Kamis, 24 Maret 2011

A Theoretical Approach for Developing Effective Public Relations Media Strategies

A Theoretical Approach for
Developing Effective Public
Relations Media Strategies

av Belio A. Martinez & Spiro kiousis

- Empowering Citizens in Emerging Democracies
St udier i Pol i t isk Kommu nikation n r 15 · 2 0 0 5
Studier i Politisk Kommunikation nr 15 · 2005 2
Demokratiinstitutet och Studier i Politisk Kommunikation
Demokrati institutet är ett forskningsinstitut inriktat på medierelaterad
demokratiforskning, demokratirelaterad medieforskning och den politiska
kommunikationen mellan medborgare, medier och politiker.
Syftet med rapportserien Studier i Politisk Kommunikation är att
sprida aktuell teoretisk och empirisk forskning samt bidra till en kvalificerad
debatt om den politiska kommunikationen och dess betydelse för demokratin
och dess sätt att fungera.
Rapportserien är öppen för såväl forskare och studenter som praktiker med
erfarenheter av samspelet mellan medier, politiker och medborgare. Den som
har ett bidrag som hon vill få publicerat i rapportserien är välkommen att
kontakta dess redaktör.
851 70 Sundsvall
Forskningsledare vid Demokratiinstitutet
Redaktör rapportserien
Jesper Strömbäck
Telefon 060-14 86 17
E-post jesper.stromback@miun.se
Webbadress: www.demokratiinstitutet.com
Författare: Belio A. Martinez & Spiro Kiousis
Titel: A Theoretical Approach for Developing Effective
Public Relations Media Strategies. Empowering Citizens
in Emerging Democracies.
Studier i Politisk Kommunikation nr 15 · 2005 3
Förord 4
Introduction 5
Community Development in Malaysia 6
A Multi-Pronged Theoretical Approach for
Nation- and Community Building 7
Perspectives in Mass/Political Communication 8
The Role of Human Communication Theory 9
A Postmodern Approach to Democratization 11
Framing Content for Media Messages 13
Conclusion 16
References 18
Studier i Politisk Kommunikation nr 15 · 2005 4
Att inget kan vara så praktiskt som en god teori är ett gammalt talesätt. Kanske
är det mer sant än någonsin när det handlar om strategisk kommunikation med
syfte att överbrygga etniska konflikter, bidra till fredlig samvaro och ökade
känslor av gemenskap i nya eller bräckliga demokratier. I sådana situationer är
insatserna särskilt höga, med tanke på vilka konsekvenser det kan få om
kommunikationsarbetet och informationskampanjerna misslyckas.
Mot den här bakgrunden diskuterar Belio A. Martinez och Spiro Kiousis i
den här rapporten olika teoretiska perspektiv som kan vara centrala vid
utformandet av public relations-kampanjer med syfte att överbrygga konflikter,
bidra till fredlig samvaro och stärkt gemenskap i nya och bräckliga demokratier.
Några av de teoretiska perspektiv som de diskuterar är gestaltningsteorin,
postmodern teori, public relations-teori och teorier hämtade från forskning i
politisk kommunikation och masskommunikation.
Förhoppningen är att ökad teoretisk insikt ska bidra till kampanjer som är
bättre på att nå sina syften. Författarna demonstrerar därmed också vikten av
att inte låsa sig vid ett teoretiskt perspektiv. Både som forskare, student eller
praktiker kan det finnas mycket att vinna på ökad öppenhet inför olika
perspektiv och på ökad insikt om den egna felbarheten.
För rapportens innehåll och slutsatser svarar författarna själva.
Jesper Strömbäck
Redaktör för rapportserien
Om författarna
Belio A. Martinez, Jr. är universitetslektor vid Department of Public
Relations vid University of Florida, där han också skrev sin doktorsavhandling.
Hans forskningsintresse handlar om politisk kommunikation, om hur public
relations kan användas för nationsbyggande och om kommunikation relaterad
till utvecklingsarbete, kultur och minoritetsgrupper.
Spiro Kiousis är universitetslektor vid Department of Public Relations vid
University of Florida. Hans doktorsavhandling gjordes vid University of Texas
at Austin. Hans forskningsintresse handlar i första hand om politisk
kommunikation, public relations och nya medier. Han har publicerat artiklar i
bland annat Journal of Communication, Communication Research, The Harvard
International Journal of Press/Politics och Journalism Studies.
Studier i Politisk Kommunikation nr 15 · 2005 5
The Cold War rivalries of capitalism and communism brought about many
repercussions to a world already in shambles as a consequence of war and
destruction. While some of these ramifications were negative, others had an
arguably more positive impact on the global landscape. The negative
implications resulting from the Cold War were embodied in the form of
heightened tensions between superpowers, increased proliferation of nuclear
weapons, and fears of an even deadlier war than WWII. Conversely, a positive
outcome coming from the tension between the Soviet Union and the United
States was the emphasis both countries placed on nation building efforts, which
resulted in the advancement of theory and application of government public
relations strategies—namely communication for development strategies
(Cambridge, 2002). Since then, NGOs, social interest groups, and national
governments have created communication strategies for development
campaigns around the world. These public relations campaigns have become
the focus of national development efforts in areas such as health,
communications, and democratization (Snyder, 2002).
Fraser and Restrepo-Estrada (1998, p. 63) define communication for
development in the following manner:
The use of communication process, techniques and media to help people toward a full awareness of their
situation and their options for change, to resolve conflicts, to work toward consensus, to help people plan
actions for change and sustainable development, to help people acquire the knowledge and skills they need to
improve their condition and their society, and to improve the effectiveness of institutions.
According to Cambridge (2002), dominant strategies being used to promote
public awareness and information campaigns through communication for
development efforts include community mobilization, folk music, social
marketing, entertainment-education, and advocacy. These strategies are being
used to “promote, support, and sustain projects aimed at agriculture,
education, the environment, family planning and reproductive health,” says
Cambridge (2002). They are also relevant in “increasing political participation
practices and processes of communications for development and facilitating
community participation in the public discourses that nourish democratic
systems of governance” (p. 142). These strategies suggested by Cambridge (2002)
are available for multinational efforts in emerging nations and for domestic
efforts alike.
The following sections introduce theoretical paradigms, which we argue can
aid the public relations practitioner in designing and implementing effective
public relations campaigns for nation building. Each of these sections will
include a detailed description of the specific theoretical perspective being
introduced, followed by an argument about its usefulness as a heuristic for
developing communication strategies in democratization efforts. In brief, the
purpose of this paper is to develop a conceptual framework that can be used to
guide political and general social mobilization campaign efforts. The
Studier i Politisk Kommunikation nr 15 · 2005 6
propositions set forth here can then be empirically tested in the future within
the context of multiple campaigns to assess their utility.
Community Development in Malaysia
Before explicating the various theoretical perspectives considered here, it will
be useful to discuss a particular case that illustrates how public relations
campaigns for nation building may fail to meet their objectives when they are
not grounded in sufficient relevant theory. Taylor (2000a) describes such a case
study in her evaluation of The Neighborliness Campaigns (TNC) in Malaysia.
The Neighborliness Campaigns (1985 – present) consisted of a set of mass
media and interpersonal tactics aimed at improving relationships among
Malaysians of different ethnic groups living in the same communities.
Greater employment opportunities in Malaysian cities brought with them
an influx of Malays (Malaysia’s native ethnic group), who had previously been
farmers. As a result, the government saw the need to create housing units for
these new city residents. Large housing blocks were created to provide
residences for the newcomers. This form of housing was impersonal and in
sharp contrast with the small communities to which the new workers were
accustomed. Both Malays and Chinese Malaysians lived together in these
housing units.
To avoid a repeat of the 1969 ethnic killings, which ended in the deaths of
hundreds of Malaysians (mostly of Chinese origin), the government used
public relations campaigns to bring together the communities living in these
housing units. They used interpersonal and mass mediated tactics to first create
a sense of community by bringing ethnic groups together in service to the units
in which they lived. Second, the campaign aimed to foster a sense of
neighborhood by bringing people of the same ethnic origins together for
cultural activities. The two-fold campaign would encourage inter-ethnic
collaboration and acceptance, as well as foster intra-ethnic traditions.
Taylor’s (2000a) evaluation of this campaign revealed some interesting
results. Her analysis of survey respondents found that participants from the
housing units (treatment group) where the campaign was taking place were
“significantly more likely … than participants from the overall community
(control group) to agree to cooperate with the other races at work, in the
community, and in pursuit of national unity” (p. 195). She also found that race,
the second explanatory variable, did not have a significant effect on agreement
to cooperate. Therefore, the first goal was accomplished, but could only be
explained by distinctions in location of residence (housing units vs. overall
A second goal of the campaign was to improve inter-ethnic attitudes
between Malays and Chinese residents. The analysis showed that there was no
significant difference between Malay respondents living in the neighborhoods
and those living in the regular community. Conversely, the attitudes of
Chinese residents living in the neighborhoods were significantly less favorable
than those in the control group.
Although both mass mediated and interpersonal tactics were used, the
campaign was unsuccessful in achieving its second objective. This could be
Studier i Politisk Kommunikation nr 15 · 2005 7
indicative of a public relations approach to nation building that lacks much or
any theoretical grounding. This campaign may have been negatively impacted
by a researcher/practitioner-centered approach to campaign implementation.
What is meant by researcher/practitioner-centered is a perspective that relies
solely on the previous experience of public relations professionals as the final
arbiter of meaning and strategy, rather than being guided by sound theory.
Taylor (2000a, p. 198) offers an explanation for the failure of the campaign to
produce attitudinal change among the Chinese residents:
There could be many possible reasons for such a counterproductive outcome. There is the possibility that the
campaign is seen in the Chinese community as a Malay tactic to advance the interest of Malays. This
attribution may arouse suspicions—possibly even the anger—of the Chinese who participate, whereas not so
antagonizing those who do not participate in the campaign.
Taylor’s (2000a) assessment is consistent with findings from political and mass
communication studies, which suggest a heightened sense of cynicism of
government institutions among audiences. Findings of this research will be
discussed later in this paper. Cynicism of government institutions is often
identified as the culprit of failed communication strategies in developed and
underdeveloped nations. Taylor (2000a) identifies the decisions to only target
neighborhoods with existing ethnic tensions for the campaign, Chinese
dissatisfaction with national policies regarding employment and education
favoring Malay citizens, and government influence in neighboring areas as
having a potentially negative impact on inter-ethnic relations and the
effectiveness of the campaign (p. 199). Taylor (2000a) further explains that
because communication campaigns do not take place in a “social vacuum,” the
national policies favoring the Malay over the Chinese residents may have
diminished the campaign’s effects. A more eclectic theoretical approach for this
campaign may have anticipated and prevented this outcome.
A Multi-Pronged Theoretical Approach for Nation- and
This discussion is guided by theoretical perspectives such as media framing,
postmodern practices in public relations, media grammars, media communities,
and concepts of “mobilizing information” in government communications
among others. These viewpoints come from literature in mass communication,
political communication, communication theory, and public relations, and they
shed light on the ways in which interpersonal, group, and mass mediated
communication impact political participation and thus communication for
development efforts. They offer insight into the ways media coverage may
shape public perceptions of government institutions. This discussion also
examines the impact that news content, as well as its orientation (e.g.
sensationalizing, conflict oriented, process oriented, etc.), may have on
audience perceptions of their news sources.
Studier i Politisk Kommunikation nr 15 · 2005 8
The following section introduces mass communication and political
communication research that offers insight into some of the image problems
that institutions of government can sometimes face. It also explicates how these
problems/challenges can be created by news media coverage of such
Perspectives in Mass/Political Communication
Patterson and Caldeira (1990) examined variations in public esteem in the
United States Congress since the 1960s as registered by various public opinion
measures. Their analysis focused on identifying the different variables that may
have an impact (positive or negative) on job approval ratings for the Congress.
They identified presidential impact, economic conditions, coverage of
Congress by the mass media, and public salience of foreign affairs as key
determinants of public approval or disapproval of Congress. Because of the
scope of this investigation, comments will only be focused on Patterson and
Caldeira’s (1990) findings regarding media coverage. The authors suggested
that coverage of Congress in the mainstream media is generally negative. The
media also describes Congress as a backdrop to the presidency. Furthermore,
the coverage is focused on individual members of the institution or on a
particular committee (p. 34). Patterson and Caldeira (1990) found a higher
number of references to individual members of Congress than to the
institution or to a feature of it. They found that this latter characteristic of
media coverage of Congressional activities generally had a positive impact on
public opinion of Congress. They also identified a greater number of negative
stories about the institution of Congress than positive ones. These negative
stories influenced the public’s esteem of Congress and its two indicators—job
evaluation and confidence—in a negative way.
Scheufele (2000) examined the relationship among mass media use,
interpersonal discussion about politics, and participatory behavior. In an effort
to explain this relationship, he describes how the content of mass media, or its
lack thereof, has a bearing on the ability of “citizens to participate meaningfully
in politics on a day-to-day basis” (p. 50). Lemert (1981) refers to this type of
information as “mobilizing information” or information about how to
participate in the political process. It includes instructions about how to
register to vote, how to get a permit for holding a rally, where to vote, etc.
Scheufele (2000) offers two other explanations—news reporting trends and
characteristics of news media readers—for the relationship between mass media
use and interpersonal discussion about political activity. Specifically, he found
that interpersonal discussion of political information enhanced the chances of
becoming a political participant for those who consume hard political news. He
explains that newspapers are more widely used with an explicit informational
intent and that television is considered a more passive medium requiring less
involvement from its audience. This use, he asserts, makes newspapers a more
appropriate medium for measuring the impact of media use on political
participation. Scheufele (2000) concludes that the extent to which “mobilizing
information” is available in news media will determine the utilitarian level of
the media itself in stimulating political participation.
Studier i Politisk Kommunikation nr 15 · 2005 9
The “mobilizing” orientation of media is contrary to current trends in the
mainstream media coverage of political news, however. A study conducted by
Cappella and Jamieson (1997) offers evidence of this trend. They offered an
exhaustive analysis that explained how once citizens are stimulated by a
campaign and become involved with civics organizations, they can become
more active in civil society. Much depends on the channel being used when
seeking a mass mediated effect, research suggests. Also, the information
processing strategies of an audience member have an impact on mass media
strategy effectiveness. Cynicism is also a significant factor in various settings
and contexts. Cynicism is usually explained in terms of a lack of trust. Cappella
and Jamieson (1997) also suggested, along with Patterson (1994), that the
portrayal of people, groups and government organizations in the press as
untrustworthy has a negative effect on public conceptions of the subjects of
these portrayals. Patterson (1994) specifically suggests that the steady increase
in negative news by mainstream (commercial) media over the past 30 years
signals a cynical tone in news coverage of these institutions and individuals.
Parker (1981) blames the press for the public’s negative attitude toward
congressional activities. He explains that congressional journalists are often
commissioned with the difficult task of reporting on the same institution on a
daily basis. This, combined with the assumption that readers can only manage a
certain level of complexity, encourages journalists to engage in simplistic
reporting, which focuses on negative characterizations, conflict, and
competition and dedicates large amounts of copy to the individual players
rather than on the process as a whole. Therefore, this pervasive orientation in
commercial coverage of congressional business in the United States can have
detrimental effects if adopted by governmental communications agencies
seeking to improve inter-ethnic relations or to mobilize communities toward
increased political participation.
There is ample scholarship suggesting that negative, simplistic and/or
episodic coverage of government activities can have a detrimental effect on the
public’s perception of government institutions (Kiousis, 2002). A mass media
message, this research suggests, should be utilitarian in nature (mobilizing)
rather than dramatic in its emphasis. It should be process and event oriented
rather than sensationalizing and personality centered. These findings
highlight important aspects of news media that public relations practitioners
must become aware of when implementing mass media development
communication efforts in foreign nations that seek to enhance political
participation among their citizens.
The Role of Human Communication Theory
Scholarship in the area of human communication theory has introduced
concepts such as media grammars, interpretive communities, and media gaps,
which have shown to be helpful when one is seeking to explain the duality of
communication channels. These concepts have highlighted the way that a mass
medium can both empower and constrain the ability of citizens to participate in
the deliberative process in civil society. Gumpert and Cathcart (1985), for
example, defined the concept of media grammars as “those rules and
Studier i Politisk Kommunikation nr 15 · 2005 10
conventions based upon the properties which constitute media” (p. 23). They
explain that “persons are influenced by the convention and orientations
peculiar to the media process first acquired and related more readily to others
with similar a media set” (pp. 23-24). They hold the view that different
interpretive communities can be formed based on the way the people orient to,
interpret, and use a particular medium. They also suggest that having been
exposed to or having used one or several media technologies during their
youth will influence the way people orient toward a particular medium. They
conclude that people develop different states of media consciousness based on
the order of the acquisition of the media grammars, and that different levels of
media consciousness can produce media gaps, which in turn may either
separate or unite people.
Lum (1996) agrees with Gumpert and Cathcart (1985) as he defined an
interpretive community as “the sum of people who experience the text
according to a frame of reference commonly shared among them” (p. 20). He
also considers that an interpretive community shares a set of assumptions
resulting from prior “knowledge, experience, values, beliefs and expectations.”
In other words, people can all be participants of the same communication event
through the same technology and still come from that same communication
event with a different meaning and interpretation of what the medium’s
function within the community happens to be.
The concept of media grammar becomes clearer when observed from Lum’s
(1996) point of view. Consequently, the main point offered by Lum (1996) relates
to the non-deterministic character of technology. It stresses the probabilistic
and interactive character of communication media. It is people with their
cultures who use, respond to, and interpret the technology.
Meyrowitz (1994) introduces a medium-centered view that differs from
Gumpert and Cathcart (1985) and Lum’s (1996) constructionist view of the origin
of rules and grammars. He posits that different media (oral, written, and
electronic) bring with them their own set of inherent design features, which
place demands and limitations on the way in which they can be used.
Meyrowitz (1994) makes not only the community’s culturally specific grammar,
but the media’s grammar itself responsible for influencing the way communities
use communication channels.
These concepts support the view that all communication media are
inherently different and exercise their own restrictions on the ability of users.
However, it goes further by supporting the belief that the same medium can
lend itself to different applications by different individuals and communities.
Hence, the use of a communication audit in campaign research is critical to
determining the status of information flow and use of information between
private and governmental agencies and their publics. This literature also
supports the idea of adopting a postmodernist approach by public relations
professionals. A postmodernist approach will prove especially useful when
developing communication campaigns for nation building in multicultural
communities. This idea will be elaborated further in the following section.
Studier i Politisk Kommunikation nr 15 · 2005 11
A Postmodern Approach to Democratization
The postmodern approach to public relations highlights the problems of
inclusion of multiple voices facing nation building efforts that can often be
ignored by practitioners. The public relations practitioner is challenged to
depart from institutionalized and normative ways of designing and
implementing campaigns. The postmodern approach encourages the
practitioner to look beyond normative theories that propose symmetry and
relationships as effective communications campaigns strategies (Taylor 2000a;
Broom et al. 1997; Rogers, 1995; Grunig, 1992).
Recent theorizing in public relations has resulted in attempts to offer a
public relations approach that incorporates interpersonal strategies to
enhance the effectiveness of mass media usage. Taylor (2000b) argues that
“public relations, through its focus on media relations and relationship
building, is an integral part of the civil society function” (p. 2). Emphasis on
adopting a “relational” approach to doing public relations has emerged from a
general literature on public relations practices, as well as research investigating
nation building efforts (Taylor, 2000a; Taylor, 2000b; Broom et al., 1997; Rogers,
1995). Such research, however, has fallen short of providing a clear definition
of what constitutes a relationship.
Research looking at the nature of relationships has used behavior, such as
the intent of a member of an ethnic group to collaborate with members of
another ethnic group, as a conceptualization for a relationship. Taylor (2000a)
and Broom et al. (1997) offer “control,” “trust,” and “intimacy” as social
dimensions that can both empower and constrain interactants in a
relationship. Mass communication theory has also contributed to the idea of
emphasizing relationships when seeking attitudinal or behavioral changes in
publics. Rogers’ diffusion theory (1995) encourages the combination of both
mass media communication and face-to-face interaction for more effective
long-term communication campaigns (p. 18). These perspectives, although
representing a good initial first step in efforts to move beyond a mass
communication model of public relations that has been characteristic of nation
building efforts, have yet to offer a viable mechanism to measure relationships.
A postmodern approach to public relations campaigns for nation building
goes beyond these ideas.
A postmodernist approach will place less emphasis on modern assumptions
such as social coherence and notions of causality. Best and Kellner (1991) argue
that postmodernism will be in favor of multiplicity, plurality, fragmentation,
and indeterminacy. They claim that “postmodern theory abandons the rational
and unified subject postulated by much modern theory in favor of a socially
and linguistically decentered and fragmented subject” (p. 5). Holtzhausen and
Voto (2002) describe postmodern theory as having no central or normative
theory. They add that “postmodernists revel in multiplicity and diversity and
in even questioning their own theoretical perspectives.”
Lyotard (1988) said that “theories themselves are concealed narratives (and)
we should not be taken by their claim to be valid for all times” (p.126-130).
Lyotard’s (1988) general ideas on postmodern theory, as well as those of Best
and Kellner (1991), can be extended to suggest a set of postmodern public
relations practices. A postmodern approach to doing public relations research,
Studier i Politisk Kommunikation nr 15 · 2005 12
therefore, avoids adopting any normative or foundational laws or rules for
interpreting human behavior or engaging publics. This approach encourages
the use of different lenses when looking at human behavior and allows its
practices to be informed by such behavior and its meaning. Looking at the
issues, needs, or conditions of citizens of a developing nation vis-à-vis a
postmodern lens will provide the practitioner/researcher with a correct
interpretation(s) of such issues, needs, or conditions. These culture specific
interpretations will inform all levels of the public relations process in nation
The practitioner using the postmodern perspective of public relations for
nation building will build on Holtzhausen’s (2000) ideas of inclusion of
multiple voices in the relationship process between organizations and their
publics, public relations research, and the role of the public relations
practitioner. Practitioners using a postmodern lens will also avoid
complicating research efforts with abstraction that offers no specific instruction
on how to make research more “postmodern” and does not go beyond
advising the practitioner/researcher to adopt a situational approach
(Holtzhausen, 2000). The postmodern approach informs the practitioner of
exactly how to incorporate the public’s perceptions and reality into the
multiple levels of the public relations media campaign.
A practical and philosophical departure from the modernist view is
recommended here. However, a warning is also issued regarding the dangers
of adopting the extremist modes of thinking, behaving, and working that can
sometimes be espoused in a postmodern perspective. Grindal (1994, p. 29) says
it best in the following excerpt:
We have a choice. We can chosoe to harness our energies—our knowledge, experience, our moral and
aesthetic sensibilities—to help create a better world, a world in which we work with others to attain essential
truths, the vital strivings of a good life. Or we can give ourselves over to a decentered world in which nothing is
real and everything is politics, a world of despair. A world in which academics, frustrated by their inability to
affect positive social change, but yet covetous of the power to do such, engage in progressively opaque, narrowly
vindictive, self-serving, and endless proliferations or ‘inventions’ of truth… Postmodernism, if it doesn’t watch
itself, could lose itself in a distorted mirror of its own abstractions. What was once a rich reality of human life
could become a dry formal argument, a vindictive play of ideas, an exercise in intellectual irrelevance or what
the boys at the Down Home Auto Repair would call ‘bullshit.’
The pitfalls of postmodernism are circumvented by avoiding the weaknesses
also inherent in this perspective—becoming too vague, questioning all moral
value, and not accepting any truth as such.
The approach to public relations proposed in this paper incorporates
three dimensions that encompass a philosophy of thought and practice that
can have a significant impact on meaning interpretations/creation and
evaluation of effectiveness in mass media messages for nation building. These
three dimensions are collaboration, openness, and deference.
Collaboration refers to the ability and intent of media practitioners to rely
on target public’s input to identify general, as well as culture specific
Studier i Politisk Kommunikation nr 15 · 2005 13
needs/issues, value orientations and cultural dimensions when developing
media campaigns for nation building (Gudykunst, 1997; Brislin, 1993; Hofstede,
1980 & 1991; Brislin, 1970; Kluckhohn & Strodtbeck, 1961).
Openness refers to the media practitioner’s desire and capacity to adapt to
and incorporate the target public’s perspectives and interpretations of
needs/issues into the multi-levels of the campaign development process. It also
refers to the ability of practitioners to access various research methods and
campaign strategies and tactics, as well as create new and innovative ways of
communicating with each public (Gaskell 1994; Johnson & Tuttle, 1989; Lonner
& Berry, 1986; Triandis & Berry, 1980).
Deference refers to the state of mind of media practitioners that empowers
them to accept and consider views and interpretations of phenomena different
from their own (Brislin, 1993; Lincoln, 1995; Lincoln & Guba, 1985). These three
dimensions should be present at every level of the public relations process.
By adopting a postmodern perspective for conducting public relations
media campaigns for nation building, the practitioner will increase the
accuracy of the research techniques. He will also reduce the likelihood of
engaging in ethnocentric behavior that could negatively impact the campaign’s
effectiveness, and enhance the possibility of achieving the desired change in
attitude and behavior. A postmodern approach, while more time consuming,
can also make the messages carried by the mass media much more enduring
and effective in the long-run.
Framing Content for Media Messages
Similar to postmodernism, the concept of framing equips the mass media or
public relations practitioner with the tools necessary to craft more relevant and
effective strategies for political mobilization efforts and other
community/nation building strategies. The concept of framing was first
introduced by the linguist and sociologist Erving Goffman (1974) and by
anthropologist Gregory Bateson (1955). Goffman credits Bateson as having
coined the term “frame” in the sense of a frame of interpretation about what is
going on in a particular social situation. However, it is Goffman who later
introduces the framing concept as a heuristic for the analysis of face-to-face
interactions. Goffman (1974) defines a frame as a “schemata of interpretation”
used by individuals in their sense-making efforts of information or events (p.
21). Reese’s (1997) definition of frames is synchronous with that of Goffman. He
describes frames as “organizing principles that are socially shared and
persistent over time, that work symbolically to meaningfully structure the social
world” (p. 5).
The exclusionary and inclusionary characteristics of frames are denoted
by Entman (1993) as he explains that “frames select and call attention to
particular aspects of the reality described, which logically means that frames
simultaneously direct attention away from other aspects” (p. 54). The metaphor
suggested here is that of a window view or window frame. Those who create a
message have the ability and make the decision as to what information is made
available and what information is left out. In his description of the location of
the framing process, Entman identifies four places where frames can occur or
Studier i Politisk Kommunikation nr 15 · 2005 14
be found in the communication process: the communicator, the receiver, the
text, and the cultural framework.
Although this discussion acknowledges and incorporates the contribution
of Entman (1993) to framing as a communication paradigm, it does not seek to
present the framing process as “fragmented.” Instead, the framing perspective
suggested will look at framing as an ongoing, multidimensional and
simultaneously multidirectional process, with no specific beginning or end.
This discussion advances the point of view that the process of framing can only
be understood through careful analysis of the underlying values,
idiosyncrasies, and objectives outlined by all players as they simultaneously
struggle to define the important frames. Ultimately the audience determines
what the dominant frame will be. Consequently, this approach to framing
analysis acknowledges the contributions made by all collaborators to this
dialogical process, but identifies the audience as the final arbiter.
The framing view suggested here is concerned with the media practitioner
possessing an understanding of how framing is used to make rhetorical
decisions for mass media content. It is also important to understand how these
frames are played out by the media and interpreted by constituencies in the
political environment. Therefore, more influential in this stream of thought is
the research and theorizing on framing analysis that highlights the process of
constructing culturally relevant frames, the history of frames, their
pervasiveness throughout society, the community shaping character of frames,
the recognizability of frames, the power of frames to elicit deeply rooted
emotions and experience, and the ability of frames to shed light on diverse
power structures in society (Gitlin, 1980; Gamson & Modigliani, 1987; Durham,
2001; Hertog & McLeod, 2001).
Hertog and McLeod (2001) depart from Reese’s definition of frames as
organizing principles, and they advance the notion of frames as having their
own content rather than organizing content that exists within the environment
that frames operate. These authors argue that frames are cultural as opposed to
cognitive phenomena. Their meaning is conveyed through the use of culturally
significant symbols. Additionally, they have tremendous symbolic power; they
carry extensive meaning and have widespread recognition. Frames are
pervasive throughout society in advertising, popular music, email, etc. (p. 142).
Frames provide media practitioners with the necessary tools to craft
campaign messages, speeches, television ads, and other tactics in a way that
ensures resonance with relevant constituencies in an election contest. They
afford a campaign team the means to create a connection with a group,
energize and motivate a base by appealing to deeply held attitudes, values, and
ideals. A carefully designed frame will create synergy between an organization
and its key publics. Conversely, a poorly crafted frame can distance the
organization from important constituencies; this may also result in
communication problems, misunderstandings, ethnic tensions, and low voter
participation in election activities.
Durham (2001) contends that frames assign meaning to events, recognize a
voice, and also make a statement about power, dominance, hegemony, and
exclusion of other voices. His grounding in Jameson’s “Empirical Realism”
(1984, 1991) suggests a departure from the bipolar reasoning encouraged by
Studier i Politisk Kommunikation nr 15 · 2005 15
empiricism. Durham (2001) believes in a holistic (postmodern) approach to the
study of the meaning embedded in media frames. Such an approach, says
Durham (2001), highlights inequities and raises questions about the location of
power in society. It also discourages framing analysis that simply counts the
number of times frames are used without addressing the relevant political
economic issues implicit in these frames. Durham maintains that framing
efforts should be first qualitative and then quantitative in nature. He advocates
for a media framing analysis that focuses on the ideologies guiding
construction of social meaning and the exclusionary decisions made regarding
other potential meaning from the dominant discourse. This last thought
provides a good transition into the role of the media in frame production.
Frames allow media practitioners to work with large amounts of
information quickly, assign that information to its place in the scheme of the
story, and package it for the audience so that they too see where the
information fits into the issue (Gitlin, 1980). Media framing analysis thus takes
into account not just the topic chosen by a particular public relations media
campaign, but how the practitioner or media in general cover and package an
issue. In other words, the decisions about inclusion and exclusion are observed
vis-à-vis the underlying beliefs held by the practitioners that guide these
The view of the media practitioners as producers of frames and
intermediaries or re-framers is also held by Pan and Kosicki (1993), who suggest
that media can affect the way issues are framed through the choices of
journalists who cover a story, and those who may be chosen as sources (p. 113).
However, Durham (2001) would argue against adopting the view of journalists,
public relations practitioners, and media professionals in general as objective
“gatekeepers” who simply control the flow of unbiased information without
being guided by personal preferences and orientations. Instead Durham (2001)
suggests that media professionals should be viewed more as “co-constructors”
of the frames presented by the media, even if the process of creating these
frames was initiated by another information subsidy source. Adopting
Durham’s view changes the role of the media from that of “gatekeeper” or
moderator of information, to that of “co-constructor” of realities, in this case of
political realities.
Media framing analysis can function as a useful heuristic when evaluating
the effectiveness of a public relations campaign strategy either in its pre- or
post-implementation stage. Framing analysis can also elucidate whether
specific media coverage includes those elements that have been identified as
having a negative impact on the public perception of government institutions.
Framing analysis can clearly provide the depth of analysis necessary to
determine the potential impact, positive or negative, that public relations
strategies may have on the effectiveness of an overall campaign for
nation/community building.
Studier i Politisk Kommunikation nr 15 · 2005 16
This paper offers several theoretical perspectives in mass and political
communication, as well as public relations and communication theory, which
may be helpful in the development, implementation, and evaluation of public
relations media strategies used in mobilization efforts. This multi-pronged
approach can help in the decision-making process regarding the design of
content for media messages for nation building. They can also assist in
deciding which media should be used to deliver such messages. Several
mistakes that can be made by media practitioners were highlighted in each
theoretical section. These include focusing on sensationalizing news rather
than providing “mobilizing” or informative news regarding ways to participate
in democracy. Also, providing negative coverage or individual-centered news,
as opposed to process and institution-centered information, is considered
problematic by research in this area of mass communication. These
perspectives are offered as effective guidance for the analysis, design, and
implementation of community and nation building public relations campaigns.
This paper offers media framing theory as a means to both design and
interpret themes, messages, and slogans used in democratization and other
community/nation building media public relations strategies. Framing theory
empowers media professionals to design messages that resonate with diverse
publics. A similar objective is reached through the use of a postmodern
approach to designing media messages, as well as when choosing a specific
medium to channel campaign messages. The postmodern approach suggested
in this paper places emphasis on incorporating the concepts of collaboration,
openness, and deference into the public relations campaign process. These
concepts also represent desirable traits for the media or public relations
Finally, concepts in human communication theory, such as media grammars
and interpretive communities among others, were introduced to highlight the
dual nature of communication channels. These concepts stress the importance
of making informed decisions regarding the channels used to deliver a
message to an audience and the significance of understanding the inherent
characteristics of each medium. They can both constrain and facilitate
communication. Also, different groups within a society will have divergent uses
for and different access points to a media channel. Understanding the role of
the media, as well as the role of a specific medium for a community, is as
important as the content used, the frames used to deliver such content, and the
approach used (modernist/postmodern) to design the messages.
Perhaps one reason why certain public relations campaigns designed to
improve inter-ethnic relations or mobilize communities to increased
participation in emerging democracies have not been as effective is that their
strategies have not accounted for the complexity involved in these efforts. This
paper argues that a multi-pronged theoretical foundation may help address
this problem. It is unlikely that a single theoretical framework will be able to
attend to the demands of complex and often multicultural mobilization
campaigns. This paper attempts to fill this void by drawing from a variety of
theoretical perspectives. It could be the case that there was no consideration of
Studier i Politisk Kommunikation nr 15 · 2005 17
relevant theories at all in such failed campaigns, which makes the argument for
inclusion of theoretical perspectives even stronger—that one not only needs
theory, but multiple theories to attend to certain problems or accomplish
certain goals in public relations campaigns for community/nation building.
This paper suggests that having a good command of these theories and
perspectives can help make public relations media campaigns more effective. It
can also help guide the decisions involved in designing and delivering
messages to target publics in these efforts. Furthermore, these theories can help
assess the wisdom of such decisions in evaluation efforts.
Studier i Politisk Kommunikation nr 15 · 2005 18
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