Public relations and post-communication: Addressing a paradox in public communication

Public Relations Society of America and the Institute for Public Relations
Publication Type:
Journal Article
Public Relations Journal, 2018, 11 (3), pp. 1 - 20
Issue Date:
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Organizations spend more on public communication today than ever before in history. Yet, in the past few years developed Western countries where investment in public communication is greatest have seen a collapse of trust in government, business and major institutions and landmark uprisings of citizens against the persuasion and promotional campaigns of governments, political parties and big business. Industrialized democratic societies cannot ignore events such as Brexit, the election of Donald Trump, ‘hung parliaments’ in several countries, and increasing challenges to businesses’ social licence to operate. This paradox – declining public trust, support, and stability at a time when investment in public communication has never been higher – indicates that there is something wrong in the way organizations seek to engage with their stakeholders and publics today and that change is required. This paper presents a reflective critical analysis of public communication approaches today drawing on a body of recent research rather than a single study, particularly focussing on theories and practices in public relations and ‘strategic communication’, and compares them with contemporary concepts such as design thinking, emergent strategy, and Theory U to present an argument and a direction for transformation to address the paradox in public communication.
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