«13TH INTERNATIONAL PUBLIC RELATIONS RESEARCH CONFERENCE “Ethical Issues for Public Relations Practice in a Multicultural World” Holiday Inn ...»
• Advantages through objectives -- to achieve certain goals based on motivating action and shared interests
• Rhetorical strategies -- strategic planning using certain messages and tactics to achieve desired objectives, and,
• Tactics -- strategy should drive which tools, such as news releases or publicity events, that practitioners use. (2006, p. 3) Three of the five guidelines Heath and Coombs included in their “smart” acronym can be said to have originated with moral philosophy: societal value and meaning, a utilitarian construct for measuring the impact that certain decisions have on members of society; mutually beneficial relationships, fostering the interests of involved parties is said to be ethical because it is based on dialogue and understanding rather than only self-interest, and rhetorical strategies that are based on ancient rhetoric in which the person of character speaks on behalf of an idea in pursuit of truth.
64 Offering another definition, Cameron, Wilcox, Reber, Shin (2008) who wrote that public relations is “the management of competition and conflict on behalf of one’s organization, and when possible, also in the interests of the publics that impact the organization” (p. xv). This definition addresses the problem common in other definitions that relationships cannot always be mutually beneficial, but seeks to foster them ethically when possible. However, this definition also takes a decidedly competitive approach that leaves much of how to manage the competition and conflict up to the ethics of the individual; at times, a risky proposition.
A text by Newsom, Turk, and Kruckeberg (2004) defined public relations thus: "as a management function, public relations involves responsibility and responsiveness in policy and information to the best interests of the organization and its publics" (p. 2). This definition focuses on responsibility and responsiveness in public relations, therefore encouraging ethical behavior. The definition is normative because it obligates one to act in the best interest of both the organization and its publics, which could be impossible if those interests are diametrically opposed. The definition does not say to whom practitioners are to be responsible, leaving in question whether that responsibility is to the organization first and society second. However, this definition does hold that responsibility is to be considered an intrinsic good of public relations.
It also specifies the responsiveness is a good, building upon the rhetorical paradigm of enhancing dialogue.
A classic definition of public relations from Grunig and Hunt (1984) offered that public relations is “the management of communication between an organization and its publics” (p. 4).
Public relations scholars (Pasadeos, Renfro, & Hanily, 1999) found that the most cited definition is Grunig and Hunt’s, meaning that it has had significant impact on the field. Grunig and Hunt do not obligate public relations to be practiced in the interest of any particular party, nor to be mutually beneficial. By placing the field squarely in a management discipline, they allow the autonomy necessary for ethical decision-making but they do not specify a normative ethic to be ascribed.
This brief review of definitions suggests that a normative or aspirational ethic for public relations can be achieved. These scholars hold that public relations can contribute to the good of society by building discussion. Reviewing the ethical constructs within each definition, we can say that the ethical nature of the good (Ross, 2002/1930) in public relations exists within these
• collaborative decision-making
• listening and appreciating
• social value and meaning
• dialogue and responsiveness
• managing competition and conflict
• autonomy These concepts define the nature of “good” in public relations, as seen in the definitions offered by leaders in the field. These definitions aspire to explain how public relations function should ideally be conducted. They abhor dishonesty, vociferous advocacy, spin, or manipulation among “the good” and valuable aspects of public relations within society, but we know that these activities happen every day. Researchers (Bowen et al., 2006; Parsons, 2004) found little ethics training in public relations except among managers at the higher levels of their organizations, who act as ethics counselors as part of their role in issues management. Further, a higher level of 65 moral reasoning is reported among public relations practitioners with more years of experience in the field (Baker & Martinson, 2002; Wright, 1985).
Determining the Nature of Good in Public Relations By examining the concepts bulleted in the list above as inherently good in public relations and discussing them in the sense of what they mean in moral philosophy or ethics, this section offers understanding of the nature of good as a normative ethic for public relations. Three concepts from the literature of moral philosophy will be added to those already discussed, and a model illustrating their integration and use in an organization as reflective management will be offered later in this chapter (Figure 1). Reflective management builds upon the work of van Ruler and Vercic (2005). This model of management can be used by scholars to discuss and research topics related to ethics and as a guide to enhance the ability of practitioners to conduct ethical public relations.
Collaborative or Integrative Decision-Making Collaborative decision-making is thought to be inherently ethical because it allows people to share in creating their own destiny rather than having that outcome decided arbitrarily by others. Creating integrative decisions, or agreements which integrate the interests of others, is a method of problem solving that has been shown over time to create more enduring and satisfying decisions than those made from a one-sided perspective (Lewicki, Litterer, Saunders, & Minton, 1993). From a moral philosophy perspective, collaborative decision-making is often defined as good because it respects the interests of other parties rather than basing a decision in one entity’s self-interest alone. Collaborative or integrative decisions are arrived at through using dialogue to discuss and align interests, creating ethics “in and through communication” (Jovanovic & Wood, 2006, p. 389). Although more will be said on dialogue in a few sections, collaborative decision-making constitutes an ethical good according to philosophers: Bakhtin (1993) saw it as communicative action in creating a world of life; and Buber (1970) saw it as an equalizing force between parties, demanding equal consideration and respect from each.
That collaborative decision-making processes is often termed symmetrical public relations. Symmetrical public relations should be interactive and built to maintain the interests of both parties. L. Grunig, J. Grunig, and Dozier (2002) explained that symmetrical relationships “balance the interests of the organizations with the interests of publics on which the organization has consequences and that have consequences on the organization” (p. 11). Kent and Taylor (2002) stressed the collaborative aspect of dialogue, noting that it is a conversation in which both sides have a viewpoint, but remain interested and open to the view of others.
Listening and Appreciating Listening is inadequately studied in public relations scholarship. Listening scholar Andy Wolvin pointed out the inherently ethical nature of listening when he said that it respects the value of the view from another perspective (Personal Communication, Andrew Wolvin, April 17, 2005). Wolvin and Coakley (1996) reviewed several studies and found that “we spend more time listening than we spend in any other form of verbal communication” (p. 14), concluding that “listening plays a vital role in our lives (p. 15) and even “influences personal development” (p.
19). The inherently good nature of true, active listening is rooted in the moral philosophy of respect and value for the rational analysis, views, or being of “the other” (Levinas, 1990). The 66 ethic of care discussed by the philosopher Seyla Benhabib (1992) and developmental psychologist Carol Gilligan (1982) builds upon the concept of listening as an ethical act, as does the concept of empathetic dialogue (Kent & Taylor, 2002). Listening is a foundational part of the public relations process for idea formation, environmental scanning, understanding the values of publics, and co-creating meaning upon which to move forward in strategic management.
Appreciating is also a value that is rooted in the moral-philosophical conception of respect (Acton, 1970; Sullivan, 1989) for publics both internal and external to the organization and the decision maker. Appreciating requires ascribing inherent value to publics simply because they exist, upholding the value of equality. It implies appreciating the value of the relationship even though it might not be one of financial significance to the organization. Appreciating the divergence of ideas, of thought, of values and solutions to common problems can form the basis of a collaborative relationship between an organization and publics. Appreciating publics for the humanity they bring to an organization values internal publics whose human capital contributes to the output and efficacy of the organization, drives its mission, and contributes to its success or failure. Appreciation is deeply related to the Kantian conceptualization of respect; appreciation implies an outward manifestation of that respect, through an appreciative attitude, action, stance, or response.
Social Value and Meaning Understanding the social value and meaning of public relations holds the inherent notion that the function does has a positive and useful a role in society. Scholars (Heath, 2006; van Ruler & Vercic, 2005) would prefer that role to be a pro-social one, meaning that the function encompasses an important social function that allows publics to know, understand, and interact effectively with organizations. The consequences upon society of any organization’s (big or small, governmental, for profit, or non-profit) mission can therefore be communicated with publics, because it is these consequences that create issues for publics (J. E. Grunig & Repper, 1992). As a social value of public relations, those publics can have some governing hand in the way that organizations operate, which is the moral good of collaborative decision-making.
Deeper moral analysis reveals that the public relations function does perform the role of information provider, news provider and liaison, and fosters an open exchange of information between organizations, governments, and publics in society (Spicer, 2000). Truthful and accurate information must flow in society in order for democracy to operate (Day, 1997). The implications of public relations functioning in this manner are greater personal involvement in the governing, priorities, values, norms, and operations of organizations within society. That involvement of individuals supports the ideal of an informed and fair democratic process (Heath, 2006), that we can say is a moral good. Removing the understanding necessary to be involved in informed decisions, or the power of liberty that such a system entails can be said to be unethical because it does not respect the rationality or dignity of the individual. In this sense, public relations can be defined as good because it enhances individual moral autonomy, informed rational decision-making, and the liberty of choice that is the backbone of a democratic society.
Public relations itself does not guarantee moral autonomy and informed rational decisionmaking, but it must exist within each complex modern society as a necessary condition for the survival and thriving of those democratic ideals. In a system with one voice or governmentcontrolled public relations, the diversity of ideas needed for an informed, rational decision are withheld from the public. Such denial of moral agency is unethical because it offers neither respect, dignity, nor recognition of the rational autonomy necessary in making an informed 67 choice. Given that restriction, this analysis can conclude that public relations is both a necessary and inherently good social process when it respects autonomy, rationality, and the liberty of informed decision-making and governance.
Dialogue and Responsiveness Philosophers have long considered the concept of “dialogue” imbued with inherent goodness or moral worth. The repeated appearance of the term dialogue in both the definitions of public relations and within the body of knowledge shows that communication scholars value its inherent good. Definitions of public relations mention the term responsiveness as a core value of the function, and the mutuality of dialogue necessitates a responsive communication function as an inherent good. Responsiveness can also be thought of in the co-orientational sense of dialogue studied by Ron Pearson (1989a; 1989b), who described dialogue as an ethic to guide public relations.
Responsiveness can also be thought of as engagement (Heath, 2001). Richard Edelman (2009) defined public engagement as “reassessment of corporate policy and continuous communication” (p. 3). Engagement can take place with an idea, an issue of concern, or with a public. The ethical aspect of engagement affords value and importance within management to publics and their causes; it recognizes the initiative to seek information and the moral autonomy of publics. Conducting public relations in a manner of authentic engagement means that publics are respected for their moral autonomy rather than being viewed as simply uninformed people to be persuaded to the organization's point of view or as critics to be assuaged by accommodation.
Therefore, responsiveness or engagement is an inherently ethical concept because respect and moral autonomy are maintained.
Deontological philosophers such as Immanuel Kant viewed the term dialogue as good because it maintains dignity and respect for others. Following Kant, Habermas (1987) argued that dialogue is good because it fulfills our moral obligation under deontology, because all people are obligated equally by rationality and thus equally worthy of dialogue. Buber argued that dialogue creates all real living as seen through what he called the I-Thou connection.