Sunday, December 13, 2009

Public Relations and Pseudo Events

Daniel Boorstin came up with the term called pseudo events. The historian Daniel J. Boorstin came up with the term "pseudo-event" in his work "The Image", first published in 1961. A pseudo-event, Boorstin wrote, is "not spontaneous ... but planned, planted, or incited"--an event whose "occurrence is arranged for the convenience of the reporting or reproducing media," and whose "relation to the underlying reality of the situation is ambiguous." source :

In an example which illustrates what Boorstin meant :

"The owners of a hotel, in an illustration offered by Edward L. Bernays in his pioneer Crystallizing Public Opinion[1923], consult a public relations counsel. They ask how to increase their hotel's prestige and so improve their business.

"In less sophisticated times, the answer might have been to hire a new chef, to improve the plumbing, to paint the rooms, or to install a new crystal chandelier in the lobby.

"The public relations counsel's technique is more indirect. He proposes that the management stage a celebration of the hotel's thirtieth anniversary. A committee is formed, including a prominent banker, a leading society matron, a well-known lawyer, an influential preacher, and aneventis planned [say a banquet] to call attention to the distinguished service the hotel has been rendering the community. The celebration is held, photographs are taken, the occasion is widely reported, and the object is accomplished."

To this Boorstin explains as he thinks it is a pseudo event. He says,

"Now this occasion is a pseudo-event, and will illustrate all the essential features of pseudo-events.

"This celebration, we can see at the outset, is somewhat -- but not entirely -- misleading. Presumably the public relations counsel would not have been able to form his committee of prominent citizens if the hotel had not actually been rendering service to the community. On the other hand, if the hotel's services had been all that important, instigation by public relations counsel might not have been necessary.

"Once the celebration has been held, the celebration itself becomes evidence that the hotel really is a distinguished institution. The occasion actually gives the hotel the prestige to which it is pretending.

"It is obvious, too, that the value of such a celebration to the owners depends on its being photographed and reported in newspapers, magazines, newsreels, on radio, and over television. It is the report that gives the event its force in the minds of potential customers."


Press conferences are a common example of pseudo-events.Pseudo-events are staged to attract media attention.The media is informed well in time so they can prepare for reporting on it. "Spontaneous (or “genuine”) events are never, or hardly ever, influenced by the mass media." It is important to note here that though such events may not be influenced by media they could have news value and be vital for the media to report .


Are we so media dependant that pseudo events seem to be the only way to get attention? what about non-media activities? Can these be added a little more as part of strategic communication, both by corporations and NGOs alike, so that public relations is looked at a little differently? what do you think?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Personal Influence Model of Public Relations

Every country has its own style of practicing public relations.We practice public relations in India using the personal influence model of public relations (Grunig et al., 1995, Huang, 2000, Jo and Kim, 2004, Park, 2002, Rhee, 2002, Sriramesh,1992).

Researchers found that in this model public relations practitioners try to establish personal relationships, friendships, if possible with key individuals in the media, government or political and activist groups.These relationships with key people were known as contacts from whom favours could be taken.There are other countries like ours where this model is also applicable and they are Greece, and Taiwan.

Sriramesh (1991) identified a technique which led to the further development of the personal influence model, it was called hospitality relations.The main idea behind hospitality relations was to build a strong bond with journalists or other individuals which could later help in important decision making situations.Huang (1990) also termed personal influence model of public relations as carrot public relations.

In many countries the practice of this model can be considered unethical.This is essentially an asymmetrical model and its asymmetrical practice can be successful in in meeting the goals of an institution, especially in a society that is bound by rigid cultures and authoritarian political systems.Thus an important point that emerges here is that effect of a country or society's culture influences the way they work.

In media relations, which is a vital function of public relations, practitioners use contacts to get journalists to write stories about the institutions represented by them.According to (Sriramesh, 1991 , p. 191), a public relations practitioner working in India said that 60% of the reason a news release gets published is because it has its roots in personal influence and only 40% has news value.

Media relations practiced according to the personal influence model, resembles the press agentry model as proposed by Grunig. A point to be noted here is that the press agentry model usually uses set of methods such as staged events, puffery, or photo opportunities to grab attention, whereas the personal influence model focuses on personal relationships with journalists.

Read more on this in (Models of Public Relations in an International Setting by James E. Grunig and Larissa A. Grunig, K. Sriramesh,Yi-Hui Huan,Anastasia Lyra)

Friday, October 2, 2009

Why study theory in public relations?

Is studying theory important in public relations? I say it is as crucial as a doctor or an engineer studying theories in their courses.Studying public relations theories help in constructing a base to "think" as public relations professionals later.Your first job could be to either to be part of a public relations agency as an executive or maybe even a part of a team to start a corporate communications department in an organisation which doesnt have one! How and where do you begin? There are times when theories are being applied without having the knowledge that it is being applied.Let there be awareness that it is being applied and the point where it is facing its limitations.

To know the nuances of this profession one needs to know theories that help one understand the reasons why an organsiation needs public relations in the first place.As rightly put by noted public relations theorist James E. Grunig in his article "Teaching Public Relations Theory" he explains why one needs to understand theories at various stages in the process of public relations.They are the ones as mentioned below:-
  • Why Organizations Need Public Relations?
  • Strategic Management of Public Relations
  • Public Relations Roles
  • Models of Public Relations
  • The Stakeholder Stage
  • Publics stage
  • The Issues stage
  • The Program stage
There are theories at each stage that has been mentioned above as they serve as guides to novices as well as professionals working in this field.As Grunig aptly says "If I can get students to understand theory, I believe firmly, I will have done my part to move public relations from a craft to a profession." His works can be read on sites such as,, to name a few.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Systems Theory and Public Relations

I guess its been long since i have blogged here, but there was no subject bugging me enough to write.I was preparing to take a lecture with my post graduate students on the subject of systems theory when i bumped into this very interesting paper by Broom on this subject (link at the end).

Public relations that we have understood so far acts as a very important buffer between an organisation and its publics, which is correctly explained by the concept of systems theory by Miller (1978).He explained that no organization has a simple, measurable goal but can be evaluated on the bases of systems characteristics such as growth, equilibrium, or decline.

Yuchtman and Seashore (1967) futher addded that organisations could be evaluated by their ability to get crucial inputs and process them in such a way that they were able to maintain their stability within the market environment.

Thus here comes the link betwen systems theory and public relations.Public relations is that part of the system or or organisation that helps in gathering, assimilating, interpretating and disseminating intelligence about the organisation as explained by Broom (1986).

Public Relations departments or Corporate Communication departments are not isolated entities but a subsystem or boundray spanners of an organisation.They can be barometers in predicting any change in the environment in which the organisation works.Here the importance of public relations as a managment function (discussed in previous postings) is also exemplified.

To read more on this concept go to this link:-

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Public Relations or Publicity?

The word 'public' in public relations has been defined by Hallahan (1999) as a group of people who relate to an organisation and show different intensities of activity or passivity and who may or may not interact with others with respect to their relationship.Infact Grunig and Hunt(1984) and Center and Broom (2000) say that members of a public have something in common,they are affected by the same issue or problem and behave similarly towards a problem. Marianne Kugler (2004) explains that public relations is about relations and relations is about forming networks which can be created, used or reinforced in many ways.

Public Relations when it was in its roots, was actually understood to be publicity.As (Cutlip, 1994, p. 11) also said that public relations initially was publicity ( Wilcox, 1992, p. 41) where he notes what an early practitioner had to say: "I was in the publicity business. I was a press agent. Very simply, my job was to get the client's name in the paper". (So understandibly why they were considered synonyms!)

It was only much later that Edward Bernays and others found out that public relations was about maintaining a balance of interests of an organisation and its publics.Now we know without any doubts that publicity is a communication function and it also means placing any kind of information in a news medium but public relations is a management function, as also explained by Newsom, Turk and Krukeberg in their book The Realities of Public Relations.

If we look at public relations in India, we are still in many ways practicing being press agents in the PR profession. Arent we?

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Public Relations we see today...

The Public Relations scenario we see today is a result of many changes in the economic conditions in the country in the 1970s and later in the 1990's.In 1970s the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi endorsed public relations as a vital function in management.This gave a major boost to this profession and changed it's status to a better one than before.As we all know the 1990s brought about some important changes in the economic policies in India.Our closed socialist thinking was forced to come in contact with the forces of liberalisation and globalisation.India was soon to become a mecca for multinationals coming and doing business here as never before and soon Indian businesses also moving abroad for greener pastures.

Public Relations as a profession became very crucial to companies as they started regarding it as a key managment function.The negative image of a PRO being 'fixers' reduced but still had its traces, especially in the public sector.The public relations manager became part of strategic decision makings of a company.The job of public relations officers moved to becoming image makers than mere guest relations officers.Though ofcourse there was not much formal education in public relations in the 1990s still the importance of a PR professional having command on his/her communication skills and writing skills became a top priority.Many PR agencies sprung up which were keen on offering public relations services to companies.

The change in the economic scenario and acceptance of this profession in the social and political and business scenario helped this profession grow as we see today.The media too started taking the public relations practitioners a little more seriously.When it comes to communicating crisis or any other important company announcement, the media knows they can approach a PR professional attached to the company.

Though ofcourse even today we see that advertising is given a little more importance than public relations when it comes to making budgets avaliable for each of these functions by companies, but slowly this scenario will change as more and more public relations professionals enter this profession with adequate training and formal education, which is now avaliable. They will make their clients realise the importance of this profession and its slow yet promising positive effect on images of not only companies but governments, politicians and celebrities.The last 10 years have seen reform in the education sector with respect to this profession and there is growth in diplomas, undergraduate degrees and post-graduate degree programs in India which offers formal education to candidates keen on pursuing this profession.

We are at a very nascent stage when it comes to doing public relations in India.We have to go a long way combining professional expertise and a sound academic background which will help us offer public relations services better.

What do you think?

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Growth of Public Relations in India

The growth of public relations in India can actually be seen at different stages.During the first World War (1914-1918), British government in India set up a Central Publicity Board. This was the first organised PR/Information set-up of the Government of India. It was later called the Central Bureau of Information, which later changed to the Bureau of Public Information, and functioned as a link between the Government and the Press.The government had started realising that a set up was needed to know what the media thought and wrote about them. Soon after Independence (1947), the government of India set up a full-fledged Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.

A systematic and organised practise of public relations began with the Indian railways much before we attained independance.The Great Indian Peninsular (GIP) Railways as it was known then, for example, carried on a campaign in England in the 20s to attract tourists to India.The importance of public relations was known to the British and they made well use of it.

It was not only the government but slowly the private sector in India also woke up to the need of public relations. Tata’s set up their Public Relations Department in Mumbai in 1943.There were other companies too such as Dunlop,Unilever and others which did many public outreach activities.Infact the Tatas also came with a course on public relations in 1958.All this explaining the rising value of this profession.

But majorly the profession has seen traces of the public sector on it as it grew.There is a strong reason behind this.When India gained her independance in 1947, the pro-socialist leaders then had a vision of a economically and socially strong India. One of the means was setting up of Public Sector Undertakings(PSUs) in various sectors, among many other things.Most of the early Public Relations practitioners started off their careers in these companies belonging to sectors such as oil, gas, steel, transportation, banking and insurance.

You may want to know why public relations in a PSU was considered important to begin with.The reason is that a PSU is accountable to the people as they are funded by tax payers. The goverment holds majority shares in the undertaking and its profits are used for various development projects for the nation.As these units were accountable to the people, a public relations department in the company was a must who could communicate on behalf of the company with the media and its audiences.

It was a total different picture when it came to the private sector.They were under no pressure to be accountable to the publics as no competition troubled them and the protectionist era in which India post independance, kept them much to themselves.Profit was considered a dirty word and thus revealing it was out of question.As also they faced no competition there was no need to build any rapport with publics. This was India post independance and much the same in the 60's to almost the 70's.

If you were a public relations officer in that time these were your job responsibilties (without any professional training). You were mainly a 'fixer' who could achieve any objectives beneficial for the company through wining and dining.You were moslty a retired bureaucrat or an old family retainer managing company communications. You would be in charge of guest relations and of course publicity through press releases.Many ex-journalists were also the public relations officers of that time. A trend seen even today.Hospitality relations (which is how the personal influence model of public relations is used and will be discussed later) and producing house journals was also part of your other responsibilities.Public relations activities were not based on research or were part of any strategic decision.

In the 1980s, there were small time firms offereing PR services to companies.Advertising agnecies started offering public relations activities free as part of their advertising services to their clients.Some of the well-known pioneering PR agencies of that time were those who had independent operations or had entered into affiliations with international public relations agencies such as Hill & Knowlton (Indian Public Affairs Network, New Delhi) and Burson-Marstellar Roger Pereira Communications Private Limited (Mumbai).

Initially in the 1970s and much later in the 1990s a much awaited change took place ,which gave a major boost to the profession of PR. (to be continued...)

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

"It is about reputation"

Public Relations as a concept is as old as civilisation. According to Edward Berneys who is the nephew of Sigman Freud, and considered one of the founders of PR as a profession or when public relations consultantancy emerged, had something very interesting to say about the evolution of this profession.He said there are three essential elements that make up this job: informing people,persuading people and bringing people together.

Public Relations is an image building tool which is widely used by companies, corporations and individuals alike.It is considered as a managment function which tries to establish mutually benefical relationships between its organisation and its publics.

As the Institute of Public Relations rightly puts it "it is about reputation".The result of what you do; what you say and what others say about you. How true! In a nutshell these few lines tell us the core of what this profession is all about.

Before we get into the history of PR we must understand that just like any other profession this one too has been affected by several factors such as political, social, cultural and economical, which eventually shaped it.

Throughout history, spread across the world we see this profession shaping up, changing and adapting itself with the changing trends across the world.

Pimlott (1955) and others said that the trend of public relations originated in the U.S. The origin of public relations as a profession was in the media & publicists who specialized in promoting circuses, theatrical performances, and other public spectacles (We must thank the journalists for the evolution of this profession!).
The First World War also helped stimulate the development of public relations as a profession. Ivy Ledbetter Lee, a former Wall street journal reporter, Edward Bernays and Carl Byoir were some of the well-known PR consultants at that time. Other countries have only replicated the public relations as practiced in the US. In Europe, public relations as a profession got a boost post world war II. Institute of Public Relations (IPR)and the Public Relations Society of America, PRSA were premier institues started in the late 40s for the advancement of public relations professionals and the profession itself.

Thus, Public Relations as a profession developed around the world due to many factors. In India too Public Relations saw its own origin. Public relations in India is 2000 years old. It has evolved since the days of Emperor Asoka, around 320 B.C. where he used rock tablets as a tool to communicate with the public. Modern public relations was born during the struggle for freedom, in the reign of the British where a number of newspapers at that time were virtually their mouthpieces. The history of Public Relations is as vast as it is fascinating. The story continues...

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Journey Begins...

A lot has been written about Public Relations.There are many websites and blogs which endlessly write about the goodness of this profession and there are sites which warn you against its unecessary charms.My blog modestly attempts to bring forth the theories of this profession which makes this profesion the way it is.

what Culbertson, Jeffers, Stone, and Terrell (1993) said has encouraged me to begin writing this blog on the importance of theories in the PR profession.They said that it is because marketing experts depend on theoretical concepts, they have seen much success in being able to target market segments and in positioning products or organizations. Many PR practioners on the other hand though appreciate theory for academic reasons but see little use for it outside the classroom. But the authors sound hopeful when they conclude that seeing the success of marketing people, the PR fraternity will change their minds and adopt theoretical approaches.

I firmly believe in the fact, that to know something in its present you must know its past.History plays a very important role in defining its origin and the theories develop and shape it.

This blog will dig deeper into this profession and construct it bit by bit to see how it is in India and around the world.

Hope you will enjoy this enthralling journey with me and revel in it the way i do...