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Paradigms of public relations and crisis communication

By Loarre Andreu Perez

Many times, theory and practice come up together. However, theory sometimes offers different perspectives, which have effects on the way practitioners should apply these theories.

In public relations, there are two main paradigms: the symbolic or interpretive paradigm, and the behavioral or strategic management paradigm.

Both of them are equally valid. Scholars developed theories around these paradigms, and for the same kind of matters, there can be more than theoretical based proposal on how to act as a practitioner.

But first, it is important to take a look at these paradigms, because practical advice is linked to the theoretical background. In the interpretive paradigm, public relations efforts aim to influence on public perception of the behaviors of organizations. Public relations in the strategic management paradigm, in contrast, focus on managing organizations’ behaviors rather than interpret it to their publics.

In crisis communication, the interpretive approach is Situational Crisis Communication Theory (SCCT), developed by W. T. Coombs. This theory evaluates reputational threat based on crisis type –which is linked to people’s perception-, crisis history and prior reputation. Then, the model proposes a different communication strategy for each crisis situation.

The strategic management paradigm is more about bridging. J. Grunig suggested 4 crisis communication principles for this paradigm, and J.-N. Kim and M. Chon added two more principles later, creating RAPIDS model for crisis and issue management excellence. These 6 principles are relationship, that aims to stablish long-term relationships with the publics in risk, accountability or acceptation of the responsibility, disclosure, symmetrical communication, promptness and inclusivity.

In my opinion, it is important to know what conception of public relation organizations have, to follow a coherent model to manage crisis, and to assess communication models adequate to the overall communication style of the organization.

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