Are there universal principles, or is public relations specific to regions and cultures? This was the key question addressed in today’s teleseminar, and these are my instant observations (sorry, no links as I’m typing late and in haste).
This was a polite and predictable affair. James Grunig said that the press agentry model was the only universal one, though he listed some generic principles and said he had tested these worldwide. The principles stand up, he argued, though they can be applied differently. (He later sidestepped the question about the dominance of the anglo-saxon model.)
Richard Edelman (a late addition to the programme) reflected on current practice, introducing new themes
such as the primacy of PR in the marketing mix, citing the Dove ‘real
women’ campaign; and the need to communicate ethically in an unmediated
fashion. Other than referring to the phenomenon of online communities, he did not address the issue of global development of PR practice.
From a European perspective, Anne Gregory described the Bled Manifesto
which identified some uniquely European insights and the general
rejection of the phrase ‘public relations’ in favour of alternatives
such as ‘corporate communications’. She alluded to the rejection in
some quarters of public relations ever being used for marketing purposes.
Sriramesh Krishnamurthy provided an Asian view, noting the
resurgence of India and China. ‘We are very far from having a global
model’, he argued, bemoaning the lack of empirical evidence in this
field with most information coming from the US and UK.
What was missing, I felt, was a coherent historical perspective (though
Anne Gregory did cite two early examples of commercial public relations in
Europe in the nineteenth century). It seems to me that the three
preconditions for a thriving public relations practice are:
industrialisation, leading to consumer choice; democracy, meaning a
citizen’s participation in the choice of those who govern them; and
freedom of speech / free press / widespread access to the internet leading to a choice
of ideas and opinions. (Dejan Vercic had identified some of these
preconditions in his speech to the IPR in 2004.) If this is right, it would suggest a connection between public relations and consumer democracy (ie the Anglo-American business and political model). The British historian Niall Ferguson has charted this story in his recent books Empire and Collosus.
My assertion will of course be challenged by those who cite pre-industrial exemplars (eg Aristotle, though democracy and rhetoric apply in his case), and by those who reject globalisation (or even evolution).