Sociology Mind
2012. Vol.2, No.3, 293-301
Published Online July 2012 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 293
Is Public Relations without a Future?
A South African Perspective
Ben-Piet Venter, Faan Louw
International Business School, Beijing Foreign Studies University, Beijing, China
Received January 24th, 2012; revised February 29th, 2012; accepted April 2nd, 2012
The praxis of public relations seems to be under threat, owing to a bad reputation among other things.
However, it is a fundamentally important partner in the organization’s value chain, and could be benefi-
cial if used in a proper manner. This paper finds, however, that (at least in South Africa), public relations
practitioners are not clear about their potential contribution to organizational value and success, and may
be prone to be exploited by the “real” spin doctors—managers with little or no ethical conscience.
Keywords: Communication; Public Relations; Value; Value Chain
Introduction and Literature Review
Public relations may become extinct. Defined in South Af-
rica as the “management, through communication, of the per-
ceptions and strategic relations between an organization and
its internal and external stakeholders (Skinner, Von Essen,
Mersham, & Motau, 2007: p. 4), it is facing a number of issues
threatening its very praxis. The term itself faces extinction if
attempts to change its name are successful. The profession
faces extinction if it cannot clearly define its organizational role.
Integrating public relations with other business functions is
under threat if it continues being outsourced. It faces ethical
attrition if the practice of using public relations merely to put a
spin on organizational misbehaviors continues. A study in
South Africa investigated these issues (Venter, 2008).
Public relations is facing a number of challenges to its prac-
tice and academic standing. Some of these challenges were the
focus of two studies conducted in South Africa among mem-
bers of the Public Relations Institute of Southern Africa
(PRISA) who are mostly public relations practitioners (Venter,
2004; Venter, 2008). Findings of these studies resonate with
opinions of others who feel public relations to be at odds with
management in many contexts.
A major cause of concern for public relations practitioners is
the fact that public relations in the organization is not taken
seriously, and that it is not used to its full strategic potential,
but merely as a tool to “save” the organization from unsavory
public comment. Rensburg & Cant (2003) argue that public
relations’ role in the organization needs clarification; they are
echoed by Steyn & Puth (2000) who advocate the elevation of
public relations to strategic management level, since it is a stra-
tegic, not technical, function. Skinner et al. (2007), and Cutlip,
Center, & Broom (2006) agree. Outsourcing public relations
may reinforce its technician rather than strategist role.
Steyn & Puth (2000), Parsons (2004), Gibson & Gonzales
(2006), Smythe, Dorward, & Reback (1992), and Pedersen
(2006) all point out that the term “public relations” has devel-
oped a bad reputation, and propose that it be renamed; a re-
naming that will remove negative associations with public rela-
tions. However, the challenge to public relations is greater than
semantics. Van Slyke Turk (2006) argues that public relations
should re-train its practitioners, and re-examine and restructure
its practice and education. The discipline will benefit only if it
reinvents itself as a responsible academic discipline firmly
rooted in business a well as communication sciences. This ar-
gument is supported by the South African definition, which
implies that public relations should use communication to build
and maintain strategically significant organizational relation-
In spite of these issues, the function of public relations is re-
quired in the modern organization; especially its communica-
tion expertise and relationship-building abilities. Jüttner, Chris-
topher, & Baker (2007) express a need for someone to manage
relationships between marketing and the supply chain. Manag-
ing relationships is one of the key precepts of public relations.
Supply chain management is considered a major contributor
to organizational success, and is defined as a process focusing
on the integration and management of “the flow of goods and
services and information through the supply chain in order to
make it responsive to customer needs while lowering total
costs (Russell & Taylor, 2006: p. 415). The emphasis in this
flow falls on collaboration, cooperation, and communication
among and between members of the supply chain. Communica-
tion and relationships as key concepts in supply chain man-
agement is identified not only by these authors.
Cravens & Piercy (2006: pp. 311-313) describe relationships
between the members of the supply channel, collaboration,
information sharing, competitive positioning, and product pro-
motion as important issues in supply chain management. While
they mention relationships and information sharing, they do not
mention public relations by name, although the reference to
promotion (given the marketer’s perspective on public rela-
tions) could be inferred to include public relations. They also
mention communication as an important element in designing
market-driven organizations (Cravens & Piercy, 2006: p. 418).
It is apparent that communication, information sharing, rela-
tionship-building and maintenance, and positioning of the or-
ganization as well as its product/s are key elements in the sup-
ply chain management approach.
A concept closely related to supply chain management is its
antecedent, value chain analysis. Doyle & Stern (2006: pp.
82-84) view value chain analysis as a useful tool for analyzing
utility and cost drivers. Value chain analysis helps managers to
lower cost, while simultaneously improving utility. Corporate
image is a utility driver, while the cost of communication is a
cost driver. Organizations typically analyze all activities identi-
fied by the value chain by driving down costs while increasing
utility, thus creating value for the customer and the organiza-
Phillips & Caldwell (2005: p. 347) state that organizations
outsource those activities that they do not deem necessary for
the delivery of value to customers. Is it an indication of the
perceived low value of public relations that it is frequently out-
sourced, or is it the failure of public relations to create value?
Lee (2000: p. 33) argues that communication and relationships
play a vital role in supply chain management by pointing out
that good communication and “tight relationships” between the
partners of the supply chain are prerequisites for success.
Lummus, Vokurka, & Krumwiede (2008) argue that the flow of
information in the supply chain, through a variety of communi-
cation channels, improves integration of the supply chain. Min
& Mentzer (2004) underline the importance of company-wide
training sessions that will support organizations in implement-
ing and executing supply chain activities. These include rela-
tionship-building and communication. Arnulf, Dreyer, & Gren-
ness (2005) introduce the role that trust plays in the supply
chain by stating that, without trust among the various partners,
the supply chain is vulnerable. Communication is one way in
which organizations build trust, while another is the building
and maintenance of relationships between supply chain part-
Legner & Schemm (2008: p. 121) propose using the term
information supply chain”, which focuses on the problems
experienced in sharing information throughout the supply chain.
They advocate that information be seen in two ways: transac-
tional and contextual. Where transactional information deals
with production-related information such as orders and ship-
ping notes among others, contextual information will have a
focus on “partner and product information”. The understanding
of contextual information may well be widened to include in-
formation on the organization’s other activities, such as its so-
cial responsibility.
Ellinger (2007: p. 101) states that marketing and business
education has been too functionally focused to “make the proc-
ess oriented integrative decisions that are inherent to industry
today”. He advocates that marketing majors should spend more
time and effort to study supply chain management. While his
arguments centre on marketing, they are also true of public
relations, still currently inclined to take a too narrow and func-
tionalist approach to its role in the organization or the supply
Against the brief theoretical overview of public relations, its
position and function in the organization, it is important to
point out that the praxis of public relations is in dire straits.
Within the organization, the public relations function is typi-
cally placed either within the public relations department,
within marketing, or outsourced. Participation at strategic
management level therefore varies and thus the status of public
relations. It does not receive the same level of recognition as
finance, production, or human resources. Public relations prac-
titioners are often from academic backgrounds with little rele-
vance to management, such as communication, media studies,
or journalism. This dichotomy between what public relations
ought to be and what it is, is perhaps a natural consequence of a
number of circumstances, not completely outside the bounda-
ries of control of public relations practitioners. A number of
threats for public relations as an occupation and science is visi-
ble on the horizon and must be accounted for as soon as possi-
The term “public relations” is negatively associated with un-
ethical practices conducted in its name (Steyn & Puth, 2000;
Parsons, 2004; Gibson & Gonzales, 2006), and it should be
renamed. Proposed new names include “corporate communica-
tion, strategic communication, reputation management, corpo-
rate diplomacy”. Arguments in favor of renaming centre round
the changed role/focus/perception implied by the new name.
Renaming the discipline will not solve much, other than cre-
ate confusion, and energy should rather be devoted to changing
behaviors causing the bad reputation. Renaming is a short term
solution diverting attention from those factors contributing to
its bad name in the first place.
Public relations would benefit from fundamental restructur-
ing and should be firmly rooted in business and communication
sciences (Van Slyke Turk, 2006). Not all public relations prac-
titioners are formally trained in the discipline (Venter, 2004;
Newsom, Turk, & Kruckeberg, 2004), and are recruited from
other fields such as law, journalism, or marketing. These practi-
tioners have little or no theoretical foundation in public rela-
tions or business management, and may well contribute to its
low status in the organization and its unprofessional and even
unethical image. The practice of appointing untrained public
relations practitioners will only cease if the educational re-
quirements of the discipline are addressed. This threat will dis-
appear when decision-makers in organizations understand the
need for recruiting and appointing adequately trained and edu-
cated public relations-trained practitioners.
Outsourcing public relations is globally practiced. Skinner et
al. (2007) differentiate between “corporate and “consulting
public relations, where the former situates public relations
within the organization itself and the latter outside the realm of
the organization. Newsom et al. (2004) refine this distinction by
identifying “staff member”, “agency employee” and “inde-
pendent PR practitioner”. Cutlip et al. (2000) provide further
refinement by identifying six different permutations of public
relations practice. The outsourcing of public relations, an option
long used by organizations, leading to the formation of the
public relations consultancy as a viable business in its own
right, poses a threat to the functioning of public relations within
the organization, especially as a significant contributor to the
organization’s strategic management. The outsourcing of public
relations also leads to ethical problems, especially when con-
sultancies are tempted to accept clients representing conflicting
interests. In order to maintain a steady stream of income, con-
sultancies may be less likely to act strictly in the ethical inter-
ests of the organization.
The term “public relations” is sometimes associated with
spin doctoring” (Gibson & Gonzales, 2007; Sterne, 2008),
presenting an obvious threat to its practice. However, is the
discipline itself to be blamed for its spinning transgressions, or
is it being used by marketing management using it to obtain
favorable publicity or top management wishing to manipulate
public opinion? If true that not public relations itself, but top
management is indeed the real spin doctor, this threat should be
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
The praxis of public relations is vulnerable to potential ex-
tinction. Threats identified in literature are found in practice as
the results of a study conducted in South Africa show (Venter,
2008). We wanted to find out more about the challenges facing
public relations identified by Venter (2008), and decided to do
it in two phases. Phase one (reported in this paper) consists of a
more in-depth statistical analysis of available data generated by
Venter (2008), while phase two outlines new research.
The methodology used could be described as exploratory,
that is, it was not based on some theoretical construct in public
relations. The methodology included an exploratory factor
analysis to identify possible latent variables. Latent variables
were constructed that were used in regression analysis. Regres-
sions were constructed by selecting those variables that corre-
lated meaningfully and appealed to logic and experience.
A structured self-reporting questionnaire taking between 10 -
15 minutes to complete was e-mailed to members of PRISA
during April 2008. While 1239 questionnaires were sent out,
101 responses were received after four weeks, putting the re-
sponse rate at 8.1%, within acceptable levels even if low.
However, it was felt that respondents had sufficient knowledge
of public relations (most have in excess of 10 years’ experience
in the field of public relations), and by virtue of their paid-for
membership of the official body PRISA had sufficient interest
in the field of public relations to make a meaningful contribu-
tion to this research. In spite of limitations we decided to do a
deeper statistical analysis of available data from Venter (2008)
before embarking on new research.
The questionnaire results used in this analysis are based on
the Likert scale construct (Likert, 1932; Spector, 1992). The
Likert scale assigns numbers to questions in order to measure
attitudes or beliefs. The respondents had to indicate whether
they 1) strongly agree; 2) agree; 3) neither agree nor disagree;
4) disagree; or 5) strongly disagree. The important features of
Likert scaling are:
The respondent’s ratings reflect some strength of the atti-
tude or belief.
The ratings for different questions can be added to obtain a
summated index of the respondent on the attitude or belief
being measured.
The popularity of the Likert scale for research in humanities
and social sciences is undeniable. The Likert scale is de facto
based on ordinal scales. The ordinal scale is the cause of sub-
stantial debate on how to analyze responses. This debate has the
following major features:
Individual items (questions) should not be used in the
Parametric statistics should not be used to analyze individ-
ual observations.
The summative approach is recommended in which indi-
vidual questions are grouped according to predetermined
(pilot study results) clusters also called latent variables us-
ing confirmatory factor analysis. Alternatively, exploratory
factor analysis could be used to determine latent variables
(DiStefano, Zhu, & Mîndrilă, 2009).
Cronbach’s alpha is then used to test how well the variables
included in the latent variable fit.
The summated latent variables can then be used for further
regression analysis.
The Likert scale questionnaire contained five different
groups of questions. Each group of questions relate to some
critical issue that public relations employees face on a daily
basis. An explanatory factor analysis was done on each group
of questions. Based on the obtained results, latent variables
were developed by adding the identified variables and then
dividing by the number of variables added. Those questions
that were asked in the negative were reversed before the adding
was done. Table 1 shows the different statistics related to the
factor analyses that were done:
Table 1 shows some detail of the factor analysis outcomes.
The Likert scale items, within their respective groups, do not
correlate strongly with each other, as is confirmed by the fac-
tors identified within each grouping. This result was somewhat
unexpected, since the questionnaire was designed around fac-
tors that were perceived to be common within groupings. Three
reasons were identified to explain the poor performance of the
Very few individuals will voluntarily admit to unethical
Public relations agency employees and “in-house employ-
ees” may respond differently to some of the questions.
The relatively small number of observations used in the
analysis. Almost 40 per cent of the questionnaires could not
be used because of missing values.
Table 2 reports Cronbach’s alpha for the different groupings
used in the questionnaire. Cronbach’s alpha measures internal
consistency, that is, how closely related a group of scale items
are as a group. A “high” value of alpha is often used as evi-
dence that the items measure an underlying (or latent) construct.
Table 1 confirmed that the different groups are not close to unit
dimensional. Table 2 confirms the multidimensional nature of
the different groups, since the unstandardized alpha coefficients
rarely make it beyond 0.7, even if some of the poorer perform-
ing scale items are deleted.
Summary of Results
The results from Tables 1 and 2 clearly indicate towards
some data inadequacies, especially the number of useful obser-
vations. Because of this it was decided to focus on broad ten-
dencies contained in the data rather than focusing on specific
detail. The factor analysis revealed interesting insights in the
opinions of respondents. Likert scale items were clustered into
factors and assigned descriptive titles as shown in Table 3.
In coming to an understanding of the identified latent vari-
ables, it was decided to make certain assumptions describing
the different latent variables. The assumptions are based on a
literature survey by Venter (2008), and are reported in Table 4.
Findings and Discussion
The normative assumptions (Table 4) as generic descriptors
of latent variables were used to develop a set of hypothesized
relationships between the identified latent variables (lv) which
is shown in Table 5. See Table 3 for full description of latent
These relationships are not based on any theoretical construct.
The hypothesized relationships are based on deductions from
observed praxis of public relations. These relationships will be
used to evaluate the results obtained from the regression analy-
ses. Because of the data inadequcies it was decided not to use a
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 295
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
Table 1.
Factor analysis outcomes and test statistics.
Grouping Items in scales Factors Chi-sq p-val Cum var expl
B13 11 5 9.85 on 10 df .454 .55
B14 6 2 2.95 on 4 df .566 .43
C15 11 3 15.95 on 25 df .916 .44
D16 10 3 15.76 on 18 df .609 .42
D17 12 5 17.93 on 16 df .328 .56
Table 2.
Cronbach’s alphas for the different groupings used in the survey.
Groupings Items in scale Sample size Unstandardised Standardised Likert scales excluded
Survey 50 62 .78 .8083
11 85 .6099 .6027
7 85 .6902 .689
B13_2, B13_3, B13_8, B13_11
6 85 .6524 .6403
4 85 .7155 .7194
B14_1, B14_5
11 81 .6013 .6603
7 81 .6662 .6984
C15_4, C15_6, C15_8, C15_9
10 77 .6394 .6927
6 77 .6789 .7181
D16_3, D16_4, D16_5, D16_9
12 71 .6949 .6951
10 71 .7005 .7063
D17_1, D17_4
detailed regression results, but rather focus on the trend (posi-
tive or negative relationship) between the independent and de-
pendent variables. Using Tables 4 and 5 it is possible to get a
general impression of how the respondents perceived their
unique positions in the public relations industry in South Af-
Regression 1: Mission: Public relations should strive for an
environment with high mission compliance and avoid spin.
As such, it should also support governance and be involved
in mission development. If public relations has an ethical
mandate, it could play a significant role in ethics guidance,
since as a function it deals with relationships and trust be-
tween the organization and its stakeholders. The fact that
respondents see it in a similar vein supports the involve-
ment of public relations on a strategic level.
Regression 2: Spin: Surprisingly, when strategic/ethics
guidance is high, spin is also high. Could this be that re-
spondents want to be involved in strategic/ethics guidance,
but find themselves in high spin environments? The desire
of public relations to be taken seriously as a strategic part-
ner is clear in this regression. Respondents in high spin en-
vironments feel that they should be involved in providing
mission and ethics guidance. That strategic/ethics guidance
and spin correlate positively is untenable, since the correla-
tion should be negative, where public relations provides
guidance on, inter alia, ethics, thus reducing spin. It also
points to the ethical conscience of those finding themselves
in high spin situations, expressing a wish to help eliminate
Regression 3: Ethics: The negative correlation of outsourc-
ing to ethics shows that respondents agree that outsourcing
has a negative effect on ethical conduct. Outsourcing is thus
a thorn in the ethical side of public relations practice.
Should public relations be able to demonstrate the value it
adds to the organization and defend its central role in the
value chain, it would not be outsourced.
Regression 4: Order-takers: The positive correlation of spin,
as well as the negative correlation of training sufficiency to
order-takers is not surprising, since order-takers will be
prone to executing orders to put a spin on organizational
misbehaviors; they will also, acting as technicians possibly
without any full-rounded public relations training, perceive
their training to be sufficient. That interdependence is posi-
tively, and outsourcing negatively, correlated to order-tak-
ers is puzzling. Our assumption was that greater awareness
of interdependence would lead respondents to be less in-
clined to order-taking. It could be that order-takers perceive
themselves to be dependent on others to complete their
tasks. Those in outsourced environments are by definition
order-takers. As seen previously, outsourcing creates a
laboratory for unethical conduct, and outsourced agencies
may be more inclined to put the spin into public relations.
Regression 5: Strategic/ethics guidance: The positive cor-
relations of mission, organizational ethics, and training suf-
ficiency paint an interesting picture. A high sense of mis-
sion would lead to a high desire to be involved in strategy
Table 3.
Factor analysis.
Factor Questions Cluster title
Public relations practitioners always act in an ethical manner (like telling the truth).
All the workers in my organization understand its mission.
The organization’s mission is communicated well to all employees and other stakeholders in the
People suspect that most organizations hide the truth from them.
Top management expects public relations practitioners to lie in order to save the organization’s
It is the job of public relations practitioners to always present the organization in a favorable
Even when the organization does something wrong (like polluting the environment), it is the job
of public relations practitioners to defend the organization’s actions.
Public relations practitioners always act in an ethical manner (like telling the truth).
D13fac4 Top management expects public relations practitioners to do as they are told. Order-takers
D13fac5 Public relations practitioners should provide guidance on ethics in my organization.
Public relations should develop the organization’s mission. Strategic/ethics guidance
Customers in general get the service they are promised in advertising.
When a company explains its actions to its publics, the explanation can be trusted.
Organizations never tell lies to customers.
Corporate social responsibility programs are sufficient to demonstrate the organization’s
corporate citizenship.
Organizational ethics
D14fac2 It is not possible for organizations to practice good corporate governance since it is difficult and
expensive to comply. Governance
D14fac3 Not enough is being done to safeguard consumers’ rights.
Customers in general get the service they are promised in advertising. Consumer ethics
Public relations practitioners can benefit from more training in business-related fields of study.
In delivering support to all other line managers, public relations practitioners need training in all
business functions.
In order to do my job well, I have to have a relevant tertiary qualification.
In order to function on a strategic level, public relations practitioners need training in strategic
Public relations practitioners should cooperate closely with all other line managers in the
Public relations practitioners are well-trained for their jobs.
Public relations practitioners have a good understanding of how other business departments
Public relations practitioners do not understand the production/operations function of the
As public relations practitioner, I have a good relationship with all of the other functional
D15fac3 Public relations practitioners can benefit from more training in business-related fields of study. Business training
Public relations practitioners require training in business subjects like operations management to
add value to the organization.
Other line managers need to be informed of the role that public relations plays in the
Ethics training is an important component of the practice of public relations.
Public relations as a function is generally disregarded by top management because they do not
understand the full impact of public relations activities.
Public relations value
Public relations practitioners require training in business subjects like operations management to
add value to the organization.
Line managers other than public relations managers are not trained in communication
techniques, and should rely on public relations practitioners to manage relationships with groups
such as suppliers.
My training in public relations prepared me well to perform my function in the organization.
Public relations textbooks provide sufficient guidance for the “real world”.
Training sufficiency
D16fac3 Public relations as a function should NOT be outsourced. Outsourcing
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 297
Table 4.
Normative assumptions.
Normative assumptions
1) Mission Mission is the glue that binds all functions in the organization to a common purpose.
2) Spin Covering up unethical transgressions of the organization’s brand promise.
3) Ethics Ethics of public relations.
4) Order-takers Public relations practitioners are treated as technicians.
5) Strategic/ethics guidance Public relations practitioners provide guidance on strategy development and ethics.
6) Organizational ethics The way in which organizations treat stakeholders in light of the brand promise.
7) Governance Commitment to good governance.
8) Interdependence Cross-functional management ability.
9) Interaction Public relations’ interaction with other business functions.
10) Business training Public relations practitioners require business training.
11) Public relations value Appreciation of the value added by public relations.
12) Training sufficiency Public relations training sufficiency.
13) Outsourcing Outsourcing of public relations.
Table 5.
Hypothesized relationships.
lv 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13
1 1
2 1
3 + 1
4 + 1
5 + + 1
6 + + + 1
7 + + + + 1
8 + + + + + 1
9 + + + +/ + + 1
10 + + + + 1
11 + + + + + + + + 1
12 + + + + + + 1
13 + + + 1
development and ethics guidance. The same could be said
of organizational ethics—where the sense of the ethical
treatment of customers by organizations is high, the desire
to provide ethics guidance would follow. However, and this
is surprising, the perception that public relations training is
sufficient is positively correlated to a wish to provide stra-
tegic guidance by developing the organization’s mission
opens a curious question: do public relations practitioners,
and them alone, develop the organization’s mission, or do
they do so as part of a team? Literature on the subject is
clear: Well-defined and executed mission is the result of
collaborative efforts on management level, and not domi-
nated by any single function. If some respondent feels
his/her training to be sufficient (where literature questions
the sufficiency of training), he/she may be tempted to grasp
for a position (dominating mission development) out of ig-
norance. Public relations practitioners are generally not
trained in business subjects, so how could they think they
should play a leading role in a core business process? It is
significant that governance is negatively correlated to stra-
tegic/ethics guidance. Surely ethics guidance implies that a
person understands the necessity for good governance, re-
gardless of costs of compliance? This shows a fundamental
misunderstanding of ethics, and again speaks to public rela-
tions training.
Regression 6: Organizational ethics: The fact that training
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
sufficiency and order-takers are positively correlated by re-
spondents is alarming, since someone with a highly devel-
oped sense of mission and governance should realize that
his/her training needs to be supplemented, speaking to a
false sense of security about his/her public relations training.
A picture emerges of a public relations practitioner who re-
alizes the importance of mission and governance, but who
is insufficiently trained to participate in strategic actions,
and in general only acts as technician (order-taker). This
picture is further colored by the negative correlation be-
tween interaction and organizational ethics, with the re-
spondents seemingly not realizing the importance of ethics
as a team (indeed organizational) responsibility. Techni-
cians are supportive of mission and governance, but unable
to participate. This shows that public relations is marginal-
ized and not necessarily seen as integral to organizational
Regression 7: Governance: Public relations is marginalized
in organizations where their added value is not appreciated,
in spite of the fact that the practitioners thus marginalized
believe in the importance of good governance. This indi-
cates that organizations prone to spin will not necessarily
regard advice supporting good governance, and also indi-
cates that public relations and its proclaimed role as ethics
guide is not fully seen as integral to organizational man-
agement. The positive correlation between training suffi-
ciency and governance in this context shows that public re-
lations curricula do in fact prepare practitioners for the im-
portance of mission and governance. However, they are
powerless to the real forces of spin—unscrupulous man-
agement. The marginalization of public relations may be at-
tributed to its own false sense of training sufficiency.
Regression 8: Interdependence: The fact that order-takers is
positively correlated to interdependence is surprising, since
interdependence by definition requires some measure of
independent thought and action, and not only order-taking.
This echoes a previous observation where order-takers
positively correlated to interaction. This demonstrates the
potential powerlessness of public relations practitioners in
the organization, and their perceived added value. Respon-
dents agree that interaction and interdependence are needed,
but still act as technicians, showing a low regard for the
value that public relations adds to the organization, further
marginalizing it. The negative correlation between organ-
izational ethics, governance, and interdependence is seen as
a cry for help from respondents, wishing to portray these
two areas as solely belonging to public relations, where
they have indicated a strong wish to provide guidance on
mission and ethics. This negative correlation again shows
that respondents are grasping at functions that they can
claim as their own, regardless of the fact that they need to
work as part of a value chain of activities and across func-
tions in the organization.
Regression 9: Interaction: Why would spin correlate posi-
tively to interaction? Is it that the other business functions
such as marketing expect public relations to spin? If so, this
speaks directly to the misunderstanding discussed in litera-
ture that other business functions have of public relations as
a tool to communicate propaganda. Public relations may
have contributed to this picture by its own inability to
demonstrate the critical value that it adds to the organiza-
Regression 10: Business training: The higher the commit-
ment to governance, interdependence and the perceived
added value by public relations, the higher the realization
that business training is required by public relations practi-
tioners. Thus, the greater the integration of public relations
into the organization and its activities, the greater the need
for public relations practitioners to be trained not only in
public relations, but also in business subjects. This supports
calls in literature for public relations to have a foundation in
business, not only communication. It is significant that a
greater need for business training is experienced where spin
is low, and where public relations training is found to be
insufficient. This supports the notion that public relations is
an integral part of the organization wishing to be ethical,
and where it may identify the need for well-trained public
relations practitioners. It also supports the wish to be inte-
grated into the organization.
Regression 11: Public relations value: The positive correla-
tion of training sufficiency and outsourcing to the apprecia-
tion of the value that public relations adds to the organiza-
tion is disturbing. Previous regressions clearly show that
outsourcing diminishes the value perception of public rela-
tions, while previous regressions also show that a perceived
sufficiency of public relations training is detrimental to the
strategic function of public relations. Could it be that those
respondents working in outsourced agencies influenced
these responses? It is natural to assume that an outside
agency would perceive itself to be sufficiently trained, and
would perceive itself to be adding value to the organization.
If it were true that perceptions of the value added by public
relations to the organization is positively correlated to out-
sourcing (as it is), it is a disturbing accusation against the
praxis of public relations, and forms the foundation for its
irritation at not being included in strategic management. If
outsourced and consequently valued, it is a clear indication
that public relations is not regarded as an essential value-
add component of the organization’s value chain, and that it
could and should be outsourced. If outsourced respondents
perceive their public relations training to be sufficient, it
also means that they are prone to act as technicians, with
little input in the organization’s strategic planning processes.
This also helps to explain how organizational ethics in this
regression negatively correlates to public relations value. If
the organization is happy to delegate the spin to the outside
company, it is demonstrating its low commitment to ethics,
and expects the outside agency to handle media and other
related public relations crises on its behalf and at arm’s
Regression 12: Training sufficiency: Interdependence leads
to the perception that public relations training is sufficient.
This could well mean (if read against the context of previ-
ous regressions) that technicians have to rely on other func-
tions to execute their tasks.
Regression 13: Outsourcing: This is a strong argument
against outsourcing if the argument that public relations
should be an integral strategic partner in the organization is
accepted. If the perception of the value that public relations
adds to the organization increases when the function is out-
sourced, it clearly shows that other business functions re-
gard public relations as a non-essential business function
that adds more value by being outsourced. It is in the fiscal
interest of outsourced agencies to complain that governance
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 299
is expensive and cumbersome, since governance expenses
may erode retainer fees.
Summary: Organizations need to guard against the ravages
of spin. Continuing with practices contributing to spin such
as the appointment of ill-trained public relations practitio-
ners who are mere order-takers; outsourcing public relations
to outside agencies who could not care about the organiza-
tion’s mission; defining public relations as a mere commu-
nication tool used to create favorable impressions at all
costs all contribute to the diminishment of the organiza-
tion’s mission—the way in which it views and defines itself,
and which is the guiding principle giving meaning to the
very existence of the organization.
A positive influence from the guardians of public relations
would greatly enhance the organizational mission. Public rela-
tions as a discipline and praxis should do the following:
Restructure its body of knowledge to enhance professional-
ism not only of communication skills of public relations
practitioners, but also its business-oriented foundation.
Ensure high levels of professional integration with business
by finding a model that will aid in integrating it into busi-
ness processes.
Lift the barriers of entry into public relations by enforcing
strict ethical codes of conduct, based in an integrative
model of public relations/business interaction.
Stop the practice of outsourcing any but the most technical
(printing, design) aspects of the public relations process.
The section on methodology in this paper outlined a small
respondent base as a major shortcoming of this research. This
shortcoming should be addressed by replicating this study using
a larger sample base. The sample was also restricted to public
relations practitioners, and the understanding of the problematic
and solutions could be vastly expanded by including other
business functions such as marketing, operations, and finance to
establish whether they agree with the respondents cited in this
study. This study could also be replicated in countries other
than South Africa.
Research should also be conducted to describe and under-
stand the specific value that public relations should add to the
organization within the understanding of the value chain. Fu-
ture research should also focus on the ethical role of public
relations in the organization, so that it may be safeguarded
against manipulation by unethical managers.
The research reported in this article shows a readiness among
respondents to accept a potential realignment of the role of
public relations in the organization, whereby:
Public relations is not outsourced, but rather woven into the
fabric of organizations.
Public relations takes a more active role as the organiza-
tion’s ethical conscience.
Public relations re-examines its body of knowledge and
theory base to expand its organizational role.
This compels the authors to revisit the definition of public
relations given in the introduction of this article:
“Public relations is managing value-added communication
and relationship-building activities to support the organization
in its strategic goals of building maintaining strategically sig-
nificant relationships with internal and external stakeholders”.
It is the contention of this article that a realigned public rela-
tions function, whereby it serves the entire organization as
communication technician on the one hand, and a strategic and
ethical rudder on the other, may contribute measurably to or-
ganizational credibility, relationships and, thus, organizational
value. The answer to this realignment may well lie in a discus-
sion on Porter’s value chain analysis.
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