Media Relations / Power / PR Industry

How is power connected to public relations practice?

This week we had a discussion in class about how power relates to public relations, especially how it is being used in a professional context. What makes public relations a powerful ‘voice’ in society? Does it mainly relate to political and governmental issues, or is the power of public relations being practiced in other sectors as well?

In the Handbook of Public Relations, Robert L. Heath explained that public relations is generally concerned with the different forms of communication between publics and organisations, but on a deeper level it also need to concentrate on power relations, especially the unequal access to power and resources in today’s society. I recently analysed the relationship between public relations and media relations, whereas I especially focused on the power-balance between PR practitioners and journalists.

The main discovery from this research was that a rising number of journalists are now required to do more work with less time and resources, making them more dependable on ‘ready made’ news provided by PR practitioners. In my opinion, this is an example of the unequal power being shifted in the direction of public relations, as it is assumed that their work has now attained higher value, and is therefore threaded with more gratitude.

Moreover, there also exist other contexts where the power of public relations is being positively acknowledged, for instance in the PRWeek’s Annual Power Book. The winner of 2012, Roland Rudd, was praised for his high-level connections in both business and political spheres, whereas he was recognised as having the best network of bankers and industrialists in the City of London.

However, I must ask myself in what extend these examples represent the overall usage of power in public relations situations. Our tutors explained that you could divide power in PR into two categories, explicit (visible) and implicit (hidden) power. The explicit power is mainly related to my previous examples, i.e. referring to power in relations to access to resources and media, and related to skills and knowledge. However, the implicit power can be more difficult to discover, as it relates to public relations’ ability to frame, and the usage of rhetorical devices. This can also relate to propaganda and persuasion, where the intention is to manipulate behaviour patterns and control information flow.

Conclusively, it is very difficult to assess if power in PR is being executed with ‘good’ or ‘bad’ intentions, as there exist so many different forms of power dealings. However, it is safe to say that PR practitioners are increasingly having more power and influence in many situations, and they should therefore be considered as resourceful and important contributors in today’s society, both within organisations and by the publics.

– Maria


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