic requirement for a system to
reorganise itself, and communication management becomes the strategic tool to manage
interactions (Ströh, 1998:30-31).
As boundary spanners and environmental scanners, public relations practitioners also play a
significant role in assisting their organisations to function as learning systems in rapidly
changing environments. Wheatley (1994:91) states that an organisation can respond to change
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with flexibility only if it has access to new information, both about external factors and internal
resources. It is the task of public relations practitioners to provide their organisation with this
information. In the words of Vogl (2001:22), it is the task of public relations to keep top
management informed of the full range of groups around the world which can threaten the
corporation=s reputation in environments that are becoming more complex because of greater
input by the public at large.
As environmental scanners, public relations practitioners therefore assist organisations to move
through the cycles of enactment, selection and retention, as advanced by Weick (1979:130), to
achieve organisational sensemaking in turbulent environments. Mersham et al. (1995:47)
explain the role of public relations in organisational sensemaking as a response to turbulent
social, economic and political changes, by directing the organisation=s behaviour towards
attaining balance and symmetry with the global system or attempts to influence and control it.
When applied to public relations policy, it means that the organisation has to carefully consider
the stable or unstable behaviour of the environment and that belonging to each of the external
and internal stakeholders. In times of rapid social change, the public relations practitioner=s task
is to convert the information received into a concrete diagnosis which shapes public relations
programmes (Mersham et al., 1995:47-48).
Marlow and O=Connor Wilson (1997:72) support this view by assigning to communication
managers in the current age of chaos and rapidly changing business environments, the
responsibility to help their corporations to adjust to this change by creating understanding, and
making knowledge more productive. This implies that communication professionals should
operate from a holistic understanding of communication dynamics; become networkers and
integrators of information from both inside and outside the organisation; possess
multidisciplinary expertise and insight; support diversity in communication practices; harness
the power of electronic communication technology; and synergise employee actions towards
prioritised issues and values (Marlow & O=Connor Wilson, 1997:58,62,68,71,87,121).
3.9.7. Systems and networks, chaos theory and learning organisations applied to public
relations education
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The open systems approach is particularly suitable, perhaps essential, for a study of public
relations education, as a course in public relations can never be designed in isolation from the
environment in which future graduates will be operating. From a systems perspective, a public
relations education programme, consisting of a public relations course and input from the
department in which it is offered, should be seen as a core interdependent subsystem within a
framework of larger interdependent systems and suprasystems. The larger systems constitute the
applicable education institute, applicable professional association/s for public relations at local
and national levels, the public relations industry of the applicable country, the country at large,
the continent in which the applicable country is situated, IPRA, the global public relations
industry and the world.
The multidisciplinary nature of public relations education implies that public relations courses
and departments are systems and networks consisting of interrelated units. However, public
relations courses and departments also function as subsystems and networks within greater
systems - the educational institutions in which they operate. Each different type of educational
institution has its own mission and its own education philosophy.
The tertiary institutions relevant to this study are technikons. These institutions have a
distinctive mission and distinctive education prescriptions, which are elaborated on in the next
chapter. These prescriptions have to be taken into account when designing and reviewing
education programmes.
Public relations courses and departments also function as subsystems and networks within the
public relations industry. The quality of the industry is to a large extent determined by the output
of the educational institutions which offer education in public relations. The quality of the
education of those educational institutions is, in turn, determined by their ability to obtain input
from the industry through networking, and to adjust their curricula accordingly. As the interest
of the public relations industry is usually looked after by a public relations association,
recommendations and input from this association should be taken into account when studying
and planning public relations courses. In South Africa in particular, public relations education
courses should be designed in collaboration with PRISA.
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Public relations courses and departments also function as subsystems and networks within a
country and continent. Public relations education programmes should prepare students for the
total milieu in which they will be operating - including the political, social, economic and other
patterns. In the context of complex, dynamic systems they need to be equipped with the
necessary knowledge of socio-developmental dynamics to provide them with the capacity to
intervene as communication agents in the evolution of societal systems, as suggested by Laszlo
(1987:147-148). In Africa, for example, students need to be equipped for the development needs
of their continent. This will prepare them to steer their future organisations towards social
responsibility and global integration without shutting out unequal partners.
In South Africa, tertiary education programmes have to be planned within the new structure for
higher education introduced in the 1990s when NQF, SAQA, the CHE and NSBs and SGBs were
formed. The requirements set by this new structure are also elaborated on in the next chapter.
The largest suprasystem within which public relations courses and departments operate, is the
world. Public relations curriculum planners can never divorce themselves from the global scene
and remain blind to international development. As IPRA is the official representative of the
global public relations industry, its recommendations pertaining to education should be taken
into account.
By enabling the identification of all the sub- and suprasystems and networks that influence
public relations courses, the systems and network approaches offer a holistic perspective for the
planning of public relations education programmes. The macrosystems approach is particularly
suitable for the global nature of this study. South Africa is not a closed system in the world.
Since the country=s release from relative isolation in 1994, and in view of increasing forces of
globalisation, it should operate as a subsystem within a larger system and network, the world,
also in the area of public relations education.
With regard to subsystems, systems and suprasystems, education programmes in public relations
at technikons, which is the core system focused on by this study, can be viewed from different
angles. It can be viewed as a subsystem or network which operates within a hierarchy of larger
systems or networks, namely technikons, the South African tertiary education system, the public
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relations industry, the South African society, the African continent and the global society.
Different levels of systems influencing such education programmes can thus be identified.
Systems thinking also enables an analyst to study the education programme as a system
comprising subsystems such as different aspects of the education programme. All systems in this
hierarchy of systems are open systems. Technikon departments which offer education
programmes are open systems cooperating with other departments operating within technikons,
which in turn are open systems heavily dependent on their environment, for which they
constantly have to produce an appropriately qualified work force. The hierarchy of systems of
which a public relations education programme at technikons in South Africa forms part, can be
illustrated as in Figure 3.1:
The above hierarchy of systems within which education programmes in public relations at
technikons operate, should be viewed as complex, dynamic and chaotic systems in transition,
subject to constant change because of the forces of globalisation. In this regard, public relations
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education programmes at technikons should be viewed as systems subjected to the requirements
of a learning organisation. The existence of intra- and interorganisational networks with a high
degree of centrality, including the formation of strategic alliances, could assist technikon
departments to offer public relations programmes that function as learning systems.
In Chapter 4, a model for globalisation of vocationally-oriented public relations education is
developed with the above implications in mind. For this purpose, a general, prescriptive open
systems framework, approaching education programmes as complex, dynamic systems and
learning organisations operating in a chaotic global suprasystem, is included in the next chapter,
to be used as a basis for the development of firstly, a generic, vocationally-oriented globalisation
model, and secondly, to apply this model to technikon public relations education.
3.10 SUMMARY
This chapter provided a developmental and theoretical perspective for the study of public
relations practice and education. In the first part of the chapter the term public relations was
defined by providing a critical review of different approaches to defining the term and by
selecting an approach for this study. Harlow=s definition adopted by IPRA and Hutton=s
framework to conceptualise public relations were accepted as a summary of the most important
functions of public relations for the purpose of this investigation, while Kendall=s social
responsibility definition of public relations was accepted as a working definition, and extended
for the purpose of this study to cover global public relations.
Next, an overview was provided of the developmental history of public relations. The systems
and structural approaches were identified as points of departure to study public relations history.
American, international, African and South African development of public relations practice and
education were reviewed in terms of the structural approach. This discussion provided insight
into the global connectedness that currently exits in the field of public relations, and also into the
current state of public relations practice and education in South Africa, as compared to the rest of
the world.
The impact of globalisation on public relations practice and education was discussed next in
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terms of new competencies required. An overview was provided of how the profession is
influenced by three major forces of globalisation: the New Economy, the Communication
Revolution and the Network Society. This was followed by a discussion of the potential role of
public relations in counteracting disintegrating forces of globalisation. This discussion provided
insight into the changing needs in the role of, and education for, the profession, in order to adapt
to the forces of globalisation.
The systems and network approaches and chaos theory were identified as a theoretical
framework for this study. The systems and network approaches were outlined first, and related
to globalisation and public relations. Complex, dynamic systems, chaos theory and learning
organisations were discussed next, as part of systems thinking. These concepts were also related
to globalisation and public relations. Lastly, the selected theoretical perspective was applied to
public relations education, pointing out the hierarchy of systems and suprasystems in which such
programmes operate, in general and at technikons in particular. This hierarchy was portrayed as
consisting of complex, dynamic and chaotic systems subjected to fast-changing suprasystems,
with each layer in need of functioning as a learning system.
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3.1 INTRODUCTION
This chapter provides a perspective for the study of public relations practice and education at a
global level. Firstly, the term public relations is conceptualised. A critical overview is then
provided of some of the approaches to defining public relations, including reference to the
evolvement of the profession and worldviews affecting the conceptualisation of the field.
Primary research paradigms in public relations are set out next, followed by the selection of a
working definition and a research paradigm for this study. The conceptualisation of public
relations selected for this study is further related to globalisation and the potential role of public
relations to contribute towards global unity and understanding.
Next, an overview is provided of the developmental history of public relations. The systems and
structural approaches are identified as examples of possible points of departure for a study of the
historical development of public relations. The structural approach, with its focus on
professional development, is selected, to provide an overview of the development of public
relations practice and education at a global level.
Because public relations in its modern form originated in the USA, the developmental history is
first discussed with reference to America. Thereafter an overview of international development
follows. African development is discussed next, with specific reference to South Africa. In line
with the global mindset adopted for the study, an overview is provided of global connectedness,
which currently exists in the field of public relations practice and education. Reference is made
to the recently established Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communication
Management, as well as other international organisations attempting to unite public relations
practitioners and educators around the world.
This is followed by a discussion of the impact of globalisation on public relations practice and
education, in terms of new competencies required. An attempt is made to provide insight into
CHAPTER 3: PUBLIC RELATIONS PRACTICE AND
EDUCATION: A DEVELOPMENTAL AND THEORETICAL
PERSPECTIVE
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how public relations is influenced by the forces of globalisation, and the changing role of the
profession and new education needs that result.
It is evident in the literature consulted, that public relations has the potential to play a role in
counteracting those disintegrating forces of globalisation covered in the previous chapter.
Consequently, the role of public relations in the measures outlined in Section 2.7.4 to counteract
disintegrating forces of globalisation, is discussed next. This discussion is structured under the
same headings as those in Section 2.7.4 in Chapter 2.
Lastly, a theoretical perspective is provided for the study of public relations practice and
education. Although public relations has frequently been criticised for its lack of a theoretical
base, this does not mean that different principles and models applicable to public relations cannot
be identified (Windahl, et al., 1992:91).
Although there have been attempts to link the study of public relations to theoretical approaches
such as pragmatism (Van der Meiden, 1993:8-11), social exchange theory (Kendall, 1992:17-18),
rhetorical theory (Vestheim, 1992:23-30), ethnography, persuasion models, radical theory of
pressure groups, symbolic interactionalism, the excellence model, critical, situational and
organisational theory, etc. (Holtzhausen & Verwey, 1996:30-35), systems theory traditionally
seems to be the widely used framework for the study of public relations. Angelopulo (1994:41)
regards the systems approach as one of the most fruitful approaches to public relations
management, while Holtzhausen (quoted by Holtzhausen & Verwey, 1996:30) confirms, based
on an overview of theory application, that the systems approach is the most important theoretical
approach to public relations.
As systems theory ties in with the aim of this thesis, it is regarded as suitable also for this study.
As this study deals with globalisation, systems theory is approached from the viewpoint of
complex, dynamic systems and its related paradigm of chaos theory. In the second part of this
chapter systems theory is explained in general, and also as applied to public relations practice
and education. The network approach, which forms part of systems theory, is discussed next,
followed by an outline of the concepts complex, dynamic system, chaos theory and learning
organisation. This discussion, as well as the global mindset adopted in the previous chapter,
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provides the basis for the formation of a general theoretical framework in the next chapter, on
which to develop a model for globalisation in vocationally-oriented public relations education.
3.2 TOWARDS A CONCEPTUALISATION OF PUBLIC RELATIONS
A large number of definitions of public relations have been formulated worldwide. In fact,
Wilcox et al. (1992:5) report that a pioneer public relations educator once compiled about 500
definitions from almost as many sources.
3.2.1 Defining public relations in terms of its evolvement
Kendall (1992:13) argues that the maturity of practice in public relations is determined by the
maturity of the definition accepted. The available definitions reflect a range of sophistication in
the duty owed by the function to the society at large. According to Kendall, this range of
perceptions is evident today, as well as throughout the history of the field. Hutton=s conclusion
(1999:200-201) that a review of public relations= history reveals how the field has evolved in
terms of definitions and metaphors, confirms this viewpoint. According to Hutton (1999:200-
201), public relations has evolved through history from >the public be fooled= to >the public be
damned= to >the public be manipulated= to >the public be informed= to >the public be involved or
accommodated=.
Other theorists who define public relations in terms of its evolvement include Grunig and Hunt
(1984:21-43), who introduced four models to explain how public relations has developed through
history. These models also reflect the different ways in which public relations is still practised
today.
The first two models portray public relations as a one-way flow of communication between an
organisation and its publics. The third and fourth models portray public relations as a two-way
flow of communication between an organisation and its publics, and highlight the importance of
research.
* press-agentry/publicity model. This model represents public relations in its earliest form,
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as practised by organisations that equate public relations with publicity or promotions.
Practitioners in these organisations concern themselves mostly with getting media
attention for their organisations or clients, and their communication with publics is onesided
and rather propagandistic in nature.
* public-information model. This model emphasises the information dissemination
function of public relations by means of the mass and minor media.
* two-way asymmetric model. This model describes public relations as an effort to plan
communication with the publics of an organisation to achieve maximum change in
attitude and behaviour, with the emphasis on persuasion. According to Grunig and Hunt,
public relations based on this model has a manipulative nature.
* two-way symmetric model. This model describes public relations as an effort to attain
mutual understanding between an organisation and its publics. The emphasis is on social
responsibility and investment.
Grunig and Hunt (1984:43) accept that all four models still have a place in today=s society, as a
different model works best for different problems. However, as there are few definitions in
public relations literature that describe the first two models, it can be assumed that these models
can be discarded in the search for a general definition of modern public relations. Lubbe
(1994a:6-7) points out that the two former models are primarily based on the >technician= role of
public relations, whereas the latter two models utilise both the technician and the management
role in their application.
If it is taken into account that there is general acceptance today of the importance of research in
public relations (e.g. Mersham & Skinner, 2001b:74; Seitel, 2001:105-106; Paluszek, 2000:28;
Steyn & Puth, 2000:18; Center & Jackson, 1995:3), as well as the recognition that public
relations should be practised at the level of management (e.g. Mersham & Skinner, 2001b:67-68;
Seitel, 2001:174-175; Steyn & Puth, 2000:21; Kinnick and Cameron, 1994:74) the two-way
asymmetric and symmetric models should be accepted as the most applicable and advanced
models of public relations today.
Grunig and Hunt (1984:100-101), however, regard the symmetric model as the best reflection of
public relations in its mature form. In addition, they argue that asymmetric models of public
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relations are used by authoritarian dominant coalitions who see the symmetric model as a threat
to their power (Grunig & Hunt, 1984:100-101).
Although Grunig and Hunt=s notion of the asymmetric and symmetric models is widely accepted
by other theorists of public relations (e.g. Cutlip et al., 2000:409; Dozier and Ehling, 1992:177;
Sriramesh & White, 1992:597; Wilcox et al., 1992:57; Windahl et al., 1992:91-93; Brownell &
Niebauer, 1991:83-84), this viewpoint is not shared by all.
According to Van der Meiden (1993:9), one of the main opponents of Grunig and Hunt=s
symmetric model is G. R. Miller, who denies the possibility of a symmetric concept while public
relations is interwoven with effective persuasion and control over relevant aspects of the
environment. Miller (1989:45) argues that there is a close correlation between effective
persuasion and effective public relations, because both are concerned with symbolic control over
the environment. Effective, ethically defensible persuasion and effective, ethically defensible
public relations are virtually synonymous - in practice public relations professionals rely on
persuasive strategies frequently if not almost exclusively (Miller, 1989:45,63).
Van der Meiden (1993:9) also does not share in the viewpoint of Grunig and Hunt. She argues
that objective or neutral communication, as implied in the symmetric model, is not possible in
public relations, as the latter is inevitably a controlling instrument. As an organisation cannot
disconnect its communication activities from its immediate or remote interests, the public
relations function of that organisation is essentially a manipulating force. According to Van der
Meiden (1993:10), the distinctive perception of asymmetric and symmetric elements is neither
realistic nor practical, and cannot be a valid starting point for positioning public relations in
society.
Other critics of the symmetric model also claim that the approach is unrealistic or idealistic.
They argue that public relations professionals are appointed to advance the interests of their
organisations, and that clients would not appoint practitioners who do not practise asymmetric
public relations (Grunig & White, 1992:46). To this end, Grunig and Grunig (1992:312)
acknowledge that, in practice, professional public relations involves both asymmetric
(compliance-gaining) tactics and symmetric (problem-solving) tactics. They also acknowledge
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that the symmetric model is normative and idealistic. However, they describe the two-way
symmetric model as characteristic of excellent public relations, reporting research that shows
that the symmetric model is more ethical and effective than the other models (Grunig & Grunig,
1992:303-308).
3.2.2 Worldviews affecting the conceptualisation of public relations
Grunig and White (1992:31-64) attribute acceptance or criticism of the symmetric model, to
different worldviews. Broadly speaking, two worldviews have influenced practitioners and
scholars of public relations. The dominant worldview in public relations is that the latter is a
way of getting what an organisation wants, without changing its behaviour or compromising.
This dominant view in essence reflects an asymmetric worldview. Press agentry, public
information and two-way asymmetric models are practised from an asymmetric worldview.
They all attempt to change the behaviour of publics without changing the behaviour of the
organisation (Grunig and White, 1992:39).
The second worldview is, in essence, a symmetric worldview. A symmetric worldview sees
public relations as a non-zero-sum game in which competing organisations or groups can both
gain if they play the game right. Public relations is a tool by which organisations and competing
groups in a pluralistic system interact to manage conflict for the benefit of all (Grunig, 1992:9).
Grunig and White (1992:51) argue that both the dominant, asymmetric and the alternative,
symmetric worldview are influenced by presuppositions about the role of public relations in
society. They identify the following three worldviews on the social role of public relations,
which lead to asymmetric public relations: a pragmatic social role, a conservative social role and
a radical social role (Grunig & White, 1992:51-54).
The view of a pragmatic social role approaches public relations as a useful practice, something
that can be used to meet the objectives of an organisation in a way that benefits the organisation.
The pragmatic worldview sees society as composed of competing groups, target audiences and
markets, from whom commercial advantage is to be won. This view may also underlie
arguments against the development of codes of conduct or ethical standards, because they may
interfere with what can be done to achieve the client=s objectives.
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Public relations based on a conservative social role is essentially aimed at maintaining power by
defending the status quo and an ideal capitalist system from attack. The view of a radical social
role presupposes that public relations contributes to change and reform by providing power and
influence through knowledge and information. Both the latter two worldviews see public
relations as a tool to be used in a war among opposing social groups.
Grunig and White (1992:53-54) identify the following two worldviews on the social role of
public relations, which lead to symmetric public relations: an idealistic social role and a critical
social role.
The idealistic social role viewpoint assumes that a norm of reciprocity governs society and that
a diversity of views and their reconciliation lead to social progress. This worldview presupposes
that public relations serves the public interest, and facilitates a dialogue to develop mutual
understanding between organisations and their publics. The critical social role viewpoint sees
organisations and society as constructed systems which can be deconstructed and reconstructed.
Scholars and practitioners who operate from this worldview, criticise public relations for poor
ethics, negative social consequences or ineffectiveness, and advocate more effective practices.
In addition to presuppositions on the social role of public relations, Grunig and White (1992:49-
50; 54-55) identify another two factors which influence worldviews in public relations. These
include gender differences and technical vs managerial presuppositions about public relations.
With regard to gender differences, traditionally men were regarded as better managers because of
their inclination towards competition and toughness. The viewpoint is, however, emerging that
women=s preference for nurturance and relationships may be what is needed by managers in the
future. Grunig and White (1992:50) believe that the feminine worldview approximates the
symmetric worldview better than the masculine worldview, and predicts that the female majority
in public relations in many countries could move the field toward excellence, as the symmetric
worldview of most women begins to replace the more asymmetric worldview of most men.
Grunig and White (1992:55) also believe that the common view that public relations is a
technical function is associated with the press agentry and public information models of public
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relations and reinforces the asymmetric worldview. They argue that there is a need for both a
technical and a managerial role to move public relations to a position of excellence.
Grunig (1992:10) concludes that excellent public relations embodies a worldview that defines the
communication function in organisations as symmetric, idealistic, critical and managerial.
3.2.3 Hutton=s alternative framework to conceptualise public relations
An alternative framework to defining the field of public relations is provided by Hutton
(1999:199-212). Hutton (1999:212) challenges the wide acceptance of Grunig and Hunt=s four
models, arguing that these models do not meet the requirements of a theory, and have failed the
test of empirical confirmation. According to Hutton (1999:199), public relations still lacks a
central organising paradigm. For this reason he introduced a three-dimensional framework with
which to compare competing philosophies of public relations, and from which to build a
paradigm for the field. These dimensions also explain the substantive differences among various
orientations or definitions of public relations. These dimensions are referred to as the >Three Is=:
interest, initiative and image (Hutton, 1999:204):
* interest refers to the degree to which public relations is focused on client vs the public
interest. At one extreme lies a philosophy of >the public be damned=, while at the other
extreme lies a belief that the public=s interest should supersede the client=s interest.
* initiative refers to the extent to which the public relations function is reactive vs proactive.
Examples of pro-active techniques include stakeholder surveys, communication
audits, crisis planning, issues management and strategic communication planning.
* image refers to the extent to which an organisation is focused on perception vs reality, or
image vs substance. This dimension represents the general focus of an organisation=s
philosophy, thoughts and actions. A publicity stunt may represent one end of the
continuum and an anonymous corporate gift to a charity the other extreme.
Hutton (1999:205) argues that, while a given public relations function can cover a range of
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territory on each dimension, it is usually possible to locate an organisation=s general orientation
along each dimension.
According to Hutton (1999:205-208), the following six distinct orientations, models or
metaphors of public relations practice become apparent when the above framework is used to
analyse definitions of public relations:
* Persuasion. This includes those philosophies of public relations that are pro-active and
oriented towards persuading audiences to think or act in ways that benefit the client or
organisation.
* Advocacy. This is similar to persuasion in its intentions, but different in that it arises out
of controversy or active opposition. It is reactive in nature and is usually triggered by a
crisis or other catalyst.
* Public information. This refers to the style of public relations in which a client or
organisation serves primarily as an educator and information clearinghouse. Examples of
organisations practising such function include member service organisations and
government agencies.
* Cause-related public relations. This is also called crusading, compliments advocacy
insofar as it tends to serve a broader public interest rather than any special-interest group.
* Image/reputation management. This focuses on the image of the client or organisation,
as measured by its popularity or value.
* Relationship management. This is based on the identification of mutual interests, values
and benefits between a client or organisation and its publics. The emphasis is on mutual
trust, compromise, cooperation and, whenever possible, win-win situations.
Based on the argument that only the latter category has the power to serve as an organising
philosophy, Hutton (1999:208,211) proposes >relationship management= as a dominant paradigm
for modern public relations, together with the short definition >managing strategic relationships=.
Based on the latter definition and the framework of the >Three Is=, he formulates the following
hierarchy of public relations= primary role, functions and tactics (Hutton, 1999:211):
Definition
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>managing
strategic relationships=
Situational roles
persuader, advocate, educator, crusader,
information provider, reputation manager
Primary functions performed
research, image making, counselling, managing,
early warning, interpreting, communicating, negotiating
Tactics/tools utilised
publicity, product placement, news releases, speeches,
interpersonal communication, websites, publications, trade
shows, corporate identity programmes, corporate advertising programmes, etc.
Hutton (1999:211-212) suggests that the above hierarchy encourages scholars to distinguish
between the umbrella definition and the primary purpose of public relations in a given context, as
well as between public relations roles and their functions and tactics.
3.2.4 Definitions based on the symmetric model and Hutton=s paradigm
Both the definitions endorsed by IPRA and the South African national professional body for
public relations fit the two-way symmetric model, as well as Hutton=s proposed dominant
paradigm. The latter body used to be called the Public Relations Institute of Southern Africa
(PRISA), but was renamed in 2002 to PRISA, the Institute for Public Relations &
Communication Management (Moscardi, 2002b:1). The abbreviation >PRISA= will be used
hereafter in reference to this body.
IPRA endorses a definition formulated by Harlow (quoted by Windahl et al., 1992:89-90), which
reads as follows:
>Public relations is a distinctive management function which helps establish and maintain mutual
lines of communication, understanding, acceptance and cooperation between an organisation and
its publics; involves the management of problems or issues; helps management to keep
informed on and responsive to public opinions; defines and emphasises 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
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and sound and ethical communication techniques as its principal tools.=
The definition of PRISA reads as follows (Mersham & Skinner, 2001b:67):
>Public relations is the management, through communication, of perceptions and strategic
relationships between an organisation and its internal and external stakeholders.=
Other definitions that fit the two-way symmetric model include those adopted by many other
public relations societies worldwide. Two examples include the definition adopted by the
Institute of Public Relations (IPR) in Britain in 1987 (Mersham et al., 1995:10) and the often
quoted definition accepted by the First World Assembly of Public Relations Associations held in
Mexico City in 1978. The former definition reads as follows:
>Public relations practice is the planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain goodwill
and mutual understanding between an organisation and its publics= (IPR, 2002).
The latter definition reads as follows:
>Public relations is the art and social science of analysing trends, predicting their consequences,
counselling organisational leaders and implementing planned programmes of action which will
serve both the organisation and the public interest= (Steyn & Puth, 2000:4).
It seems that, in spite of scepticism from authors like Van der Meiden and Miller about the
application of a two-way symmetric model, definitions which endorse this model are widely
accepted today by professional associations in public relations. Many of these definitions also
endorse Hutton=s conceptualisation of public relations as >the management of strategic
relationships=.
3.3 RESEARCH PARADIGMS IN PUBLIC RELATIONS
Rhetorical, critical and systems perspectives are three major research paradigms apparent in the
body of knowledge of public relations (Toth, 1992:3-4). According to Toth (1992:3,12), these
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three perspectives are complementary, and, combined, provide for pluralistic studies that have
enriched understanding of the field of public relations.
3.3.1 The rhetorical perspective
This paradigm in public relations is primarily concerned with the use of symbolic behaviour to
create and influence relationships between an organisation and its publics (Toth, 1992:5). The
areas of corporate advocacy and issues management are of particular concern.
According to Bredenkamp (1997:87), the rhetorical approach can be and is used to put an
organisation=s best foot forward. Heath (1992b:24), however, argues that rhetoric can be viewed
as one-way, manipulative communication, but also as contested examination of issues and
actions - as dialogue. It can thus be deduced that the rhetoric perspective in public relations
could include both asymmetric and symmetric models.
3.3.2 The critical perspective
This paradigm also focuses on the symbolic processes of organisational behaviour, but with a
view to being confrontational towards organisational interests, power and domination (Toth,
1992:7,11). Heath (1992b:33) suggests that critical judgment is needed to improve skills and to
ensure that a profession is responsible and sound.
According to Heath (1992a:39), the critical perspective in public relations entails not only
examination of public relations tactics, but also standards and judgments regarding the worth of
statements in their service to society at large, and not merely the interest of the client or
organisation. If applied in this way, criticism is based on the norm provided by the symmetric
public relations model.
3.3.3 The systems perspective
The systems approach is multidisciplinary (Bredenkamp, 1997:84) and approaches organisations
as open systems consisting of subsystems and forming part of suprasystems (Grunig, 1989:38).
The systems perspective in public relations is based on the premise that organisations should
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concern themselves with the environment in order to survive, and seek to maintain an
equilibrium with their environment through input, throughput and output (Toth, 1992:8).
According to Toth (1992:11), systems theorists use criticism in search of excellence in public
relations.
Grunig and Hunt=s symmetric model approaches organisations as open systems (Grunig,
1989:38). As an open systems approach, the symmetric model is based on the following
presuppositions: equality; autonomy of people both inside and outside the organisation;
innovative thinking; decentralisation of management; responsibility; conflict resolution; and
interest group liberalism (Grunig, 1989:38-39).
3.4 THE DEFINITION AND PARADIGM SELECTED FOR THIS STUDY
In line with the endorsement of the symmetric model by professional public relations
associations through the definitions they adopt, this study accepts this model as the most suitable
portrayal of excellent public relations. By the same token, the study accepts the worldview that
defines the public relations function as idealistic, critical and managerial. Being normative and
idealist, the symmetric model complements the normative definition of globalisation formulated
for this study, and the responsibility the study assigns to public relations to contribute to
harmony and unity in the global community. The acceptance of the symmetric model for a study
based on the presupposition that technikons should function as learning systems in a global
environment, is also in line with Grunig and Grunig=s argument (1992:298) that the practice of
two-way symmetric public relations is especially important when environments are complex and
turbulent. According to Dozier and Ehling (1992:182), the concept of symmetry suggests that an
organisation should adjust to the environment on which its survival and growth depends. In the
process, the organisation itself changes.
Furthermore, it is not accepted that symmetric public relations excludes the use of rhetoric and
control. It is assumed that public relations can serve the well-being of society while
simultaneously functioning as a controlling instrument. A programme aimed at social
investment and development is, in the opinion of the author, a case in point. While the goal of
such a programme is aimed at the well-being of the recipient, the communication applied to
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reach this goal is of a controlling nature, as it involves changing the behaviour of both the
organisation implementing the programme and the social, economic and physical conditions of
the community the programme is aimed at.
At the same time, this study accepts Hutton=s proposal of relationship management as a dominant
paradigm for public relations. In spite of Hutton=s criticism of Grunig and Hunt=s four models,
the relationship paradigm fits the symmetric model of public relations.
However, while Harlow=s definition endorsed by IPRA and Hutton=s hierarchy set out above, are
accepted as a summary of the most important functions of public relations for the purpose of this
investigation, the study needs a definition which emphasises the responsibility of public relations
towards the global community. A definition formulated by Kendall (1992:15) is suitable for this
purpose, as it focuses on the social responsibility aspect of public relations and its commitment
to the well-being of society as a whole:
>Public relations is a phenomenon within societies by which advocates of a social entity manage
that organisation=s performance in the public interest in order to:
* nurture mutually beneficial associations with all groups interdependent with the
organisation, by means of
* the responsible use of all the appropriate instruments of one- and two-way
communication.=
This definition has certain implications which are of special importance to this study. It implies
firstly that the ethical function of public relations is social welfare, and secondly, that public
relations activity involves the intentional advancement of a cause. It also implies that an entity=s
performance should conform to what is in the best interest of the entire society - in this case the
global society - and that its social responsibility should be proactive rather than reactive
(Kendall, 1992:15-16).
Kendall=s definition reinforces the view of the public relations function as the >social conscience=
(Leonard & Ströh, 2000b:36; Verwey, 2000:64) of organisations. According to Black
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(2000:105), social stability and ethical behaviour are the essential underpinning of public
relations. Leonard and Ströh (2000b:42), in turn, assign to public relations the role to operate as
the ethical and moral consciousness of an organisation, and to help guide the establishment of
organisational values, which will determine the nature of all external behaviour.
Kendall=s definition also corresponds with the view that public relations strives towards harmony
in society. Seib and Fitzpatrick (1995:1) describe the moral purpose of public relations as that of
social harmony. Through their work, public relations professionals promote peaceful existence
among individuals and institutions. >Serving the public interest while serving one=s own has
always been the hallmark of good public relations work= (Seib & Fitzpartick, 1995:2). Black
(2000:104) reinforces this view by arguing that public relations is conditioned by reputation,
credibility, confidence, harmony and mutual understanding.
Kendall=s definition is extended, for the purpose of this study, to cover the global community, to
make provision for the practice of public relations across borders and globalisation in public
relations. Transnational public relations is known as international public relations, an area that
has grown extensively since the advent of globalisation (Black, 2000:103).
Wilcox et al. (1992:409) define international public relations as >the planned and organised effort
of a company, institution or government to establish mutually beneficial relations with the
publics of other nations=. They define these publics as >the various groups of people who are
affected by, or who can affect, the operations of a particular firm, institution or government.
Each public is united by a common interest vis-à-vis the entity seeking acceptance of its product
or programs= (Wilcox et al., 1992:410).
Globalisation in public relations implies, firstly, relationships that exist across national borders
and, secondly, relationships - even in one country - which are influenced by global developments
(White & Mazur, 1995:18). Globalisation in public relations furthermore implies that the
functions of public relations as the social conscience of an organisation, striving towards
harmony in society, are extended to the global society.
International public relations through globalisation necessitates an appreciation of the
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sensitivities of unfamiliar organisations and individuals, that need to be harmonised (Black,
2000:106). It superimposes an overall perspective on a programme executed in two or more
national markets, recognising the similarities among audiences, while necessarily adapting to
regional differences (Anderson, quoted by Grunig & Grunig, 2000). International public
relations should thus include central consideration of cultural diversity (Banks, 1995:32),
planning globally, but acting locally (Black, 2000:103).
Kendall=s definition - extended globally - could contribute towards recognising the full potential
of public relations on a global basis. The focus of this definition on ethical behaviour that is in
the best interest of the entire society, corresponds with the point of departure of this study,
namely that public relations practice and education could contribute towards the common good
of the global society.
By focusing on the relationship between public relations and global integration, the study
emphasises the potential of public relations to contribute to a move towards global consciousness
and understanding. If public relations practitioners and educators aim their public relations
activities towards global unity, they practise public relations in its mature form, as represented by
the symmetric model. In addition, they follow the emerging paradigm of energy and
connectivity, as discussed in Chapter 1 (see Section 1.3).
The research paradigm adopted for this study is the systems approach. This study, with its focus
on public relations education programmes, and technikons as systems being influenced by global
changes, needs a research paradigm which allows investigation of how these systems are
influenced by, and need to adapt, to the global macrosystem. The systems paradigm is regarded
as best suited for this purpose, as it allows for critical focus on global influences (input) and
skills, knowledge and attitudes that need to be transferred (throughput and output). The systems
perspective also allows for the incorporation of a global mindset, network thinking, chaos theory
and the requirements of learning organisations into the paradigm chosen for this study. This
paradigm makes it possible to focus on the turbulent nature of the global macrosystem as a
Network Society, and is in line with the acceptance of Kendall=s definition, extended globally.
3.5 APPROACHES TO REVIEWING THE HISTORICAL DEVELOPMENT OF
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PUBLIC RELATIONS
According to Lubbe (1994a:3), the historical development of public relations can be reviewed
from either a systems or a structural perspective. The systems approach focuses on the widening
scope of public relations in relation to the social and economic development of a society,
whereas the structural approach depicts the professionalisation of public relations in terms of the
establishment of professional bodies, codes of conduct, accreditation, etc.
In the available literature, the earlier history of public relations is discussed mostly from a
systems perspective, whereas the state of public relations in its modern form is discussed mostly
from a structural perspective.
According to Roodt (1988:18), the knowledge dimension can be regarded as the most
fundamental requirement in the professionalisation of any profession, and particularly of public
relations. According to a model of professionalisation formulated by De Beer (1982:13-14), the
knowledge dimension of professionalisation comprises the following attributes: knowledge,
education, skills, research and subject literature.
As education, the topic of this study, is one of the attributes of professionalisation, it can be
deduced that a discussion of public relations development in terms of the structural approach will
be more relevant to this study. Therefore, while a brief overview is provided of the development
of public relations according to the systems approach, the emphasis in the rest of the chapter is
on the structural approach.
3.6 HISTORICAL DEVELOPMENT OF PUBLIC RELATIONS IN TERMS OF THE
SYSTEMS APPROACH
A study of the available literature on public relations history from a systems approach reveals
two tendencies.
The first is to focus on the changing role of public relations as it adapted to changes in the
environment. The four models formulated by Grunig and Hunt, as discussed in Section 3.2.1, are
a case in point. Grunig and Hunt (1984:25) even assign certain historical periods to each
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developmental model: press agentry - 1850-1900; public information - 1900-1920; two-way
asymmetric - 1920s onward; and two-way symmetric - 1960s onward.
Another case in point is the identification by Aranoff and Baskin (1983:15-19) of three major
phases in the development of public relations - manipulation, information and mutual influence
and understanding. Manipulation is associated mostly with the techniques of 19th century press
agents, information with the work of the publicity officers at the beginning of the 20th century
and mutual influence and understanding with public relations as a management function in its
modern form.
The second tendency is to link public relations to historical events and periods in the world.
Such a study of public relations history reflects the social, economic, political and technological
changes the world went through, the influences of these changes on communication and the
impact of public opinion.
The origin of public relations is, for example, linked to efforts to inform and persuade in the
earliest civilisations. Seitel (2001:25-26), Cutlip et al. (2000:102), Wilcox et al. (1992:36),
Moore and Kalupa (1985:24) and Grunig and Hunt (1984:15) refer to techniques used by leaders
in ancient societies such as those of Egypt, Greece, India and Iraq, to inform, to persuade and to
impress. Wilcox et al. (1992:36), Truter (1991:35-37), Grunig and Hunt (1984:15) and Van der
Meiden and Fauconnier (1982:121-122) refer to Biblical figures like David, Solomon, John the
Baptist and Paul, who understood the art of influencing large groups of people. Reilly (1987:13)
also refers to historical persons like Napoleon, Catherine the Great and Charles Dickens as
examples of public figures who used public relations techniques to promote personal image and
to influence public opinion.
The development of public relations is also discussed with reference to: propaganda by the early
Roman Catholic Church (Seitel, 2001:26; Wilcox et al., 1992:36); the invention of the printing
press by Gutenberg and the development of mass communication (Truter, 1991:36; Grunig &
Hunt, 1984:16-17); social changes such as the Renaissance and Reformation, the rise of
Humanism and the abolition of censorship (Grunig & Hunt, 1984:17); economic changes
brought about by industrialisation (Seitel, 2001:29; Wilcox et al., 1992:42); political changes
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such as the American Revolution (Cutlip et al., 2000:102; Grunig & Hunt, 1984:17) and the rise
of trade unions (Truter, 1991:37); technological development and the onrush of the global
information age (Cutlip et al., 2000:135-136); and the emergence of consumer rights and activist
organisations (Grunig & Hunt, 1984:13,18).
Cutlip et al. (2000:106) also link the most important growth periods in public relations to some
of the world=s most significant crisis periods such as World Wars I and II, the wars in Vietnam
and Korea, the Great Depression, the Cold War, the invasion of Panama and the Persian Gulf
War.
3.7 HISTORICAL DEVELOPMENT OF PUBLIC RELATIONS IN TERMS OF THE
STRUCTURAL APPROACH
A structural approach to the history of public relations focuses on its professional development.
The discussion that follows focuses mainly on aspects of developmental history which relate to
professional bodies and education.
3.7.1 American development
This section provides an overview of the development of public relations practice and education
in the USA.
3.7.1.1 Public relations practice
Public relations as it is known today originated in America (Seitel, 2001:30-31; Jefkins, 1992:5;
Grunig & Hunt, 1984:14). Public relations in this country has in fact produced many >firsts=.
The first book on public relations, Crystallizing Public Opinion, was written in 1923 by Edward
Bernays, an American whom Grunig and Hunt (1984:39) regard as >the intellectual= of early
public relations.
The oldest existing public relations society, the Religious Public Relations Council, was formed
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in America in 1929 (Jackson, 1988:28). The American Council on Public Relations was formed
in 1939 (Seitel, 1992:39). In 1947 this organisation merged with two others societies to form the
Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) (Grunig & Hunt, 1984:41). In 1968 the Public
Relations Student Society of America was founded by the PRSA, to facilitate communication
between students and professionals (Seitel, 2001:38). The PRSA adopted its Code of Conduct in
1954 and in 1964 approved a voluntary accreditation scheme, whereby it accredited members by
means of an examination (Skinner et al., 2001:20).
An umbrella organisation, the North American Public Relations Council, was founded in 1980 to
produce a uniform accreditation system and code of ethics (Jackson, 1988:28). This council was
later replaced by the Universal Accreditation Board. Accreditation is still a voluntary
programme in America today, and is available to practitioners with at least five years of
experience (UAB, 2001).
The PRSA also formed a task force in 1986 to develop guidelines for professional development,
and to codify a body of knowledge for public relations in America. This body of knowledge was
published in 1986 (Jackson, 1988:28).
Today the PRSA is the world=s largest organisation for public relations. It has nearly 20 000
members, organised into over 100 chapters (PRSA, 2001).
The PRSA assists with education of Russian public relations students by means of a joint PRSARussian
Public Relations Association (RPRA) programme established in 1992. This programme
enables Russian students to do an internship in America (Epley, 1993:4).
The PRSA decided in 1997 to make global outreach one of its priorities. A Global Initiatives
Committee was consequently formed, to open the lines of communication with other public
relations associations regarding the idea of global collaboration (Pelfrey, 2001:39).
Another influential public relations body in America is the International Association of Business
Communicators (IABC), founded in 1970 (Skinner et al., 2001:20) as an international network,
aiming to improve the effectiveness of organisations through strategic interactive and integrated
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business communication management. This organisation has more than 13 700 members in over
58 countries all over the world. The IABC has its headquarters in San Francisco, and is
organised into chapters in different districts and regions. The South African chapter of the IABC
is based in Johannesburg. The IABC also has a research and development arm in the form of the
IABC Research Foundation (IABC, 2001).
3.7.1.2 Public relations education
The first course in public relations was taught by Edward Bernays at the New York University in
1922 (Grunig & Hunt, 1984:39). The first master=s programme in public relations was
established at Boston University in 1947 (Ogbondah & Pratt, 1991-1992:37). The first education
department in public relations was established in 1949 at the Boston University (Jackson,
1988:28). Thereafter followed a period of phenomenal growth in public relations education. By
1951, twelve American universities had introduced education programmes in public relations
(Seitel, 2001:38). Post-graduate courses were introduced on large scale in the late 1970s (Hesse,
1984:22). Today, approximately 300 colleges and universities in America offer at least one
course dealing with public relations. Of these, approximately 200 offer a public relations
sequence or degree programme (Seitel, 2001:38).
An organisation that plays a major role in public relations education in the USA is the
Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC). The AEJMC has
a Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, which accredits public relations
sequences in schools of journalism and mass communication (IPRA, 1990:25). The AEJMC has
a membership of approximately 3 300 from more than 30 countries (AEJMC, 2001).
3.7.2 International development
This section provides an overview of the development of public relations practice and education
at an international level.
3.7.2.1 Public relations practice
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Formal professional organisation of public relations came into being in Europe in the late 1940s
and early 1950s. The second known public relations society in the world was formed in the
Netherlands in 1948 (Van der Meiden & Fauconnier, 1982:127). A public relations society was
established in the same year in England (Skinner et al., 2001:21). The Public Relations Institute
of Ireland (PRII) was founded in 1953 (Carty, 1993:21).
According to Josephs and Josephs (1994:14), the UK has the second biggest public relations
industry in the world, surpassed only by America in size and dynamism. This view is reinforced
by White (1991:183), who refers to the UK as >the second most developed centre of public
relations practice after the USA=. The Institute of Public Relations in Britain is also the largest
professional association for public relations in Europe (Anon., 1998:29).
The European Confederation of Public Relations (Confederation Europeenne des Relations
Publiques - CERP), a regional confederation, was established in 1959 (Skinner et al., 2001:21).
CERP established a body charged with the development of public relations and research in
Europe. It was called CEDET. In 1990 CEDET became a new body called CERP Education.
Full membership is restricted to colleges and individuals concerned with public relations
education in Europe. Colleges and persons outside Europe may, however, become
correspondence members (Black, 1990b:15).
The 1960s and 1970s saw professional bodies for public relations emerging all over the globe.
Examples include: the Public Relations Institute of Australia (PRIA), formed in 1960 (Wilcox et
al., 1992:47); the Arab Public Relations Society, founded in 1966 (Borhan, 1993:19); the
Advanced Institute for Press and Public Relations, established in Iran in 1970 (Kamalipour &
Rad, 1997:30); Asean, a public relations body representing the South East Asian region and
formed in 1967; and the Federation of Asian Public Relations Organisations based in the
Philippines and formed in 1977 (Noeradi, 1992:39).
According to Seitel (2001:476), public relations evolved more slowly in Asia than in the West,
although sharp growth in this region was experienced in the 1990s. Asian countries with active
public relations sectors include Japan, Korea, Indonesia, Taiwan, Singapore (Hickson, 1998:26;
Seitel, 2001:476), the Philippines (Virtusio, 1998:23), HongKong, India, Pakistan, Malaysia and
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Thailand (IPRA, 2001c).
Public relations developed rapidly in China after it was first introduced to the country in 1981.
By 1990 nearly every Chinese city had an active public relations society. The first academic
programme in public relations was introduced at Shenzhen University in 1985. By 1990 more
than 100 universities and colleges offered public relations education. Shenzhen University=s
distance learning programme also reaches students from HongKong and Macao (Black, 1990-
1991:29-30).
According to Seitel (2001:475), the public relations field in Latin America is most developed in
Mexico, where most corporations have public relations departments, and many employ local or
American public relations agencies. Tertiary institutions in this country also offer education in
public relations. Kotcher (1998:26) foresees that, in the light of flourishing media fuelled by
democratic reforms, and the growth of online communication in this region, public relations will
play an increasingly critical role in Latin America. Seitel (2001:475) also predicts growth in the
industry in this region, especially as far as Argentina, Brazil, Venezuela and Chile are concerned.
Public relations started growing in the former Eastern Bloc after the collapse of communism in
this region. The Hungarian Public Relations Association (HPRA) was formed in 1990 (Tabori &
Szeles, 1992:41) and has since developed an accreditation process modelled after that of the
PRSA (Hiebert, 1994:364). The Soviet Public Relations Association and the Polish Public
Relations Association were also founded soon after the demise of the Iron Curtain (Anon.,
1992a:14). Examples of other Eastern Bloc countries where public relations associations were
formed include Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, the
Ukraine (IPRA, 2001c) and Estonia (GAPR&CM, 2001). IPRA also established the Eastern
European Task Force to deal with matters relating to these countries (Tabori & Szeles, 1992:41).
Although press freedom became a reality in the former Soviet Bloc in the 1990s, Hiebert
(1994:364) points out that public relations was slower than advertising to emerge from
communism. Guth (1998:53) adds that, in Russia, public relations in the commercial sector is
still lagging behind that of public relations in the government sector, as far as development is
concerned. Seitel (2001:477), however, suggests that the approximately 370 million consumers
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in Eastern Europe and the well-established mass communication system in the region mean that
the prospects for public relations expansion are immense. Djuric (1998:24) further points to
considerable growth in the number of public relations practitioners in the former Yugoslavia,
especially in banks and privately-owned companies.
According to Seitel (2001:478), the public relations profession is less active in the Middle East,
although it is growing in this region. Seitel (2001:478) mentions the admission of 20 women
students into the public relations major programme at the United Arab Emirates University in Al-
Ain in 1995, as a sign of the growth of public relations in the Middle East, and cites Saudi
Arabia as an example of a country where there is an increased recognition of the significance of
public relations. Another example is Iran, where the first book on public relations was published
in 1966 and the first B.A. degree in public relations was introduced in 1983 (Kamalipour & Rad,
1997:31). Egypt is said to be the first country in the Middle East to look upon public relations as
a profession. The Arab Public Relations Society is based in Egypt, but includes members from
other Middle Eastern countries. Since its inception this association has participated in more than
50 conferences and world congresses (Borhan, 1993:19).
International organisation of public relations originated in Europe. The idea came into being in
1949 when two Dutch and four British public relations persons met in London to discuss
international liaison. They formed an international committee, which eventually led to the
establishment of IPRA in 1955 (IPRA, s.a.: 1,8). IPRA held its first congress in 1958 in Brussels
(Oeckl, 1976:2).
This body aims to bring together public relations practitioners at a global level to further the
skills and ethics of the profession. The UN recognises IPRA as an NGO. IPRA also holds a
consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council, and has been awarded the right to
participate in UNESCO-funded programmes (IPRA, 2001a).
IPRA formulated its first code of conduct in 1961. In 1965 the organisation adopted the Code of
Athens, a European code of professional conduct formulated in the same year by CERP (Skinner
et al., 2001:21). This is a moral code, inspired by the UN Declaration of Human Rights (IPRA,
2001b). IPRA publishes a journal which was recently renamed IPRA Frontline (IPRA, 2001a:3).
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Today IPRA has members in 92 countries all over the world, including Europe, the Americas,
Asia, Britain, Scandinavia and Iceland, Africa, the Middle East, Australia and New Zealand, as
well as on various islands (IPRA, 2001c).
IPRA is instrumental in assisting the growth of public relations in emerging markets such as
Russia, Bulgaria and Estonia, and runs the world=s largest public relations website and Internet egroup
(Sutherland, 2001).
IPRA also has a student section, membership of which is open to students of public relations
worldwide. Membership entitles students to IPRA=s virtual library and publications, as well as a
student members= chat room and guestbook on IPRA=s website (IPRA, 2002a).
Other regional public relations federations in the world include the Inter-American
Confederation of Public Relations Associations (FIARP), based in Argentina and Uruguay
(IPRA, 2001c), and the Pan-Pacific Public Relations Federation (PPPRF), based in Thailand
(Skinner et al., 2001:22).
There are also a number of global organisations in the field of communication, examples of
which include: the International Communication Association (ICA); the World Communication
Association (WCA) (Gibson, 1992-1993:47); the International Association for Media and
Communication Research (IAMCR); the International Society for Intercultural Education,
Training and Research (SIETAR); and the International Federation of Communication
Associations (IFCA) (IAMCR, 2001; IFCA, 2001; SIETAR, 2001).
3.7.2.2 Public relations education
A principle objective of IPRA is the encouragement of education (IPRA, 1997:5). Through its
involvement with the UN and UNESCO, it contributes to public relations education, particularly
in developing countries (IPRA, s.a.:7).
Since the first public relations course was introduced in America in 1923, public relations
education has been developing at educational institutions for eight decades. However, it was
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only after the publication of IPRA=s Gold Paper No. 4 in 1982 that there has been major
international development in public relations education beyond the basic bachelor=s degree
(IPRA, 1990:6).
This Gold Paper was the result of work of an International Commission for Public Relations
Education, set up in 1980 to assist the IPRA Education and Research Committee to produce a
model and recommendations for public relations education worldwide. Based on the belief that
public relations should have an intellectual base, and aiming to provide students with a common
body of knowledge, it was suggested in Gold Paper No. 4, among other recommendations, that
public relations education should go beyond the bachelor=s degree (IPRA, 1982:4-6).
Since then, major post-graduate courses in public relations have been introduced. Examples
include: an M.A. in European Public Relations, introduced in 1991, and offered jointly by
universities in Britain, Belgium, France, Italy and Portugal; an M.Sc. degree in public relations
offered by the University of Scotland; an M.Sc. degree in communication specialising in public
relations, offered by the University of Helsinki; and an M.Sc. in public relations started by the
Nigerian Institute of Public Relations in association with the University of Nigeria (Okereke,
1993:23; IPRA, 1990:31,34-36 ). Stirling University in Britain started an M.Sc. degree in public
relations by distance learning in 1991. This course is also available to students outside Britain
(Black, 1990b:16). India also started preparing for the introduction of public relations graduate
programmes at various universities (Basu, 1992:10).
Public relations education worldwide is also available in the form of certificate and diploma
courses offered by various kinds of institutions, including professional public relations
associations. In some countries, such as Switzerland and the Netherlands, the latter enjoys
official government recognition (IPRA, 1990:26). In some countries, such as Australia and New
Zealand, the local public relations association formally accredits courses in public relations
(Ferreira, 2000:67).
Foreign individuals and organisations have been instrumental in assisting the countries of the
former Eastern Bloc to introduce education programmes in public relations. For example, an
education model based on international standards was developed in the former Yugoslavia in the
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early 1990s in collaboration with IPRA and Prof. Van der Meiden from the Netherlands (Djuric,
1998:25). And in Russia, American universities, private foundations and government agencies
have assisted in the establishment of education programmes at various universities and colleges
(Guth, 1998:54).
3.7.3 African development
This section provides a brief overview of the development of public relations practice and
education on the African continent.
3.7.3.1 South African development
3.7.3.1.1 Public relations practice
The structural development of public relations on the African continent first started in South
Africa. Although professional organisation in the country started somewhat later than in
America and Western Europe, public relations saw a massive growth in the last four decades of
the last century. South Africa has two >firsts= to its credit, being the first country to research and
evolve a body of knowledge for public relations (Skinner et al., 2001:3), and the first public
relations institute in the world to obtain certification for quality management from the
International Standards Organisation (ISO), a body for quality assurance (PRISA, 2002a). In
terms of membership, PRISA is the third largest public relations institute in the world behind
PRSA and the IPR in Britain (Rowe, 2002:4).
The first public relations officer in the country was appointed by the South African Railways in
1943, and the first public relations consultancy was established in Johannesburg in 1948 (Skinner
et al., 2001:22).
The profession in this country is organised into PRISA, which was established in 1957 (Skinner
et al., 2001:22). By 2002 PRISA had more than 4 400 members in sub-regions throughout South
Africa and neighbouring countries, as well as countries such as Canada, America, Australia and
Britain (Richardson, 2002).
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The PRISA Students= Association, now known as the Public Relations Student Chapter (PRSC),
was launched in 1995. PRISA holds regular student conferences and publishes a newsletter for
members of the PRSC (Anon., 1995b:1). PRISA also has a chapter for consultants.
PRISA established a directorate in Johannesburg in 1986 (Anon., 1986:2), and has a full-time
staff who coordinate various membership services.
Members of PRISA subscribe to a code of conduct based on the international Code of Athens
and the IPRA Code of Conduct (Lubbe, 1994a:5).
In 1993 PRISA introduced a new system for membership registration, by which points are
allocated, based on qualifications and experience, to determine an individual member=s level of
membership. The new registration system makes provision for the following membership
categories: Affiliate and Associate (non-voting), Public Relations Practitioner (PRP), Chartered
Public Relations Practitioner (CPRP) and Accredited in Public Relations (APR) (Skinner et al.,
2001:22-23).
The South African body of knowledge for public relations was completed in 1980 as part of
PRISA=s professionalisation action launched in the late 1970s (Krause, quoted by Ferreira,
1990:34).
PRISA appointed its first education committee in 1957, and introduced its first short course in
1958 (Lean, quoted by Roodt, 1988:60). The Institute appointed a full-time director of education
(now called managing director) in 1989 (Ferreira, 1990:36), and has since established the PRISA
Education & Training Centre (PE&TC) - which is registered as a separate company - at its
directorate in Johannesburg. Full-time staff members of the PE&TC serve on the advisory
committees for public relations education at a number of technikons, and also act as moderators
for the subjects Public Relations III and IV for a number of technikons in the country. In
addition, the managing director of the PE&TC serves on the NSB for Business, Commerce and
Management Studies, and two other staff members serve on the SGB for Public Relations and
Communication Management (Van Niekerk, 2002a).
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The PE&TC is conditionally registered as a private higher educational institution by the South
African Department of Education (PE&TC, 2002:3). The Centre offers a number of public
relations courses including introductory, specialisation and continuing education learning
programmes; a public relations management course aimed at senior practitioners; and a threeyear
tertiary diploma. In designing these courses, PRISA made provision for a non-formal career
path as well as a formal career path in public relations, both leading to accreditation status. The
formal career path is followed by candidates who have a three-year diploma or degree, whereas
the non-formal path is followed by candidates without matric (PE&TC, 2002:3,5).
PRISA has a licence agreement with several commercial colleges in South Africa and
neighbouring countries, as well as a number of technikons to offer some of its courses (PE&TC,
2001b).
In terms of an agreement signed with Technikon Witwatersrand in 2000, graduates of the threeyear
PRISA Diploma can further their studies at this technikon through higher degrees in Public
Relations Management (Anon., 2000:4). The PRISA Diploma is also recognised internationally
by the IPR in Britain. This is the first qualification outside Britain which has been recognised by
the IPR (Anon., 2001b:5).
The PE&TC facilitates an annual academic conference which is attended by academics involved
with public relations and communication education (PE&TC, 2001a:3). The first conference of
this kind was held in 1992. In the same year PRISA introduced an educator=s award, a prize
awarded annually to a meritorious public relations educator (Anon., 1992b:5). The first award
was presented in 1993 (Moscardi & Honiball, 1993:6). The Institute=s magazine, Communika,
also has a regular section on education.
PRISA introduced a voluntary accreditation examination in 1987 (Skinner & Von Essen,
1995:23). Accreditation enables a practitioner to use the designation APR as a symbol of
professional status (Skinner et al., 2001:23). A new system for accreditation, doing away with
the written examination, was introduced in 1997 (Anon., 1997:1). The new process was based
on an oral assessment, and one of two routes could be followed to gain admission. The first was
successful completion of the PE&TC course in Public Relations Management, while the second
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entailed presenting a proposal document. In both instances candidates first had to obtain 70
points under the PRISA registration system, which means that comprehensive experience in the
practice or teaching of public relations was required (PRISA, 2001). In January 2003 the
accreditation examination process was changed again, with the new format consisting of selfstudy,
a two-day workshop and both written and oral assessments (Moscardi, 2002b:1).
PRISA negotiated cross-recognition of qualifications with other countries, resulting in
accreditation status of PRISA members being recognised in the USA, Canada, Britain, Australia
and New Zealand (Anon., 2002:22; PE&TC, 2001a:4).
A process is also underway to register PRISA=s accreditation programme with the National
Qualifications Framework in South Africa, which will mean that APR status will be recognised
by the Government as a professional qualification (Van Niekerk, 2002a).
PRISA=s contact with the rest of Africa takes place mainly through IPRA. The PRISA
Directorate also occasionally receives newsletters from public relations societies in Kenya,
Zimbabwe and Nigeria. Some consultants in Africa use PRISA for networking, while countries
such as Nigeria and Mozambique send practitioners to South Africa to complete PRISA courses
(Van Niekerk, 2002a).
Apart from PRISA, there are a number of smaller public relations societies in South Africa.
Examples include the Institute for Municipal Public Relations Officers (IMPRO); the Southern
Africa Institute of Fundraising (SAIF); UNITECH, the organisation that unites public relations
practitioners employed by technikons and universities; and the Exhibition Association of
Southern Africa (EXSA) (EXSA, 2000; Moscardi, 2002a; SAIF, s.a.).
3.7.3.1.2 Public relations education
According to Roodt (1988:59), public relations education is by far the most developed
knowledge attribute of the profession in South Africa. At tertiary level, public relations can be
studied at public and private universities and colleges, technikons, through the Institute of
Administration and Commerce (IAC) and through PRISA.
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At public universities in South Africa, public relations is taught as part of a degree in
communication, journalism and media studies, communication management or business
communication (Anon., 1995a:12-13). Students may also continue their studies and specialise in
public relations at the honours, master=s and doctoral level. At some universities, public relations
is also taught as a separate management function, as part of business economics within a
bachelor of commerce degree (Moscardi & Honiball, 1993:5) or an MBA. A number of
universities have also recently introduced structured master=s degrees in corporate
communication. Examples include the Rand Afrikaans University (RAU), Potchefstroom
University for Christian Higher Education (PU for CHE) and the University of the Free State
(UFS).
Communication education at universities began in South Africa in 1960 when the PU for CHE
launched a degree programme in journalism. The University of South Africa (UNISA) followed,
with the introduction of a post-graduate diploma in journalism in 1963 (Gerbner & Schramm,
1990:17), which was replaced by a degree programme in communication in 1969 (Fourie,
1990:3). After this, many other universities introduced degrees in communication, with
subdisciplines like mass communication and public relations (Fourie, 1990:2). In 1978 the
Southern African Communication Association (SACOMM) was founded, to promote
Communication Science as an academic discipline (SACOMM, 1995:1). In 1999, SACOMM
expressed an interest in joining IFCA, and intends to do so when the envisaged restructuring of
the former association is completed (Ströh, 1999:1-2).
A three-year N Dip Public Relations was introduced in 1981 at Technikon Witwatersrand,
Technikon Pretoria, Natal Technikon (now called the Durban Institute of Technology) and Cape
Technikon. By the mid-1980s, the Port Elizabeth Technikon, ML Sultan Technikon (now also
part of the Durban Institute of Technology) and Vaal Triangle Technikon had also introduced
this programme (Ferreira, 1990:38). Technikon SA introduced this diploma, as a distance
learning programme, in 1994.
In 1988 a task group was formed by the relevant technikons, to revise the existing diploma and to
plan further qualifications in public relations (Ferreira, 1990:39). The revised diploma and two
new qualifications, the National Higher Diploma and the M Tech Diploma in Public Relations,
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were approved by the Minister of National Education in 1991 (Garbers, 1991:1; Klopper,
1991:1). In 1993 the Technikon Act (no. 125) was amended, allowing technikons to issue
degrees (SA, 1993:1-26). The Higher and M Tech diplomas have consequently been phased out,
and replaced by the four-year B Tech and a five-year M Tech degree in Public Relations
Management, approved by the Minister of Education in 1994. The D Tech degree in Public
Relations Management was approved by the Minister in the same year (Strydom, 1994:1). The
name of the three-year diploma simultaneously changed to that of N Dip in Public Relations
Management.
Eastern Cape Technikon started offering the N Dip in Public Relations Management in 2002
(Ndaba, 2002).
The IAC introduced a three-year course in management with specialisation in public relations in
1987 (Ferreira, 1990:39). The IAC administers the examination and the course can be studied
through various colleges (IAC, 2001).
In accordance with the Higher Education Act (1997), private higher education providers are
required to register with the South African Department of Education. The courses that these
institutions offer are accredited by the Council on Higher Education (CHE), established in 1998
(SAQA, 2002b). In accordance with a new academic policy for higher education, including a
diploma/degree structure, private and foreign higher education providers can apply to the CHE to
offer degrees (CHE, 2002). PRISA has submitted an application to change its three-year
diploma to a degree course (Van Niekerk, 2002b), while a number of private institutions, such as
the Graduate Academy of South Africa, Bond South Africa and the Midrand Graduate Institute,
have conditionally registered degree courses in public relations or communication with SAQA
(SAQA, 2002a).
An honours degree in communication, the three-year N Dip in Public Relations Management
offered by technikons and PRISA=s three-year diploma are all accepted by PRISA as equal
qualifications for membership registration purposes (PRISA, 2002b). Private education
providers who offer three-year diploma or degree courses in public relations still need to apply to
PRISA to obtain formal recognition of those courses for registration purposes (Van Niekerk,
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2002b).
3.7.3.2 Development on the rest of the continent
This section provides a brief overview of the development of public relations practice and
education on the rest of the African continent.
3.7.3.2.1 Public relations practice
In most countries in the rest of Africa, professional organisation in public relations started later
than in South Africa (Ferreira, 1999:32). One exception is Zimbabwe, where an association for
public relations - now called the Zimbabwe Institute of Public Relations (ZIPR) - was also
established in 1957 (Dickens, 1997).
According to Rhodes and Baker (1994:287), in the Southern African region, the practice of
public relations is most advanced in South Africa and Zimbabwe. In the other nine countries,
public relations is served by few practitioners, although the industry is growing in size.
Swaziland recently formed its own public relations association (IPRA, 2001c), while Botswana,
Lesotho and Namibia rely on neighbouring PRISA for professional organisation and education
and development (Ferreira, 1999:36). PRISA has recently formed chapters for practitioners in
Namibia and Botswana (Van Niekerk, 2002a).
Examples of public relations societies established not long after PRISA include: the Nigerian
Institute of Public Relations, formed in 1963 in the form of the then Public Relations Association
of Nigeria; the Public Relations Society of Kenya, established in 1971; the Sudan Public
Relations Association, formed in 1973; and the Public Relations Association of Uganda, formed
in 1976 (Mutabaah, quoted by Ferreira, 1999:32; Njuguna, quoted by Ferreira, 1999:38;
Borhan, 1993:19; Ogunmakin, 1993:71-73).
In 1975 an organisation that attempts to unite public relations practitioners in Africa was formed
in Nairobi, and named the Federation of African Public Relations Associations (FAPRA)
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(Opukah, 1992:16). FAPRA was established to cover both the Francophone and Anglophone
parts of Africa, although Opukah (1993:15) regards the Anglophone sector as more active as far
as public relations is concerned.
3.7.3.2.2 Public relations education
Education courses in public relations in Africa are varied, and range from in-service training by
employers and within government ministries (Mazrui, quoted by Ferreira, 1999:39) to formal
tertiary diploma, degree and post-degree courses. A variety of short courses are offered in
different countries by development agencies, professional institutes and private colleges
(Ferreira, 1999:39-40,47). At tertiary level, many public relations programmes in Africa are
taught as part of a B-degree in communication, mass communication or journalism (Ferreira,
1999:41). Some universities also teach public relations to complement other disciplines such as
marketing and business management (Nartey, 1988:26). A number of distance learning
programmes in public relations are also available in Africa. Examples include degree and postdegree
courses offered by UNISA, the diplomas offered by the IAC and Technikon SA and the
M.Sc. distance learning programme offered by the University of Stirling in Britain (Ferreira,
1999:46-47; Pieczk, quoted by Ferreira, 1999:47).
3.7.4 Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communication Management
The latest development in the global organisation of public relations was the establishment of the
Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communication Management in 2000. This new entity
is an alliance of associations worldwide, and provides a framework for collaboration in public
relations at a global level. Twenty public relations associations from all over the world were
involved in the founding of this organisation.
The need for an alliance of this kind came with the realisation that more and more public
relations practitioners represent organisations that transcend national boundaries, and that
everyone is increasingly affected by global trends and issues. The Global Alliance aims to
enhance networking opportunities for practitioners, and to serve as a vehicle for examining
ethical standards and universal accreditation options (GAPR&CM, 2001:1). Other areas of
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mutual interest being explored include education and professional development (Anon., 2001a).
PRISA was one of twenty associations which founded the Global Alliance for Public Relations
and Communication Management (GAPR&CM, 2001:1). The executive director of PRISA also
currently serves on the board of the Global Alliance (Van Niekerk, 2002a).
3.8 THE IMPACT OF GLOBALISATION ON PUBLIC RELATIONS PRACTICE
AND EDUCATION
It is evident in contemporary literature on public relations that this profession is no exception to
increasing exposure to the forces of globalisation covered in the previous chapter. Firstly,
increased global contact in public relations practice and education is evident in the existence of
IPRA, the IABC, the Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communication Management and
other international associations mentioned in the previous sections. Secondly, the emergence of
global public relations consultancy networks is evidence of the need of organisations to practise
public relations outside the borders of their own country. Thirdly, various authors emphasise the
need for public relations practitioners to redefine their role and acquire new competencies to
adapt to emerging forces of globalisation and resulting changing paradigms in business, social
and other spheres of life. In fact, White and Mazur (1995:50) argue that nowhere is a global
outlook more important than in communication: >Regardless of nationality, professionals who
have created cross-border public affairs/public relations networks are at the forefront of helping
their organisations present a coherent and consistent approach.= Verwey (2000:64), in turn,
suggests that shifting geographic boundaries, and the evolution of virtual communities, impose
new demands on public relations practitioners for counselling based on improved access to
relevant information from around the world. This requires new broad-based competence in a
number of fields, and a redefinition of the role of practitioners, in order to remain relevant in
emerging global trends. She singles out the ability to interpret external developments and to
predict future trends and formulate plans to address them, as being of particular importance to
practitioners in the new global environment (Verwey, 2000:52).
As was stated in the introduction to this chapter, public relations has the potential to play a role
in counteracting those disintegrating forces of globalisation covered in the previous chapter. In
the process it could contribute towards global unity and understanding, as suggested in previous
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sections. Changes needed in the role and functions of public relations practice and the
competencies required in order to contribute to measures to counteract the disintegrating forces
of globalisation, are discussed in the rest of this section. This discussion is preceded by an
overview of how public relations is influenced by three major forces of globalisation, as outlined
in the previous chapter: the New Economy, the Communication Revolution and the Network
Society. Lastly, possible measures to counteract a particularly damaging disintegrating force in
public relations brought about by the Internet, namely online sabotage, are suggested.
3.8.1 The influence of global forces on public relations
This section provides an overview of the impact of globalisation on public relations practice and
education, in terms of new competencies required.
3.8.1.1 Public relations and the New Economy
It is suggested by various authors that the emergence of the New Economy broadens the scope of
public relations and calls for a redefinition of the role of the latter. According to Capozzi
(2001:16), the arrival in every market of more and more international corporations is creating
demands for public relations services in both existing and emerging markets everywhere.
Geimann (2001) mentions globalisation of businesses and rapid mergers as some of the factors
necessitating a new role for public relations practitioners. Goldman (1998:43) mentions
international competition as a force redefining public relations work, forcing practitioners to be
more entrepreneurial, flexible and independent, and to expand marketing and public relations
efforts. Salerno (2001:12) suggests that demands for public relations services are at an all-time
high owing to the creation of new markets by the Internet and virtual companies. Furthermore,
Verwey (2000:53) suggests that the New Economy brings about a need for business
transformation which represents a fundamental shift in the relationships of corporations to
individuals and to society as a whole. As a result of increased competition, media relations have
to become more knowledge-based, necessitating new, imaginative forms of information
distribution and more narrowcasting - i.e. programming customised for the individual (Verwey,
2000:54).
Hirigoyen (2000:40) suggests that, as a result of the blurred boundaries between economies,
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together with the global 24-hour news cycle and diverse audiences, all public relations
practitioners are engaged in global public relations. According to Watson (1991:113), a
significant portion of the large volume of current communication traffic is involved in
conducting business, and it is therefore not surprising that international business-to-business
public relations is blossoming. Wilcox et al. (1992:411) identify public relations as an essential
ingredient in the global marketing megamix created as a result of the New Economy, and call for
managers as well as employees to learn to think and act in global terms.
3.8.1.2 Public relations and the Communication Revolution
According to Wilson (1996:10), few things have more profoundly affected the practice of public
relations than the dawn of desktop computers, followed by the advent of instantaneous global
communication. These two forces have converged to create a revolution in public interaction,
based on digital telecommunication. Grupp (2000:34) suggests that, in the context of new
technology, public relations practitioners have become e-communicators and managers of online
strategic relationships. He also assigns to practitioners the role of stewardship for the content of
the Internet, that otherwise is just an unfiltered commodity.
The Communication Revolution has brought about many benefits and new opportunities in
public relations, but also new challenges and the need for new skills.
According to Geimann (2001), the Internet has accelerated the evolution of public relations and
created all-day news and information consumers. As a result of the Communication Revolution,
being physically located in a particular centre is no longer a prerequisite for participation in
global public relations. Advanced telecommunication, which instantly disseminates news and
information around the globe, means that audiences today are multinational and even global
(Hirigoyen, 2000:39). In this regard, Seitel (2001:474) suggests that while the new media will
increasingly capture public attention in the most creative ways, public relations professionals
will have to be equally creative to keep up with the new media and harness them for persuasive
purposes.
Some of the major benefits and opportunities of the online media for the practice of public
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relations, include: increased contact with publics, including opportunities for interactive
communication and immediate feedback; ease of collecting information about competitors and
other relevant topics; opportunities for global media coverage; the means to narrowcast
information to reporters, opinion leaders, consumers, etc.; instant delivery of news - including
text, video, sound and photographs - to reporters by means of media kits and online media
rooms; e-mail interviews and chat rooms to facilitate discussion; online promotions; ease of
archiving documents for easy reference and ease of updating documents; communication with
employees by means on intranets, including online newsletters, questionnaires, online
discussions, etc.; communication with specialised external audiences by means of extranets; the
opportunity for prearranged cyberconferences; the ability to respond instantly to emerging issues
and market changes; providing easy access to copies of speeches, publications, new product
information, executive biographies, historical information, contact names and numbers, etc. by
placing these online; providing frequently-asked-questions sections; the ability to track and
trace transactions and build portfolios of customers; ease in building alliances and soliciting
partnerships; and the opportunity to use an Internet website during times of crisis, to deal with
the onslaught of customers and media requests (Mersham & Skinner, 2001b:202,205;
Schenkein, 2001:31-32; Seitel, 2001:304-305,308-316; Grupp, 2000:34; Ha & Pratt,
2000:30,33).
While the Internet has revolutionised public relations communication, it has also brought about
new challenges, as new technology makes organisations more open to scrutiny by customers.
Dissatisfied customers can use the Internet to tell computers around the world about their bad
experiences with a company=s product or service (Eisenberg & Goodall, 1997:313). In this
regard, one of the major threats to public relations is that of online sabotage in the form of ethical
terrorism or >anti-sites=. This refers to the practice of critics building websites to stage attacks on
an organisation=s practices (Waltz, quoted by Geimann, 2001). Fringe groups can also spread
damaging messages across the globe in an instant by means of e-mail, organisations can receive
falsified information and organisations or individuals can be harassed (Ha & Pratt, 2000:30).
Skills needed by public relations practitioners with regard to the new media and measures to deal
with the threat of online sabotage are outlined in Sections 3.8.2.9 and 3.8.2.10.
3.8.1.3 Public relations and the Network Society
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Globalisation in public relations brings about opportunities for the establishment of networks.
Vallun (1999:28-29), who points out evidence that global communication budgets are changing,
with a growing share going to public relations at the expense of advertising, argues that nonmultinational
clients can also benefit from the trend of globalisation in public relations, because
of the sharing of intellectual property brought about by international partnerships. Nonmultinational
clients can also benefit from increased access to experience in other parts of the
world; the opportunity to network with multinational clients in pursuit of future business spinoffs;
access to public relations support in other parts of the world when embarking upon export;
foreign investment or foreign fundraising initiatives; and exposure to global standards of
performance and delivery.
As no one public relations practitioner, department or consultancy could possibly possess the
necessary knowledge to operate effectively in all global markets, the use of global professional
networks becomes essential in launching programmes across borders. Black (2000:107) suggests
that public relations across borders can be organised by employing the services of large
international consultancies with offices worldwide, or public relations networks operating on an
informal basis. Alternatively, practitioners can plug into a network, but coordinate activities
themselves (White and Mazur, 1995:75). Other options include recruiting public relations staff
in each individual country. This can be an effective solution where a proper local
communication network is established. Yet another is to include the services of global networks
of independent consultancies (Haywood, 1991:23). Black (2000:108) also argues in favour of
global partnerships to achieve public relations goals.
Stevens (1998:18) regards the founding of the Council for Public Relations Networks in 1997 as
evidence of the growing interest in using the network approach in public relations, in order to
share expertise, resources and information. This Council was the first-ever association of
international public relations networks, and was formed to market the advantages and benefits of
such an organisation.
A number of authors refer to sponsorship as a tool which can be used within the global
communication and promotional mix of an organisation, and for the establishment of networks.
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Black (2000:112) regards international sponsorships as an >international calling card= which can
be used effectively as a tool of global and international communication. According to Norman
(1991:133), some of the benefits of international sponsorship include a statement of the >global
nature= of a company; the fact that sport, music and environmental sponsorships rarely need
translation; and the opportunity for the development of global relationships, for instance with
governments and business.
Mersham and Skinner (1999:205-206) mention the Internet, intranets and extranets as networks
affecting the nature of public relations work. While an organisation=s Internet website can be
regarded as the public face it presents to the world, an intranet is a structure for internal
communication, allowing for the formation of employee networks. Extranets tend to be used for
business-to-business communication and transactions, allowing for communication between an
organisation and its customers and suppliers on a more >selective= basis than on the Internet.
Thus, extranets allow for the creation of more specialised external networks. Verwey (2000:57)
mentions that new media networks could also be used to promote dialogue between public
relations professionals, suggesting that networking between practitioners could be particularly
beneficial during times of transformation.
3.8.2 The potential role of public relations in counteracting the disintegrating forces of
globalisation
This section provides an outline of the potential role of public relations in the measures outlined
in Section 2.7.4 to counteract disintegrating forces of globalisation.
3.8.2.1 Research followed by multilateral dialogue
Howard (2001:42) refers to the potential role which public relations can play in the current
backlash against globalisation. She argues that the backlash occurs because of a breakdown in
communication. Public relations professionals can assist in resolving the resulting conflict by
stepping in to offer services to those being targeted, either to play a role in developing solutions,
that include establishing dialogue with those on the other side, or to work at keeping the client
out of the headlines. Vogl (2001:21) takes this view further, by assigning to public relations
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professionals the responsibility to initiate research and education in the area of global corporate
social responsibility issues, in response to the NGO criticism of aspects of global corporate
behaviour winning the attention of the world=s media.
3.8.2.2 A people-centred approach
According to Verwey (2000:55), paradigm shifts driven by new technology manifest in a new
social complexity, to which organisations have to adapt. This implies a new relationship to
individuals and society as a whole, with major implications for public relations. One of the
manifestations of this change is greater input from humanitarian groups, and pressure on
organisations to be more responsible and to accept accountability for the way in which they use
resources and contribute to the environment (Verwey, 2000:55).
A number of authors point out the role that public relations can play in enhancing social justice
in the global environment. According to Howard (2001:43), practitioners can develop
programmes to integrate human-rights strategies into the business planning and implementation
process. Vogl (2001:22) suggests that, in response to the anti-globalisation movement, corporate
public relations executives should help their enterprises to strive for the highest levels of global
corporate citizenship, by demanding a responsibility of their corporations to contribute to social,
humanitarian, environmental and economic development. Delahaye Paine (2001:47), in turn,
argues that the role of public relations practitioners in the 21st century should not be one of
managing >reality=, but of shaping the actions and deeds of their companies. This implies that, as
reputation managers, practitioners should assist their organisations to new heights of social
responsibility and institutional respect, not just craft messages.
Banks (1995:25) adds to the task of public relations the responsibility to nurture positive and
supportive communities. He suggests that organisations should recognise that their long-term
ability to survive, depends on fostering an attitude of social responsibility that nurtures socially
healthy communities among their various publics (Banks, 1995:20).
3.8.2.3 Global restructuring
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Cole-Morgan (1991:165) suggests that public relations can make a contribution to raising
awareness of the world environment and imbalances that have been created. He argues that
individuals, commercial organisations and governments throughout the world need to be
convinced that action is needed to restore the balance, and that no public relations programme
should ignore this responsibility.
Howard (2001:42) argues that the backlash against global capitalism is really a cry for leadership
to develop a new framework that will help narrow the divide between wealth and poverty. In
this regard, she suggests that public relations practitioners should work with corporate leaders to
identify global trends which affect them, and play a role in developing strategy when the new
frameworks for the global economy are being developed (Howard, 2001:43).
Vogl (2001:21) suggests that public relations executives participate in meetings that aim to build
consensus, and forge standards between government, NGOs and business, on key global issues.
He also calls for greater involvement of practitioners in key international conferences on
corporate social responsibility, and for corporate sponsorship of new initiatives on key issues by
respected NGOs (Vogl, 2001:22).
3.8.2.4 Global regulation and ethics
Vogl (2001:19) assigns to public relations professionals the responsibility to assist their
companies to agree to societal responsibilities, as called for by UN Secretary General Kofi
Annan, rather than leaving global social responsibility issues to corporate lawyers or ethics
officers. Verwey (2000:64-65) regards public relations as the change agent of an organisation,
and suggests that it should challenge the dominant worldviews and practices of organisations
when these are perceived to be unjust.
Vogl (2001:20) identifies the following as some of the global issues currently on the global
public relations agenda: ethics and compliance with government rules, regulations and laws;
human rights and labour issues; the elimination of corruption and money laundering;
environmental issues; and supporting free-market systems and structures that assist
governmental policy-making to build competitive, transparent and well-regulated markets. He
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suggests that public relations professionals assist in these issues by ensuring that their
corporations are seen as meeting larger societal responsibilities.
Vogl (2001:20) argues that public relations is uniquely placed to track, understand and dialogue
with organisations that are defining global social responsibility. He suggests that the
practitioners track the role of global organisations such as NGOs, religious groups, shareholder
groups, organised labour and international agencies such as the UN, WTO, etc., in order to
implement pro-active programmes which will secure images of their corporations as global
leaders in the area of social responsibility.
Public relations staff should also ensure that their corporations develop a code of ethics and that
employees know and understand this code (Vogl, 2001:22).
3.8.2.5 Effective government framework
Public relations can contribute to effective governance in the area of social investment, by
working in partnership with government in the implementation of corporate social investment
programmes. Furthermore, as change agents, public relations professionals are in a position to
influence public policy.
Mersham et al. (1995:78) point out that, as change agents, public relations practitioners occupy a
special place in the networks of decision-makers as identifiers of issues, and counsellors to
policy makers. They often have direct access to top management, and are represented on key
policy-making committees. By definition, public relations has an advisory role, keeping
management informed and responsive to shifts in social needs.
In this regard, it can be assumed that public relations can act as change agent also in government
processes. Owing to their advisory role, public relations executives are placed in a position
where they can lobby and participate in the process of policy-making, to reconstruct social norms
and order, to create a technological infrastructure in rural areas, to empower rural citizens by
increasing access to information, etc.
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3.8.2.6 Improved regional strategies
Public relations can play a role in preventing disintegrating forces of globalisation resulting in
loss of cultural identity and community, by adapting programmes to the needs of local
communities.
Kruckeberg and Starck (quoted by Banks, 1995:19) advance the idea that public relations is
uniquely positioned in contemporary society to restore and maintain the sense of community that
was lost with the advent of mass media and high-speed transportation. They argue that public
relations can be used to re-create the sense of community, but only if practitioners enact the role
of communication facilitators with the primary goal of altruistic community support, instead of
enacting the role of institutional advocate with the primary goal of enhancing the role of the
institution=s reputation and gaining assent (Banks, 1995:20).
Verwey (2000:54) stresses the necessity to unite local and global interests within a global
business and communication strategy, and the need to understand and value diversity.
According to Vogl (2001:20), local community and national cultural issues pertaining to the
social behaviour of organisations are affecting global public relations. Public relations
professionals should assist their corporations towards social responsibility by implementing
programmes which enhance respect for national customs, traditions, religions, etc. (Vogl,
2001:19-20).
Howard (2001:43), in turn, suggests that practitioners employed by multinational companies
operating in developing countries, should work with country-specific teams to create
programmes that do not upset the balance within the local cultures.
3.8.2.7 Emphasis on development
Authors such as Mersham et al. (1995), Jefkins (1992), Mersham (1992) and Al-Enad (1990)
recognise the potential of public relations to contribute towards development in Third World
countries. Jefkins (1992:230) states that nowhere else are public relations techniques of greater
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value than in developing countries. According to Al-Enad (1990:26), this value lies in the fact
that public relations can be used as a trigger for positive societal changes. Mersham et al.
(1995:26) support this view by suggesting that public relations is at the cutting edge of social
change, and is increasingly charged with communicating development messages and facilitating
the development process in developing countries. This is culminating in a >secondary= role for
public relations, namely that of agent for development communication and change (Mersham et
al., 1995:30).
Areas in which public relations professionals can contribute towards the development process in
the Third World include: the facilitation of communication between local institutions, leaders
and other groups, and First World development facilitators; the employment of communication
skills to overcome negative stages of hostility, prejudice, apathy and ignorance, which often
hamper development strategies (Mersham et al., 1995:26, 77); and the education of
organisational managers on the importance of social accountability and social investment
(Mersham, 1992:54-59).
3.8.2.8 Appropriate managerial paradigms
This section provides an overview of the application to public relations of those managerial
paradigms identified in Section 2.7.4.8, to counteract disintegrating forces of globalisation.
3.8.2.8.1 A holistic, global perspective
Anderson (quoted by Black, 2000:103) argues that historical developments of momentous
importance since World War II make it imperative for everyone in public relations to acquire a
global perspective on behalf of employees and clients.
Wakefield (2000:36) calls for public relations practitioners who >can see the big picture=. He
suggests that, in the new global arena, practitioners need to be problem-solvers across borders,
because, with the variety of global channels for monitoring and pressuring corporations today,
those who do not show empathy for societal problems will not prosper.
Hayes (1998:10) calls for a holistic approach in global public relations, to plan and bring about
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true integration between in-house functions and external advisors.
As has been pointed out in the previous chapter, new managerial paradigms call for flatter
hierarchies and the empowerment of employees. This implies new challenges for public
relations professionals, as employee communication becomes more important (Verwey,
2000:57). In this regard, utilising an intranet as a structure for internal communication can be
beneficial. The intranet is bringing about changes in management style, which entail a move
away from hierarchical structures, facilitating employee participation (Mersham & Skinner,
1999:206).
3.8.2.8.2 A global mindset in strategic communication
Haywood (1991:21) is of the opinion that few organisations today can have a totally domestic
perspective, even if they are not operating outside their own national borders. This is because
the issues that are concerning people often have a relevance around the world. Thus, national
public relations is increasingly becoming part of the bigger, global public relations scene.
Linscott (1991:101) supports this view by stating that the dramatic growth of information
technology means that public relations operates in the international arena. Even practitioners
who specialise in the home market, need an appreciation of global activities, in order to be truly
successful.
White and Mazur (1995:71) argue that, if globalisation of business is a reality, then globalisation
of communication strategy and programmes cannot be far behind. Eisenberg and Goodall
(1997:6), in turn, suggest that success in global business requires global and international
communication skills, and that globalisation requires organisations to communicate in ways that
transcend time and space.
According to Leichsering (1998:35), globalisation necessitates that public relations professionals
follow an integrated and global approach in communication strategies. Corporations have to be
extremely fast and flexible in the ways they communicate and react, and communication should
be multicultural and integrated.
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3.8.2.8.3 Standardisation vs adaptation: making an appropriate choice
According to White and Mazur (1995:(xvi)), one of the biggest challenges facing public relations
in the global context is managing programmes across borders consistently and effectively. What
contributes to the complexity is the multicultural aspect, but also different markets, which are at
different stages of development.
Geimann (2001) suggests that, as national boundaries are becoming irrelevant, customising a
message based on geography is risky. However, various authors argue in favour of practising
adaptation rather than standardisation in public relations across borders. Haywood (1991:22)
suggests that, though many organisations are international in operation, they have learnt that
communication is extremely local and very personal. While some transcontinental messages
may be acceptable, most of those that affect people=s lives need to be presented to them from a
short range, in a language and style that they can accept.
Heylin (1991:19) also argues in favour of the adage >think global, act local= in planning
communication strategy. She argues that, as cultural, regulatory, financial media and
government relations vary from country to country, public relations practice should be adapted to
local needs and conditions.
3.8.2.8.4 Multiculturalism
According to Goldman (1998:44), one of the reasons why public relations is expected to grow in
the global era, is the need to manage communication in far-flung organisations that span many
cultures and languages. According to Verwey (2000:54), as a result of globalisation, the targets
of public relations programming are becoming increasingly multicultural and diverse. The
challenge for practitioners in the increasingly multicultural context is not just a matter of
overcoming language barriers, but also of understanding the cultural nuances that can impact on
the execution of public relations strategies. Macdonald (1991:43) points out that, when
operating across different time zones, often in different languages, timing and wording are even
more important than when working in a single market. According to Mersham et al. (1995:182),
practitioners in the global environment have to negotiate a multiplicity of languages, customs
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and values, in order to create mutual understanding.
The above implies a need for focus on cultural diversity in public relations. According to Banks
(1995:32), who argues in favour of a multicultural perspective in public relations, people are
aggregated into target groups on the basis of their perspectives on an issue. In this sense, all
relevant publics are cultural groups, and public relations communication efforts can be viewed as
attempts at intercultural communication. Banks (1995:21) defines multicultural public relations
as >the management of formal communication between organisations and their relevant publics to
create and maintain communities of interest and action that favour the organisation, taking full
account of the normal human variation in the systems of meaning by which groups understand
and enact their everyday lives=.
3.8.2.9 Education
As the public relations profession is redefining itself in the global context, new competencies are
called for. The literature consulted emphasises a need for knowledge of global forces, broadbased
multidisciplinary education, multiculturalism and skills pertaining to the new media.
Mersham et al. (1995:182) point out that business and government will increasingly require
practitioners who have a substantial knowledge of international aspects of the social sciences,
humanities, business law and cross-cultural communication.
The Commission on Public Relations Education of the PRSA spent two years working on
recommendations for a new public relations curriculum. In its final report in 1999 it
recommended, among others, knowledge of multicultural and global issues (Geimann, 2001).
With regard to multiculturalism, Capozzi (2001:16) suggests that learning the geographies,
cultures and practices indigenous to different locales is a necessity in managing the increasingly
global practice of public relations. As the average young practitioner=s public relations
experience is not likely to be of a global nature, Capozzi recommends that consultancies with
international exposure provide opportunities for internships for young practitioners.
Wakefield (2000:36) suggests that, in the new global context, public relations practitioners
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should be skilled not only in communication, but also in global economics and politics,
mediation and cultural anthropology.
Grupp (2000:34) argues that the task of managing and protecting the online image of an
organisation belongs to public relations and not to information technology staff, lawyers or the
sales and marketing department. This implies that public relations staff should be trained ecommunicators.
Fogelman-Beyer (2001:28) suggests that public relations staff keep up with
technological changes, and possess the latest knowledge, skills and ideas in this area, including
knowledge of software products - e.g. Vocus Public Relations - which can be used to build and
manage campaigns. Practitioners need the necessary technical competencies to facilitate media
coverage via the Internet. They need to know how to compile e-mail media releases,
accompanied by graphics, file attachments and links to websites, and how to establish an online
media room complete with current media releases, fact sheets, contact information and
continuous updates (Schenkein, 2001:31). Lissauer (2000:28) points out that practitioners need
to know how to provide information in the format required by an online newsroom. For
example, they need to know the difference between .jpeg, .gif, .eps and .tif files. They also need
to know how to deliver their information in downloadable and multimedia form, including
streaming video and audio, corporate logos and graphics, PowerPoint slide presentations,
financial spreadsheets and photography (Lissauer, 2000:26-28). Mersham and Skinner
(2001b:210) also suggest that practitioners possess knowledge of multimedia design. Seitel
(2001:259-260), in turn, suggests knowledge of writing for the Internet, as this calls for a style
that is different from writing for other media.
Practitioners also need to be aware of their additional responsibilities with regard to Internet
communication. Ha and Pratt (2000:30,32-33) point out that practitioners neglect to regularly
update websites, neglect to mention when the information was last updated, neglect the issue of
privacy of visitors and fail to include interactive devices and some form of survey and feedback
section on their company websites.
As far as media relations across borders are concerned, a number of authors suggest, as a starting
point, knowledge of a number of major media with a global reach. Black (2000:111) points out
that, while it is more difficult to draw up a media list when working across borders, knowledge
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of international newspapers such as the Financial Times, Wall Street Journal and International
Herald Tribune could be a starting point. Barnett (2001:30) adds the websites of global media
such as CNN.com, BusinessWeek.com, Newsbytes, etc. In South Africa, knowledge of online
news services such as News24.com, Channelafrica.org, News by Industry, 365Press.com, the
news sections of search engines such as Ananzi and Internet websites of national media such as
the Financial Times, Daily Mail & Guardian, FutureCompany and Summit, can also be helpful.
Of particular importance is the South African branch of PR Newswire, a worldwide
communication support service to public relations and industrial relations professionals. This
website specialises in the electronic delivery of breaking news releases and information directly
from consultancies, companies and institutions through satellite feed, fax and Internet networks
(PR Newswire, 2002). SAPressRelease.com offers a similar service for regional coverage, with
tracking provided to more than 1000 African newsrooms (Anon., 2002c).
3.8.2.10 Counteracting online sabotage in pubic relations
Grady and Gimple (1998:24) argue that online sabotage, as discussed in Section 3.6.1.2, should
be of great concern to public relations staff. They point out that, since the new media lower the
point of entry into mass publishing, virtually anyone can publish anti-company sentiments on a
global platform via the Internet.
Horton (2001:58) suggests that the best way to begin to handle activist charges, is to ascertain
whether they are true, as crisis management begins with facts. In this regard, practitioners need
to establish a monitoring programme that tracks online activists . Global organisations should
maintain a database of criticisms that can be analysed to see how issues are advancing or
retreating. One way to find the sources of criticism and to learn the extent of negative opinion, is
through content analysis. If charges have a factual base, the organisation can make changes to
resolve the issue. If charges are not true, it is best to track activists= progress without necessarily
getting involved with them. However, if rumours become serious and begin to affect the
organisation, the organisation needs to act (Horton, 2001:58-60).
Grady and Gimple (1998:24-27) offer a number of methods to act on online sabotage.
Organisations can firstly purchase the rights to web addresses that might otherwise become anti181
sites; add megatags to their websites to push anti-sites out of view on search engines; have their
websites included in a search engine channel; and use media relations strategies to the online
world. Public relations staff can also communicate with the owner of an anti-site in an effort to
identify complaints and to try to solve them. A last option is to consider legal action.
3.9 THEORETICAL PERSPECTIVE FOR THE STUDY
As stated in Chapter 1, the theoretical approach selected for this study is a combination of the
systems and network approaches, and chaos theory. Systems and networks are approached from
the perspective of complex, dynamic systems and its related paradigm of chaos theory. In
addition to this, it was stated in Chapters 1 and 2 that the global mindset is adopted for this study.
Daniels et al. (2000c:215) describe a global mindset as follows:
* to be open to new experiences and change over time
* to be willing to learn new skills in order to exploit a global presence
* to operate on the premise that cultures can be different without being better or worse than
one another
* to dedicate itself to become informed about different value systems, norms of behaviour
and assumptions regarding reality
* to accept diversity and heterogeneity as natural and as a source of opportunities and a
strength rather than a necessary evil.
The following discussion of a theoretical perspective for this study, as well as the development
of a generic model for vocationally-oriented public relations education in the next chapter, are
completed with the above principles in mind.
3.9.1 The systems approach
Several theorists of public relations link the latter to systems theory. Examples include Cutlip et
al. (2000:228-245); Marlow & O=Connor Wilson (1997:7); Windahl et al. (1992:83-94);
Fauconnier (1985:120-122); and Grunig and Hunt (1984:8-11,92-111).
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Systems reasoning is also found in most definitions of public relations (Windahl et al., 1992:89).
Systems thinking is also implied by Grunig and Hunt=s two-way asymmetric and symmetric
models, and Hutton=s proposed paradigm for public relations, discussed earlier in this chapter.
According to Littlejohn (1999:40), the roots of systems thinking began at least as far back as the
19th century with the theory of Georg Hegel, who explained historical development in terms of
the dynamic process of dialectical tension between opposites.
A major contribution to the study of systems was made by the work of an American mathematics
professor, Norbert Wiener, on cybernetics (O=Connor & McDermott, 1997:236). Wiener
(1954:15) introduced the term >cybernetics= in the late 1940s to embrace the wider field of theory
of messages, including the study of messages as a means of controlling machinery and society.
Cybernetics focuses on how a system functions - regardless of whether the system is living,
mechanical or social - and how the system controls itself by means of feedback. Wiener
proposed that the same general principles that control the thermostat may also be seen in
economic systems, market regulation and political decision-making systems (O=Connor &
McDermott, 1997:236).
The Austrian-American biologist, Ludwig von Bertalanffy, is generally regarded as the founder
of general systems theory (Littlejohn, 1999:41; Neher, 1997:28; Fauconnier, 1985:100). Von
Bertalanffy (1969:3-248) applied systems theory to a wide variety of systems - natural and social
ones - and disciplines. The basic idea of general systems theory as developed by Von
Bertalanffy, is that the whole equals more than the sum of its parts (Windahl et al., 1992:83).
Von Bertalanffy (1969:37-38) defined a system as >a set of elements standing in interaction=, and
proposed general systems theory as a general science of wholeness. He drew a distinction
between closed and open systems, defining the former as a system which is isolated from its
environment and the latter as a system which maintains itself in a continuous inflow from, and
outflow to, the environment (Von Bertalanffy, 1969:39).
According to Von Bertalanffy (1969:91), general systems theory tries to derive, from a general
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definition of >system= as a complex of interacting components, concepts characteristic of
organised wholes such as interaction, sum, mechanisation, centralisation, competition, finality,
etc., and to apply them to concrete phenomena.
According to Littlejohn (1992:53), general systems theory is not a singular theory, but should be
seen as a broad, multidisciplinary approach to knowledge, based on systems concepts and aiming
to integrate accumulated knowledge into a clear universal framework. Biological, psychological
and socio-cultural systems follow an open model (Littlejohn, 1999:41,44). General systems
theory deals with systems primarily from this open perspective (Littlejohn, 1992:41).
Present-day scholars of communication science, such as Barker, et al. (2001:24), Neher
(1997:108-109) and Fauconnier (1985:100-101), assign the following characteristics to open
systems, based on the earlier work of Von Bertalanffy (1969:39-40,46,55,66,160-161,208-
209,211-215):
* Boundaries. Systems are defined by, and set off from, their environments by boundaries,
so that one can differentiate the system from its environment.
* Wholeness. In a system, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and has its own
characteristics. Thus, systems theory is holistic.
* Interdependence. The parts are dependent upon one another, and affect individual
elements and the system as a whole.
* Hierarchy. Systems and subsystems are connected at hierarchical levels.
* Self-regulation. Systems are goal-seeking entities, and maintain their equilibrium by
means of feedback.
* Adaptability. Self-regulation implies the possibility of changing and adapting to
environmental changes.
* Input, output and throughput. A system=s survival depends upon importing inputs into the
system, performing some operation on these inputs internally (throughput) and then
returning some output to the environment.
* Specialisation and coordination. The subsystems of a larger system perform different
functions, and need to be sufficiently differentiated and coordinated.
* Sequences of events and life cycles. Systems go through stages, both as single systems
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and as populations of similar organisations. Each individual system repeats a regular
cycle of events involving input-throughput-output.
* Equifinality. Systems have the capacity to achieve the desired result in various ways.
A system may be composed of many smaller subsystems, or form part of a larger system
(O=Connor & McDermott, 1997:5). Each of the subsystems is made up of constituent parts, or its
own subsystems. The various subsystems do not exist in isolation, but in continuous relationship
and interaction with other subsystems (Neher, 1997:106). Checkland (2000:A23) proposes that
systems thinking covers at least three levels: those of system, subsystem and wider system.
Cutlip et al. (2000:232) refer to the latter as a suprasystem. When dealing with a hierarchy of
systems, individuals may make different judgments about which level to take as that of >the
system=. The concepts >system=, >subsystem= and >wider system= or >suprasystem= are thus relative
terms, and dependent on the choice of the observer (Checkland, 2000:A24).
According to Littlejohn (1999:56), systems theory has been a popular and influential tradition in
communication. This is probably because communication and communication processes easily
lend themselves to a systems approach (Fauconnier, 1985:112). In fact, Jansen and Steinberg
(1991:41) suggest that general systems theory offers the most complete description of
communication from a process point of view. Furthermore, the focus on interaction as the
lifeblood of a system, is compatible with the view of organisations held by communication
scientists. Consequently, general systems theory was particularly welcomed in the field of
organisational communication, and has remained the dominant viewpoint in this field (Mersham
& Skinner, 2001a:25).
3.9.1.1 Benefits of systems theory
One of the main benefits of systems thinking is that it provides a means to cope with very
complex processes (Checkland, 2000:A24). As the world is becoming increasingly
interconnected, it is also becoming increasingly complex. According to O=Connor and
McDermott (1997:(xiv-xvi)), systems thinking enables individuals to gain influence over their
lives by seeing patterns that drive events. It is a way in which some rules can be discerned, and
provides some measure of control, as it enables individuals to predict events and prepare for
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them. In organisations, systems thinking assists with teams and teambuilding, as teams act as
systems.
The issue of complexity is of particular importance to this study, with its emphasis on
globalisation. To extend an education programme=s applicability to the global society, is to add
enormous complexity.
Systems theory also allows for holistic thinking. According to Checkland (2000:A3), systems
thinking in its various forms could be taken to be the very paradigm of thinking holistically.
This makes systems thinking particularly suitable for this study, which is based on a holistic,
global mindset (see Section 2.9).
3.9.1.2 Criticism of systems theory
As with many other theoretical approaches, there are various points of criticism of systems
theory. Littlejohn (1999:58) points out that some critics question whether the systems approach
is a theory at all, claiming that it has no explanatory power. He also refers to critics questioning
the ability of systems theory to generate research. Littlejohn (1999:58-59) attributes these
criticisms to the extreme generality of the systems approach, and suggests that actual systems
theories of communication should be evaluated on their own merit: >The many theories of
communication that make use of systems principles are specific, and help us understand concrete
experiences.=
The criticisms mentioned above are not seen as a problem in the context of this study, as the
latter involves specific systems models (see Sections 4.4 and 4.8).
According to Vorster (1985:49), the single most important disadvantage of the systems approach
is its inability to make accurate and quantifiable predictions about the future of systems. As this
study is based on the assumption of an unpredictable environment caused by forces of
globalisation, this point of criticism is not regarded as a problem for this study, as the latter aims
to provide a method of dealing with the said unpredictability, rather than to make predictions
about its future.
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Another point of criticism concerns the detached view offered by systems theory. According to
Jansen and Steinberg (1991:43), systems theory offers no insight into the peculiar characteristics
of a particular system, but concerns itself only with the maintenance of the status quo of systems,
regardless of the human consequences that their operation may have. Neher (1997:115) adds that
an organisation=s overall goal is usually seen as being maintenance of homeostasis or stability.
The organisation=s communication is therefore concerned with regulating information inputs and
outputs, and the flow of information through the subsystems. Organisations may thus be seen as
relatively passive processors of external information. Furthermore, Mersham et al. (1995:48)
suggest that the systems approach lacks a human perspective, and ignores the complicated
process of exchange of meaning in human communication. Human beings are seen as machines,
components or robots acting within a mechanistic system in the >interest of society=.
Bormann (1980:254), however, points out that systems studies in communication focus on
collectives, rather than images of human beings. As this study involves a number of large
organisations and extends beyond national borders, the points of criticism of Steinberg and
Jansen, Neher and Mersham et al. are also not seen as applicable to this study.
While cognisance is taken of the limitations of systems theory, it is nevertheless accepted that the
complex nature of this study necessitates a broad framework, such as that provided by the
systems perspective, to link the great number of variables involved. Furthermore, in order to
broaden the application of this perspective, systems theory is extended, for the purpose of the
study, to also cover complex, dynamic systems and chaos theory.
3.9.1.3 The systems approach applied to organisations
Katz and Kahn published a book in the 1960s, attempting to extend the description and
explanation of organisational processes by shifting away from earlier emphasis on traditional
concepts of individual psychology and interpersonal relations, to systems constructs. The work
of Katz and Kahn was directed at the utilisation of an open systems point of view for the study of
organisations (Katz & Kahn, 1966:(vii)). They provided a model of an organisation as an
energetic input-output system, taken from the open systems theory as promulgated by Von
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Bertalanffy (Katz & Kahn, 1966:18).
Katz and Kahn (1966:13,28) advanced the idea that a social organisation could be regarded as an
open system dependent on its environment. According to this viewpoint, organisations share the
characteristics of other open systems, such as importation of energy from the environment, the
throughput or transformation of the imported energy into some product form which is
characteristic of the system and the reenergising of the system from sources in the environment.
Social organisations also share the characteristics of negative entropy, feedback, homeostasis,
differentiation and equifinality, as advanced by Von Bertalanffy.
In the 1970s, systems theory gained popularity in describing organisations as living, functioning
systems. Systems theory has become especially popular among scholars and theorists of
organisational communication (Neher, 1997:61,112).
According to Mersham and Skinner (2001a:29), the systems approach combines the best
elements of the scientific and behavioral approaches to organisations. It viewing an
organisation as an open system, the systems approach portrays it as open to new information,
responsive to the environment, dynamic and ever-changing. The systems approach also
acknowledges the potential that new information technology and new communication media
have in removing boundaries and allowing subsystems to interact better with each other. In
terms of this approach, communication keeps the system vital and alive, relates the various parts
to each other and brings in new ideas (Mersham & Skinner, 2001a:29).
Organisations engage in constant input, throughput and output to attain goals. Inputs originate
outside the organisation and enter the organisation through openings in the boundary.
Throughputs are the activities performed by organisational members - the passage of materials,
energy and information from point to point within the organisation, to its exit. Control processes
are established to govern and regulate throughput activity. Output activities describe the return
to the environment of the materials, energy and information that have been processed (Eisenberg
& Goodall, 1997:105).
Organisations, like biological organisms, are subject to environmental pressures to change,
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adapt, mutate or die off (Neher, 1997:106). Organisations rely on information and feedback in
order to monitor themselves and adapt to environmental pressures. Turbulent information
environments are associated with increased information load, and organisations in such
environments need to give special attention to subsystems for dealing with communication load.
These subsystems should consist of structures and channels capable of handling and
disseminating environmental information throughout the entire system (Neher, 1997:112).
One of the contributions of Katz and Kahn - mentioned at the beginning of this section - to
organisational theory, is the identification of the following types of generic subsystems as typical
of most organisations (Katz & Kahn, 1966:39-47):
* Production or technical subsystems. These are concerned with the throughput (energetic
or informational transformation), i.e. the work that gets done.
* Supportive subsystems. These are concerned with maintaining a favourable environment
for the operation of the system.
* Maintenance subsystems. These are aimed at maintaining good internal relations and
tying people into the system as functioning parts.
* Adaptive subsystems. These are concerned with organisational change, in order to adapt
to changes in the environment.
* Managerial subsystems. These comprise the organised activities for controlling,
coordinating and directing the many subsystems of the structure.
Of particular importance to this study are the supportive and adaptive subsystems, as these
highlight the importance of interaction with the environment, while the maintenance subsystem
does the same for the internal systemic relationships of an organisation (Neher, 1997:110).
3.9.1.4 The systems approach applied to public relations
As the unit of analysis in systems terms is a relationship (Windahl et al., 1992:85) and public
relations by definition implies the existence of relationships, it follows logically that systems
theory could be useful for studying public relations.
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Angelopulo (1994:40-41) suggests that, as an open system, an active outward orientation of an
organisation is best attained with the intervention of a facilitating agent. This facilitation is most
appropriately the function of public relations.
Public relations can be regarded as one of the subsystems that make up an organisation. Public
relations is one of several areas of planned communication with a bias towards continuous,
strategic and institutionalised communication (Windahl et al., 1992:87).
According to Fauconnier (1985:120-121), the public relations function of an organisation could
be described as a policy and a totality of techniques, developed by a specific system with a view
to its continual self-regulation, by which it systematically controls, maintains or improves its
relations with the environment and with its subsystems.
As implied by the public relations definitions discussed earlier, public relations strives towards
mutually beneficial environmental and internal relationships. The systems approach in public
relations entails proactive and reactive involvement with an organisation and its publics. The
accumulation and distribution of information is crucial is this regard (Angelopulo, 1994:48).
Relying on input from the environment and subsystems within the organisation, the practitioner
plans public relations activities to maintain, strengthen or change existing knowledge, attitudes,
etc. held by publics with regard to the organisation (Mersham et al., 1995:47). The value of
public relations in the process of strategy development in organisations is that it is a source of
intelligence regarding the social environment. This intelligence needs to be fed into the groups
or individuals responsible for strategy development (White & Mazur, 1995:25). From a systems
point of view, public relations therefore has the role of adaptation, based on feedback and action
taken (Angelopulo, 1994:48).
Boundary spanners, individuals who maintain communication links across systems and
subsystem boundaries (Neher, 1997:114), are particularly important from a systems perspective.
This boundary spanning function is assigned to public relations (Leonard and Ströh, 2000b:41).
Cutlip et al. (2000:231-233) describe different ways in which levels of systems can identified in
public relations. Firstly, an organisation and its publics can be viewed as a system. In this view
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the organisation and its various publics constitute the different entities making up the system.
The task of the public relations practitioner is to maintain mutually beneficial relationships
between these entities. An organisation-publics system can, however, be viewed as part of a
larger social system, such as the national system or even the world. Viewed in this manner, the
organisation and its publics form a subsystem within a suprasystem.
3.9.2 The network approach
A network consists of a system of links among components such as individuals, work groups or
organisations (Miller, 1999:84). Network theory is based on individual interactions among
network members, which build up into a macrostructure (Littlejohn, 1999:324). A network
analysis studies the maps of relationships and communication flow among network components
(Miller, 1999:83-84).
The network approach is related to the systems approach in that systems consist of networks.
Network analysis provides a means to study the interconnections among system components, and
the arrangement of those components into systems and suprasystems (Miller, 1999:83).
According to Neher (1997:114), network analysis has become a primary method of
communication study in the systems theory approach. Eisenberg and Goodall (1997:295)
attribute the current focus on communication networks in organisations to a general acceptance
of systems theories, which emphasise the connections between people, and the relationships that
constitute an organisation. A communication network is a structure that is built on the basis of
communication relationships (Monge, 1989:241). These networks are the patterns of contact
between communication partners, which are created by transmitting and exchanging messages
through time and space (Monge & Contractor, 2001:440). Typical communication relations are
>shares information with=, >talks to=, >receives reports from= and >discusses new ideas with=
(Monge, 1989:243).
Networks exist within systems, but also cross organisational boundaries in the case of open
systems (Eisenberg & Goodall, 1997:299). The latter type of networks are known as
interorganisational networks. Interorganisational networks demonstrate that an organisation can
never operate in isolation, but is always part of an environment that affects its operation and
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culture (Littlejohn, 1999:306). Interorganisational networks are essential sites of dialogue and
cooperation with other systems. Organisations can participate in interorganisational networks by
means of strategic alliances and joint ventures (Eisenberg & Goodall, 1997:299-301).
In recent years, the focus on networks has broadened from connections among people within
organisations, to connections among people in the global society. Communication networks
have also been transformed by the Internet and network marketing (Eisenberg & Goodall,
1997:301-302). According to Mersham and Skinner (2001b:155), the Digital Age and New
Economy are characterised by the coming together of the technical computer network and human
networking, which means that the goals of business, information and communication
technologies are converging. An extremely complex social and communication infrastructure is
resulting from the rise of new communication technology and virtual communities (Van Dijk,
1999:24). This is what was referred to in the previous chapter as the Network Society.
Networks have certain advantages, some of which include the facilitation of communication; the
sharing of new ideas and information; facilitation of cooperation and collective action; and the
ability to act as change agent (Windahl et al., 1992:79; Monge, 1989:243).
Network analysis provides a holistic explanation of how a network is structured (Windahl et al.,
1992:76). Windahl et al. (1992:76) suggest that the following properties of networks should be
taken into account when studying and planning networks:
* Connectedness. This is a measure of the extent to which the members of a network are
linked to the network. A highly connected network offers greater potential than a loosely
connected one for disseminating information to members.
* Integration. This is a measure of the degree to which members of a network are linked to
each other. Higher integration indicates more potential communication channels.
* Diversity. Greater diversity indicates that ideas may enter the system relatively easily
through weak ties (Granovetter, quoted by Windahl et al., 1992:76).
* Openness. This indicates how well a certain group, system or network communicates
with its environment. A close group will be harder to reach from the outside.
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According to Littlejohn (1999:305), centrality is one of the most frequently studied aspects of
networks. Centrality refers to the overall closeness or reachability of networks. A network
member who has a number of contacts has high centrality, whereas a network in which the
average number of contacts is high, has network centrality. Density is the ratio of actual to
potential contacts (Monge, 1989:244).
Centrality or density can be studied by focusing on the roles that individuals play in networks. A
communication role in a network is determined by a member=s influence on information flow
(Eisenberg & Goodall, 1997:297). The following types of roles are said to typically exist in
networks (Eisenberg & Goodall, 1997:297-298; Windahl et al., 1992:77; Monge, 1989:242):
* Isolate roles. These are held by individuals to whom few are linked.
* Group member roles. These members communicate mainly within an informal clique.
* Bridge roles. These members have significant communication contact with at least one
member of another formal group.
* Liaison roles. These are held by individuals who link together clusters in the network.
* Star roles. These are held by individuals who are linked to a large number of other
individuals.
* Non-participant roles. These are held by individuals who simply perform their task within
a network, without communicating with the rest of the network.
The interdependent and interactive nature of all parts of a system suggests a rule for influencing
systems, in that the more connections a person or group has, the more possible influence will
result (O=Connor and McDermott, 1997:15). Networking thus brings influence. O=Connor and
McDermott (1997:15) suggest that successful managers spend four times as much time
networking as do their less successful colleagues. Furthermore, is has been found that people
who are frequently involved in joint activities are likely to be well connected in networks.
Denser networks increase members= likeliness to accept new ideas and to adapt to change
(Eisenberg & Goodall, 1997:297). Weak links thus decrease access to new information.
Understanding network roles, together with the structural aspects of networks, allows for
prediction of the extent to which information will move within a network. Network >stars= could
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be used in communication campaigns to spread information through a network (Windahl et al.,
1997:77).
With regard to the global Network Society, Van Dijk (1999:26-27) advances an interdisciplinary
analytical framework to study this system. He proposes that the Network Society be studied in
terms of the following aspects. These could be regarded as subsystems which constitute the
Network Society:
* technology
* economy
* politics and power
* law
* social structure
* culture
* psychology
3.9.2.1 The use of networks in public relations
Marlow and O=Connor Wilson (1997:124) argue that networking communication competencies
will be the most highly valued skills in the organisation of the future. These competencies are a
prerequisite for designing and sustaining the network organisation of the future.
According to Stevens (1998:18), individual public relations firms are increasingly using the
network approach to share information, expertise and resources with one another. In similar
fashion, international and domestic nonprofit organisations have discovered that using public
relations networks can be highly effective in communicating non-commercial messages. Stevens
(1998:19) predicts that global professional alliances in general, and public relations networks in
particular, will be a growing influence in the 21st century, and that the public relations sector can
benefit from information-sharing with global networks in other professions.
Mersham et al. (1995:140) suggest that public relations practitioners make use of networks, by
discovering or initiating them to provide feedback to management. Identifying and developing
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networks of influentials is also an essential starting point in community relations.
Some existing regional and global networks in public relations have already been covered in
Sections 3.7 and 3.8.1.3.
3.9.3 Complex, dynamic systems
According to Eisenberg and Goodall (1997:100), the concept of dynamic systems was born with
the advent of relativity and the initiation of analogies between organic systems and human
societies.
According to Baldwin Leveque and Poole (1999:79,81), complex, dynamic systems relate to the
development of higher order systems theories. The latter incorporate complex, dynamic and
emergent properties in older, more static systems research, and allow for a new awareness which
they term systems thinking. Baldwin Leveque and Poole (1999:97) note that the foundations of
systems thinking - dynamism, complexity and emergence - counter the shortcomings of
functionalism, an older systems perspective, which emphasised equilibrium, and did not have the
ability to model conflict and disruption in a social system. They argue that newer systems
approaches are highly flexible, and not only suggest the interaction of multiple forms of analysis,
but actually require it.
Laszlo (1987:9,20) terms the new paradigm of complex, dynamic systems the >evolutionary
paradigm=, pointing out that it is the acceptance of the divergence property of dynamic systems
which challenges the concept of equilibrium and determinancy of older systems theory. The
evolutionary paradigm provides a framework for studying the evolvement of both natural and
socio-cultural systems. Laszlo (1987:20) notes that the science of complex, dynamic systems
shows that evolution occurs when a system is in the third state. Systems in the first state are in
equilibrium and dynamically inert. Those in the second state are near equilibrium. These
systems are not inert, but tend to move towards equilibrium as soon as the constraints that keep
them in non-equilibrium are removed. Systems in the third state are nonlinear, occasionally
indeterminate and far from equilibrium. Such a system enters a transitory phase characterised by
randomness and some degree of chaos. The system in now in a phase of bifurcation, which
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means that the smallest variation in an initial condition can give rise to widely differing
outcomes. This chaotic state is not entirely random, but is governed by chaotic attractors.
Chaotic attractors are complex and subtly ordered structures that constrain the behaviour of the
seemingly random and unpredictable system. The chaotic phase comes to an end when the
system settles into a new dynamic regime (Laszlo, 1987:21,35,41-43).
According to Baldwin Leveque and Poole (1999:85), the paradigm of complex, dynamic systems
implies a concern with the role of social dynamics in theory building, and encourages the
construction of an explanation of a phenomenon, rather than simply a description. It prompts
questions critical to systems analysis, relating to growth, decline, transition, modification and
transformation over time. It also acknowledges the need to build complexity into models of
organisation. To summarise the different ways in which complexity may be expressed, systems
or theories that are considered more complex tend to (Baldwin Leveque & Poole, 1999:88):
* contain more elements
* have elements that are more densely interconnected
* incorporate changes over time
* assume complex time-shape relationships between elements in the system
* relate system elements using higher order functional forms
* suggest recursive relationships between system elements.
According to Laszlo (1987:41), the chaotic behaviour discovered in natural systems in the third
state, has resulted in an entire discipline within complex, dynamic systems theory. This
discipline is devoted to the study of the properties of chaotic attractors and of the systems
governed by them. It became popularly known as chaos theory. This theory is discussed next.
3.9.4 Chaos theory
Despite its name, chaos theory seeks to eliminate, rather than discover or create, chaos. It studies
the processes that appear chaotic on the surface, but on detailed analysis prove to manifest subtle
strands of order (Laszlo, 1987:41).
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According to Goertzel (1994:4-6), chaos theory picks up where the general systems theory of the
1940s and 1950s left off. Chaos theory studies the irregular and unpredictable time evolution of
nonlinear systems (Baker & Gollub, 1996:1). It represents a paradigm shift, in teaching that
forces of disorder, nonlinearity, unpredictability and instability are controlling the universe
(Elliott & Kiel, 1998:1-2).
Although chaos theory originated in the fields of meteorology (Yuhas Byers, 1997:30),
chemistry (Eisenberg & Goodall, 1997:102) and thermodynamics (Çambel, 1993:136-139), it is
also applied to the humanities in fields such as psychology, linguistics (Goertzel, 1994:43-87),
politics, economics (Elliott & Kiel, 1998:3) and organisational management (Wheatley,
1994:121-137). In the context of this thesis, chaos theory is especially useful as a new means to
understand the state of the contemporary work environment, where predictability and stability
are becoming a thing of the past (Yuhas Byers, 1997:29-30). In addition, it provides an
understanding of the increased complexity and turmoil in the global society, brought about by the
forces of globalisation.
Chaos theory studies how order emerges from the interaction of parts of a whole (Yuhas Byers,
1997:30). It focuses on the capacity of a system to respond to disorder or non-equilibrium with
renewed life (Wheatley, 1994:11). Chaos is the final state in a system=s movement away from
the familiar state and often predictable environment (De Wet, 2001:70), and can be described as
the times, in an organisation, when people are confused and feel overwhelmed (Rensburg and
Ströh, 1998:56).
As pointed out by Laszlo (1987:41), chaos theory is central to the perspective of complex,
dynamic systems, in that a dynamic system lends itself to periods of chaos when entering the
third state. Goertzel (1994:3), a mathematician, however, warns against interpreting >chaos= as a
synonym for >complex system science=, explaining the distinction as follows: >Chaos theory has
to do with determinism underlying apparent randomness. Complex systems science is more
broadly concerned with the emergent, synergetic behaviours of systems composed of a large
number of interacting parts.=
According to Wheatley (1994:18), chaos theory teaches that the world is inherently orderly and
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that fluctuation and change are part of the very process by which order is created. Chaos theory
teaches that disorder can be a source of order, and that growth is found in disequilibrium rather
than in balance. It shows that, when looking at a system from the perspective of time, it always
demonstrates its inherent orderliness. Chaos theory, therefore, moves away from linear thinking,
in viewing chaos and order, or change and stability, as two complementary aspects in the process
of growth (Wheatley, 1994:20-21).
Self-renewal and self-organising abilities of systems are therefore important concepts of chaos
theory (Ströh, 1998:23). Self-renewing systems use their energy to recreate themselves, and to
change to new forms to deal with new information (Ströh, 1998:24). Thompson (1997:241, 247)
suggests that organisations do this by making creative use of their environments.
Weick introduced the idea in the 1970s that evolving organisations move through cycles of
enactment, selection and retention, to adapt to their environment. Weick=s model capitalises on
the resemblance between organising processes and the process of natural selection in species
evolution (Weick, 1979:130). Enactment is to organising, as variation is to natural selection. It
refers to the act of isolating and studying changes in the environment. Selection means choosing
interpretations in an effort to make sense of a confusing environment. Retention is the process of
storing the products of successful sensemaking (referred to as >enacted environments=) to impose
on future environments (Weick, 1979:130-132,147,213). According to Weick (1995:86-88),
organisational sensemaking is of particular importance in environments characterised by
information overload, complexity and turbulence.
According to Thompson (1997:241-242), the processes of enactment, selection and retention are
what enables organisations to make creative use of their environments. According to Eisenberg
and Goodall (1997:116), the concept enacted environment is especially important in the
contemporary business world, in which environmental scanning is crucial to an organisation=s
survival. Enactment allows members of human organisations to reduce uncertainties in complex
and unpredictable environments, in order to achieve self-renewal. Unlike theories of species
evolution, in which degrees of environmental variation are determined objectively, in
organisational environments people look for clues to threats or opportunities. Organisational
success therefore requires an ongoing examination of current issues (Eisenberg and Goodall,
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1997:115-116).
Ongoing self-renewal, based on environmental scanning, enables an organisation to becomes a
learning organisation, which is discussed next.
3.9.5 Learning organisations
The concept >learning organisation= refers to the ability to learn and adapt (Eisenberg & Goodall,
1997:10). According to Jordaan (1998:35), learning organisations are characterised by the
capability to sense change, to learn lessons from past failures and successes, and to utilise these
lessons learned to respond creatively to increasingly turbulent and uncertain environments.
Authors such as Senge et al. (1994:7) and Eisenberg and Goodall (1997:114), regard systems
thinking as a prerequisite for a learning organisation to develop. Systems thinking implies
holism and interdependence, and holds that for any one member to succeed, all members must
succeed (Eisenberg & Goodall, 1997:114). Systems thinking leads to a new understanding of
organisational change as a participative process at all levels, rather than a top-down or bottom-up
process. When systems thinking is employed, the structure of an organisation is not seen simply
as the organisational chart, but as the pattern of interrelationships among key components of the
system, including the hierarchy and process flows, attitudes and perceptions, the way in which
decisions are made, the quality of products, etc. Systems thinking allows organisations to see
how to change systems more effectively, and to act more in tune with the larger processes of the
natural and economic world (Senge et al., 1994:6-7,89-90).
Learning organisations are akin to the complex, adaptive systems advanced by chaos theorists.
Stacey (1996:284) describes a complex, adaptive system as applied to human organisations as a
number of agents interacting with one another according to rules of behaviour that require them
to inspect one another=s behaviour and adjust their own in the light of the behaviour of others. In
other words, complex adaptive systems learn to evolve, and they usually interact with other
complex adaptive systems. They survive because they learn or evolve in an adaptive way: they
compute information in order to extract regularities, building them into rules of behaviour that
are continually changed in the light of experience (Stacey,1996:284).
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From a chaos theory point of view, organisations need to function as complex, adaptive systems
to create order out of a rapidly changing environment, and to cope with perpetual uncertainty
(Yuhas Beyers, 1997:31). This means that they need to be capable of responding with flexibility
to external and internal change, rather than struggling against the environment because they see
it as a source of disruption and change, and focusing efforts on maintaining defensive structures
(Wheatley, 1994:90-91). In this regard, learning organisations are more adaptive and generative
than traditional organisations. They seek deeper understanding, rather than quick-fix solutions.
They possess a commitment to openness, and an ability to deal with complexity. As complex,
adaptive systems, learning organisations are also prepared to face the anxiety associated with the
unknown and unfamiliar (Yuhas Beyers, 1997:32).
According to Eisenberg and Goodall (1997:114), learning organisations practise the following
disciplines - in addition to systems thinking:
* Personal mastery. Members share a personal commitment to learning and self-reflection.
* Mental models. Because learning is a form of self-renewal, it must begin with selfreflection,
particularly on the paradigms that shape and limit an individual=s
interpretations and actions.
* A shared vision and the abolishment of tight hierarchical control. Members act in concert
because they share a common organisational vision, and understand how their own work
contributes to that vision.
* Team learning. Team members communicate in ways that lead the team toward
intelligent decisions, with an emphasis on dialogue.
3.9.6 Complex, dynamic systems, networks, chaos theory and learning organisations
applied to globalisation and public relations
Systems theory provides a holistic perspective of the global society. The perspective of
complex, dynamic systems is particularly suitable to deal with the complexity of the world as a
macro-human society. Viewed in terms of systems theory, the global society can be regarded as
a macrosystem, consisting of a vast number of subsystems comprising different countries, the
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global political order, global economic order, the global media system, etc. From a systems
perspective, the global society can be viewed as a integral whole, whose components are linked,
and influence one another. The emphasis is on the interconnectedness of the diverse subsystems
in the world, which explains why an event on one side of the globe can have consequences for
those who live on the opposite side. Global communication can be regarded as the glue that
keeps subsystems connected, and allows for feedback, which enables the system to change, adapt
and regulate itself. Viewing the global society from a systems perspective also allows for the
study of relationships and networks between the different subsystems, and the impact of these
relationships and networks on the world community.
The paradigm of complex, dynamic systems allows for focus on the divergent nature of the world
as a globalising entity. Chaos theory, in turn, can be used to explain why chaos occurs in the
global system. Laszlo (1987:92) regards technology as major cause of societal change, leading
to turbulence and growth. History shows that all major technological revolutions created
instability, pushing society to new levels of organisation (Laszlo, 1987:93-101). In this regard,
globalising forces and the Communication Revolution could be regarded as factors subjecting the
contemporary global community to destabilisation, pushing it in a new direction. As a result of
the disintegrating forces of globalisation, together with the backlash of economic globalisation,
the global society at times seems unstable and out of control. Ströh (1998:39-40), in fact, terms
the new millennium >the age of chaos and change=.
Chaos theory, however, teaches that a system in chaos is a system which is ready to grow.
Chaotic systems, in terms of chaos theory, correlate with the notion that dynamic systems have a
divergence property which can lead to critically disturbed systems, which drives the evolutionary
process (see Section 2.6.6). Therefore, contemporary chaos in the global system should be
viewed as a transitory phase, which could move the global community towards a higher order
and consciousness.
Chaos theory can also be used to explain what can be done to assist the global system in selforganisation
and a return to a state of stability. Human beings have free will. Therefore, unlike
natural systems, the members of a societal system have the capacity to intervene in its evolution,
and to consciously influence its outcome. Laszlo (1987:128) states that it is possible to master
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the evolutionary process of high-energy technological societies by purposeful action based on a
sound knowledge of socio-developmental dynamics. With reference to the current era, Laszlo
(1987:141) suggests that a more mature and dynamically stable global society could be created
by an atmosphere of mutual trust, and the phasing out of narrow, short-term and self-centred
economic and political strategies antithetical to long-term cooperation. He argues that
individuals with communication skills, and in key positions, could make a crucial difference in
this regard, by creating and mobilising a critical mass of people, and exploring suitable channels
of communication with governmental and nongovernmental organisations and with business
enterprises to gain support for humanistic causes (Laszlo, 1987:147-148).
It can be deduced from Laszlo=s reasoning, that public relations practitioners, as communication
agents and managers of strategic relationships, have the capacity to intervene in the evolution of
the global community, and to assist in driving it to more mature and stable state. Chaos theory
provides a framework to study the specific responsibilities and changing role of public relations
to reach this aim. Some responsibilities which relate to the global system at large, have already
been covered in Section 3.8.2, which outlines public relations= potential role in measures to
counteract the disintegrating forces of globalisation.
With regard to organisational responsibilities, the function of public relations during periods of
chaos within the organisation is to act as an integrating force. This is done through
communication and the management of relationships within the organisational system.
Communication defines an organisation. It is the means through which the subsystems organise
themselves and work together. Communication can therefore be seen as the glue holding the
system and subsystems together, allowing for units to function in sync with one another (Yuhas
Byers, 1997:28-29). Furthermore, healthy relationships within organisation are necessary for the
achievement of goals. Communication thus becomes the basic requirement for a system to
reorganise itself, and communication management becomes the strategic tool to manage
interactions (Ströh, 1998:30-31).
As boundary spanners and environmental scanners, public relations practitioners also play a
significant role in assisting their organisations to function as learning systems in rapidly
changing environments. Wheatley (1994:91) states that an organisation can respond to change
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with flexibility only if it has access to new information, both about external factors and internal
resources. It is the task of public relations practitioners to provide their organisation with this
information. In the words of Vogl (2001:22), it is the task of public relations to keep top
management informed of the full range of groups around the world which can threaten the
corporation=s reputation in environments that are becoming more complex because of greater
input by the public at large.
As environmental scanners, public relations practitioners therefore assist organisations to move
through the cycles of enactment, selection and retention, as advanced by Weick (1979:130), to
achieve organisational sensemaking in turbulent environments. Mersham et al. (1995:47)
explain the role of public relations in organisational sensemaking as a response to turbulent
social, economic and political changes, by directing the organisation=s behaviour towards
attaining balance and symmetry with the global system or attempts to influence and control it.
When applied to public relations policy, it means that the organisation has to carefully consider
the stable or unstable behaviour of the environment and that belonging to each of the external
and internal stakeholders. In times of rapid social change, the public relations practitioner=s task
is to convert the information received into a concrete diagnosis which shapes public relations
programmes (Mersham et al., 1995:47-48).
Marlow and O=Connor Wilson (1997:72) support this view by assigning to communication
managers in the current age of chaos and rapidly changing business environments, the
responsibility to help their corporations to adjust to this change by creating understanding, and
making knowledge more productive. This implies that communication professionals should
operate from a holistic understanding of communication dynamics; become networkers and
integrators of information from both inside and outside the organisation; possess
multidisciplinary expertise and insight; support diversity in communication practices; harness
the power of electronic communication technology; and synergise employee actions towards
prioritised issues and values (Marlow & O=Connor Wilson, 1997:58,62,68,71,87,121).
3.9.7. Systems and networks, chaos theory and learning organisations applied to public
relations education
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The open systems approach is particularly suitable, perhaps essential, for a study of public
relations education, as a course in public relations can never be designed in isolation from the
environment in which future graduates will be operating. From a systems perspective, a public
relations education programme, consisting of a public relations course and input from the
department in which it is offered, should be seen as a core interdependent subsystem within a
framework of larger interdependent systems and suprasystems. The larger systems constitute the
applicable education institute, applicable professional association/s for public relations at local
and national levels, the public relations industry of the applicable country, the country at large,
the continent in which the applicable country is situated, IPRA, the global public relations
industry and the world.
The multidisciplinary nature of public relations education implies that public relations courses
and departments are systems and networks consisting of interrelated units. However, public
relations courses and departments also function as subsystems and networks within greater
systems - the educational institutions in which they operate. Each different type of educational
institution has its own mission and its own education philosophy.
The tertiary institutions relevant to this study are technikons. These institutions have a
distinctive mission and distinctive education prescriptions, which are elaborated on in the next
chapter. These prescriptions have to be taken into account when designing and reviewing
education programmes.
Public relations courses and departments also function as subsystems and networks within the
public relations industry. The quality of the industry is to a large extent determined by the output
of the educational institutions which offer education in public relations. The quality of the
education of those educational institutions is, in turn, determined by their ability to obtain input
from the industry through networking, and to adjust their curricula accordingly. As the interest
of the public relations industry is usually looked after by a public relations association,
recommendations and input from this association should be taken into account when studying
and planning public relations courses. In South Africa in particular, public relations education
courses should be designed in collaboration with PRISA.
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Public relations courses and departments also function as subsystems and networks within a
country and continent. Public relations education programmes should prepare students for the
total milieu in which they will be operating - including the political, social, economic and other
patterns. In the context of complex, dynamic systems they need to be equipped with the
necessary knowledge of socio-developmental dynamics to provide them with the capacity to
intervene as communication agents in the evolution of societal systems, as suggested by Laszlo
(1987:147-148). In Africa, for example, students need to be equipped for the development needs
of their continent. This will prepare them to steer their future organisations towards social
responsibility and global integration without shutting out unequal partners.
In South Africa, tertiary education programmes have to be planned within the new structure for
higher education introduced in the 1990s when NQF, SAQA, the CHE and NSBs and SGBs were
formed. The requirements set by this new structure are also elaborated on in the next chapter.
The largest suprasystem within which public relations courses and departments operate, is the
world. Public relations curriculum planners can never divorce themselves from the global scene
and remain blind to international development. As IPRA is the official representative of the
global public relations industry, its recommendations pertaining to education should be taken
into account.
By enabling the identification of all the sub- and suprasystems and networks that influence
public relations courses, the systems and network approaches offer a holistic perspective for the
planning of public relations education programmes. The macrosystems approach is particularly
suitable for the global nature of this study. South Africa is not a closed system in the world.
Since the country=s release from relative isolation in 1994, and in view of increasing forces of
globalisation, it should operate as a subsystem within a larger system and network, the world,
also in the area of public relations education.
With regard to subsystems, systems and suprasystems, education programmes in public relations
at technikons, which is the core system focused on by this study, can be viewed from different
angles. It can be viewed as a subsystem or network which operates within a hierarchy of larger
systems or networks, namely technikons, the South African tertiary education system, the public
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relations industry, the South African society, the African continent and the global society.
Different levels of systems influencing such education programmes can thus be identified.
Systems thinking also enables an analyst to study the education programme as a system
comprising subsystems such as different aspects of the education programme. All systems in this
hierarchy of systems are open systems. Technikon departments which offer education
programmes are open systems cooperating with other departments operating within technikons,
which in turn are open systems heavily dependent on their environment, for which they
constantly have to produce an appropriately qualified work force. The hierarchy of systems of
which a public relations education programme at technikons in South Africa forms part, can be
illustrated as in Figure 3.1:
The above hierarchy of systems within which education programmes in public relations at
technikons operate, should be viewed as complex, dynamic and chaotic systems in transition,
subject to constant change because of the forces of globalisation. In this regard, public relations
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education programmes at technikons should be viewed as systems subjected to the requirements
of a learning organisation. The existence of intra- and interorganisational networks with a high
degree of centrality, including the formation of strategic alliances, could assist technikon
departments to offer public relations programmes that function as learning systems.
In Chapter 4, a model for globalisation of vocationally-oriented public relations education is
developed with the above implications in mind. For this purpose, a general, prescriptive open
systems framework, approaching education programmes as complex, dynamic systems and
learning organisations operating in a chaotic global suprasystem, is included in the next chapter,
to be used as a basis for the development of firstly, a generic, vocationally-oriented globalisation
model, and secondly, to apply this model to technikon public relations education.
3.10 SUMMARY
This chapter provided a developmental and theoretical perspective for the study of public
relations practice and education. In the first part of the chapter the term public relations was
defined by providing a critical review of different approaches to defining the term and by
selecting an approach for this study. Harlow=s definition adopted by IPRA and Hutton=s
framework to conceptualise public relations were accepted as a summary of the most important
functions of public relations for the purpose of this investigation, while Kendall=s social
responsibility definition of public relations was accepted as a working definition, and extended
for the purpose of this study to cover global public relations.
Next, an overview was provided of the developmental history of public relations. The systems
and structural approaches were identified as points of departure to study public relations history.
American, international, African and South African development of public relations practice and
education were reviewed in terms of the structural approach. This discussion provided insight
into the global connectedness that currently exits in the field of public relations, and also into the
current state of public relations practice and education in South Africa, as compared to the rest of
the world.
The impact of globalisation on public relations practice and education was discussed next in
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terms of new competencies required. An overview was provided of how the profession is
influenced by three major forces of globalisation: the New Economy, the Communication
Revolution and the Network Society. This was followed by a discussion of the potential role of
public relations in counteracting disintegrating forces of globalisation. This discussion provided
insight into the changing needs in the role of, and education for, the profession, in order to adapt
to the forces of globalisation.
The systems and network approaches and chaos theory were identified as a theoretical
framework for this study. The systems and network approaches were outlined first, and related
to globalisation and public relations. Complex, dynamic systems, chaos theory and learning
organisations were discussed next, as part of systems thinking. These concepts were also related
to globalisation and public relations. Lastly, the selected theoretical perspective was applied to
public relations education, pointing out the hierarchy of systems and suprasystems in which such
programmes operate, in general and at technikons in particular. This hierarchy was portrayed as
consisting of complex, dynamic and chaotic systems subjected to fast-changing suprasystems,
with each layer in need of functioning as a learning system.
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