Topics: Public relations, Strategic management, Mass media Pages: 58 (10672 words) Published: January 5, 2013
Paradigms of global public relations in an age of digitalisation James E. Grunig, University of Maryland

Although the attention being paid to the new
digital media may be the latest fad in public
relations, these new media have the potential
to make the profession more global, strategic,
two-way and interactive, symmetrical or
However, many practitioners are using the
new media in the same ways they used the
old—as a means of dumping messages on the
general population rather than as a strategic
means of interacting with publics and
bringing information from the environment
into organisational decision-making. For
public relations to fully use digital media,
reinstitutionalise public relations as a
behavioural, strategic management paradigm
rather than as a symbolic, interpretive
paradigm. This article provides a model of
strategic public relations and offers
suggestions for the use of digital media in
each phase of this model.
Public relations has long been a professional
practice where fads are common and
conceptualisation of faddish concepts is weak
or nonexistent. Public relations fads have
focused on such concepts as images,
perceptions, messaging, reputation, brands,
integrated marketing communication, return
corporate social
responsibility projects. Most practitioners
following these fads have skill sets that are
limited to media and media relations, and
they fervently believe that publicity in
traditional media will produce the faddish
outcome currently in vogue. Thus, it is not
surprising that so many public relations

practitioners view the new digital social media
as a revolutionary force that changes the way
they think and upsets the way they practise
public relations.
Fads change quickly, however, and public
relations practitioners have rapidly embraced
social media as being at the centre of what they
consider to be a new form of public relations.
The traditional media frenzy of so many
practitioners has been replaced by a new social
media frenzy. Each day, I receive
announcements of conferences, seminars,
online discussions, publications, books,
practitioners can use social media to
revolutionise their public relations work.
Although many practitioners have simply
transferred their traditional media skills and
techniques to digital media, the new fascination
with social media promises to have positive
consequences for the public relations
profession. If the social media are used to their
full potential, I believe they will inexorably
make public relations practice more global,
strategic, two-way and interactive, symmetrical
or dialogical, and socially responsible.
In 1996, Verčič, Grunig, and Grunig
proposed a global theory of public relations that
was elaborated by Sriramesh and Verčič (2003,
2009) in their Global Public Relations
Handbook and by Sriramesh in this special
issue of PRism. Our global public relations
theory attempted to answer the question of
whether public relations theory and practice
should be unique to each country or culture or
whether it should be practiced in the same way
everywhere. We answered this question by
theorising that global public relations should
fall in the middle between standardisation and
individualisation. We theorised that, at an
abstract level, there are a set of generic
principles that could be applied universally but

Grunig, J. E. (2009). Paradigms of global public relations in an age of digitalisation. PRism 6(2):

that at a local level these principles should be
applied differently in different locations. I
emphasise the words ‘could’ and ‘should’ in
the previous sentence because we did not
argue that public relations ‘is’...
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