Date: 2 October 2017

Subject: Symmetrical Communication: Excellent Public Relations or a Strategy for Hegemony?

MLA Citation: Roper, Juliet. “Symmetrical Communication: Excellent Public Relations or a Strategy for Hegemony?” Journal of Public Relations Research, vol. 17, no. 1, 2005, pp. 69–86., doi:10.1207/s1532754xjprr1701_6.


Research Assessment #4

This article by Juliet Roper closely examines a communication model called Symmetrical Communication, one of the four pillar models of public relations identified by James E. Grunig. Symmetrical communication is characterized by a sort of dialogue between organization and public, in which complaints and suggestions for improvement made by consumers directly impact behaviors and policies of an organization; in other words, the organization listens and responds to their consumers, rather than choosing to correct their behavior (which would be asymmetrical communication). This article, first and foremost, taught me that symmetrical communication is key to the satisfaction of the interest of both the organization and the public—the ultimate goal of successful PR. The latter makes the stakeholder feel excluded, while the former encourages a healthy collaborative dialogue between public and organization.

I also learned about a new concept called hegemony, defined as “domination without physical coercion through the widespread acceptance of particular ideologies and consent to the practices associated with those ideologies.” Hegemonic leadership also results from a dialogue between organization and stakeholder, formed in the continuous challenging of intellectual, social, and moral policies within an organization. Hegemonic leadership, I have learned, means never getting comfortable, always striving for better, gaining the trust of customers/clients and maintaining it. However, I do wish to seek out further explanation of this concept, as I did not quite grasp the concept as well as I would’ve liked.

A concept I found interesting within the realm of hegemony is the power of concessions; the article suggested that “if concessions in response to opposition were not made and dominant practices remained static, resistance would grow to the point where stability would be lost.” This indicated to me that acknowledgements of problems by organizations, as well as ways they can improve as a result, shows stakeholders that they are indeed involved via democratic practices in the organization in which they are invested. Collaborative negotiation of public opinion between organization and public has to be preceded by a dialogue between the two groups that is “free of strategic intent.” This made a lot of sense to me; if I were a stakeholder, I wouldn’t want to be talked to as if I were a number in a data table being analyzed for the organization’s gain. Therefore, I will keep this idea in mind as I move forward, talking to clients as friends rather than making them feel like I need them to help me.

Furthermore, the article continued on to cite specific examples of three major organizations who changed their PR strategy to be more collaborative as a result of changing economic, social, or environmental circumstances. These examples created a question in my mind; how does PR relate to current events? How do current events change the way consumers perceive a company, and how do they shape the practices of an organization? From this particular article, I was able to see firsthand how the changing concerns of consumers causes organizations to change their approach to their own methods. For example, Shell oil company conceded to the reality of the issue of climate change, and thus changed the way they presented themselves to the public, emphasizing the sustainability of their practices and green methods. Why? Their stakeholders were getting worried about how massive oil corporations were destroying the very earth they stand on. Had Shell not made this educated PR decision, they may have lost a substantial amount of stakeholders. This is a phenomenal example of symmetrical communication; a company listened to the concerns of its stakeholders and actively responded. This was very helpful to me, as I now know what symmetrical communication logistically looks like in the business world. Now, I will be able to identify when it is and is not present in an organization.

In conclusion, this article taught me about one of the major models of PR, one that is crucial to be on the lookout for in the industry. Negotiating through the making of compromises to maintain existing hegemony, while making consumers feel heard, are not always entirely collaborative and more often than not have the first interest of the corporation in mind. This idea opens up a whole new window of research for me, into the moral and ethical side of PR.

Annotated Article: