Critiquing the Notion of Symmetry Essay Example
Critiquing the Notion of Symmetry Essay Example

Critiquing the Notion of Symmetry Essay Example

Available Only on StudyHippo
View Entire Sample
Text preview

There has been much debate about the validity and significance of symmetrical communication in public relations since James Grunig and Todd Hunt introduced their four model approach in 1984. This essay will explore the history and development of symmetrical communication, and assess its relevance in contemporary public relations theory and practice. The term "symmetrical communication" emerged from Grunig and Hunt's influential research, which identified four distinct stages in the evolution of public relations (Grunig and Grunig, 1992, p.290).

According to Grunig (1995), there are four models of public relations: press agentry, public information, two-way asymmetrical, and symmetrical communication. These models represent the values, goals, and behaviors of organizations in their practice of public relations. The symmetrical communication approach emphasizes a genuine two-way relationship between an organization and its public. Grunig and his colleagues argued that by adopting a symm


etrical model, organizations can achieve their desired outcomes by giving up something they want. They believe that the dominant worldview of communication, which is asymmetrical communication, should be changed. Asymmetrical communication involves manipulating publics for the benefit of organizations and is seen as unethical, socially irresponsible, and ineffective by Grunig.

According to Grunig (1995), the two-way symmetrical approach to communication was a departure from the prevailing worldview. Grunig also argued that it is challenging, if not impossible, to practice ethical and socially responsible public relations using an asymmetric model, despite practitioners' good intentions (Grunig, White, 1992, p. 42).

There have been both endorsements and criticisms of Grunig and Hunt's model, which this essay will address. Grunig (1992) explains that other research supports the idea that a two-way symmetrical approach makes organizations more effective. He cites David Dozier's (1989) argumen

View entire sample
Join StudyHippo to see entire essay

that the symmetrical model is inherently consistent with the concept of social responsibility (as cited in Grunig, Grunig 1992, p. 308). Similarly, William Ehling's (1984) theory of public relations emphasizes that only symmetrical communication management can be considered true public relations (as cited in Grunig, Grunig 1992, p.310).

Grunig (1992, p.318) asserts that organizations derive the greatest benefit from symmetrical communication when opposing publics have equal power to the organization, as stated by J.V. Pavlik (cited in Grunig and Grunig). However, there has also been extensive criticism of Grunig's concept of symmetrical communication. L'Etang and Pieczka (cited in Heath, 2002, p.17) argue that the model is too idealistic and unrealistic. Mackey (2003, p.1), a lecturer from Deakin University in Australia, suggests that organizations hire public relations professionals as advocates rather than "do-gooders" who capitulate to outsiders with differing agendas. According to Mackey (2003, p.1), critics of Grunig believe that organizations would not hire public relations professionals who do not practice asymmetrically. Despite this criticism, Grunig stands by his symmetrical communication model, acknowledging that most people perceive professional public relations as operating asymmetrically rather than symmetrically (Mackey, 2003, p.2).Mackey (2003) states that the asymmetrical model focuses on public relations programs that promote the status and initiatives of the organization funding the work. On the other hand, Lana Rakow argues that the symmetrical approach to public relations is unrealistic. Rakow believes that organizations in the United States social system have more power than the publics and therefore lack incentive for reciprocity (as cited in Grunig, White, 1992, p. [insert page number]).

According to G.R. Miller, public relations is inherently asymmetrical, while Anne Van der Meiden argues that it is

unrealistic for organizations to disregard self-interest (as cited in Craig Pearce's blog, 2009, Public relations: changing the world, retrieved on March 9, 3:38pm). Van der Meiden rejects both symmetrical and asymmetrical communication, asserting that public relations is just one means of persuasion alongside marketing, propaganda, and public affairs (as cited in Thorsteinsson, 2000, p.12). In response to criticisms of the two-way symmetrical model in 2008 on, Grunig explains that the symmetrical model does not imply that communication always benefits both parties equally or leads to consensus, which are two common misinterpretations of the model. These misinterpretations in the 1980s may have resulted in unnecessary criticism of the model.

The rise of social media has sparked interest in the effectiveness of symmetrical communication in public relations. This approach has gained momentum in organizations since the advent of the internet, as platforms like Facebook and Twitter, as well as citizen journalism, have made it necessary for organizations to adopt a more symmetrical approach. According to Grunig (2009) in Paradigms of global public relations in an age of digitalisation, digital media has pushed communicators towards the two-way symmetrical model, with open corporate social media sites, Twitter, and interactive online communities contributing to this approach. The power of social media is evident in the example of Cadbury reversing its decision to add palm oil to its chocolate in Australia and New Zealand under pressure from the public on social media. In 2009, Caitlin Fitzsimmons expressed the scathing reaction of the Australian and Kiwi public to such obvious deception in News & Culture.

According to a citation by Caitlin Fitzsimmon (2009), furious chocolate lovers used social media platforms like Facebook and

Twitter to organize anti-Cadbury campaigns. In response to the backlash, Cadbury made the decision to remove palm oil from their chocolate recipe, admitting that they had made a mistake. This incident with Cadbury serves as an example of how the advent of social media has made it more challenging for organizations to avoid a two-way symmetrical approach. Grunig notes that the emergence of new media has made it difficult for organizations to control which publics they engage with and how they communicate with them (cited in Toni Falcon, 2008). Grunig also emphasizes that no single public relations practitioner or department is solely responsible for an organization's communication approach. Instead, the dominant coalition, or group of decision-makers, determines organizational policy (Grunig, White, 1992).

According to Grunig (1992), for a public relations department to be excellent, it must be integrated into the dominant coalition. An example of this is the recent criticism faced by the CEO of the Christchurch City Council. Despite having a competent and sizable communications team, the Council has been accused of consistently making significant communication errors, especially after the September 2010 earthquake. In a submission to the Council's communications committee, public relations consultant David Lynch, as cited in The Press newspaper, believes that the council's issues stem from their organizational culture rather than poor communication. This could potentially be a result of the communications team not being part of the dominant coalition and thus being unable to practice effective two-way symmetrical communication in many cases. James Grunig emphasized the importance of striving for symmetrical public relations even more in the present climate during a Spinwatch conference in Glasgow in 2004, as cited in

a blog by Steve Mackey from Spinwatch (2012), retrieved from on March 12, 2012.According to Steve Mackey (2005), Grunig has expressed concern about the recent political shift in American society, suggesting that powerful organizations no longer feel the need to consult and try to reach consensus with community organizations and interest groups. Mackey cites this concern in a blog post from Spinwatch (2012), titled "Spin and Corporate Power", retrieved from on March 12, 2012.

While it is possible for information on the internet to be manipulated through fake blogs or astroturfing, the public relations profession has a responsibility to ensure, as much as possible, that practitioners strive for authentic two-way relationships with their stakeholders and the public.

With the emergence of social media, the current discussions regarding the importance of two-way symmetrical communication are indeed pertinent. Its implementation can only enhance professionalism within the industry.

Get an explanation on any task
Get unstuck with the help of our AI assistant in seconds