IT DEPENDS: A Contingency Theory
of Accommodation in Public Relations
Glen T. Cameron, Ph.D.
University of Georgia
Michael A. Mitrook,
University of Alabama
Amanda A. Estes
Ketchum Public Relations
Manuscript produced under the auspices of
The C. Richard Yarbrough Public Relations Laboratory
Henry W. Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication
The University of Georgia
Athens, Georgia 30602-3018
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Glen
T. Cameron at the above address, office phone: (706) 542-5009, home phone: (706)
369-7904, office fax: (706) 542-4785, Internet: [log in to unmask]
We argue here for a contingency theory of accommodation in public
relations based on a continuum from pure accommodation to pure advocacy. The
theory posits that antecedent, mediating and moderating variables lead to
greater or lesser accommodation. We identify 87 variables for inclusion in the
matrix of factors affecting the degree of accommodation undertaken by public
relations practitioners. We offer the theory as an alternative to the
normative theory of excellence in public relations based on the two-way
Foreword: The "It Depends" Test
Imagine asking a seasoned practitioner how he or she relates to
publics. You ask whether two-way symmetrical public relations is most effective
and morally upright. He or she answers, "It depends. It depends on a whole lot
of things. First, you have to talk in terms of a specific public at a
particular time. Then you must ask some questions. Is the public reasonable or
radical? Are the public's beliefs or behavior morally repugnant? Do I have
support from top management to make the call? How enlightened is my boss about
accommodation's benefits to all parties? How much of a threat is the public?
Is the public socially responsible or a couple of extreme crackpots with a
photocopier?" We argue that this fictional practitioner has tens of thousands
of counterparts in actual practice who offer a better, more subtle and
sophisticated understanding of accommodation than what is to be found in the
The practice of public relations is too complex, too fluid and
impinged by far too many variables for the academy to force it into the four
boxes known as the four models of public relations. Even worse, to
promulgate one of the four boxes as the best and most effective model not only
tortures the reality of practicing public relations but has problems, even as a
normative theory. It fails to capture the complexity and multiplicity of the
public relations environment.
How one practices public relations, we conclude, depends on
assessment of a number of factors, factors ranging from antecedent conditions to
current pressures and opportunities. These factors determine the degree to
which certain practices and positions will prevail for the nonce as well as what
stance by the organization will be both effective and ethically sound.
Essentially, we need a theory that responds to simplistic questions such as
"what is the best way to relate to publics" or "how should you practice public
relations" by responding: "It depends ..." It depends upon the ethical
implications in the situation. It depends on what is at stake. It depends upon
how credible the public is. It depends upon a whole lot of things. This paper
offers 87 of those things as candidate factors that affect the stance of an
Before presenting the factors, we first review the work employing
continua. We then offer conceptual definitions of the terms serving as poles of
our proposed continuum.
Precedents for a Continuum
Aware that unobtrusive control may exist, Hellweg (1989) argues
that what is symmetrical or asymmetrical depends on one's perspective. Thus, an
organization may view inviting a representative of a local activist group to
attend policy meetings as a symmetrical form of accommodation, but a third
party or even the activist group may perceive this same action as an attempt to
unobtrusively gain the consent of the external public. Hellweg (1989) suggests
"the issue of whether two-way symmetrical organizations exist may be resolved by
developing a continuum between the two-way asymmetric practice and a true
two-way symmetric practice, such that organizations both internally and
externally can be measured more by an infinite number of points than an
'either-or' picture might suggest" (p. 22).
That the concept of symmetric communication should be refined along
less rigorous lines of a continuum ranging from conflict to cooperation was also
argued by Murphy (1991, p.124). Along this continuum are situations ranging
from pure conflict at one extreme to pure cooperation at the other. In the
middle of the continuum are mixed-motive games to capture the idea that in
interaction the interests of the players (organization and external public) are
neither strictly coincident nor strictly opposed. In a coorientation context,
mixed-motive games do not aspire to pure congruence or complete agreement but
rather to understanding and accuracy (p. 125). Referring to the mixed-motive
equilibria on this continuum Murphy writes, "This balance is often an uneasy and
precarious one, arrived at by a kind of bargaining dialogue between an
organization and its constituent publics" (p. 125).
Murphy (1991) also found fault with the four models in game theory
terms. She found that the asymmetric model resembles zero-sum games, and
symmetric communication resembles games of pure cooperation. One of many
similarities between games of pure cooperation or purely cooperative behavior
and the two-way symmetrical model is that both are seldom found in the real
world. Applying game theory concepts, Murphy (1991) states that, like games of
pure cooperation, symmetrical communication may produce results unsatisfactory
for both sides because by trying extremely hard to please the other side,
neither side ends up with a satisfactory solution.
Both Hellweg's (1989) and Murphy's (1991) arguments that public
relations strategies or models are more realistically portrayed in a continuum
coincide with the reasoning behind the advocacy/accommodation continuum
presented here. We also argue that this view is a more effective and more
realistic illustration of public relations and organizational behavior than a
conceptualization of four models. Like Hellweg and Murphy, this paper suggests
that a continuum more accurately portrays the variety of public relations
stances available to organizations in dealing with their publics. It also argues
that this approach more effectively illustrates the fluidity with which
organizational stance decisions and public relations strategy decisions are made
and change over time.
Influenced by Hellweg (1989), Murphy (1991), and other researchers'
criticisms of the four models, J. Grunig (with L. Grunig, 1990) decided to
reconceptualize his theory of models into two continua: craft and professional
public relations. Through reconceptualizing the four models into two continua
and reevaluating the function the models serve in organizations as situational
strategies, J. Grunig and L. Grunig helped to shape the models into more
realistic representations of actual public relations practices, but we argue
that even more can be done.
The attempt to place the four models at the two poles of two
continua results in unnecessary complications and confusion. We suggest that
the models serve well as clusters of activities, techniques and strategies, but
not as poles of continua. This study's continuum is presented as a next step,
one that emphasizes a more realistic description of how public relations is
practiced in organizations, how organizations practice a variety of public
relations stances at one point in time, how these stances are capable of
changing quickly, and what influences those changes.
The continuum represents an organization's possible wide range of
stances taken toward an individual public. Whereas the normative theory offers a
prescription, this theory holds that identifying excellence is not so simple and
that experienced professionals know that "It Depends."
We must always ask what is going to be the most effective method at
a given time. True excellence in public relations may be being able to pick the
appropriate point along the continuum that best fits the current need of the
organization and its publics.
We must have simple terms that academics, professionals and
students can all grasp. The terms should focus on the essentials and be
flexible enough to avoid confounding an organization's accommodative position
with practices that may or may not be accommodative. Just because a
practitioner uses public information tactics in communicating with a given
public, for example, doesn't preclude the organization from an accommodative
stance to some degree with that same public. Practices associated with certain
models are now free to appear in conjunction with a greater or lesser degree of
advocacy. Public information tactics may be a baseline or preparatory effort as
part of a campaign that will heat up with greater persuasive techniques (perhaps
based on research, but not necessarily so) being combined with continued public
information efforts. Conversely, public information may precede a series of
negotiations of a mutually beneficial outcome regarding an issue.
Conceptual Definitions of Advocacy and Accommodation
Webster's New World dictionary (1984, p.10) defines advocate as
"one who pleads another's cause or (pleads) in support of something." A review
of practitioner descriptions of the function of public relations shows that
advocacy has been an integral part of public relations ever since its dawning
(Sallot, 1993). Bernays (1928), often called the father of modern public
relations, defines practitioners as "special pleaders who seek to create public
acceptance for a particular idea or commodity" (p. 47). Smith (1972) argues the
function of a public relations practitioner is to advocate, much like an
attorney representing one side of an issue. Cutlip, Center, and Broom (1985)
maintain that public relations must "ethically and effectively plead the cause
of a client or organization in the forum of public debate" (pp. 450-451). Barney
and Black (1994) argue that professional advocacy is a socially acceptable and
socially necessary role of public relations. Similarly, J. Grunig (with L.
Grunig, 1990) wrote "many, if not most, practitioners consider themselves to be
advocates for or defenders of their organizations and cite the advocacy system
in law as an analogy" (p. 32).
Despite the attestations to the existence of advocacy in public
relations, some practitioners appear uncomfortable with the notion of advocacy
because it is often associated with negative images of manipulation and
persuasion. For example, L. Grunig (1992b) defines advocacy as an "unsolved
problem" in public relations and asks, "How far in giving advice to clients can
a consultant in public relations go without weakening his or her independence?"
(p. 72). In contrast, Bivins (1987) argues that the function of advocacy in
public relations "can remain a professional role obligated to client interests,
professional interests, and personal ethics. What is required is an ordering of
priorities" (p. 84).
The function of public relations as an accommodator or builder of
trust with external publics is also evident in public relations literature.
Cutlip, Center, and Broom (1985) define public relations as helping establish
and maintain mutually dependent relationships between an organization and the
publics with which it interacts. Similarly, J. Grunig, L. Grunig, and Ehling
(1992) say that organizations and their respective public relations
practitioners should build relationships and manage an organization's
A 1993 poll, although unscientific, showed that public relations
educators and practitioners hold mixed perceptions of whether the function of
public relations is to advocate, build consensus, do both, or serve some other
function (Katzman, 1993). Of the 84 participants in the poll, 46 (57%)
responded that practitioners are both advocates and consensus builders (p. 11).
Some researchers claim that the external environment of an
organization is the greatest determinant, while others believe that an
organization's public relations stance is most contingent upon decisions
arbitrarily made by organization leaders, also called the dominant coalition.
Still other researchers believe that the dynamics of each relationship between
an organization and a public has the greatest effect on the organization's
We argue that a combination of factors contribute at any given time
to how an organization deals with its external interdependencies, its publics.
The Advocacy-Accommodation Continuum
Between the two extremes of pure advocacy and pure accommodation
are a wide range of operational stances and public relations strategies which
are mixes of different degrees of advocacy and accommodation. A simplified
version of this continuum is presented below.
Pure |------------------------------------------| Pure
Public relations practitioners must typically choose, either
consciously or by default, a stance somewhere between pure advocacy and pure
accommodation. Not only does the role public relations practitioners serve
range from pure advocate to pure accommodator, but communication acts reflecting
both extremes can actually occur simultaneously in dealing with one public.
Considering the numerous publics being addressed by an organization at any given
time, the welter of techniques, skills and approaches that can be taken, any
attempt to identify a single model of practice for public relations in an
organization, much less a single ideal model of practice is difficult at best.
The multiplicity of co-eval approaches is supported by Long's (1987) argument
that the function of public relations is complex. He writes, "I'm intrigued
by... (an) attempt to define narrowly the chief function of the public relations
discipline. Is it persuasion or mediation, advocacy or advisement? I believe
it's a combination of all four, depending on the type of organization you work
for and the challenge of the moment" (p. 91).
Why Move Beyond the Four Models to a Continuum?
Weak Data in Support of the Four Models
Although Grunig's models have made an enormous contribution to
public relations research, they have been cited as having limitations. For
example, findings in seven studies testing the models' reliability produced low
alphas ranging from only .42 to .65 (J. Grunig & L. Grunig, 1990, p. 33). The
values are far below minimum standards for reliability. Wimmer and Dominick
(1994) write that a commonly held standard for reliability alphas is .75 or
above, and Carmines and Zeller (1979) state that reliability alphas should not
fall below .80 for "widely used scales" (p. 51). Similarly, Bowers & Courtright
(1984) endorse a .70 minimum.
J. Grunig and L. Grunig (1992) later reported they had
substantially improved the reliability scores of three out of the four measures
of the models by using fractionation scales. With these scales, reliability
alphas were found to range from .60 to .81 for the models (Wetherell, 1989).
However, Leichty and Springston (1993) question the validity of this increase
and assume that the improved scores may only reflect a social desirability
artifact (p. 329-330).
Weak correlations have been found between many of the proposed
factors affecting the four models of public relations. In particular, items
defining the structure and environment of an organization were not particularly
helpful in understanding what brings about a model of practice (J. Grunig and L
Grunig, 1989; J. Grunig 1976, 1984; Fabiszak, 1985; McMillan, 1984; E. Pollack,
1984; R. Pollack, 1986; and Schneider, 1985a;, Schneider, 1985b).
The four models are remarkably sound concepts. However, the
assumption of ethical high ground for the two- way symmetrical has problems.
Accommodative behaviors such as engaging in dialogue with morally repugnant
publics or offering tradeoffs to those perceived as entirely wrong could be
viewed as unethical, an exercise in moral relativism. For example, an
organization viewing abortion as murder is taking a moral absolutist position.
For this organization to compromise with a pro-choice group would be unethical.
Similarly, certain environmental organizations would take a similar view toward
the compromise of whales or old growth forest.
To engage in dialogue, to change the organization's behavior or
position as a compromise would be morally repugnant. It may be that the view of
two-way symmetrical communication requires an assumption of moral relativism.
This assumption is certainly not held by all groups. And many groups are
convinced that their position is right and best for all concerned, whether on
moral grounds or as a matter of practicality.
J. Grunig's (1992) suggestion that practitioners who practice
"excellent" public relations combining two-way symmetric and asymmetric models
may serve as advocates for their organization and for the organization's publics
is confusing because it does not include advocates of conflicting organization
and public interests (Sallot, 1993). Sallot writes, "perhaps it is possible to
advocate for two interests when they coincide, but what happens when the
advocate is called to 'represent' competing interests of the sponsor and the
public?" (p.45). She argues that practitioners cannot advocate for two (or
more) conflicting interests, and thus that one may then presume that the two-way
symmetrical model is unworkable. Similarly, Pearson (1989) writes "serving
client and public interests simultaneously is the seeming impossible mission of
the public relations practitioner" (p.67). Is this the art of compromise?
Perhaps the most important problem with the claim that the two-way
symmetrical model represents excellence public relations is the dearth of
research to support this claim. J. Grunig and L. Grunig (1992) cite two case
studies, Turk (1986) and L. Grunig (1986) as indirect support for this idea.
These studies document two situations in which asymmetrical communication
techniques failed to reduce conflict, and the researchers, L. Grunig and Turk,
assume that symmetric communication would have been more successful. This
conclusion seems premature since neither study's findings directly support this
J. Grunig's conceptualization of the two-way symmetric model is
also weakened by its lack of evidence which shows that symmetrical techniques
may produce asymmetrical results (Hellweg, 1989) through what Tompkins and
Cheney (1985) call unobtrusive control. For example, an organization may allow
employees or the leaders of a local activist group to periodically participate
in the organization's minor decision making in an effort to co-opt the employees
and the activist group to accept the organization's control or decisions in a
much more subtle way than if the organization were to use coercive or overtly
Functionalist/ Professional Criticisms
Many, if not most practitioners, believe that advocacy, an
asymmetrical form of public relations, not only is ethical, but also is a highly
effective function of public relations. Therefore, many practitioners argue
that symmetrical techniques may not be the best public relations answer for
every situation. The functionalist approach would then argue that whatever is
-- is best or it would not be! We do not take this myopic view. We do draw
upon the wisdom of the prototypical enlightened practitioner who is far more
subtle in considering when and how much accommodation is appropriate. We are
aware that accommodation undertaken by such practitioners is done in the face of
organizational expectations that public relations should advocate on the
organization's behalf. The organization will tend to view advocacy of its
position as not only best for itself, but best for the world in the long run.
Some critics of symmetrical communication, including practitioners
and theorists, claim that it is unrealistic. They argue that organizations hire
public relations practitioners as advocates to advance the interests of the
organization and not as "'do-gooders' who 'give in' to outsiders with an agenda
different from that of the organization" (J. Grunig & White, 1992, p.46).
Others like Tuleja (1985) argue that while people in organizations
have mixed motives or divided loyalties to the organization and to society,
these mixed motives do not make symmetrical communication unrealistic. Tuleja
(1985) along with J. Grunig and White (1992) argue that organizations will
practice symmetrical public relations because of a belief in the norm of
reciprocity. Reciprocity suggests that an organization will get more of what it
wants by giving publics some of what they want, and it suggests that publics
also will be willing to give up some of what they want to an organization (J.
Grunig and White, 1992, p. 46). However, Gouldner (1960) points out that,
"given significant power differences, egoistic motivations may seek to get
benefits without returning them" (p. 174). The four models of public relations
do not sufficiently consider power differentials.
An extremely harsh analysis of J. Grunig's Excellence work (Dover,
1995) concludes that the two-way symmetrical model does not work well in the
real world of practicing public relations. While this attack may not be totally
uncalled for, what it fails to take into account is the attempt by academics to
build on each other's best efforts to shape a constructive and powerful
profession. Nevertheless, it does show the reaction of some
The Candidate Variables
Public relations literature includes many variables that make good
candidates as factors influencing the extent of accommodation undertaken by an
organization. A considerable number of these variables come from the research
program of J. Grunig, starting in 1976, and continuing with several colleagues
today. Although many of the variables tended not to correlate with the four
models, they are still sound variables that merit consideration as factors in
the simpler, more direct contingency theory with its continuous, bi-polar
measure from accommodation to advocacy.
J. Grunig (1976) posited that the structure and environment of an
organization would affect the model or models of public relations it practices.
He found support for the hypotheses that problem-solving organizations practice
diachronic (symmetrical) public relations and fatalistic organizations practice
synchronic (asymmetrical) public relations. The findings suggest that
organizations with open or problem-solving cultures will be more likely to be
accommodative of external publics.
In later research, J. Grunig (1984) supported, with case-study
evidence, his hypothesis that there is a link between an organization's
product/service environment as described by Hage and Hull (1981) and the model
or models of public relations an organization practices. Five studies tested
aspects of the product-service environment (Fabiszak, 1985; McMillan, 1984; E.
Pollack, 1984; R. Pollack, 1986; and Schneider, 1985b). Each study correlated
the types of organizations with the four models of public relations, but in all
of the studies, except Schneider (1985b), the correlations were small and
nonsignificant. Due to the low correlation, L. Grunig concluded that
organization type and organization environment together explain only a small
part of variation in public relations behavior.
Schneider's (1985a) earlier finding that mixed mechanical/organic
organizations have the largest and most powerful public relations departments of
the four organization types suggests that size and power of a public relations
department may influence the likelihood that an organization will engage in
Four of the studies cited above (Fabiszak, 1985; McMillan, 1984; E.
Pollack, 1984; and R. Pollack, 1986) also tested J. Grunig's hypothesis that the
political/regulatory environment of an organization influences the way an
organization practices public relations. J. Grunig hypothesized that when
constraint and uncertainty are high in this environment, organizations will
attempt to control the constraint with asymmetrical public relations, and when
constraints are low, they will use asymmetrical public relations to dominate
their environment (J. Grunig & L. Grunig, 1989). Only at a medium level of
constraint, J. Grunig hypothesized, will organizations practice symmetrical
public relations in an attempt to be responsive to publics and either lower
constraints or prevent their further rise (J. Grunig & L. Grunig, 1989). Once
again the correlation findings for this variable were low and nonsignificant.
In their research program, J. Grunig (1976) and L. Grunig
(Schneider, 1985a) tested several more concepts which organizational theory
suggests may influence public relations behavior. These variables include
technology, organizational structure, education in public relations, the support
and understanding of top management for public relations, and representation of
public relations in the organization's dominant coalition.
Schneider (1985b) found a correlation between long-linked
technology and the size of the public relations department with the use of the
two-way asymmetrical model in mixed mechanical/organic organizations. J.
Grunig and L. Grunig (1989) suggested that most organizations using intensive
technology use symmetrical public relations as a buffer which produces
compromise and avoids tenuous situations.
J. Grunig (1976) also tested the following variables which describe
organizational structure: complexity, a measure of the number of specialists who
have a college degree; centralization of decision-making power; stratification,
a measure of employees working at different levels of a hierarchy; and
formalization, the number of rules and regulations an organization and its
employees abide by. He found that all of these variables correlated with the
four models except formalization.
Yet another influencing variable hypothesized by J. Grunig and L.
Grunig (1989) is education in public relations. They found small correlations
between this factor and the practice of both two-way models. They assume that
this correlation exists because these models are more complex forms of public
relations, and those persons with more specialized training in public relations
would be more likely to practice them. Cameron, Weaver-Lariscy and Sweep (1992)
also found that education in public relations is a good predictor of formative
research typical of two-way practice.
J. Grunig and L. Grunig (1989), in analyzing findings from E.
Pollack (1984), Fabiszak (1985), and McMillan (1984), found small and mostly
significant correlations between the practice of the two-way models and top
management support and understanding of public relations.
R. Pollack (1986) researched the effect of public relations
participation in the dominant coalition on behavior of organizations. Pollack
found that those departments with the most representation in the dominant
coalition tended to have the most autonomy and were more likely than other
department types to practice two-way symmetrical public relations. R. Pollacks
(1986) data found higher trained practitioners are most likely to work for
Following several studies characterized by chronically low and
nonsignificant correlation findings, J. Grunig and L. Grunig (1992) assumed that
the theoretical relationship between the models and an organization's
environment and structure is more normative than positive. They then began to
explore a power-control approach as a new explanation for organizational public
The power-control approach assumes that how an organization
practices public relations is the direct result of choices made by its dominant
coalition, those with the power to set organization structures and strategies
over a sustained time (Child, 1972). Four concepts have been researched as
possible influences on the decisions made by dominant coalition members. They
are political-value, organizational culture, potential of public relations
department, and schema for public relations. In general, the power-control
approach suggests that the dominant coalition of an organization will choose a
model or models of public relations dependent on "whether (they)...feel
threatened by a model and whether it fits with organizational culture, the
schema for public relations in the organization, and whether the public
relations department has the potential to carry out the preferred model" (J.
Grunig & L. Grunig, 1992, p. 303). The dominant coalition also makes decisions
based on its perceptions of the organization's environment. According to Weick
(1979), organizations and thus dominant coalitions create their own environments
by paying attention to some elements of the real world and ignoring others.
Political-value is a representation of those values held by the
members of the dominant coalition which may affect the decisions they make.
These values include liberal versus conservative political values, external
versus internal values, and efficiency versus innovation. J. Grunig (with L.
Grunig, 1992) reasoned that dominant coalitions with liberal, external, and
innovation values would be more likely to choose symmetrical public relations.
McMillan (1984) found a significant correlation between executives being
politically conservative and use of the two-way asymmetrical model, but he found
no significant correlations between efficiency and innovation as values and the
four models. Lauzen (1986) also found no significant correlations in this area.
However, R. Pollack (1986) found positive correlations between valuing a strong
central authority and the use of public information and press agentry models,
but she found no correlations between the models and efficiency and innovation
As a whole these findings suggest that organizations with dominant
coalitions composed of individuals who foster liberal or innovative values will
be more likely to be open to input from external publics than organizations with
conservative dominant coalition members.
Sriramesh, J. Grunig, and Buffington (1992) write that corporate
culture provides a broad base world view, meaning and values that affect all
decisions made in an organization including how the organization practices
public relations. These researchers also reduce other typologies of
organizational culture into a continuum between authoritarian and participative
cultures. Authoritarian cultures, they suggest, usually use a closed-system
approach to management, and participative cultures tend to use an open-systems
The influence of organizational culture on the organization's
choice of public relations behaviors is documented in Buffington's (1988) study
of ten Blue Cross-Blue Shield organizations. The study distinguished between
four culture types by two dimensions: authoritarian versus democratic and
reactive versus proactive. In this typology, systematized cultures are
authoritarian and reactive. Entrepreneurial cultures are authoritarian and
proactive. Interactive cultures are democratic and reactive, and integrated
cultures are democratic and proactive.
Buffington (1988) found that nine of the ten Blue Cross-Blue Shield
organizations had integrated (democratic/reactive) or entrepreneurial
(authoritarian/proactive) cultures and practiced mostly press agentry. In three
organizations studied with integrated cultures (democratic/proactive), the
two-way symmetrical model was used in combination with the two-way asymmetrical
and press agentry models.
R. Pollack (1986) researched the effects of culture in scientific
organizations using Donohue, Tichenor, and Olien's (1973) concepts "knowledge
of" and "knowledge about" science to identify closed and open-system styles of
management. She found that organizations which valued knowledge of science
(closed-system oriented) correlated with press agentry and public information
models. Conversely, knowledge about science organizations (open-system
oriented) correlated significantly with the two-way symmetrical model and
approached significance with the two-way asymmetric model.
The external culture or societal culture within which an
organization exists has also been cited as an influence on an organization's
internal culture. As Sriramesh, J. Grunig, and Buffington (1992) write,
"External culture also affects the environmental interdependencies of an
organization. On a continuum, external culture may vary from an open,
pluralistic, or democratic system to a closed, authoritarian, or autocratic one"
(p. 591). This suggests that how organizations relate to their external publics
may also be influenced by their external, social environment.
Potential of the public relations department is yet another
variable associated with the power-control approach. In addition to R. Pollack's
1986 research, previously reviewed, J. Grunig (1976), Buffington (1988), Nanni
(1980), and Wetherell (1989) all found positive relationships between
professionalism and the two two-way models (J. Grunig & L. Grunig, 1992).
Another element of L. Grunig's research on activist groups related
to the variable "potential of public relations department". Many practitioners
in her study cited lack of funding and lack of time as reasons for trying to
ignore the pressure of activist groups (L. Grunig, 1992a, p. 524). This finding
suggests that the potential of an organization's public relations department to
engage in accommodative relations with external publics may be affected by the
amount of funding available to the department to engage in this activity and may
be affected by the portion of time or number of staff members that the public
relations department can assign to dealing with external publics.
According to the power-control approach, the dominant coalition
also develops a schema for public relations which suggests what contributions
public relations is able to make and is allowed to make to an organization. If
the dominant coalition is unwilling to adjust this schema, it will limit an
organization to practicing public relations in a certain way and will influence
decisions on how to deal with external publics.
J. Grunig (1989) writes that many organizations do not practice the
two-way symmetrical model because their world view or schema for public
relations does not include the presuppositions on which this theory is based.
Research, however, suggests that schema for public relations can be expanded if
the dominant coalition is educated about the benefits of symmetrical public
relations, or if senior public relations managers, trained in symmetrical
communication, gain access to the dominant coalition and reshape the schema.
However, J. Grunig and L. Grunig (1992) along with other
researchers point out that public relations often does not gain access to the
dominant coalition. One potential reason for this is that the dominant
coalition may not believe that its public relations practitioners have
sufficient expertise to be included as top advisors in the organization. Yet
another potential factor is gender. Research exists that argues that femininity
fosters concepts like cooperation, negotiation, and compromise, and that
practitioners with these feminine personality characteristics tend to have an
enhanced ability to practice symmetrical public relations. However, women, and
perhaps men with feminine characteristics, often are not allowed or do not
attain a managerial position and thus do not gain access into the dominant
coalition (J. Grunig & L. Grunig, 1992). According to this research, all
factors which affect a public relations department's access to the dominant
coalition may ultimately also affect how accommodative an organization decides
to be of various publics.
A recent survey provides hope that public relations practitioners
are increasingly gaining access into their organization's dominant coalitions.
The survey, which polled public relations managers in 700 companies from the
Fortune 500 and Fortune 500 service lists, found that communication executives
often report that their responsibility and status in their organization is
rising and that they are increasingly allowed to have greater involvement in
policy and long-range decision making in their organizations (Skolnik, 1994).
Other variables which may influence how an organization relates to
its publics are what J. Grunig (1989) defines as presuppositions of asymmetrical
and symmetrical communications. J. Grunig (1989) states that theories most
relevant to asymmetrical communication are those theories which explore
attitude and behavior change, means of persuasive communication, diffusion of
innovations, and the effects of media campaigns. In contrast, J. Grunig (1989)
suggests that theories most relevant to symmetrical communication include
coorientation theory, systems theory, interest-group liberalism, and conflict
L. Grunig's (1986) research on organization's actions when
pressured by activists again suggests several additional variables which may
influence the dynamics of an organizations' relations with its external publics.
L. Grunig's (1992a) study revealed that more than a few organizations tried to
ignore all pressure from external publics. Interviewees explained their inaction
in a variety of ways: "They had too little money, the threat was not great
enough to bother about, they did not want to legitimize the activists'
complaint, their efforts were spread too thin by facing many different pressure
groups, they could rely on their association to handle the problem, or the media
were prejudiced anyway" (p. 524). The potential variable, relative threat or
relative power of an external public, is also cited in game theory as a variable
influencing interaction outcomes.
Most of the variables reviewed thus far as possible explanations
for public relations behavior are organizational-level concepts; that is they
relate to organizations as a whole and their respective public relations
departments. Leichty and Springston (1993) argue that better explanations of
public relations behavior can be found by analyzing this behavior from a
relational level which calls attention to the dynamics of interaction between
organizations and individual publics. They hypothesize that...
an organization differentiates between publics and interacts
of them somewhat differently. The approach that is taken
toward any particular public
should partially depend upon how that public is perceived
within the categories of the
predominant organizational culture. The direct perceptions of
each public should better
predict an organization's public relations orientation in a
particular instance than
global assessments of the organization's environment. In
addition, an organization's
mode of public relations behavior is almost certainly an
emergent property of the
communication exchange between an organization and a
particular public (1993, p. 333).
If Leichty and Springston's hypotheses are supported, then much of
what influences an organization's stance toward an external public is the
product of their interaction. These relational dynamics are the subject of
several theories including coorientation theory, game theory, conflict theory,
and issues management theory.
Ferguson (1984) argues that relationships between organizations and
their publics should be the central unit of study for public relations
researchers interested in theory development, but as stated earlier, few
scholars have studied those relationships. J. Grunig, L. Grunig and Ehling
(1992, p. 81) call that lack of interest strange because "organizations must
deal with other organizations daily."
Coorientation theory (Pearson, 1989) explains the strategic moves
of two parties in an interaction as the result of (a) how each party perceives
the degree of similarity or congruence that the other party has with their
beliefs and evaluations of an issue or situation, (b) how each party perceives
the likely actions that the other party will take concerning an issue, and _ how
accurate these perceptions are of the other party's beliefs and likely actions.
This theory allows public relations practitioners to measure the extent to which
a public views an organization like the organization wants to be viewed (Heath,
1990, p. 45). However, it does not explain how the perceptions an organization
and a public have of each other influence the strategies they choose when
Broom and Dozier (1990), citing the coorientation model as a
description of perceptions organizations and publics have about each other,
suggest that varying degrees of agreement, accuracy, and perceived agreement
between a dominant coalition and public creates four coorientation states (Broom
& Dozier, 1990). These states are true consensus, descensus, false consensus,
and false conflict (Dozier and Ehling, 1992).
True consensus, as the name suggests, is when organizations and
publics are aware that they share the same views on an issue. Dozier and Ehling
(1992) suggest that in these situations, public relations will seek to maintain
consensus through two-way communication. In contrast, the state of descensus
exists when both the dominant coalition and the public are aware that they hold
conflicting views about an issue. Dozier and Ehling (1992) recommend that
techniques of dispute resolution, involving adaptation and adjustment by both
dominant coalitions and publics, should be used quickly in this state before
either party's position becomes hardened.
A state of false consensus exists when the dominant coalition or
public mistakenly believe that there is a consensus of their beliefs on an
issue, policy, or organizational action. Conversely, a state of false conflict
exists when these two sides erroneously perceive a descensus in their beliefs
concerning an issue or organizational action.
Dozier and Ehling (1992) suggest that false states offer unique
opportunities for public relations practitioners to avoid a communication crisis
resulting from misunderstandings. Those practitioners which utilize issues
management or environmental scanning activities may be able to provide an
organization with vital information about an organization's external environment
including external publics. Without accurate information about the true beliefs
of external publics, dangerous misunderstandings can occur. As Dozier and
Ehling (1992) write, "Misperceptions can lead to catastrophic actions, whenever
the dominant coalition sees agreement or disagreement when none actually exists.
When target publics misunderstand the organization's true positions on issues,
truthful communication about the organization's views can alleviate potentially
damaging coorientation states" (p. 181).
Coorientation theory further suggests that how organizations and
their publics are cooriented to each other is an influencing factor in when an
organization will choose accommodative strategies, but this theory does not
explain exactly how coorientation influences this decision.
Game theory can help an organization and its public calculate the
potential rewards and costs associated with different interaction stances. This
theory also assumes that organizations and publics will prefer those behaviors
or stances which promise rewards and avoid those for which costs are greater
than benefits (Folger & Poole, 1984).
Pavlik (1989), using game theory terms, assumes that in situations
where organizations have greater power than their publics, they can get the
greatest benefit by practicing asymmetric forms of communication. He adds that
organizations are unlikely to practice public relations symmetrically until a
public gains roughly equal power.
Evidence of the influence of power is found in L. Grunig's (1986)
research in which many of the public relations mangers she interviewed said they
often ignored activist groups because "the threat was not great enough" (L.
Grunig, 1992a, p. 524). This description of publics as threats has an obvious
negative connotation which suggests that organizations often view their
interaction with publics as conflicts. For this reason, conflict theory becomes
Conflict theory literature contains a wealth of information on
interaction strategies available to interdependent parties, but it generally
focuses only on interpersonal relations. We argue that many conflict
strategies found at an interpersonal level are also indicative at an
organizational level and thus may be used by an organization in dealing with its
external publics. Similar to the presuppositions grounding this study's
proposed continuum, Hocker and Whelmed (1991) state that parties in a conflict
may choose from a limitless supply of tactical options ranging from violence to
collaboration, but they must first make the fundamental choice whether to avoid
or engage the conflict. Conflict theory assumes that both tactics, avoidance and
engagement, can be productive or destructive for a relationship depending on the
circumstances of the situation.
Hocker and Wilmont (1991) divide avoidance tactics into four types:
denial and equivocation, topic management, noncommittal remarks, and irreverent
remarks. Engagement tactics are also subdivided into competitive tactics and
collaborative tactics. Competitive tactics, which are pushes toward
self-interest often at the expense of the other party, may include threats and
violence. These tactics would be the outer extreme of advocacy behaviors.
Conversely, collaborative tactics are attempts to find a mutually
favorable resolution to conflict by inducing or persuading the other party to
cooperate (Hocker & Wilmont, 1991). Collaboration may involve self disclosure,
acceptance of responsibility, soliciting criticism, and a willingness to make
concessions. It is an attempt to integrate one's self interest with the
interest of the other party. Hocker and Wilmont's description of this strategy
is a perfect description of what we consider to be pure accommodation.
Blake and Mouton (1964) identify five conflict styles based on two
independent variables: assertiveness, behavior to satisfy one's self interest;
and cooperativeness, behavior to satisfy the other party's interest. The five
styles are competitive, accommodative, avoiding, collaborative, and
compromising. Competitive style describes an attempt to defeat the other party.
In contrast, accommodative style is to be unassertive and attempt to appease the
other party. Avoiding style obviously is to avoid a conflict, and collaborative
style is to be highly assertive and cooperative seeking full satisfaction for
both parties. The final style, compromising, is intermediate in assertiveness
and cooperativeness and requires that both parties make sacrifices in order to
Unless conflict is managed, it is likely to escalate. Keltner
(1987, p. 4) describes this escalatory process as a "struggle spectrum" which
proceeds through six stages: mild difference, disagreement, dispute, campaign,
litigation, and fight or war. In the first three stages, communication consists
of discussion, negotiation, arguing, and bargaining. In the fourth stage,
dispute communication becomes persuasion and pressure, and in the fifth stage,
communication is advocacy and debate. Communication ends in the final stage.
Conflict theory is based on several assumptions. First it
assumes that conflict is inevitable because there will always be differences in
power, and resources will always be scarce (Prior-Miller, 1989). Second, it
assumes that conflict can be positive because it can help clarify an
organization's objectives, improve situations, and generate creative energy
(Folberg & Taylor, 1984). Similar to game theory, it assumes that power is an
ever-present variable in interaction, and a relative balance of it is necessary
for productive conflict management (Hocker & Wilmont, 1991). Fourth, it assumes
that better agreements are made in conflicts when both parties serve their
self-interests and the interests of the other party. This concept is also
supported by game theory. Fifth, conflict theory assumes that conflict
interaction is shaped by the interdependence of the parties involved; for a
conflict to occur, the behavior of one or both parties must have consequences
for the other (Folger & Poole, 1984). Finally, like coorientation and game
theories, conflict theory assumes that interaction is sustained by the moves and
countermoves of participants which are based on the power they exert.
These assumptions suggest that possible variables influencing when
an organization will accommodate a public are the relative power of the
organization and public, and the moves and resulting countermoves of the two
parties. Therefore, an organization may be more willing to accommodate an
external public that, by virtue of its identity, is likely to greatly affect an
organization, such as a government regulatory agency, than a public that is
unlikely to have a great effect on an organization like a small group of
protesters outside of an organization's building. This smaller and potentially
less powerful public can attempt to increase its power and effect on the
organization by threatening to sue, petitioning local political and community
leaders, and appealing to the media for coverage of its cause, etc. This study
argues that when a public successfully engages in these activities,
organizations that once perceived the public as unimportant will not only pay
more attention to the public, but also will be more willing to accommodate the
public in some way.
In addition to disparities in power, conflict theorists (Folger &
Poole, 1984; and Gray, 1989) suggest that climate or organizational cultures,
also affect conflict interaction by "reduc(ing) member's uncertainty about how
to act and about how to interpret other's actions" (Gray, 1989, p. 104). This
variable was also cited by J. Grunig and L. Grunig (1992) in their power-control
Gray (1989, pp. 247-255) suggests several additional reasons why
organizations refuse to collaborate or accommodate publics. The reasons include
institutional disincentives, like an activist group that will not dilute its
advocacy of a cause; societal dynamics, like individualism in America; differing
perceptions of risk; technical complexity; political cultures; and historical
and ideological barriers.
Dant and Schul (1992) likewise cite history as a possible
influence which suggests that an organization's previous experience with
conflict resolution could influence its relational perceptions of later
interactions with publics. These researchers also propose that issue
characteristics, its size, stakes, and complexity; relationship characteristics,
including level of trust and dependency of the parties involved; environmental
characteristics, including potential external imperatives like lean-market
conditions; structural characteristics, how organizations are organized; and
personality characteristics of involved individuals are all influencing factors
on strategic choices made by parties in conflict (pp. 38-51). All of these
variables have been included in this study as potential influences on how
organizations respond to various situations involving external publics.
In contrast to some researchers' beliefs that personality is a
variable, Terhune (1970) claims that many social scientists are skeptical about
a possible influence of personality of individuals in cooperation and conflict
because little empirical proof of its effect exists. He writes "small-scale
experimental studies, establishing the connection between personality,
cooperation, and conflict have been plagued by ambiguous or negative results"
(p. 194). This study includes personality as a test variable because no
research has completely ruled out its effects.
Yet another two variables hypothesized in conflict theory
literature as affecting conflict resolution strategies are familiarity and
liking. Druckman and Broome (1991) explored with two experiments the effects of
familiarity and liking on pre-negotiation and negotiation behaviors of parties
engaging in conflict resolution. In experiment one, liking influenced an
expected movement of the parties from their original positions, perceptions of
the opponent, and types of strategies prepared for the negotiation (p. 571).
Familiarity primarily impacted the parties' perceptions of the situation as
being conducive to agreement. Results from experiment two showed that reducing
either liking or familiarity served to reduce willingness to reach compromise
agreements (p. 571).
These results suggest that an organization will be more willing to
accommodate an external public that it, as an institution, is familiar with or
likes. The findings also suggest that individual public relations practitioners
or individual members of the dominant coalition of an organization will be more
likely to advocate that the organization accommodate a public which they, as a
group or as individuals, are familiar with, like or support.
In addition to the literature previously reviewed, issues
also provides a variety of labels and definitions for possible
interaction strategies assumed by organizations in dealing with publics. Marx
(1986) suggests that issues managers can choose from three tactical options in
dealing with external interdependencies: accommodation, domination, or
harmonization. He describes accommodation as a response that calls for an
organization to bow to outside pressures. This study views this concept as an
extreme form of pure accommodation on the proposed continuum.
Marx (1986) defines domination as an aggressive response that
assumes that an organization has the tactical power resources to intimidate
opponents and control public policy. On this study's continuum, domination, as
defined above, would be labeled as extreme or pure advocacy. The third option,
harmonization, is defined by Marx as an attempt to balance the interests of
relevant parties with the goal of achieving harmony; this is perhaps a more
acceptable, hence common, form of accommodation.
Chase (1984, p. 4), using issues management theory, describes three
alternative strategies: reactive, opposing change; adaptive, attempting to
satisfy the demands of an external public; and dynamic, creating and directing
policy rather than merely reacting to the policy trends presented by others.
These strategies are also similar to the strategies encompassed in this study's
Researchers and practitioners have defined issues management in a
variety of ways. Heath and Nelson (1986) suggest that issues management is a
means to "help organizations fit themselves to long-term shifts in the climate
of public sensitivity, whether by changing corporate policy, shaping
legislation, or influencing public opinion" (p. 21). Heath (1990) writes,
"Issues managers can assist their organizations' efforts to obtain information
from their environment. This information is used for decision-making and
adjusting purposes, including yielding to external forces or seeking to
influence them as means for achieving harmony" (p. 43). Similarly, Heath and
Nelson (1986) define issues management as "... the identification and monitoring
of trends in public opinion which may mature into public policy and the
regulation of corporations or industries" (p. 13).
These definitions suggest that the existence of effective issues
management in an organization may help make the dominant coalition and public
relations staff well aware of the status and importance of that organization's
many external interdependencies or publics. We hypothesize that an organization
which recognizes the value of utilizing issues management is also likely to
recognize the value of positive relationships with external publics and thus
will be more willing than other organizations to attempt to accommodate publics
in some way. Due to its logical link to this study's research question,
organizational use of issues management has also been included as a potential
Many researchers (Heath, 1990; Heath & Nelson, 1986; Benoit &
Brinson, 1994) have attested that issues management can help an organization
work to strategically adapt to changes in its external environment instead of
reacting to changes. Heath and Nelson (1986) write, "Much as a driver with
quick reaction time has a better chance of avoiding a traffic accident,
successful issues monitoring affords companies the alternative of accommodating
rather than colliding with public opinion" (p. 14). The final section of this
In 1987, Miles introduced a framework for understanding how large
corporations have organized themselves to deal with their external social
environment which is comprised of numerous publics. He refers to this framework
as a grounded theory of corporate social performance because it is grounded
primarily in research he conducted on United States insurance companies. It is
also supplemented with research on U.S. tobacco companies.
This theory, like the others previously reviewed, is relevant to
the contingency theory because it identifies the kinds of structures and
processes that large corporations use to deal with their publics and with
increasing social constraints. Many of the variables cited in the theory are
similar to variables already discussed in this review, but the theory also cites
several new, interesting variables. Simply put, Miles' (1987) theory of
corporate social performance assumes that how organizations relate to their
external environment is determined by four core concepts: (a) business exposure,
(b) top management philosophy, _ external affairs strategy, and (d) external
Business exposure, which is similar to Hage and Hull's (1981)
description of product/service environment, refers to Miles' (1987) assumption
that different American industries are exposed to different degrees of
industry-specific public policy issues and that corporations in the same
industry also vary in their exposure depending on what business strategies they
pursue. He suggests that a company's degree of business exposure determines the
level of top management attention, degree of staff sophistication, the type of
involvement of operating managers, and the amount of resources that must be
committed to effectively manage this corporate reality. Business exposure,
Miles (1987) explains, is determined by a company's product mix, customer mix,
and geographical mix. Companies that produce a majority of products or services
regarded as necessities for the consumer will have a high exposure to the
corporate social environment. Similarly, companies that produce consumer
products will be more exposed than companies producing commercial or industrial
products. He also assumes that companies which market products regarded as
necessities in urban areas are more exposed than companies that market similar
products in non-urban areas.
The second factor, top management philosophy, is similar to J.
Grunig and L. Grunig's (1992) political values variable. Miles' variable
assumes that the leaders of a company, through their choices of business
strategy, establish a linkage between the company and the public interest. He
also suggests that the leaders' decisions are influenced by their personal
values and political orientation as well as relatively enduring features of the
company's history and culture. The theory further segments top management
philosophy into two orientations: institution-oriented and enterprise-oriented.
These segments are similar to what J. Grunig (1989) calls asymmetrical and
symmetrical presuppositions. Enterprise-oriented executives seek to operate the
company independent from society, and make decisions geared toward maximizing
short-term economic performance and preserving their traditional business
practices. In contrast, institution-oriented executives recognize the company's
interdependencies with society and view that the company has a duty to adapt to
a changing society and respond to social claims. These two orientations are
also similar to the closed and open concepts from system theory.
Similar to this study's proposed continuum, the third variable in
Miles' (1987) theory, external affairs strategy, distinguishes between
collaborative/problem-solving strategies and individualistic/adversarial
strategies. Collaborative/problem-solving strategies include attempts to
maintain open, trusting relationships with a variety of publics and maintain a
broad problem-solving perspective on the resolution of social issues impacting
the company and its industry. In contrast, individualistic/adversarial
strategies attempt to ignore the legitimacy of social claims or interpret issues
in terms of the company's self interests. Executives with this orientation
respond to the encroachment of society into their business affairs in one of two
ways: (a) ignore the encroachment until forced by a high-impact issue to mount a
defense, or (b) operationalize their resentment by attempting to directly
influence trends and events in the environment.
External affairs design, the final concept of the theory, is also
based on the systems theory idea in which J. Grunig (1989) grounded his
contingency theory. This idea is that a company's structure or sophistication
of its external affairs function must correspond to the company's degree of
business exposure in order to effectively deal with its social environment.
Miles' theory defines sophistication in two dimensions: breadth, the number of
staff members assigned to maintaining the company's external affairs; and depth,
the intensity external affairs practitioners are permitted in conducting
research and analyzing emerging social issues which are likely to impact the
company and its industry. This concept also includes the degree of line-manager
involvement in this function. Line-managers are those managers ranked just
under the dominant coalition.
Miles' research on insurance corporations supports every element of
his theory, but he also found the following relationships. First, he found what
he calls the philosophy-strategy connection, which is that institution-oriented
corporations tended to mostly practice collaborative/problem solving external
strategies, and enterprise-oriented corporations tended to practice
adversarial/individualistic strategies. The second relationship,
exposure-design contingency, is that those corporations which were designed with
a complexity to fit the complexity of their external environment exposure, were
more effective in maintaining positive external social and political
contingencies. Miles also found that institution-oriented executives, who
tended to have far more personal exposure to outside experiences in public
forums than their enterprise counterparts, also tended to be more knowledgeable
about the escalation of public and government expectations of their company and
industry. Also these institution-oriented executives were more motivated and
better equipped than other executives to exert their personal influence on the
corporate social performance.
Finally, Miles found that when the economic performance of an
insurance company was successful, executive leaders were not likely to question
the efficacy of the company's traditional values and strategies, but when
economic performance was low, executive leaders were more pronounced in
questioning the efficacy of the company culture. Therefore, organizations facing
economic instability will be more likely to shift or completely rebuild their
corporate culture, and this may affect how these organizations relate to their
Synthesis and Expansion of Contingent Variables
The previous literature review presents numerous variables which
have been hypothesized as contingent factors in what strategies organizations
use in dealing with their external publics. In order to test these variables
for their effects, need to be compiled into an in-depth list. This list is then
condensed so that no duplication of ideas existed. For example, both game
theory and conflict theory literature suggest that power may be an influencing
factor, and these two mentions of power as a variable were condensed into one
mention. The newly condensed list of potential influencing variables is then
divided according to two factors: variables found in an organization's external
environment and variables found in an organization's internal environment. The
variables are divided this way because it appears to be a natural division.
With the variables divided into external and internal categories, the variables
are further subdivided according to the specific subject area each one
addresses. A complete listing of these variables is included as Table 1.
In addition to testing those variables found in the research
literature, this approach also offers variables that have never been studied.
A number of the newly proposed variables are additions to the originally
hypothesized external variables based on L. Grunig's (1992) finding that
organizations may ignore publics which they do not perceive as threats. These
new variables consist of a grouping of threat variables including: threat of
litigation, threat of government regulation, threat of negative publicity, and
threat of the marring of the organization's reputation.
Based on game theory's and conflict theory's claims that power is
an important variable in determining interaction behavior, several variables
describing the power of a public are also added. These variables characterizing
the power of a public include: size, credibility, past successes or failures,
degree of advocacy, commitment of members, general public perceptions of the
group, and whether or not the public has public relations advisors, and the
level of media coverage the public has received in the past.
Also included are internal threats to an organization as potential
influencing variables. These variables include the following: threat of
economic loss; threat of marring employee, volunteer or stockholder perceptions
of an organization; and threat of marring the personal reputations of dominant
In addition to variables previously hypothesized by other
researchers regarding an organization's characteristics, age of the organization
is also included. This variable indicates that the age of an organization may
influence the potential variable of value placed on tradition. Value placed on
tradition, as it was identified in the literature review, is the subject of
Broom's (1986) historical causal model.
Based on the knowledge that in many organizations the bottom-line
or financial concerns often are a powerful influence in all organizational
decisions, economic stability is included as a new potential variable under the
internal variable heading. In addition, the existence or influence of an
organization's legal department is included as an internal variable. This
potential influencing variable is included because, in reading for the
literature review and in discussions with practitioners, it has been noted that
legal counsel is often cited as a hurdle that public relations must often clear
in order to be open with and accommodative of external publics.
In addition to those characteristics that the literature cited as
variables affecting the potential of a public relations department, the
experience level of the public relations practitioners in dealing with conflicts
involving external publics is also added. Based on research documenting the
negative influences on a public relations department placed under a
corporation's marketing umbrella, location of the public relations department in
the corporate hierarchy is included. We also argue that the physical placement
of a public relations department in relation to the offices of the president or
C.E.O. of an organization may affect the department's potential to influence an
organization to practice open communications and to accommodate certain publics.
Along with other characteristics of the dominant coalition, the
general altruism level of its members is added because the argument can be made
that the altruism level of individuals may significantly affect how the members
assess situations involving publics and also affect the dominant coalition's
resulting decisions. The subcategory, individual characteristics, is expanded
to include personality variables: tolerance of or ability to deal with
uncertainty, comfort level with conflict or dissonance, comfort level with
change, ability to recognize potential or existing problems, extent to which the
individual's perception of reality is open to innovation, extent to which the
individual can grasp other's world views, cognitive complexity, how the
individuals receive and use information and influence, predisposition to
negotiation, and predisposition towards altruism. Finally, the variable,
personal ethics, is also included because in certain situations it may affect
how the larger organization deals with publics.
A Proposed Research Program
The first stage in research derived from the contingency theory
should include a program of in-depth interviews with public relations
professionals and educators to address a number of fundamental questions and to
ground the contingency theory of accommodation in the terminology and
perspective of practitioners. Fundamental questions include better conceptual
and operational definitions of accommodation, an assessment of the extent of
accommodation in practice as well as the circumstances that lead to a greater
degree of accommodation. If and when accommodation occurs, the interviewer
should allow the practitioner to offer factors that drive greater accommodation
or advocacy. Assessments of the effeectiveness and ethical implications of
accommodation should also be explored.
The final phase of the initial interview with a practitioner would
be a review of the entire matrix of factors offered here to assure that valid
factors have not been overlooked by the interviewee. After data has been
collected and organized, a second interview should be conducted as a
verification check and refinement of the theory.
The qualitative work should provide a focus in the development of
the contingency theory and survey instruments to explore the theory. Grounded
in the qualitative work, more generalizable data collection can proceed to test
the role of contingency variables and to better understand the place of
accommodation in the practice of public relations. Thematic work should include
gender differences, effects of feminization of the field, encroachment on public
relations functions and autonomy and the place of new technologies in
determining the degree of accommodation of a given public at a particular time.
The contingency theory of accommodation is a logical extension of
work to date on models of public relations . The theory provides an alternative
to normative theory and a structure for better understanding the dynamics of
accommodation as well as the efficacy of accommodation in public relations
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 In 1984, J. Grunig, along with Hunt, identified four styles of
relating to publics or models of public relations which they believed were not
only representations of four stages in the history of public relations, but also
were four representations of forms of public relations practiced today. These
models are: (a) press agentry/publicity model, or one-way asymmetric; (b) the
public information model, one-way symmetric; _ the two-way asymmetric model; and
(d) the two-way symmetric model. The researchers characterized the four models
based on two dimensions: direction of communication (one-way/monologue or
two-way/dialogue) and balance of intended effect (asymmetric/unbalanced or
J. Grunig and Hunt (1984) originally described the four models as
"representation(s)...simplified in the same way that a perfect vacuum or perfect
competition are simplified representations in other sciences" (p. 22).
The Grunigs (J. Grunig & L. Grunig, 1992) argue that the two-way
symmetrical model is normative theory, the type of theory that represents how
organizations should practice public relations to be most ethical and effective,
but they write that in reality, excellent public relations is a combination of
the two-way asymmetrical and symmetrical models. J. Grunig (1989, p. 30) also
argues that "only the two-way symmetrical model represents a break from the
predominant worldview that public relations is a way to manipulate publics for
the benefit of the organization."
This model uses two-way communication and scientific research in a
non-persuasive fashion. Its assumptions, based on the writings and not the
practices of Lee, Bernays, and John Hill, include "telling the truth,"
"interpreting the client and public to one another, and management understanding
the viewpoints of employees and neighbors as well as employees and neighbors
understanding the viewpoints of management" (J. Grunig & Hunt, 1984, p. 42).
Organizations practicing this model engage in negotiating, bargaining, and
conflict management to bring about symbiotic changes in both the organization
and its publics (J. Grunig, 1989). J. Grunig and Hunt (1984) write that in
two-way symmetrical communication between publics and top management, "the
public should be just as likely to persuade the organization's management to
change attitudes or behavior as the organization is likely to change the
publics' attitudes or behavior" (p. 23).
J. Grunig (with L. Grunig, 1989) originally believed that
organizations practice one of the four models as a single public relations
policy, but when research conducted by Cupp (1985), Nelson (1986) and L. Grunig
(1986) showed that organizations often use several models together, J. Grunig
abandoned this belief.
The Grunigs now argue that the models serve two functions: as
situational strategies used by an organization's public relations department for
dealing with different publics and different problems, and as part of an
organization's ideology, which is a component of organizational culture (J.
Grunig & L. Grunig, 1992).
 J. Thompson's (1967) theory of technology differentiates between
three uses of technology: long-link, mediating, and intensive. An example of
long-linked technology is an assembly line where there are several
interdependent stages of work. Mediating technology, as used in banks, links
otherwise independent consumers, and intensive technology allows an organization
to focus several techniques on accomplishing a major goal (J. Grunig and L.
Grunig, 1989). Bales (1984) argued that organizations with long-linked
technology and intensive technologies would try to buffer themselves from their
environment. Bales also hypothesized that organizations with mediating
technology would have the greatest need for two-way symmetric public relations
to help link the organization to its clients.