November 2, 2011 § Leave a comment
I just finished teaching a theory class for our Public Communication weekend graduate program for professionals. Ayofemi Kirby, one of the students and also a congressional staffer, did a superb synthesis of Roger Hayes’ ideas on collaborative advocacy and Carl Botan’s grand strategies. Hayes is a senior counselor with APCO Worldwide. Botan is a leading public relations scholar who teaches at George Mason University.
Ayofemi discusses the intersection of their ideas and why the shift from disseminating information to managing relations …
“The abundance and increase in access to information is shifting public relations into new territory. Organizational strategies that rely on one-way or fragmented communications will be less successful than those that embrace interconnectedness and interdependence (Hayes, 2008). The future of public communication requires practitioners to manage relationships rather than solely disseminate information, for organizations to understand they are influencers of and are influenced by their environments, and for organizational leaders to embrace conflict and use diversity to solve problems within a complex world. Concepts found within Botan’s (2006) examination of cooperative and integrative grand strategies and Hayes’s (2008) proposed redefinition of the public relations practice, support these predications.
If the world is indeed changing due to an abundance of information, forcing organizations to be more open, transparent and collaborative with their publics, both Botan and Hayes agree that effective relationship management is a more critical function that information distribution for public relations practitioners. As interpersonal interactions increase, new communities with common interests are formed. When collective interests among these communities relate to an organization, these groups become organizational publics (Botan, 2006).
According to Botan (2006), publics are not passive and instead have self interests that guide their interactions with organizations of which they are stakeholders. Because of a public’s changing interests, its relationship to organizations of which they are stakeholders is an evolving affair. With information readily available from multiple sources, and the continuous re-prioritization of issues and interests, publics are best understood when seen as an ongoing process reliant on engagement, rather than a stagnant group whose relationship with an organization is dependent on information received (Botan, 2006). To operate within the current and future global environment, with new communities forming irrespective of space and time, organizations must focus on building trust and long-term relationships with their publics, allowing them to understand new, developing issues and mitigate critical ones that could help or hinder their success (Hayes, 2008).
According to Hayes (2008), to be successful within a globalized economy, organizations must operate within an environmental context, becoming more ethical and society-centered. This grand strategy corresponds with Botan’s (2006) cooperative and integrative models where organizations welcome change, become more transparent and embrace the public’s role in solving problems. Hayes (2008) states that due to changes within a highly interconnected and fragmented world, successful public relations efforts must now be a process of being influenced by stakeholders as much as they influence them.
Organizations must embrace that the public is more able to affect outcomes that are beneficial or detrimental to internal and external stakeholders and must develop strategies that rely on building coalitions of support rather than sustain conditions of conflict, say Hayes. He adds, businesses and organizations must now learn how to partner with external stakeholders, otherwise divergent interests that are not conducive to organizational or stakeholder goals, will cause tension between these groups. This mode of operation, a higher level of “corporate citizenship” (Hayes, 2008) is reflective of Botan’s (2006) cooperative and integrative grand strategies where organizations function as an integral part of their environment rather than being resistant or intransigent to it.
Lastly, within an increasingly complex world, public relations practitioners must embody the style of politicians, where they use dialogue, negotiation, and consensus-building as tools to manage diverse stakeholders with varying interests (Hayes, 2008). Communication skills that allow practitioners to manage difference and arrive at collective goals are required to support organizations and their efforts within communities around the world. Organizations are transitioning from more resistant and intransigent models where publics are seen as obstructive and combative, toward more collaborative, diplomatic functions where publics are becoming their partners (Botan, 2006). Communications practitioners must therefore advise organizational leaders on seeing public issues as “opportunities rather than risks”, and manage conflicting opinions to “promote understanding” among all stakeholders involved (Hayes, 2008).
Organizations with leaders who ignore or overlook difference as paths to effective stakeholder management will encounter publics with a resistance to change that matches their own. Botan (2006) and Hayes (2008) present grand strategies that will help public communication professionals guide the organizations they support through a changing, more complex and connected global environment, requiring more of a focus on relationship management, openness to influence from publics and a more welcoming model for new ideas and diverse perspectives leading to a place where collective interests and the common good prevail.
Ayofemi Kirby is a master’s degree candidate at American University’s School of Communication and currently works on the Hill as a congressional staffer. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @Ayofemi.
Botan, Carl (2006). Grand strategy, strategy and tactics in public relations in C. Botan and V. Hazelton (eds) Public Relations Theory II (pp. 223-247). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Hayes, R. (2008). Public Relations and Collaboration: The Role of Public Relations and Communications Supporting Collaboration in a Complex, Converging World ( No. IPRA Gold Paper No. 17). Beijing, PRC.