Public Relations - Eine Einführung (German Edition)

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Was ist Public Relations?

The field can be characterized by theoretical pluralism and theory competition Spinner, ; Whitley, The participants in this Delphi study had to reflect on most of the existing theories of public relations. In order to make the reader familiar with the general idea of these theories, they are presented briefly here. It states that public relations is not about persuading publics at all cost but about building dialogic relationships with publics. This theory provides a framework for detecting whether a public is active, aware, latent, or not at all involved in the action of an organization.

By extending the symmetric approach, the scholars argue that excellent public relations means fostering negotiation and compromise. This can only be achieved if the organization is willing to change its behaviour and if the public relations manager takes part in organizational decision-making. Dialogue is at the heart of the consensus-oriented PR theory. The stakeholder theory is in origin an ethical theory of the firm Freeman, , but to the extent that it is about the relationship of corporations with their stakeholders, it often serves as a starting point for communication with publics.

Open-systems theory approaches are used to model the relationship between organizations and environments. Postmodern theory, the complexity approach, and the power-control perspective are inspired by critical sociological thinking and developments in life sciences. The method is often used to reduce uncertainty in problematic or highly complex fields. As Delphi is still a young method, its research design is only standardized roughly. Most of the studies differ in three ways: firstly, the use of open and closed questions; secondly, the number of questionnaires; and thirdly, the number and selection of participating experts.

A consensus is often established after the second questionnaire. The number of experts varies: huge Delphi studies have had more than 3, participants. However, many scholars prefer a maximum of 30 participants. The selection of experts is one of the major problems, as experts need to have not only knowledge, but also influence in changing procedures and structures in the relevant field Duffield, The practitioners all have an academic degree and years of work experience in the field, and they are applying academic research in their daily praxis.

Inclusion of scholars from one country of each continent was desired.

With a view to a general, basic understanding of public relations in practice and research, it was necessary to look for countries that have at least some common cultural ground. More than 80 scholars and practitioners were asked to participate. Over 50 agreed; however, only 32 answered the first round second wave: Unfortunately, all six of those selected from South Africa—the first ones who agreed to participate—did not answer at all.

The people contacted in Brazil also did not participate.

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In the first round, 21 of the participants were academic and 11 stemmed from the practical field, so unfortunately the ratio of academics to practitioners was and not The gender ratio is 18 females to 14 males. Twelve participants came from the U. The number of participants involved was similar to other Delphi studies in the field Boynton, ; van Ruler et al. Due to the programming of the online questionnaire, no differentiation between academic experts and experts from praxis was possible.

Taking into account that only 11 practitioners participated, especially in this group, meaningful findings from differentiating the two groups would have been unlikely.

Furthermore, the study cannot in any way claim to be global; it is bounded to a Western and democratic culture, and even in this more or less homogenous culture, there is room for different interpretations and for semantic inconsistencies. While some Delphi studies work with open questions first to gather opinions about the topics in the words of the participants, this Delphi worked with given statements that could be agreed with or not on a scale from 1 to 3 or 1 to 5.


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If more than two participants demanded a new and similar statement or category, this was added to the questionnaire in the second round. The Delphi study was pre-tested by four experts in the field from the U. The pre-test indicated that there should be fewer open questions and more given statements that could be agreed with or disagreed with.


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Further on, the pre-test showed that national differences exist, although only experts from Western countries were involved. For example, there is no substantial academic field of organizational communication in Germany. Organizational communication is often used as a synonym for public relations Wehmeier, a. Based on the comments of the experts, the questionnaire was modified slightly before the first round started.

Most of the participants consider a public relations and organizational-communication practice that is based widely on academic theories and methods to be desirable 25 agree, 3 disagree, 4 cannot answer and possible 23 agree, 6 disagree, 3 cannot answer. Taking this as a starting point, the following results concentrate on 1 the relationship between academic theory building and public relations practice; 2 the general orientation of public relations research; 3 the impact of different disciplines on public relations practice; and 4 the future impact of specific theories on practice.

Robinson developed this ideal to foster research-based public relations practice. Robinson was certain that scientifically based practice is superior to practice that derives from intuition and experience. Cornelissen selected three models to describe this relationship. This linear model Weiss, sticks to the belief of rationality—order through science and social engineering. However, this model is still a one-way street from academia to practice. Scientific concepts and results are not perceived and used passively but altered, translated into the world of practice. In the practical use of scientific concepts, these concepts are altered; the academic world evaluates this use and, as a result, alters the concepts again.

The questionnaire used in this study tries to reflect these models. Looking at academic methods see Figure 2 , only a few participants say that they are scarcely relevant to PR practice 1. Support decreased in the second round for the statement that academic methods offer superior solutions to practical problems than does practical experience. A lot of participants agree with the opinion that academic methods share an equal importance compared with practical experience and intuitive methods, while most of the participants agree with the statement that academic methods are problem-solving intellectual tools that can optimize practice.

Study of public relations research shows some evidence that the domain lacks theory building. Although the proportion of theory building was small This optimistic outlook is supported in two ways: first, by the publication of a special issue and a special section of Public Relations Review, published in no. However, a recent content analysis of leading PR journals and general communication journals gives no reason for euphoric statements. In reporting these results, it should be noted that none of the content analyses mentioned here define what a theory is see Figure 3.

The researchers count only the number of articles that claim to be theory driven or theory oriented. Bearing this research in mind, the participants in this study were asked to decide whether they think that public relations research should henceforth: a pursue more fundamental research i. It seems obvious that the participants want public relations research to be more fundamental in the future see Table 1. In the second round, no participants wanted PR research to be more application or practice oriented, with five of the participants agreeing that a bit more practice orientation would be desirable.

However, every second participant wants PR research to be at least a bit more fundamental. The results of round one were similar. The quest for more fundamental research is also reflected in preferred future fields of research. Participants had to choose three possible answers to the question of where PR research should place its focus in the future. In , a year before the first scholarly public relations journal started in the U. Hundhausen identifies two core public relations tasks: communication and gaining or earning public trust.

Keeping this in mind, one of my aims was to find out if the neighbouring disciplines remain the same. In the questionnaire, it was claimed that until now, PR theory formation has predominantly consisted of communicational such as dialogue and information process theories , business management and marketing theories , and sociological organization and organizational communication theories ideas. For two reasons, psychology was not mentioned here: firstly, there are no recent public relations theories relying on psychological expertise; secondly, I wanted to see if some of the participants would mention psychology as a discipline that should be added to the list.

Participants were asked what they think about the influence of the abovementioned disciplines on contemporary academic PR theory building. They were also asked to say which disciplines will gain or lose impact on academic PR research in the future the next 10 years; see Figure 4. Participants believe that all disciplines will gain importance for public relations research in the future.

Not surprisingly, the leading discipline is communication; sociology is number two; Business is number three. The finding that sociology comes right after communication is somewhat surprising. Taking into account the general trend to frame public relations as communication management, the business discipline should have been in second place. This finding may, however, reflect the need for theory building in PR, represented by the previously mentioned special issue and section of Public Relations Review devoted to sociological grand theories and their impact on PR theory.

Furthermore, this result could also be biased by the selection of experts. Bernays—as an important discipline that should be added in the second round. In order to find out more about specific concepts that can be related to disciplines, participants were asked to give their opinion about the importance of academic concepts for PR practice see Figure 6. The answers might explain, too, why business is rated lower than sociology. Although issues management and strategic management are seen as the most important concepts in the future, obviously it is the expected decrease of the marketing approach to PR practice that lowers the impact of the business domain.

Another explanation for this phenomenon, however, might be that people say that the link to sociological reasoning and theorizing is important, but when it comes to basic concepts of public relations, the strategic dimension is dominant, because sociological concepts of public relations practice can rarely be found.

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While meta-theories are very stable and rarely totally displaced, unit theories can be tested empirically and thereby falsified or at least evaluated. As this distinction is only vital for questions of progress and growth in the sciences, both categories have been put together in this study, because the aim of this Delphi study was to find out which meta-theories, theories, and models will gain impact in the future. Participants were asked to decide which theories or models they consider very important or not important for public relations practice in the future.

The most selected theories or models that are believed to be relevant for public relations practice in the future are stakeholder theory, agenda building including models of the relationship between PR and journalism, such as the intereffication 3 approach , and the situational theory of publics see Table 2. While the latter two seem quite important in the future, stakeholder theory is the only one that seems to be very important in the eyes of the participants mean: 4.

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If one compares the perceived impact of theories on public relations practice today and the expected impact in the future, the picture is different. Here, complexity theory increases most, followed by stakeholder theory and the power control perspective. The impact of agenda building, which is number two in the future, stays the same, so in this case agenda building appears at the end of the ranking.

More than 30 years after Carl Hundhausen defined the neighbouring disciplines and main tasks of the domain of public relations, things have changed. A new discipline frames public relations research, teaching, and practice: management. At the same time as the management orientation increases in public relations thinking, the marketing perspective seems to vanish or at least diminish.

Like other studies in the field e. The study highlights that issues management and strategic management seem to be the most important academic concepts for the future.


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  4. Furthermore, stakeholder theory is seen as the most important theory to PR practice in the future. It is rather surprising then that sociology is seen as more important than the business domain for future academic theory building.

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