Events and spaces for twentyfirst century relationships and conversations….


From a front page article on the New York Times of Sunday July 13, Nicolai Ouroussif interestingly describes how new architecture in China reflects the vigour and intellectual ferment

which is going on in that part of the world.
At a certain point, in describing the CCTV headquarters in Bejing (the state television authority) by architect Rem Koolhaas as among the most imaginative architectural feats in recent memory, he writes :….he has carved out ample space for places of social exchange…..The architect sees the dividing line between public and private spheres as an active battleground, one that is constantly shifting and readjusting as society’s norms change and evolve….

Sounds familiar?

In a recent post concerning the London WPRF we read stimulating and varied suggestions from the likes of Austrian Markus Pirchner, New Zealander Catherine Arrow, UK’s Heather Yaxley, on how we, as public relators and -inevitably- organizers of the millions of pseudoevents which have possibly become today’s most serious social and economic pandemia, should make one serious effort to rethink and reinvent the classic 20th Century format.

This, in the context of at least one perspective of our efforts to reintermediate our professional role in this century where the dividing line between public and private spheres as an active battleground, one that is constantly shifting and readjusting as society’s norms change and evolve.

My scholar friend Giampaolo Azzoni, from the University of Pavia, says that our liquid and post-modern society is in dire need of new and different spaces for relationships, and that any organization finds itself increasingly involved, more or less consciously, in the effort to create places, events and tools (physical and virtual) capable of attracting interactions from its relevant stakeholder groups (amongst themselves and with the organization).
The implication is that we manage relationships not by attempting to control them, but by creating competitive spaces where relationships may better develop for all involved participants. On this issue please visit this other fairly recent post

This, in turn implies that the public relator needs to carefully and -almost to the single individual- identify the organization’s active stakeholders (subjects who are aware of and interested in a relationship, and therefore not selected by the organization). With this group, one simple push message announcing the availability of the space is usually sufficient to begin what, friendly or hostile, becomes a relationship.

Then, the public relator will also need to decide who the potential stakeholders are (subjects who are not aware of and therefore not attracted by a potential relationship but which s/he thinks would be interested if aware) and clearly communicate more con-vincingly (in the latin sense of vincere cum) in order to induce them to engage and move up to the active stakeholder group.

According to Giampaolo, a successful space will need to count on dwellers who are fully aware of where they are, no other strings attached (transparency); will necessarily need to facilitate polifonic (plural and different voices); and authentic (the rules of the game need to be based on consensus and not dictated by the convenor) conversations.

Thus, as Catherine Arrow points out in her last comment on the London post, public relations can become a highly creative activity.

Please read the past post, the suggestions, elaborate and comment. Thank you


  1. Public relations always has been a highly creative activity so long as you don’t get bogged down in the old-school Western media relations model. There is so much fun you can have if you take a bit of time out to think about the space you are operating – inside and out – and in doing so, all sorts of relational possibilities emerge.
    For the last several years I’ve thoroughly enjoyed playing around with what can be achieved in virtual spaces simply because there are so many different ways to create the type of polyphonic lattice-worked arena (like the new Bird’s Nest) that we need to do our job.

    Spaces that allow us not just to listen and view other people’s perspectives, but ones that allow us to walk a while ‘in their shoes’. I agree entirely with Heather’s comment in the other post when she said: “…the classic education lecture…far too passive for much learning, let alone understanding, to take place”. Passive spaces are a ‘one-way’ communication tool; there is very little room for question, challenge or participation as the ‘expectation’ of the audience is that we will sit and ‘be told’. Walk into any conference hall and you know what is expected of you – there are no surprises. Nothing to excite the curiosity or stimulate potential engagement. Our roles are assigned and our reactions anticipated before we even arrive. So what else could we do?

    Online gaming is a great way of taking this walk and is set to become much more influential in the next couple of years. Take a look at or some of the other ‘socially responsible’ games that are around. Game theory has long been applied by economists, social scientists, strategists and philosophers – I am a long-time advocate of the view that it should be widely applied by us too. It is an extremely valuable tool and I often create games for people to play when we need to experiment and explore perspectives of an organisation (internal and external, but very useful internally and I reckon an ability to play the board game ‘Risk’ should be specified on all public relations job descriptions – if you don’t know why, then have a game 😉

    The game environment lives within public and private spheres, shifting easily across the public/private divide. Sceptical? Think what we do when we establish and test a crisis plan. At the ‘planning and practice’ stage it is a single game with many possibilities and players in which we measure and assess the probabilities of each potential scenario, reacting and rehearsing until we achieve a ‘winning’ outcome. A simpler demonstration is the ease with which we are all diverted by a new widget, mini application (look at the hype around Twitter, which is essentially a game) or a silly email of a singing panda that someone sends us. And we remember the games we play. Compare that with the length of time we retain the editorials we read/view in the mainstream media? We should be busy scripting an organisational game or two that lets our stakeholders view us ‘from the inside’ rather than the outside they are used to seeing. How would they react to the decisions we make if they are operating the controls? They may not agree, but at least there would be a greater understanding. With some very interesting CSR implications as a result.

    Physical spaces I love the look of at the moment include the National Aquatic Centre in Beijing, simply because it so different, looks very tactile (even if it isn’t) and its novelty is such that it awakens curiosity – what possibilities can such a space hold? The spaces we create as practitioners should invite possibility rather than assign roles we have predetermined based on generalised assumptions.

    I have no idea how successful the actual Olympics will be as an event this year, but I think in terms of the buildings created around it, China has successfully communicated a willingness to ‘be different’, to have moved away perhaps from our older perspectives of the country and be a place, if not changed, then certainly a place of change or where change is possible. At least that is the message I have received loud and clear from the new architecture unveiled. And it is this ‘courage to change’ that perhaps we should be actively emulating as practitioners. So let’s go and spend an hour or two on the Wii with a few of our stakeholders instead of the more ‘traditional’ approaches!

  2. Count me in as recommending that organizations/associations make (at least some) knowledge from experts freely available to the public (i.e., non-members). The PR halo-effect can be immense, particularly if the information generated proves timely, relevant and interesting. (That was a good part of my rationale for spearheading an annual, open-access webcast with a top economist, which CPRS, FPSC, the Ontario Chamber of Commerce and others were pleased to promote to their memberships.)

    Although not a detractor, I’m not as big a champion of notes from a session I didn’t attend, as for the most part I don’t find the selected information overly compelling, i.e., without the benefit of the core or additional information shared at the session, an in-person presenter who is knowledgeable, versatile and charismatic, the crowd dynamics and interaction, etc. I remember a (free) webinar about online media relations (offered by a provider service), for which I had technical problems accessing the platform, first not getting the audio and then eventually getting booted off (and unable to return). When I voiced my unhappiness to a contact, connections were made and I was kindly provided with a copy of the PowerPoint presentation by the key organizer (unfortunately, as she explained, an archive was not made of the audio). I appreciated the gestures, but found the content minimal and not reflective of the small portion of the session I did get to listen to, so they didn’t prove useful for present or future reference. (In fact, I didn’t bother keeping a copy.) This might not be the case where the notes were comprehensive and/or supplementary to the main presentation. Or (obviously) if I had received the core audio component. I’m much more appreciative of video versions of sessions, although if the length is too long I get restless…and if it’s an edited version, I am sometimes cynical as to what was left out (i.e., off-topic meanderings by the presenter, controversial questions from the audience, and so on).

    To the points made by colleagues (particularly Catherine) about the power of making use of modern technologies for learning—such as gaming—I’m very keen as to the immense potential and effectiveness. A year ago I was on a work group who planned the second annual Association Education Symposium for the Learning Resources Network (LERN), together with my volunteer colleagues, Thom Lowther from the American Institute of Architects and Cheryl Green, CPP, from the National Fire Protection Association. (Note that both of their associations are world leaders when it comes to providing comprehensive and innovative lifelong learning to their respective members and sectors, which is reflected in both the number of offerings and attendance.) Anyhow, Thom was lobbying for a session on interactive, game-based learning, because the AIA had immense success introducing it into its continuing education curriculum that year. (I was secretly skeptical, but agreed to its place on the agenda, as my request for a session on competence versus credentialling made the cut.) The eventual session, presented by Ed Hutzel from Cyberstaff/CS Learning Solutions proved to be one of the most fascinating and inspiring sessions, and was scored highly by all attendees. Here is the description, drawn from the LERN symposium wiki:

    Interactive Game-Based Learning

    Game-based learning describes the convergence of digital game technology and education, an emerging standard for professional and workforce training. The educational benefits of game-based learning in academia and professional development have been widely documented; games bridge the gap between generations and appeal to a wider audience than conventional learning methodologies. This presentation will review the development process that CS Learning Solutions undertook to produce the first game-based interactive learning exercises qualified for AIA/CES credit, and the company’s outlook for the future of this innovative professional education strategy.

    (On a side note, LERN is an association that takes its own cues from the best practices presented. A keynote session at its November conference will feature Dr. James Rosser, “Playin’ to Win: the upside of video games” Some of the early promo material I read indicates: “Dr. Rosser is a surgeon who plays video games in between surgeries. In surveying other doctors who play video games, he found out that surgeons who play video games make 37 percent fewer mistakes than doctors who don’t play. Play is preparation for the future. This 21st century pioneer will explain the upside of video games and why Gen Y plays online.” I’m fairly certain it was American Dr. Rosser who was featured on the inaugural season of CBC Radio’s excellent White Coat, Black Art show, hosted by the engaging Dr. Brian Goldman, which takes a critical look at the medical profession and its stakeholders. It was the best episode of a fabulous season one.)

  3. Toni’s reference to architecture reminded me of the way Austrian PRs, practitioners and some academics alike, used to see their role (years ago) – i.e. as architects of communication. Certainly not in the sense of creators of competitive real or virtual spaces for relationships, but as people who strategically initiate, model and manage communication processes. And maybe even in the sense of not having to get their hands dirty. Fortunately those days are gone.
    Some strange ideas came to my mind when I read Cathy’s annotations regarding game theory (of course, she’s not the one to blame for those ideas :-). E.g. how the integration of WoW (World of Warcraft) as obligatory element of a proper PR training would put the educators under enormous pressure.

    Both aspects – games as part of PR training and the situation of educators – may seem ridiculous at first sight, but that’s exactly (well not exactly, but almost) what’s happening right now, as Heinz Wittenbrink describes in one of his recent blog posts (german only). Heinz is teaching a “Journalism and Corporate Communication” course at FH Joanneum (University of Applied Sciences in Graz) and has observed massive changes in the way the transmission, creation and acquisition of knowledge (or teaching and learning) takes place, and in the relationships between educators and students.

    Social media and social networks (Facebook and – more important in German speaking areas – StudiVZ) have not only created virtual spaces for relationships, with very real consequences to those deliberately or unintentionally involved. They have also created a game-like situation for both students and teachers. There may not be an equilibrium, but at least there’s mutual evaluation. And there is competition between offline (teachers) and online knowledge sources (wikis, blogs, social media, social networks – you name it), much to the regret of some teachers.
    And, mind you!, this is happening already in Austria, which is not one of the most advanced countries as far as the adoption of social web is concerned.


    If we apply game theory (that would be applied applied mathematics, then? 🙂 to PR, would our role be that of the corpus callosum, connecting/coordinating or balancing out the left and right hemisphere functions, or hard and soft factors, strategy and empathy etc.?


    “Creating spaces for relationships” takes me back to the more inspiring part of the conversation we had about the WPRCF 08, namely the discussion about the influence of event formats on their outcome. In the first half of this year I have attended 4 events which couldn’t be more diverse (in chronological order):

    • EuroBlog in Brussels
      mainly presentation oriented, but making good use of internet technologies , enabling people from all over the world (especialy NZ 🙂 to interact; lots of (real-time) coverage in blogs, on YouTube, Flickr and on twitter; thus transcending the limitations of space.
    • PR-Tag
      annual half-day event of PRVA, very conventional style (this year) with a few presentations (1 good, 1 desastrously bad) and panel discussions (so-la-la), good occasion for chit-chatting with colleagues
    • PolitCamp
      A BarCamp-style un-conference on the influence of social media on political communication and participation. Very inspiring, ad-hoc “programming” of the agenda by participants etc.
    • WPRCF
      ’nuff said already 😉

    No doubt, I have my favorite(s) but I’m not going to evaluate those un/conferences here. There is one very obvious difference between those types of events: you can’t predict the outcome of an un-conference like the PolitCamp, as you don’t know who is going to make a presentation and about what topic. It’s all up to the attending people. But they know that they get more out of the event the more they put in.

    But how do you “market” or communicate an event like this, without any quality or value propositions? (In a similar way this applies to all or most of the many types of Open Space events.)

    It’s easy (or at least much easier) to promote an event with illustrious keynoters, “big names” on discussion panels etc., and it’s much easier to evaluate (quantitatively: number of participants, media coverage, q&a index; and qualitatively: feedback, questionnaires etc.). In the case of a BarCamp you’d evaluate yourself, your involvement, your ideas etc. (and in fact, this is usually discussed at the end of an un-conference among all participants, openly, in order to make it better next time).

    In short: different goals – different event formats. For me they don’t mean a thing if they don’t provide enough space for personal engagement and involvement and interaction.

  4. Great post and discussion. A few thoughts:

    1. Markus – is part of the problem that the majority of attendees at events are more comfortable with the passive postion of listening to experts. Although more is gained from participation, I’ve found it often difficult to get people to be brave enough to speak up, let alone share or engage. But when you get it right, it is much better. I used some example scenarios for a new media workshop earlier this year (alongside a more traditional presentation and panel session) and it worked really well at engaging the attendees and getting more into the topics being covered.

    2. I find game theory also fascinating as a PR learning tool – there’s a great paper we use by Murphy who applies game theory to crisis management that helps show alternative strategies. Also, I adapted the Prisoner’s Dilema or Red:Blue game to illustrate the challenges of living a CSR strategy. It not only works in terms of engaging participants in the real world challenges of living your values, but serves as great shorthand reference when we talk about leadership strategies, etc.

    3. There’s been a lot of talk in UK media recently of the need for young people (including children) to have their own spaces for free play. The concern is that they have increasingly been controlled by adults and lack the ability to be spontaneous and imaginative in their freetime. I have been stimualted by this post to wonder if the same isn’t true of organisations. Have we not lost the ability to have fun and be free in developing relationships with others in our own spaces. That may be having a coffee or a beer with journalists (both parties being under pressure not to be out of the office) or organising events with publics without seeking to persuade them about a particular organisational policy.

    Bring on the games and toys I say…

  5. I hope very much that others will want to join, criticise, add, subtract from this highly intersting conversation.

    Maybe a volunteer will want to peruse what else (and there sure is quite a lot..depending on the specific perspective selected) is on this blog and attempt to put it all together in a (more or less) systematic shape in order to produce another pdf as Cathy Arrow courageosly did with the ‘what is pr’ theme (download the pdf from the right hand column of this website).

    By the way, the italian very cool brand new 2.0 Ferpi website ( launched the pdf in english a few days ago, and I have been informed that downloads have reached a significant number in the first three days!
    I can’t help wondering what would happen should the same opportunity be offered to members of other professional associations on their websites or to students by inspired and concerned public relations professors around the world!

    Getting back to the point, one approach could be:

    a- since the beginning of the public relations profession the ‘event organising’ function has been, together with media relations and public affairs, a central pillar.
    In the second part of the 20th century event organization went into such a state of frenzy (with the adoption of marketing by social, cultural and political organizations) to induce contemporary historian Daniel Boorstin to publish in the early sixties ‘The Image: what happened to the american dream’, an inspiring critical pamphlet against the pervasiveness in our society of pseudo-events in order to attract the attention of influential publics by all sorts of organizations.
    This frenzy has not only continued but has significantly increased in the first years of the current century, specifically (but not solely) caused by the rise of the Internet and a few years later, social media.
    This, of course, if we agree (anyone disagree?) that pseudo-events are also such in virtual relationship environments…

    b- While all this was, and is, happening under our eyes, many other variables impacting on our day-to-day professional activities (only to refer to something I have already written here… those shattering (shattered?) paradigms…see this post..)require the more concerned part of our community to revise, rethink, rephrase and re-enact our more common practices in order to ensure more effectiveness, responsibility and sustainability (mind you…in the sense that the latter two are conditions of the first…not for do-gooding reasons, in order to add value to our role within the organizations we work for or with.

    c- we are all well aware that traditional and mainstream approaches to event organization have largely satisfied many palates over time but, like most of our consolidated practices, also need thorough rethinking and reconceptualizing.
    For example, one point is that while in the past (present?) we gave (give?) for granted that events be spaces in which convened influential publics have an opportunity to listen to the convenor and, eventually but not necessarily, respond; today the convenor’s role is also (where not principally) that of facilitating, incentivating and, eventually but not necessarily, participating into dialogue amongst those influential publics on issues and themes which are also indirectly of interest to the convenor…

    d- from this perspective we are called upon to evaluate that the act of creating a (real or virtual) space which is attractive to our influential publics is at least as important for effective relationships as the act of creating the very content of what the organisartion wishes for those influential publics to take home with them once the pseudo-event is over..and this exalts the creative part of our profession like never before…

    I will stop here, hoping to rouse ideas from new commenters as well as suggestions from those who have already done so.

  6. If I can go back to the introduction about changing architerture and the exchange of ideas, I can highly recommend the 10 April special report of The Economist ( on what they call “digital nomads”. According to this report, sociologists are already orbserving significant changes to traffic patterns as a result of innovations in communication technology. This has at least 2 implications for public relations and larger communications:
    1) Professional and private spaces that were divorced following the indsutrial revolution are increasingly overlapping, if not merging
    2) Certain assumptions underlying a number of PR tactics (such as events planning) are no longer true or at least so. One of these assumptions is that people are in work spaces during the day and life spaces evenings and weekends.

  7. With regards to the question of how to apply game theory to PR, I would like to share some of Priscilla Murphy’s views on the similarities.

    Some scholars see the term ‘game theory’ as a misnomer and suggest that “the theory of interdependent decision-making” is a more descriptive alternative. William Ehling (1985) saw PR along these lines, i.e. PR is the “appli-cation of scientific decision-making techniques to the mediation of conflict between an organisation and its stakeholders.”

    Priscilla Murphy (1991) offered an original approach to applying game theory to PR, particularly in situations that require negotiation. The central concerns of game theory are the same as those of PR, and can be used in analysing PR situations that involve conflict of interest. Mutual adaptation lies at the root of all game theory, taking the view that most conflict situations are essentially bargaining situations. The theory of games focuses on the mediation of conflict, the establishment of equilibrium among conflicting parties, the functions of power and domination, and questions of fairness and ethics. The basic assumption of game theory is that social relationships can be modelled as games of strategy. Game theorists model strategic conflicts by considering the parties involved as players in a game.

    Game theory emphasises reflexivity, another assumption of PR research, which refers to the ability of players to adjust their behaviour according to other players’ expectations. Putting this in PR terms, an organisation and its stakeholders continuously adapt their roles to meet or pre-empt the perceived positions of the others. This is similar to Ehling’s definition of PR as conflict and co-operation based on ‘communication as conversation’ in which sender and receiver have reciprocal, dyadic roles. Such reflexivity – a positioning of one’s stance according to one’s perceptions of another’s perceptions of one — is a defining component of organisational-stakeholder interaction in PR. Ehling’s conceptualisation of co-operation and conflict being on the opposite ends of a continuum is also central to games theory.

    Murphy also made suggestions as to how the two-way symmetrical model of PR could be slightly refined by examining some of the premises and effects of asymmetric and symmetric models in the light of game theory. Asymmetric models resemble zero-sum (win-loose) games (i.e. what one player gains, the other must necessarily lose). In such games of pure opposition/competition, one player can gain only at the expense of the other, hence there are no prospects of mutually profitable collaboration. Asymmetric PR is based on assumptions similar to zero-sum game theory. Practitioners mould public opinion to benefit the organisation at the expense of the public good. An asymmetric world-view, according to Jim Grunig, is based on manipulating public behaviour by means of attitude and behaviour change and means of persuasive communication.

    The ‘win-lose’ (zero-sum) bargaining situation is a common negotiation mode in business-to-business transactions, founded on power or persuasion. Little attention is paid to what the other party wants, needs, or desires. Two-way symmetric communication, on the other hand, resembles games of pure co-operation.

    However, most interactions between organisations and their stakeholders are not inherently win-loose (zero-sum). As boundary spanners, practitioners often practise symmetrical communication by taking the needs of both organisations and stakeholders into consideration. In that way, both parties can live with the outcome. This approach of two-way symmetric communication shares important features with games called pure co-operation (pure common-interest). In the communication process, source and receiver are equal participants seeking mutual understanding and balanced, two-way effects. In games theory, fully co-operative partners might have different needs, values, and opinions, but they are completely open with one another — expecting total honesty, full disclosure, and thinking of themselves as a cohesive entity. In pure co-ordination games, every player tries to anticipate the others’ choices and obtain a mutually beneficial outcome—therefore there is no conflict of interest. Their sole objective is to co-ordinate their strategies in such a way as to obtain an outcome they all prefer.

    Although the pure symmetrical model in communication is very attractive, it probably does not represent organisational behaviour since purely co-operative behaviour is seldom found in the real world. Murphy therefore suggests that the concept of symmetric communication be refined along a continuum ranging from conflict to co-operation. Games that occupy the broad middle range of the continuum are called “mixed-motive” games — referring to the interests of the players neither being strictly co-incident nor strictly opposed. Each side retains a strong sense of its own interests, yet each is motivated to co-operate in a limited way to attain at least some resolution of the conflict. In a mixed-motive game, the parties aim to find an equilibrium—a balance between the players’ interests in such a way that neither player would have any cause to regret his action given what the other player chose to do. Such an equilibrium offers a stable solution to conflict.

    Most PR situations are located somewhere along the continuum of mixed-motive games, some more toward the win-loose/conflict extreme and others more toward the symmetry/co-operation extreme. A definition of PR as a mixed-motive game helps to reconcile the symmetric versus asymmetric (bargaining versus persuasion) PR models. Behaviour is seen as a sliding scale of co-operation and competition in which organisational needs must be balanced against stakeholders’ needs, but never lose their primacy. This balance-of-influence view is not only realistic but also ethical, bringing together the conflict between asymmetric (pure competition) and symmetric (pure common interest) models. It preserves the central importance of one’s own interests, yet acknowledges the power of opposing viewpoints. Such a mixed-model helps to solve the central ethical dilemma in PR — the tension between partisan values (organisational loyalty) and mutual values (public interest).

    Game theory is the science of conflict resolution — however, in urging symmetric compromise it never ignores the asymmetric centrality of self-interest or the usefulness of maintaining tension among competing interests. According to Murphy, viewing PR as a mixed-motive game permits a richer view of conflict and co-operation than that allowed by strict prescriptions for symmetry.

    I know this is quite ‘heavy’ reading, but at least it gives some idea of how Murphy sees the application of game theory to PR.

  8. wow! Benita, welcome back! How very, very interesting! May I just add that I do not think (but this is my personal opinion) that Jim Grunig ever intended to describe or prescribe a perefectly symmetrical model as he is well aware, as we all are, that symmetry in nature does not exist. And it seems to me that by using tendential symmetry as a goal to achieve for effective communication we are very close to the mixed-motive game you described? Did I interpret correctly?

  9. Toni, can you please explain the meaning of the word ‘tendential’ (symmetry)?

    I agree with you that Jim Grunig never intended to prescribe a perfectly symmetrical model. He actually acknowledges this in his later work after criticism of the symmetrical model, mainly by the critical scholars, who regarded the symmetrical world-view of communication as total accommodation of stakeholder interests, sacrificing the organisation’s self-interest in the process.

    In 1999, Jim reacted to the different criticisms of his statement that the two-way symmetrical model was the normative ideal, by stating that an organisation does not have to abandon its self-interest in practising this model because “organizations get more of what they want when they give up some of what they want.” Rather, symmetry implies a balance of the two parties’ interests since total accommodation of a stakeholder’s interest would be as asymmetrical as unbridled advocacy of the organisation’s interest. Also, persuasion is still a relevant concept in the symmetrical model, the difference being that PR practitioners sometimes must persuade (top) management and at other times persuade the stakeholders to change their attitudes or behaviour. Furthermore, the symmetrical model will not always be successful because there are indeed limits to collaboration—as pointed out by Leichty (1997). Jim agreed with Leichty in this regard, but states that although it may be unethical to accommodate a repugnant stakeholder, it is not unethical to talk with its representatives.

    At this time (1999), Jim Grunig summarised his conceptualisation of the two-way symmetrical theory as follows: “Symmetrical PR does not take place in an ideal situation where competing interests come together with good will to resolve their differences because they have a goal of social equilibrium and harmony. Rather it takes place in situations where groups come together to protect and enhance their self-interest. Argumentation, debate, and persuasion take place. But dialogue, listening, understanding, and relationship building also occur because they are more effective in resolving conflict than are one-way attempts at compliance gaining.”

    The quantitative and qualitative results of the Excellence Study suggested a new contingency model with both symmetrical and asymmetrical elements (Dozier, Grunig & Grunig, 1995). Whereas Jim and Lauri Grunig placed the two-way asymmetrical model at one end of a continuum and the two-way symmetrical model at the other end in the Excellence book in 1992, the new contingency model regards either end of the continuum as asymmetrical. The reason is that if PR strategy is placed at either end it would favour the interests of either the organisation or the stakeholder to the exclusion of the other. In the new model, the middle of the continuum is a symmetrical zone. PR practitioners thus engage in ‘mixed-motive communication’ (sound familiar, Toni?) by negotiating with both stakeholders and their top management to reach an outcome or relationship in the win-win zone.

    The new contingency model is a two-way, excellent model of PR that subsumes the former two-way symmetrical and asymmetrical PR models. Sometimes, asymmetrical tactics may be used to gain the best position for organisations within the win-win zone. Nevertheless, the two-way model can still be considered symmetrical since these practices take place from within a symmetrical world-view that respects the integrity of long-term relationships. It also means that the two-way model treats top management as another stakeholder influenced by PR programmes.

    This new contingency model of excellent, two-way PR is a positive as well as a normative theory. As a positive theory, it indicates how excellent PR departments balance divided loyalties as they try to serve the interests of their organisation as well as their stakeholders. As a normative theory, the new model indicates the ideal communication situation where organisations strive to reach the win-win zone as they build relationships with their stakeholders.

    Jim Grunig admitted that ‘symmetry’ might not have been the best choice of a name for the fourth model, since it has led to some misunderstanding. He regards ‘mixed-motives’ (Murphy, 1991), ‘collaborative advocacy’ (Spicer, 1997) and ‘co-operative antagonism’ (Raiffa, 1982) as having the same meaning as ‘symmetry’.

  10. Tendential is when something tends to go in a certain direction but might never get there.

    If power distance between the two subjects in a relationship increases, then it is tendentially asymmetric and vice versa.

    By the way, one area where I disagree with Jim is in the application of the four principal indicators related to the evaluation of a relationship.

    While Jim indicates that a relationship may be evaluated according to the levels of trust, power distance, satisfaction and committment between the stakeholder and the organization; I am instead convinced that -if my objective is to evaluate a relationship with the intention of improving it- then I should inquire on the status of the relationship as such between the two subjects.
    Again, by using the same indicators.

    This not only (and I and my colleagues have continuosly been using it in practice with increasing success over the last three years now..)by asking both subjects how they value their relationship with the other (and not the organization as such)along those four indicators, but also by reversing the question and asking one subject how it thinks the other subject would react to the same question.

    This gives the analyst a very good picture of where the gaps in the relationship, as well as in its reciprocal perception, are more relevant and which priorities should be addressed in order to improve that relationship, before it goes sour.

  11. Benita: I’m assuming your have seen the work of Alan Kelly. Given your game theory interest, I’d be interested in your take on his well-developed approach.

    Alan Kelly

    CEO & Founder, The Playmaker’s Standard, LLC
    Author, The Elements of Influence and Co-Creator, Plays for the Presidency
    Adjunct Professor, USC Annenberg School for Communication |
    (t) 301.990.9406 | (m) 301.529.9113 | (f) 301.990.9507

    Best, Fraser

  12. Toni, I am going to leave the discussion of the measurement of relationships to another occasion, or I might never get to bed. Since I am still struggling with understanding ‘tendential’ symmetry (can’t somebody help here?) I will stick to that one for the moment. I am not finding the word in an English dictionary, but in my own language (Afrikaans) the word ‘tendens’ means a trend, i.e. a ‘movement towards’ something.

    I am not convinced that ‘tendential’ symmetry (your term) is quite the same as ‘mixed motives’ (Murphy’s term). Even though I quoted Jim saying above that ‘mixed motives’ has the same meaning as symmetry, to me it feels different. I think ‘mixed motives’ is closer to what he really wanted to describe and is therefore a better concept for what he really meant, but it is not the same as symmetry. ‘Collaborative advocacy’ and ‘co-operative antagonism’ gives me the same sense as ‘mixed motives’ but symmetry falls in another league. Symmetry gives the feeling of ideal, normative, perfect, absolute, pure collaboration while the former three gives the feeling of pragmatic, real-world, a compromise—the mediation of conflict, the establishment of equilibrium among conflicting parties.

    The difference between ‘symmetry’ and ‘mixed motives’ almost gives me the feeling of the core difference between the German sociologists Habermas and Luhmann (a la Susanne Holmstrőm’s two PR paradigms): of ‘mutual understanding’ as the core of symmetrical communication (Habermas) versus ‘consent on dissent’ (to agree to disagree, so to speak) as the core of the reflective paradigm (which is very much Luhmann). It is idealistic to think that we can ever reach mutual understanding between organisation and stakeholders. They are too different. That can never be. All PR can try or strive for, is to interpret organisation and stakeholders to each other, to have them acknowledge each other’s differences and try to work around them—try to mediate the conflict, try to establish equilibrium amongst conflicting parties. While symmetrical communication is ethical (the right thing to do, according to Habermas), reflective communication is functional, motivated by self-interest (according to Luhmann).

    I don’t know whether this makes any sense. All I know is that I have left the realm of knowledge and am floundering in the realm of feeling and instinct.

  13. Sorry Fraser, I didn’t see your comment last night. (We were blogging simultaneously). With regards to my game theory interest, it is really only perfunctory. I came upon Murphy’s articles 6 years ago when I was exploring meta-theoretical approaches that should/could inform a strategic approach to PR. The assumptions of game theory seemed highly relevant to the way I saw strategic PR, so I made some notes. That was the last time I paid attention to it, until a few nights ago when I saw the conversation on PRC and unearthed the notes.

    I am however very happy that I did look at game theory again, because it seemed even more appropriate to PR now than when I first looked at it. So I won’t pack it away again! Thanks very much for the reference. I will have a look and am sure some of the others, who first broached the subject, will do so too.


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