Grunig PR Masterclass: Insight into diversity and excellence
This 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: facebook.com/PRMuseum.
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:
- 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
- Diverse practitioners are facing less discrimination than in the past
- 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.