Grunig PR Masterclass: Insight into diversity and excellence

Larissa and James Grunig Masterclass at NYU 2012This post offers a video recording of a recent lecture given by Larissa and James Grunig at New York University – courtesy of Toni Muzi Falconi, who kindly introduces the video below. In addition, Heather Yaxley provides a brief overview of the highlights of the lecture. We extend our thanks to James, Larissa and Toni for offering the video to PR Conversations.


Introduction by Toni Muzi Falconi

A few years ago, PR Conversations published a collective interview with James Grunig, but we have so far referred to Larissa Grunig only in passing. This is a mistake we rectify with this video. I have been teaching Global Relations and Intercultural Communication on NYU’s Masters in Public Relations and Corporate Communication course for six years and invite prominent guest speakers, both in person and via Skype connections, to speak with students. On May 5, the Spring class concluded with two exceptional guests of honour: Lauri and Jim Grunig . In a crowded classroom, students and faculty members enjoyed a very lively and highly interesting conversation as Larissa described her latest work on the issue of diversity in public relations, followed by Jim’s reflection on what comes after diversity and the Excellence project. Although they are now retired, James and Larissa Grunig are considered as rock star academics by students and scholars alike, wherever they go in the world. They will be honoured on July 6 at the upcoming Bled Symposium in Slovenia. The NYU conversation was recorded by Barry and Shelley Spector the founders and movers, since 1997, of the PR Museum. They have kindly made the video available here and we thank them for this. If you would like to know more about the PR Museum, you can read a fascinating interview with Shelley on its past, present and future published on PR Conversations last year – or “Like” its new Facebook page:



Video highlights by Heather Yaxley

Larissa A Grunig PhD [Video: 0:00:00-0:21:00] provides a fascinating perspective on diversity in public relations, with relevance also for organisational strategies. She outlines three premises:

  1. The need for diverse people to compete with those in the dominant, reference norm – in PR this is traditionally, the white male that some have termed a dinosaur
  2. Diverse practitioners are facing less discrimination than in the past
  3. Minorities remain seriously under-represented in the PR profession (and academia) at the highest levels

One sound bite is a claim that, if PR continues to change at the same rate, women would reach parity of opportunity in just over 300 years. Larissa also discusses concerns that diversity is often given lip service, alongside issues relating to the way in which PR work is complicated for those who are not the norm.  Ageism and lookism are noted as particular issues – with a reminder that PR discriminates against both attractive young women and those who are older. The idea of inter-sectionality is used to emphasise how organisations cannot rely on single diversity solutions when individuals reflect a mix of differences.  Rather than being treated as cogs in a wheel, Larissa urges organisations to look at human beings as complex, whole people.  She also raises stand point epistemology as a consideration of the diverse qualities that make up our personal identity.  This is relevant also in terms of career development, where understanding others helps you look at whether you are an outsider within a group and how you can fit in. This does not mean sacrificing diversity by conforming to the dominant norm, but by being valued for who you are. Another quote: Otherwise organisations do not get the diversity they say they want. She also states women should not bask in a girl power moment that isn’t  here – as a reminder that earlier generations have not solved diversity problems. Issues in being taken seriously also apply to the field of PR which faces discrimination in organisations – which Larissa observes cannot be addressed by individual action but can be found in the important concept of organisational justice, which “speaks to the extent to which employees perceive organisational events as being fair”.  This covers distributive justice (perceived fairness of pay), procedural justice (perceived fairness of decision making), interactional justice (“dignified and respectful treatment of employees” which is evident in communications activities). ————————————————————————————————————————————————– James E Grunig PhD [Video: 0:21:00-1:02:00] offers a comprehensive review of the background and development of the Excellence Model of Public Relations. He outlines what was involved in the original research, and the Excellence Factors that emerged as correlated characteristics that evidenced the contribution of PR to organisational effectiveness. In addition to the key factors (symmetrical communications, integrated communications, empowerment and diversity), the concepts of ethics and global were added at a later date. James claims there are generic principles of PR that are the same all over the world, but which must be applied according to local conditions. One moment that stands out is the view that: It is true that I don’t have anything new to say, but I have learned that other people in the PR profession are decades behind the Excellence study. Two major paradigms of thinking and practising PR are explained – the symbolic interpretive and behavioural strategic approaches. James Grunig claims the first messaging-oriented approach has become institutionalised in PR and seen as how it is practised by the public and executives. This involves PR as managing communications primarily to create a positive reputation regardless of the reality – and regardless of evidence that the public aren’t so easily persuaded. The second paradigm reflects the Excellence model and PR as part of strategic management in making decisions, forming policy and helping management understand the consequences of actions on publics. Evidence that this is “taking hold” is discussed. Other topics covered by James Grunig in this engaging presentation cover evaluation, public engagement, empowerment of PR and social media – all of which are connected to the Excellence study and the Situational Theory, which were developed earlier in his career. Although much of this territory may be familiar to those who have read James Grunig’s work, it is truly valuable to hear it explained directly – and for those new to the ideas, this is undoubtedly a thorough overview. By investing 40 minutes, students and practitioners can gain real insight into where much thinking about PR has come from, and an expert view on where it is going. There is also interesting reference to various business writers and thinking, which shows how PR needs to be connected to a wider body of knowledge. ————————————————————————————————————————————————– Questions [Video: 1:02:00-1:28:58] posed to Larissa and James Grunig looked at why PR is increasingly attractive to women, how it compares to other professions, the impact that practitioners have had by moving into academia, how diversity fits with ensuring organisational cohesion and engagement, determining diversity in organisations in job interviews, the role of PR below senior levels and the challenge of PR as activism within organisations.

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12 Replies to “Grunig PR Masterclass: Insight into diversity and excellence

  1. Thank you so much for fixing the the video link and for the alternate link, both the students and I thank you. Regards, Wendy

  2. I am teaching an Employee Relations course in the department of Public Relations at Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax Nova Scotia. Last year and earlier this summer I showed the video of Larissa and James Grunig talking with a master class.. I have previously accessed this video via this website. I see it is no longer available. do you know of an alternate website? It was such a great conversation! I would be so grateful for any information you might have. Thanks. Wendy

    1. Apologies – it appears that with our refresh, the link had a glitch, but should now be fixed. You can also find the video via the PR Museum Vimeo account at:

  3. Heather, fair points.

    Though I do say corporate culture has to reflect a homogeneous one-group culture: that is what a corporate culture is and how if it is to be coherent it must be defined: think Apple (and before anybody comments, no, I don’t accept that they have misbehaved in China because the evidence suggests they been got at unfairly by campaigners). Of course, tolerance of diversity and opposing discrimination of all sorts is not at all incompatible with forging one common culture around which everybody in a corporation can unite.

    And, of course I agree with you…. firms of all sorts redefine and renew themselves all the time – that’s good because it reflects how they and the world they live in keep changing… but that does not weaken my school uniform analogy (appearances can be deceptive: Eton’s school uniform might still be a mourning suit for a long-dead king, but its culture today is 21st century).

    And, with my surname, I don’t think I’d have been stuffed up a chimney…. most likely told to climb the rigging instead.

  4. In support of my points above – particularly for the Canadians who read this blog – may I recommend the following event:

    The Milton K. Wong Lecture is held June 3 at the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts at the University of British Columbia and broadcast nationally on the CBC Radio One Program Ideas as part of Canada’s Multiculturalism Day celebrations. There, Kenan Malik, the guest lecturer, will maintain that “to defend diversity is not the same as promoting multiculturalism.” And he will argue that rather than the claim that racism and multiculturalism are concepts at opposite ends of a pole: “they are two sides of the same coin.”

    Yes, I say – in contrast to the Grunig husband and wife team – we PRs need to rethink this whole issue of diversity (in the interest of clients and society) if are to break free from the prejudices – about race, religion, gender and sex – that currently limits our vision.

    Moreover, I repeat that we need to put the corporate back in to corporate communications and to root what we communicate and advocate in a coherent – rather than fragmented and divisive – culture.

    1. Paul – I think that you are arguing both sides of a coin also. Having a strong corporate culture that is value driven does not mean one that is homogenous in terms of reflecting the identity of one group of people. To go back to Ford and Dagenham – traditionally that culture would have been that if you were not a white, working class male (with particular views), then you didn’t fit and your talent would be discriminated against and ignored. That seems to have been your own grandfather’s experience in regard to fighting racism which went against the coherent culture in the plant at the time.

      Corporate culture isn’t a fixed thing but a reflection of the people within the organization alongside policies and other aspects that are determined by the senior management or owners. Yes, it may be like a uniform but as we no longer dress like people of 100 years ago, so it is reasonable to expect that a successful organizational culture will adapt and reflect our changing times.

      I’m not advocating presenting an illusion to employees or others who have a relationship with any organization. But recognising and respecting individuality in my view is about acceptance that people aren’t made up of tick box criteria (as I said earlier, I’m not supporting the diversity culture promotional industry). That means treating people with respect rather than evoking paternalistic power over others just because they are different to the dominant culture.

      There are certain rules and values that the majority within any group or organization generally need to comply with to be accepted and make life flow. But if it wasn’t for those who stand up as being different (whether your grandfather, the suffragettes or PR practitioners as internal activists), then you would probably have been stuffed up a chimney as a child, sent away to sea for years as a boy sailor or some other Victorian fate that befell our ancestors just because they were poor.

  5. On a point of fact – at least as far as my research shows – the author of the essay was correct about Ford and the whiting of faces and its link to Dagenham:

    “Five members of ethnic minorities were invited to appear in the picture to show the racial mix of Ford’s workforce at Dagenham, but in an “ethnic- cleansed” version of the photograph last year [in Poland], the black and brown faces had been mysteriously replaced by white ones.”

    BTW: my grandfather was a leading shop steward at Ford Dagenham and he fought racism at the plant in the 1960s (sometimes in opposition to his own union and a communist party leadership that didn’t like to rock the racist boat….shame on them).

    1. I didn’t deny the issue over the ‘head changing’ advert, but that this occurred in Poland and so wasn’t directly related to the racism issues at Ford of Britain and Dagenham, which as you’ve pointed out were long standing. The author of the article appeared to imply it was a British action to replace the faces.

  6. Heather, a corporate identity is a bit like a school uniform – it represents common values and a collective identity; its intended purpose is precisely to confer a form of equality on all its wearers that transcends individuality. The main problem within corporations – the source of much malfeasance – has been that firms have failed dismally to develop strong and clear identities and values that express how they want to behave and what they actually want to be known for.

    I contend that Grunig’s – and I guess your – approach undermines the collegiate identity and reinforces – special pleading – fragmentation. It is therefore not helpful.

    Moreover, even when ill-defined, the collective corporate interest always lurks there anyway … as anybody who attempts to speak on the behalf of a corporation without permission in derogatory terms on SM or other media normally discovers to their cost.

    I add that the obsession with identity politics and respect for individuality that Jim Grunig advocates represents a surrender of corporate leadership (vision) to instrumentalist short-term objectives.

    Put another way: all the talk about treating people as individuals with different identities is constantly contradicted by lived experience of employees based on the realities and necessities of the corporate existence. Whenever that contradiction is exposed – as it continually is by events – it breeds unnecessary cynicism and division and undermines trust. (Yes, I say we’ve been shooting our clients in the foot by undermining rather than building consistent/robust identities people can put their trust in).

    Moreover, I maintain that defining people by race, sex, class, nationality and religion is precisely what we all – at least me – struggled against when we fought racism and sexism (with great success) back in the Seventies and Eighties. In other words, I say people are indeed much more interesting and diverse than can be captured by box-ticking fixed categories.

    In short, my key point in opposition to yours is that corporate PR needs to be more corporate (more collegiate), not more individualized and fragmented.

    1. Paul – as someone who comes from an island of mongrels (Britain) and appears to relish a self-identity as an outsider, it is perhaps surprising that you seem to be dismissing Lauri’s arguments that individuality needs to be acknowledged by organisations rather than reflecting entirely a culture, policies and treatment of everyone as if they reflect the make-up of the dominant norm (primarily white, middle-class men!). Your link indeed, reflects exactly what Jim speaks about in respect of the messaging approach to PR, whereby the word diversity has been used not to reduce prejudice but to create, what I might call a promotional industry, around the concept. That articles simplification of the situation in Ford would also, I would have thought, resonate with your experiences of the Dagenham area of London. He misrepresents the ‘head-changing’ incident (which took place in Poland) and how the focus on diversity in the company was more a matter of issues at Dagenham. I was working with Ford at that time and it did reflect a dominant, white male culture in the head office which arguably did not help the organisation in terms of maximising the talent of its employees, not identifying with its diverse customer base. But the bigger issue of racism – and lack of appreciation of diversity – was ironically at the car plant where there were various cultures that did not wish to acknowledge the diversity of others. From a motor industry perspective, Ford was not alone. In my career, it was common for women who visited car plants to be greeted by men making monkey noises until the Japanese car factories opened and changed the culture. Likewise, the industrial relations of the past rarely reflected anything that could be called dialogic communications, in stark contrast to the recent successful discussions at GM in Ellesmere Port.

      Although i would not describe myself as a Grunigian by any means, I certainly do not dismiss either the merits of the points Jim argues in the video. Likewise, I wouldn’t dismiss Lauri’s well reasoned and considered arguments in favour of organisations recognising the value of PR (i.e. not discriminating against it as a largely female occupation) as well as maximising talent whatever shape, age, colour or creed that comes in. Although in saying that, of course, at PR Conversations, we respect the right of out readers (even white, middle aged, middle class ones living in Switzerland) to express their individual perspective 🙂

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