Literature Review



Introduction &
Problem Statement

Literature Review




References &

Research Team

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Systems Theory

First identified in the 1940s, systems theory achieves insights into communication (Heath & Bryant, 2000). Especially influential on organizational communication, systems theory explains how and why people form groups, each of which is a system as well as part of a larger system. Its focus is on the whole system rather than on its parts, and how these parts interact to affect the whole system. Infante, Rancer and Womack (1997) define a system as hierarchical — a set of interdependent units working together to adapt to a changing environment. It can be divided into smaller subsystems or incorporated with other systems to create larger systems, referred to as suprasystems or environments (Heath & Bryant, 2000). A systems approach to organizational communication expands the basic model of sender-receiver to feature communication networks; this explains how systems adapt to their environments (Heath & Bryant, 2000).

As previously stated, PA is composed of three basic subsystems: internal information, media and community relations. Although the military mainly uses each subsystem interdependently, the entire system is much more than the sum of the contributions of each individual part. As Infante, Rancer and Womack explain it, “every system is like a cake in the sense that if you take away or change one individual part, the entire system is affected” (1997, p. 91). The focus of organizational communication is on the whole system, rather than on parts of the system (Katz & Kahn, 1996).

Communication systems, such as public affairs, are “open” systems — they interact with their environments. Open systems “continually take in new information, transform that information and give information back to the environment” (Shockley-Zalabak, 1999, p. 43). By contrast, “closed” systems are characterized by a lack of input communication, making it difficult to make good decisions and stay current with the needs of the environment (Shockley-Zalabak, 1999). Closed systems lean toward entropy, chaos or total disorganization (Infante, Rancer & Womack, 1997). Applying the open systems approach to military PA requires a purposeful sensing of the environment to anticipate and detect changes that affect the organization’s relationships with its publics (Cutlip, Center & Broom, 1985). Ultimately, the systems approach should serve as the foundation for a more effective management practice. This becomes the basis upon which our ideal model for PA interaction was created (Figure 1).

Development of Organizational Communication

“Communication serves as the basis for control and coordination in organizations; it also provides information essential to effective completion of the organizational mission” (Poole, 1978, p. 493). But, what “exactly” is communication? In layman’s terms, communication is the interchange of information between two or more persons. Farace, Monge and Russell (1977) define communication as the exchange of symbols that are commonly shared by the individuals involved, and which evoke quite similar symbol-referent relationships in each individual. Organizational communication goes a bit further. Organizational communication is “both similar to and distinct from other types of communication” (Shockley-Zalabak, 1999, p. 28). It is more than the daily interactions of individuals within organizations, it is the process through which organizations create and shape events (Shockley-Zalabak, 1999).

The study of organizational communication centers on processes of interaction means by which people obtain information, form opinions, make decisions, merge into the organization, leave the organization and create rapport with one another (Shockley-Zalabak, 1999). Through communication, people coordinate their actions to achieve individual and organizational goals (Shockley-Zalabak, 1999). Effective organizational communication within the PA arena is critical. The public’s perception of credibility and validity of any PA office depends largely on the successful transmission of verbal and nonverbal messages and the sharing of information at all links (subsystems) through the organization’s channels.

According to Huse and Bowditch (1973), an organization is effective and efficient when it has the ability to be integrated and to consider three different perspectives simultaneously: structural design, flow and human factors. Looking into this further, a literature review by Campbell (1977) found that more than 30 different criteria were used for the measurement of organizational effectiveness (Praeger, 1986). These measurement criteria ranged from specific aspects of organizational effectiveness to a global view. Campbell’s (1977) review also finds some of the measurement criteria to be inconsistent, in that few studies used multivariate measures of effectiveness and the same criteria were rarely used across studies (Praeger, 1986).

Herein lies the basic theme of this paper, suggesting that military PA organizations, in an effort to gain greater efficiency, should attempt to both integrate and simultaneously consider its three subsystems (internal information, media and community relations) as well as best practices in the civilian corporate PR arena, when approaching organizational issues.


Cross-functionality is the idea that members from different departments of a unit or organization form teams, bringing a variety of talents and resources to bear on the accomplishment of the overall mission of the unit or organization (Proehl, 1997). This method has proven positive results within AT&T and Hewlett Packard (Jayaram & Ahire, 1998). It also has application to PA in two ways: 1) Cross-functionality can be applied to the relationship between PA and other organizations within a command; and 2) it can be applied within the PA organization itself — this is the idea behind the three-pronged approach.

Cross-functional teams consist of people who serve in different departments or perform different functions within the organization (Wellins, et al., 1994). Some companies establish permanent and temporary cross-functional teams. The permanent teams work on issues companies face on a routine basis, while temporary teams are formed to handle special projects such as implementing new procedures, reorganizing procedures and processes, or solving unexpected problems.

By their nature, cross-functional teams offer members opportunities to receive training and experience outside their areas of expertise in order to meet the goals of the team (Wellins, et al., 1994). This has several benefits including team flexibility, understanding among the functional areas of how the others work, and an increased sense of ownership and pride among team members.

Applications for Public Affairs at the Command Level

Previous studies suggest the idea that marketing is here to stay and that successful companies must integrate marketing departments into their strategic planning or suffer for it in their profit margins (Shipley, 1994). The difficulty is successfully integrating marketing, or in the military’s case public affairs, into a strategic operational role after having been a support function for so long. Many people within organizations have preconceived notions about the value of marketing or PA, and based on outdated ideas that do not consider the important role they play in the overall mission accomplishment; resist their inclusion into the upper echelons. Shipley (1994) suggests a number of ways to combat this: 1) It is essential that the role of PA be thoroughly understood and communicated to all levels by the commander. 2) Commanders should ensure their PA officers are “politically shrewd, experienced, tough and able” (Shipley, 1994, p. 20). 3) Training should be offered to all department heads and essential personnel with the goal of altering false perceptions. 4) Commanders should build internal motivation within the command. PA practitioners need to understand that achieving a shift in mindset like this is extremely difficult. With that in mind, practitioners need to do all they can to fit in. Some suggestions include “building a professional image for [public affairs]; ensure frequent communication and personal interaction with other departments; do not laud the importance of [public affairs]; recognize the equal importance of other [departments]; acknowledge their viewpoints, strengths and constraints; build allies and tight relationships; be tactful, amicable and harmonious; go to “war” as a last resort; involve top management in disputes as a last option; be unselfish about the ‘ownership’ of good ideas; use finance and other resources wisely; and always stress the commonsense view” (Shipley, 1994, p. 20).

Cross-Functionality Applications for Public Affairs at the Office Level

Many of the theories used in developing cross-functional teams find their origins in small group organizational communication theories. A model that has utility for cross-functional application in PA, both at the organizational and departmental levels, is discussed by Tjosvold (1991). He discusses D.L. Gladstein’s 1984 model (Figure 3) for group behavior within an organization (Tjosvold, 1991, p. 61).

In this model there are two inputs: The composition and structure of the group and the resources and structure of the organization. The inputs work together forming the group process. The process interacts with the task to determine the group’s effectiveness. Using those inputs, the group develops a process to work together, and then applies that process to whatever tasking comes down the road. The nature of the tasking and its interaction with the group’s processes


determines the effectiveness of the group’s output. Gladstein’s Model of Group Behavior explains how the PA three-pronged approach can be more effective. Figure 1, The Walton, et al. Planning Model, draws upon Gladstein’s model to illustrate how PA and cross-functionality work together.

Public Relations Theory

Public relations is the attempt by information, persuasion and adjustment to engineer public support for an activity, cause, movement or institution (Bernays, 1955). The field borrows theories of communication from the social science disciplines; however, there is no one theory that is PR. The field also lacks a sense of identity, failing to define its purpose, scope and dimension (Leeper & Leeper, 2001). There appears to be a widely held definition that PR is “the manipulation of public behavior for the benefit of the manipulated publics as well as the sponsoring organizations” (Grunig, 1989, p. 18 – 19). Grunig’s (1989) research explains PR using four models. Grunig calls them “press agentry/publicity,” “public information,” “two-way asymmetrical” and “two-way symmetrical” (Grunig, 1989, p. 29). According to Grunig (1989), the four models are representative of the goals, values and behaviors held or used by an organization when practicing PR.

Grunig’s (1989) press agentry/publicity model is descriptive of the propaganda feel of PR, seeking media attention in almost any way possible. The basis of this approach is the amount of mass media coverage determines the relative importance of the topics (Cutlip, Center & Broom, 1994). Grunig suggests those who practice the press agentry model fully intend to persuade or manipulate publics (Grunig, 1989). Grunig’s public information model is similar to the press agentry/publicity model. Practitioners of this model provide generally accurate information, but usually do not volunteer negative information. Both the press agentry/publicity and public information models are one-way they give information about the organization to the identified publics but do not actively seek information in return from the publics through research or informal means (Grunig, 1989).

Grunig’s two-way asymmetrical and two-way symmetrical models are more sophisticated, they include the element of research; however, only one of these models holds real promise toward attitudinal change. The two–way asymmetrical model uses research to identify messages most likely to produce support of the publics without having to change the behaviors of the organization. Practitioners of the public information model change public behaviors and opinions, even though that may not be their intent (Grunig, 1989).

The fourth model defined by Grunig is the two-way symmetrical model. This model has effects that benefit both the organization and the public. Organizations practicing this model employ bargaining, negotiating and strategies of conflict resolution to bring changes in both the organization and the public (Grunig, 1989). This model has one presupposition; communication leads to understanding among people and organizations (Grunig, 1989). Grunig’s research and formulation of these four models serve as a map of the major stages of development in the PR field, providing clarification and serving as a basis for a classification system (Neff, 1989). Organizations practice several of the models together, with the press agentry model being the most popular (Grunig, 1989). Grunig’s (1989) research suggests the two-way asymmetrical model is most popular in corporations.

The function of PR practitioners is to help an organization adjust and adapt to their environments by monitoring public opinion, social change and cultural shifts (Cutlip, et. al., 1994). How an organization accomplishes these tasks in an effective manner is subjective. Bernays, (1955) suggests that to carry out PR effectively, one must follow this process: 1) define your objectives, 2) research your publics, 3) modify the objectives, 4) decide upon a strategy, 5) set up a theme, 6) establish an effective organization, 7) chart a tactical plan and 8) carry out the tactics. PR is a part of any organization’s problem-solving function, practitioners with this view use social scientific theory and the best available evidence in a four-step problem solving process (Cutlip, et. al., 1994). This process is similar to Bernays’ work with the obvious difference being some of Bernays’ steps are integrated to shorten the process. The four-step process involves: 1). Situational analysis — what is happening now? 2) Strategy — what should we do, say and why? 3) Implementation — how and when do we say it? 4) Assessment — how did we do (Cutlip, et. al., 1994)? Each step of the model is as important as the other steps, with the process being continuous, overlapping and cyclical (Cutlip, et. al., 1994). To get the most out of any PR effort it is necessary to have a master plan. Just having a plan doesn’t necessarily guarantee success, but it allows the practitioner to focus and determine the ultimate success or failure of the communication effort (Ginsburg, 1955). The ramifications to military PA is twofold, first; Grunig’s models provide an assessment for military practitioners to determine how their respective programs currently fit in the arena of strategic planning within their military services. As Grunig suggests, most organizations combine all four models making it difficult to determine PA effectiveness.

Second, research introduced by Bernays advances elements from the social sciences into the practice of public relations. Bernays’ contributions are significant in that the element of identifying and measuring public opinion is a critical first step before embarking on an effort to change or modify those opinions. This idea continues today through the use of Cutlip, et al’s four-step public relations planning tool.

Rationale and Hypotheses

The bottom line in the great proactive vs. reactive debate is that to a certain degree, PA will always be reactive. “While PA must continue to react to the requests and situations that pop up unexpectedly, it also must take the initiative to create strategic and tactical plans that allow it to put the right information in the hands of the right audiences at the right time” (AFI 35-101, p.49). There is simply no way of anticipating the who, what, when, where and whys of the next crisis. But, rather than not planning at all and waiting for the next situation, there are areas where PA practitioners can benefit from thorough prior planning. This rationale — prior planning will assist PA in effectively solving issues — and the use of theoretical perspectives offered by systems theory, organizational communication, cross-functionality and identified PR “best practices,” is what led the research team on the quest to develop a unified model for strategic and tactical planning. In placing emphasis on cross-functionality to more effectively communicate, our research questions are:

RQ1: What are the differences between each branch of the military in respect to PA?

RQ2: What are the differences between civilian PR and military PA?

RQ3: When addressing issues, what aspects of civilian PR can be incorporated into military PA?