«SPEAKING OF FAITH: PUBLIC RELATIONS PRACTICE AMONG RELIGION COMMUNICATORS IN THE UNITED STATES Committee: Dominic L. Lasorsa, Co-Supervisor Ronald ...»
The faith group a religion communicator represents does not seem to influence the way he or she answers questions about various models of public relations. RCC members from mainline Protestant denominations were no more likely to favor two-way symmetrical public relations—as H1 predicted—than those from other faith groups.
Consequently, two-way symmetrical public relations practices were not shown to be contributing—as Church-Sect Theory would predict—to the decline of mainline Protestant denominations in today’s dynamic religious landscape. This chapter offers interpretations of these findings.
Results from this research make a case that religion communicators in this study are a distinct subgroup of U.S. public relations practitioners. They perform different roles from practitioners in earlier research (Broom, 1982; Broom & Dozier, 1986; Dozier & Broom, 1995). Religion communicators are not completely the hacks represented by Ivy Lee and Ralph Stoody in Chapter 2. But they definitely are not the applied social science flacks or management counselors personified by Edward L. Bernays, either. Their work focuses on technical communication tasks. Religion communicators spend much more of their energies than secular practitioners on writing, editing, taking photographs, producing publications, maintaining media contacts and placing news releases in secular outlets. As Cutlip and Center (1952, 1958, 1964, 1971, 1978) said, they may still be lagging behind their secular counterparts in adopting modern roles and methods. As such, RCC members are much less likely than secular communicators to say they are considered experts at solving communication problems, provide counsel to top managers, take responsibility for the success or failure of communication efforts, or make communication policy decisions. Religion communicators do say they offer policy suggestions.
Some distinctions between RCC members and secular communicators were expected. That’s because of differences in the Excellence samples and the RCC group.
Grunig, Grunig and Dozier (2002) surveyed only top communicators in an organization.
RCC respondents included top communicators and practitioners at other levels. Twothirds of RCC respondents had executive titles and said they reported directly to the chief executive of their organization. Other religion communicators either filled lower positions or did not say what their jobs were. Those lower-level communicators could have made the overall RCC response more technical than managerial.
But differences in the survey population were not the only reason for the technical focus of religion communicators. Their work environment also played a role. A quarter of RCC respondents said they were the only communication person in their organization.
Another third represented departments with fewer than five people. Someone has to produce the communication products, take questions from reporters and prepare responses. Those duties leave little time for more strategic flack functions. That may explain why 53% of top executives from mainline Protestant denominations—and 41% of leaders from other faith groups—agreed that people in their communication departments were so busy writing stories or producing publications that they had no time to do research.
Furthermore, two thirds of RCC respondents were women. Earlier roles research with members of the Public Relations Society of America (Broom, 1982; Broom & Dozier, 1986; Dozier & Broom, 1995) noted that women were more likely than men to consider themselves communication technicians. That sex difference did decline in the most recent study among PRSA members. But if a woman were the top communication executive in the Excellence surveys, she was more likely than a man to mix work as a manager and technician—even in excellent operations. As a result, women had fewer opportunities than men to develop their strategic expertise (Grunig, Grunig & Dozier, 2002). Furthermore, in nonprofit organizations, top communicators were both technician and manager (Grunig, Grunig & Dozier, 2002). Therefore, the sex of a respondent may be a factor in the way RCC members understand their roles. Earlier research showed that chief executives often hired communicators for their technical expertise. To be considered a manager, top communicators needed to demonstrate administrative and strategic knowledge as well as technical communication skills (Grunig, Grunig & Dozier, 2002). Women communicators in faith groups may see building a reputation for technical competence as a way to raise their status within management ranks. That speculation—as well as how the sex of the practitioner influences survey responses—could be a topic for future research.
Previous studies have connected education and knowledge with management role enactment (Dozier, 1992; Dozier & Broom, 1995; Grunig, Grunig & Dozier, 2002). This study did not clearly replicate that result. A quarter of RCC members reported no formal communication training. That may mean they do not have the background to think of themselves as anything more than technicians who have learned a craft on the job. They may not know about or recognize broader public relations roles. In fact, RCC members with little or no formal education in communication were most likely to agree that public relations essentially meant publicity.
Not only do religion communicators appear to be a distinct subgroup of practitioners, they have a distinct view of what they do. Results from this study show that RCC members do not understand public relations the way that Excellence scholars or their secular counterparts do. That finding is consistent with the resistance to the flack approach to public relations seen in RPRC/RCC newsletters over the past three decades.
Among communicators from 316 secular organizations, the four models of public relations first presented in Grunig and Hunt (1984) have proved to be fairly reliable representations of how practitioners do their work. Grunig, Grunig & Dozier (2002) reported Cronbach’s alpha reliability coefficients for results from communicators in 316 Excellence studies of 0.72 for the two-way symmetrical model, 0.70 for the two-way asymmetrical model, 0.56 for the public information model and 0.78 for the press agentry/publicity model. For their samples of chief executives, Grunig, Grunig and Dozier (2002) reported alphas of 0.65 for the two-way symmetrical model, 0.59 for the two-way asymmetrical model, 0.70 for the press agentry/publicity model and 0.68 for the public information model.
In this study, however, alphas were much lower. Among religion communicators alphas were 0.62 for the two-way symmetrical model, 0.55 for the two-way asymmetrical model, 0.24 for the public information model and 0.54 for the press agentry/publicity model. Alphas for faith group leaders were 0.34 for the two-way symmetrical model,
0.61 for the two-way asymmetrical model, 0.36 for the public information model and
0.71 for the press agentry/publicity model. Low inter-item correlations showed that RCC members generally did not agree that the four statements about the two-way asymmetrical model, public information model and press agentry/publicity model went together to describe a specific way to practice public relations. Religion communicators did see the four statements about the two-way symmetrical model going together.
Responses from faith group leaders showed more pronounced disconnects among statements describing each model. For faith group leaders, only the four statements about the press agentry/publicity model represented a unified description of public relations practice.
The factor analysis of responses from RCC members about all four models reinforced the idea that religion communicators understood public relations differently from Excellence scholars and secular practitioners. Factor loadings showed that religion communicators connected statements about research and publicity more with persuasion than relationship building. RCC members saw little need for tasks associated with the public information model. Three of the four public information statements did not even load. But RCC members did associate three mutual-influence statements from the twoway symmetrical model as one specific approach to public relations.
The factor groupings seem to be in line with the technical focus of religion communicators. The RCC members may again be lagging behind secular practitioners in adopting modern roles and methods (Cutlip & Center, 1952, 1958, 1964, 1971, 1978).
Consequently, religion communicators do not relate to many statements about public relations practice in the four models. Those descriptions do not match what RCC members think hacks should do.
Religion, Secular Communicators Claim Similar Expertise Despite their different approaches and views of their work, religion and secular communicators report similar levels of public relations expertise. Both groups say their communication departments are topnotch at performing journalistic tasks associated with the public information model. Those duties include understanding news values, working as a journalist inside the organization, providing objective information about the organization and preparing news stories that reporters would use. Religion and secular communicators say their departments have average abilities to do publicity work. They can get their organization’s name into the news, persuade reporters to publicize the organization and get maximum coverage from a staged event. Secular practitioners say their departments have above-average expertise to perform both manager and technician duties. They can develop goals and objectives, prepare budgets, devise strategies, manage issues and oversee people on a par with top managers of any organization. Furthermore, secular practitioners say the can produce publications, write news releases, prepare advertisements, coordinate news coverage and write speeches with the best communication technicians anywhere. Religion communicators claim above-average technical expertise, especially writing, editing, producing publications and taking photographs. But RCC members say they are only average at manager tasks.
Secular and religion communicators say their departments are less prepared than an average communication unit to handle research-based initiatives associated with both two-way models of public relations. Departments are not well equipped to conduct evaluation research, segment audiences and keep track of the news and issues environment. But RCC members seem to want to emphasize how poorly prepared they are to do research. For example, of religion communicators who agreed they should do post-campaign research to check for attitude changes, 36% said they had no expertise for using attitude theories in such an effort. Twenty-three percent said they had less-thanaverage theoretical expertise. Of RCC members who agreed that they should do precampaign research to help plan messages, 10% said they had no expertise for persuading publics that their organization was right. Another 29% said they had less-than-average persuasion skills. Nevertheless, factor analysis of RCC statements about public relations practices showed that research for planning and evaluating messages was the most strongly recognized element of public relations work.
The cross tabulations of statements about expertise with those from the models about practice seemed to show the longstanding fear among religion communicators of manipulating people through psychology. The results also reflected the long-running flack-vs.-hack debate and Ralph Stoody’s 1959 admonition about avoiding hidden persuasion. In a statement against the flack approach to public relations, Stoody said religion communicators should not aspire to be propagandistic manipulators or engineers of consent. Instead, they should be committed to standards of good taste and the public welfare (Stoody, 1959). Nevertheless, the factor analysis of statements about public relations practice showed that RCC members understood their work more in terms of persuasion and publicity than relationship building or public information.
The factor analysis suggests that RCC members may not really be the hacks they think they are. Religion communicators showed their weakest support for the public information model of public relations that Stoody seemed to advocate (M=2.52 on a fivepoint Likert scale). The factor analysis of statements about the four public relations models did not load three public information measures into any grouping. Only a public information statement about disseminating accurate information but not volunteering unfavorable information seemed credible to religion communicators. It appeared in one factor. Such disagreement with the public information measures was exactly the opposite of what would be expected from a group of hacks. RPRC and RCC newsletter items over the past 29 years have shown that members consistently maintained they were journalists inside their organizations. Their statements reflected the legacy of Ivy Lee and the spirit of the public information model.
To be sure, the low reliability coefficients for the four public information measures in this and earlier studies make survey results suspect. In fact, insufficient Cronbach’s alpha ratings since the first uses of these measures raise questions about the credibility of the public information scale throughout the Excellence scholarship. Grunig and Grunig (1992) acknowledged the low reliability coefficient for the public information index. They attributed low alphas to items describing information dissemination. That function is common to all models. But Excellence surveys have continued using the suspect index. Later studies do not mention any attempts to improve it (Grunig, Grunig & Dozier, 2002). By replicating the scale, this study was saddled with the same reliability problem.