Are Grunig and Hunt still relevant?

Agony uncle and University of Westminster's visiting professor of PR Trevor Morris gives it to you straight.

It has been 30 years since US PR theorists Grunig and Hunt set "two-way symmetrical communication" as the benchmark for public relations theory and practice. Is it helpful or harmful?’

Not helpful, but largely harmless. Grunig and Hunt say there are four models of PR: press agentry/publicity; public information; two-way asymmetric; and two-way symmetric. Even if the terminology is rather clunky, at first glance it provides PR with the theoretical foundation some in the industry so ardently crave. The problem is that they offer no evidence or research to back up their claims. Moreover, the idea of totally unbiased public information with no persuasive intent is naive; what information is released, and when and how, is almost always loaded with meaning.

One person’s public information is another’s propaganda.Plus, their final two-way symmetrical communication model is not really even an ideal. PR people will always consider the views of the people they communicate with, but ultimately they must do so to serve the best interests of their paymasters – be they government, business or charity. People who try to claim otherwise may appear a bit dodgy, but beyond that little harm is done.

Grunig and Hunt seem embarrassed by the fact that PR is a purposeful and persuasive activity, rather than a branch of moral philosophy.

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