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Reflective Communication Management, a Public View on Public Relations
Unformatted Document Text:  2 Reflective Communication Management A Public View on Public Relations 1. Introduction The newly published Handbook of Public Relations (Heath, 2000a), the widely discussed Ledingham and Bruning reader (2000), the handbook of Cutlip, Center and Broom (2000) that is used worldwide, as well as recent volumes of the public relations journals, show that the academic community currently defines public relations as a management function concerned with relationship building among publics from a symmetrical perspective to build trust, preserve or reduce conflict, and build community. However, “An evening spent at an awards banquet of the Public Relations Society of America or the International Association of Business Communicators gives a much different view of the field,” Heath admits (2000b:2). Should we conclude then that most professionals in this field and their clients are unprofessional? Or could it be that this perspective of public relations does not have sufficient empirical force and is, therefore, impossible to establish for practitioners and their clients? If so, academia leaves something to be desired for practice. In this paper we will argue that a feasible managerial concept of public relations needs more indicators than relationships alone to reflect the plural nature of its service to organizations and society, and that this needs to be an empirically based concept. We, therefore, will propose a two-by-two-dimensional definition of organization and communication and derive four basic models of communication management from it. We will propose different indicators for each of the four models. Then we will argue that the four models are not exclusive, but complementary, and that organizations are best advised to use these simultaneously in various combinations, i.e., as strategies. We will argue that this is necessary because all models are positioned at the behavioral level, i.e., on (members of) organizations and their publics. Taken individually, the societal level remains totally neglected. We will argue that this is a fundamental misunderstanding of the legitimacy problem of organizations. To address this we will propose a new view of practical public relations called reflective communication management that is derived from social sciences rather than behavioral sciences. In this view of communication management the four existing models are combined as strategies. We use the term "communication management" because it seems to be the more common denominator of the field in Europe in both academia and practice (cf. Ruler et al., 2000; Ruler & Vercic, 2002; Vercic et al., 2001), while "public relations" seems to be more common in the USA. We, however, equate it with

Authors: Van Ruler, A. A. Betteke. and Vercic, Dejan.
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2
Reflective Communication Management
A Public View on Public Relations
1. Introduction
The newly published Handbook of Public Relations (Heath, 2000a), the widely discussed Ledingham and
Bruning reader (2000), the handbook of Cutlip, Center and Broom (2000) that is used worldwide, as well
as recent volumes of the public relations journals, show that the academic community currently defines
public relations as a management function concerned with relationship building among publics from a
symmetrical perspective to build trust, preserve or reduce conflict, and build community. However, “An
evening spent at an awards banquet of the Public Relations Society of America or the International
Association of Business Communicators gives a much different view of the field,” Heath admits
(2000b:2). Should we conclude then that most professionals in this field and their clients are
unprofessional? Or could it be that this perspective of public relations does not have sufficient empirical
force and is, therefore, impossible to establish for practitioners and their clients? If so, academia leaves
something to be desired for practice.
In this paper we will argue that a feasible managerial concept of public relations needs more indicators
than relationships alone to reflect the plural nature of its service to organizations and society, and that this
needs to be an empirically based concept. We, therefore, will propose a two-by-two-dimensional
definition of organization and communication and derive four basic models of communication
management from it. We will propose different indicators for each of the four models. Then we will argue
that the four models are not exclusive, but complementary, and that organizations are best advised to use
these simultaneously in various combinations, i.e., as strategies. We will argue that this is necessary
because all models are positioned at the behavioral level, i.e., on (members of) organizations and their
publics. Taken individually, the societal level remains totally neglected. We will argue that this is a
fundamental misunderstanding of the legitimacy problem of organizations. To address this we will
propose a new view of practical public relations called reflective communication management that is
derived from social sciences rather than behavioral sciences. In this view of communication management
the four existing models are combined as strategies.
We use the term "communication management" because it seems to be the more common denominator of
the field in Europe in both academia and practice (cf. Ruler et al., 2000; Ruler & Vercic, 2002; Vercic et
al., 2001), while "public relations" seems to be more common in the USA. We, however, equate it with


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