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CAP_320_specialpublicsarticle - I'uhlie Relatinns Review 2m...

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Unformatted text preview: I'uhlie Relatinns Review. 2m 4 I 4')“ FIE l'upx‘rtghl It.) Jiltlll In.- [Ham-m .‘ineuee II1L' 15551: [IS-M. S L l l r‘tli iightt. u't teprtntnewm in amt- t'mtn temrtcd. Inactive Publics: The Forgotten Publics in Kirk Hallnbmt Public Relations* ABSTRACT: B}: Iiieusing nn aetivisni and its consequences. recent public relitriuns theory has larger ignored irinrrfi't*‘riit!i!t't:t, that is‘ stakeholder groups Ill-.1: tiernnnsmne lmr levels nt'knuwl- edge and involvement in the organization or in. prtiduets, ser- viees. candidates. or causes, but are impul‘t ant to an urgani'mtiem. This .lr‘EiCiC examines the nature m‘inaerive publies and PI’UPI'JSL‘S .1 model that iUL'JICS inactive pilhlics .in‘iung five categtn'ics {1i- publies along the dimensions of knmvledge and invuivement The mutiel prm'idrs i1 Lhenretiealii.‘ rich ttitemtnit'e for how public relatinns practitinnen might eutteeptuctiize ptit‘rfiet, .1 central etm- eeln in public relatinns theury and practice. Kirk i-Iallahun is an .mistam prutbmur in the Department [if ltntrtuiism and 'l'eehnieai (Iuntmltnieatinn at Colorado State University. In recent years, public relations theter has focused mnstly nun ptihlies that are interested in and concerned about the activities of" organiza- tions. Larger m'erlt'inked is the intpurmnce nf grt'iups that have tinly minimal nintivatitnt, :l'l'iilirj." ur uppurttlniry [0 know about. tzi'lk ahntn, nr parrieipate in efiiirts to influence the policies nr practices. 0|“ nrganizatiuns. These thrgtnten eunatitueneies can he referred tu as t'rmctt've panties. The field‘s preneeuparinn with activism i5 well—grounded theoretically and well-founded because uf'the putenu'ai eunseqnenees tifaetix-‘ist grnups, which can ' This artie'le is based on ti Top Faculty Paper presented at the FILE-K Educators Academy lntcmntiuml Interdisciplinary Research (Conference in lune [999 at ('Iullege Park. MA. Winter 3mm 499 f’ftbiir Rn’ill‘inm Kri'tfip directly and immediately threaten the organization‘s goals or help to attain them. However, the assumption underlying contemporary theory fircused around activ— ists is that the interests oforganizations and publics are necessarily at odds with one another. The focus on activism, as manifesth in issues management, for example, implies that individuals who constitute a public are sufficiently interested and equipped to think about problems, to engage in meaningful conversation with others, and to organize to take action. For example, normative models that suggest public relations is practiced ideally as two—way, symmetric communication pre- sume that publics are active participants anti are both motivated and able to voice concerns through activities such as collaboration.' Similarly, situational theory is intended to serve as a predictor of activism, as measured in active information seeking and passive information processing.2 Recent articles that draw on inter- personal communication, psychotherapy, and interorganizational communication similarly assume that organizations and publics must interacr to form relation- ships); This article begins with a quite different set of'assumptions from those that underlie much contemporary public relations theory. First, it assumes that not all public relations activities necessarily revolve around issues, disputes, or conflicts. Indeed, many public relations pmgrams today merely involve building positive relationships. In such cases, difl'erences between organizational interests and pub- lic needs might not exist or might be minimal at best. Second, many organizational—public relationships can operate at an ex- tremely low leVel, that is, rank-in-file members of'a public have only minimal knowledge and invnlvement in the policies and practices ot'an organization. More important, this minimum-level relationship mflim' both parties. A richer, more intensive, more "meaningful" relationship might not be necessary. Indeed, orga- nizations might not have the financial, temporal, or human resources to establish close relationships with everyone; meanwhile, members ol’inactive publics simply have other concerns. Third, the proSpect of establishing and maintaining minimal relationships with inactive publics pose a set ot‘communieation challenges that are quite dit‘r'cr- ent from interactions with highly active pubiics, where communications are often highly reactive, interactive, and sometimes confrontational. Such communications efforts require different strategies that public relations theorists must begin to address in a more coherent manner." DEFINING INACTIVE PUBLICS One ofthc most conceptually troublesome notions in con- temporary public relations is the idea ofa anir. In its classical definition, public is reserved to describe groups that are actively involved in the discussion ofa public issue. Publics, thus, are organized around issues. Dewey defined a public as a group ot'people who { 1) Face a similar problem, {2) recognize the problem exists, and (3) organize to do something about the problem. Blumer later offered a similar defi- 500 Vol. 2(1, NU. ‘I‘ .lflnrfl'ltr Public; nition of“ public as a group of people who are (l) confronted by an issue, [2) divided in their ideas about how to meet the issue. and {3'} engaged in discussion about the issue.5 In contemporary public relations practice, this narrow definition o’fa public is largely igntgired. Researchers and practitioners often use the term public when referring to a variety of other. closely related concepts. Public is used to refer to potential or actual audiences, that is. receivers of messages. Public also is used to describe segments. such as a market segments that is. a group ofpeopic who share particular demographic, psychographie or geoc‘lcnmgraphic characteristics and thus are likely to behave or respond to organizational actions or messages in a similar way. With increased ti-equency. public is used to who to ranmoms'rt'ers, that is. groups drawn together by shared experiences. values. or symbols. Public also can he used synonymously with constituents, that is. groups [such as voters) that an organization serves and to whom the organization is ethically or legally responsi- ble. The term is also used to denote std keimiders. that is, people who are impacted by the actions ot'an organization. In their threevstage model oFissue development. Grunigand Reppet i 1992 i illustrated the difficulty oFttornenclatu.te. In describing the first stage. the stake-harder smgr, they wrote: An organization has a relationship with stakeholders when the behavior ol'thc organization or of the stakeholder has consequences on the other. Public relations should do hematite towards to scan the environment and the behav- ior ol'thc organization to identify their consequences. Ongoing communica- tion with these stakeholders helps to build a stable. long-term relationship that manages conflict that may occur in the relationship." The authors explained that the second stage. the public some. occurs when "stakeholders recognize one or tour * consequences ol-a problem and organize to do something about it or them.“ Finally1 they identified the Esme stage, which is “not reached until publics organize and create issues out of the problems they perceive.“ Grunig and Repper admitted only subtle ditlercnees between a srake- holder group and a public. In particular. stakeholders are passive: “Stakeholders who are or become more aware and active can be described as missiles”? This inconsistency is troublesome beca use Grunig and Repper Freely acknowledged that public relations initiatives are not limited to publics alone. that is, active groups. but can land should) be directed to passive stakeholder groups as well. One way to reconcile this problem is to define all groups to which public relations cl’r'orts are directed as publics, but to recognize that they differ in their levels titanium-passivity. inactiye publics largely meet the definition ofstaltehold- era,"I but no assumption is necessarily made that they recognize their stakeholder role. This approach is considerably more straightfimyard and subtly extracts the definition of public from a discursive framework. that is, a requirement that a concerted interaction among, individuals is necessary for a public to exist.” Thus a public might be defined simply as a group with. which an organization wishes to Winter 2000 501 I’uih'ir Relations Rrpirw establish and maintain a relationship. Alternatively, a public can be defined as a group ofpeoplc who relate to an organization, who demonstrate varying degrees inactivity—passivity, and who might. [or might not] interact with others co accruing. their relationship with the organization. Inactive public, as defined here, is strikingly akin to the notion ofa mass, which along uith crowd and prelim constitute the three principal categories of social groups identified by Blumer. The noted sociologist distinguished a mass from a public by observing that a mass “merely consists ofan aggregation ot’people who are separate, detached, anonymous“ and who act in response to their own needs'“ A mass is characterized by very little interaction or communication, considerable homogeneity, and wide geographic dispersion. However. members ol'a mass are brought together by some common source of interest or attention. This might include, for example, the identity people share as citizens ol'a nation or the common stake they have in an organization. In this sense, a mass or an inactive public might be considered a minim“: temrmtnitjr. a group ol’people who share a common set of symbols and experiences. ” A SOCIETY OF LOW-LEVEL RELATIONSHIPS T he inactive nature ot'the population in modern society has been recognized by sociologists, political theorists, and iournalists. Theories of mass society, as first proposed by classical sociologists, suggest that individuals have become atomized members ot'societv through the division ol'labor and estrange- ment Jfrom others. In mass society, people are thrust into a social system dramat- ically dilTerent From the communal structure that characterized life before the rise of urbanization and ind ustrializatitm. I 3 Lippmann was one of the firsr observers ofthe implications ol‘these changes for communications and the political process. He observed that, by the 192%, people no longer acted based on direct experience, but were dependent on sec- ondary information sources such as the mass media. Lippmann argued that people act based on the resulting “pictures inside our heads.“ ' 3 Later, he suggested that the population in modern society had beetmte a phantom paid—it that was mostly disinteresth in public atihirs and quite content to delegate decision making about issues to experts. H Subsequent writers have lamented the decline in the robustness ot'public discussion and debate. '5 Significantly, inactivity should not be confused with deliberate manipulation or control by powcrfitl forces within society, as critical theorists suggest. 1“ indeed, inactivity is not equivalent to a lack or capability or coticern for others by people in society. Research in the past three decades suggests that audiences are not passive, but are active processors ol‘ini'tirmation. People construct their own meaning from mediated messages and other Forms ot'communication and put information in the contest of their own lives.” In large measure, the inactivityr characteristic of mass pubiics today can be 502 Vol. 2!}. No. 4 hmrmrr Ptrlu't'rt explained as a function of' the large, complex, interdependent nature of modern society. Today, people iuggle a varieti,r ofdillh‘ent activities and concerns in their daily lives, Cognitive psychologists have characterized humans as “cognitive mi- sers," [8 who process information only as required to cope with intiirmation over- loael."Jr People can cope with only a limited number oi'ptohlems or situations in their lives at one time. In the same way, the carrying. capacity of public arenas to address social problems or issues is limited?" As a result. people are srlerti'i-r about the issues in which they become involved or consider important. Individuals enter into deep relationships with only a handful of other individuals lspouses, significant others, friends) and onlj.t a few organizations or institutions (most notably, schools and employers}. Yet as a matter of survival, they also enter into a wide range of secondar}r or tertiary relat'it'n‘iships that are much more superficial and purposely limited in scope. Not all relationships are equally important; thus assumptions that public relations should treat everv IJrgilliiififlllfll‘ltllrpllhllC relationship in the same way requires caretiil scrutiny? Resource dependency theory, For example, suggests that people enter into relationships in response to the need for resourcesfl [n toda_t"s industrial society, publies contract with large, complex organizations that provide services ranging, from groceries to Utilities. As long as those services are provided reliably and satisiitctotilv, and within a range oi'ethical expectations, there is no reason for many people to pay much attention to these organizations or desire a more in-depth relationship with the organization that provides them. The closing, of gaps in expectations is one basis For dealing with issues, whereas the elimination ofgaps in relial‘xilit‘ir and satisfaction is behind the recent total quality management move- ment in organirations.“ Social exchange theory suggests that people enter into relationships by analyzing costs versus benefits. People expect benefits to exceed eosts, and people will Withdraw From a relationship whenever perceived costs esceed benefits, hast on their analysis of comparison levels.“ Under this socioeconomic approach to relationships, people have little incentive to change for incur “so-itching costs“) unless the perceived costs significantly exceed the perceived henelits. Unless the problem is particularly important, or people are prompted to act by external actors, inertia can lead to indifference and inactivity or what miqu be termed rat—trim lefth Pia H. 2 5 A TYPOLOGY 0F PUBLICS What defines inactive publics? An inactive public is theo- retically the opposite ot'an active public. An analysis oi'the behavioral literature suggests that two criteria are paramount in understanding the behaviors ofindi~ viduals and the groups they comprise: the knowledge that individuals and groups hold about a particular topic and their involvement in the topic. The logical extension of' this approach is to suggest a live-cell model that dilierentiates groups Winter ZlHlll 50.3 l’uixl'ir: Relation: Reariru' Low High in voivemen t in voivemen t High K no wiedge Low inactive ' Knowledge Publios No Knowledge/ No in verve-men? Fixture 1. Fire Puhlics Model Based ()1: Knowledge And involvement exhibiting different combinations of high and low inwih'ement and high and low knowledge. plus a provision for groups that exhibit virtually no knowledge not involvement (Fig. l ). Significantly, this model builds up previous theorizing about publics in political Science and extends and refines I. Grnnig‘s classification scheme For publics.“ Inactive Publjcs Inactive publics are. conceptualized here as groups com.- posed of' individuals who, as a whole, posse.“ comparatively low levels ot‘knowl- edge about an organization and low leVels ofinvoivement in its operations. Knowl— edge and involvement similarly can he operationalizeti in terms ofthe products, Services, candidates‘ or causes provided or represented by an organization. Inactive publics generally are organization stakeholders who might or might not recognize the consequences for them of an organization’s aetions. As a whole. members 01" inactive publics might be satisfied with the relationship that exists between them and an organization because the relationship meets their needs. Alternatively. members oi'inactive publies might believe it is not worthwhiie to challenge the relationship or might take the. relationship for granted without much consider- ation. Yer others might take a iataiistie position that nothing can he done to alter the situation. 50-!- Vol. 26. No. 4 Inner: t'r l'trln't'rr Are-used Publies Aroused publics share comparatively low levels of knowl- edge about an organization and its operations with inactive publics, but include people who have recognized a potential problem or issue. Their level ofinvolvc- rnent is heightened. Their arousal can be prompted hv several dil’r'ercnt factors: personal experience; media reports or ach'ertising, about a situation involving oth~ ers with whom they identify; discussions with friends; or esposure to issue creation efforts by organizers for social It'lovementsq special interest groups, or political parties. The transformation oliindividuals from an inactive to an aroused state and. eventually. to an active state constitutes the limited Focus ot‘situational theory. Amused Publies Aware publies include groups that might he knowledgeable generally about an organization or situation1 even though its members miqu not be allotted by it directly. Aware publics often include groups labeled hv political scientists as attentive publ't'rr. that is, the stratum ol'societv that is generally knowl- edgeable ahout the world (including. public ailititsl and serve as opinion leaders through their positions in society. education. or backgrounds.” These groups can include all-isms publics. Aware puhlics. in contrast to merch- aroused publics. can be knowledgeable shoot an organization and or its activities and might be able to articulate the origins, processes and consequences of potential issues. Howeven merer aware puhlics do not have a personal stake. Active Publics Active publics are composed oi’individnals who share both hi gh involvement and high knowledge of'an organization (or an issue) and thus are predisposed to monitor situations and to organise, if required. Theft clearly meet the traditional definition ot‘a public set forth by Dewey and Blumer. Examples include the leaders of social movements and special interest groups as well as close followers who are willing to exert personal time and eliiort to effect change. Active publics often are directly involved in issue advocacy; might serve as missionaries For the cause; and might serve as representatives for a social movement, special interest groups or political pamy in interactions with an organization. Nonpublics Nonpublics, the default component in the model, are corn— posed of individuals with no knowledge and no involvement whatsoever with an organization. l-ltnvever. once individuals attain any level ol'knowledge or involve- ment, they properlv should he accorded inactive public status. An Alternative Perspective on Publics Others have suggested the potential value ot'rcassessing the classification ot'publics used in the field. For example. Goldman and Theus sug- Winter lelln 505 Faith's llclntt'mir RrI-irnr gested, based on their study ol'two healthcare organizations, the need for L‘at'mther look at the accepted definitions of aware and active publics“ and Called for a redefinition of the terms as used in Grunig’s model.Ill This model of publics departs from Grunig‘s typology of active, aware, latent, and nonpublics in several ways, First, its purpose is to identify the different states in which groups and individuals might be found for purposes of an organi— zation initiators cantortirrirnrin-nswith them, rather than predicting the probability of an individual becoming aroused about or active on an issue. i. Gru11ig"s model in situational theory makes the presumption that activism is the ultimate result. Second, the model presented here incorporates, as antecedents. the general con— cepts oi'ltnowlcdgc and involvement, rather than problem recognition, constraint recognition and involvement. In particular, the emphasis is on prior knowledge as a predictor-of responses to communication efforts, rather than information gain (in the form of passive information processing or active information seeking) as an outcome. Third, this model dil’fetentiates between inactive and aroused publics, which i. Grunig combines as Interirpublics. Latency to become active is proposed here to be a trait (vs. start) that can he found among individuals within any of these categories. Although an individual who is inerer aware (high knowledge but low involvement) has the potential to move into the active category, individuals within the aroused categorv are more likely to become aetivists because their level of involvement has been activated, even though their knowledge might still be un- developed. Thus, the model suggests that heightened involvement or recognition ot‘televance is a prerequisite for knowledge acquisition leading to activism. Fourth, the model reserves use of the term aware to mean knowledge, and thus suggests that knowledge about a problem is a necessary, but not sull'ieient, condition for an individual or group to become active. Activism requires both knowledge and involvement, unless aware publics are motivated by Factors other their personal involvement in the issue itself, for example, power, greed, political duty, or professional responsibility. Bv recognizing that there are people who were merely aware it? a problem or issue, it explicitl}.r acknmvledges the importance of third parties and third-party groups that are not addressed in I. Grunig‘s model of publics or in situational theory. Finally, the use of the term nonpublic here attempts to reconcile Grunjg’s construct with the conceptual framework outlined here. Under Grunig‘s original conceptualization,” a nonpublic rails to meet Dewey‘s definition oi" a public because it is not organized around an issue, and the actions of the organization have no consequences For the public, and vice versa. Yet, man}r nonpublic-i actually can have knowledge about an organization, product, service, candidate, or cause. This model specifies that only groups that have absolutely no knowledge and no involvement. can be classified as nonpublics. In the segmentation of publics, orga- nizations can and probava will choose to ignore nonpublics. However, organiza- tions might also choose to ignore segments of inactive publics For a variety of reasons, such as a lack oftesources. 50$ Vol. 26, No. 4 lunctn'r Public! KNOWLEDGE AND INVOLVEMENT AS CRITERIA FOR DEFINING PUBLICS The rationale for defining puhlics along the two dimen- sions ol'knowlcdge and involvement is well grounded in recent research in social [:Isvchologq.r and consumer behavior. Tltese two constructs have been identified as important factors in learning, information processing and persuasion. {inundation a variable related to ability, refers to beliefs and attitudes held in menu:er about a particular object, person, situation. or organization. based on everyday espet‘ieHCe or formal education.” Beliefs involve what a person holds to be true; attitudes represent predispositions toward an obiect based on beliefs and values.“ Kauaiwledge is believed to organized in memory as associated arrival-lo ot' utemorv nodes“ or in hierarchical knowledge structures known as schemas.33 Experts on a particular topic, that is, individuals with well developed networks or sehentas related to a particular topic, are believed to attend to messages more Frequently and are able to make sense ofthern more readily than others” Expertise or Familiarity, however, does not mean that information is pro-- cesserl more thoroughly. Individuals with high levels of knowledge can process informatitm more efficiently and with less effort hee‘ause they compare information to extant lemma-ledge stored in memory to discern discrepancies. and then focus cognitiv- capacity.r on reconciling differences1 that is. either reinterpretng the meaning ol'the message or altering est-ant knots-ledge when new or more credible information is obtained. Experts can be quite diserinunaung in making judgments about the validity ol'messages. Novice; or individuals with low levels oi'estant lot:i'tt-‘led_t_t.e1 are at a disad- vantage in information processing. They are less likely to attend to messages with which they are not tamiliar and must esert more client to make sense of informa- tion, such as identiFving the appropriate schema where inlhrmarion fits. Individuals with lovtr knowledge oi'a topic have difficulty placing information in contest and often can miseotnprehend it‘lllll’n‘lfltlul‘lfm Novices are less discriminating and often will accept a wider range ol‘arguments as being. valid because they are less equipped to challenge the validity ofclaims.“ Involvement. a motivation variable, has been recognized as a distinct con- struct From knowledge and refers to the degree to which an individuals sees an object, person, situatiom or organization as being personally relevant or havng personal museum-ricer.” Mitchell described involvement as “an individual level, state variable that indicates the amount ot'arousal, interest or drive evoked by a particular stimulus or situation."‘m Although the involvement construct suffers from a variety oi'eoneeptualiza- tionsfw involven‘tent has generated. robust findings among. researchers. The in- volvement construct was first etmceived a ltall'century ago by SIteril'and Cantrilm and became a focus t'n'applied communication research be ginning with research on lowwmvolvement learning from television advertising."l in particularly useful dif- ferentiation was suggested by Houston and Rmhsehild, who distinguished he- tsveen sttmztiumrl tuvnlllrmtmt, that is. the shortvterm need to make a judgment, Winter lilllll- 5-07 Public Rriittiem linen? and antimony involvement, that is, motivation related to the long—term or inherent qualities oi'an object or topic linked to an individual’s personali153.242 In social psychology, the Elaboration Likelihood Model (ELMT‘R and the lesser-known Heuristic-Systematic Model (I‘lSl'vli‘H both posit that topic-relevant involvement can play a pivotal role in the strategies people use to process informa- tion. High involvement individuals process information eti'ortfullv (ELM) or sys- tematically [HSML whereas individuals with low involvement rely on cognitive shortcuts referred to as peripheral cues {ELM} or heuristics (HSM). Both models posit that behavior change effected by central route (ELM) or systematic (HSM'J processing is more effective and enduring than persuasion that relies on peripheral route { ELM) or heuristic [HSM) pr0eessing. I. Gmnig recognizes the importance of involvement in the development of issues in public relations. He drew on Krugman to define involvement as the degree to which a person feels “connected” to an issue.“15 In situational theory, high involvement [combined with high problem recognition and low constraint recognition) leads to greater inlhrmation gain. Theus has similarly pointed to the importance of involvement as a central factor in information processing, suggest— ing that “problem recognition,“ as stated in Grunig’s situational theory, might be reconsidered as a component measure of involvement.“ Elsewhere. Heath and Douglas documented the importance ot'involvement in discussions in public policy issues. Involved individuals exert more cl’r'ort to communicate, as evidenced in being able to generate more cognitive responses [pro or con), engage in greater reading and television viewing, and discuss issues more with others when compared to uninvolved individuals." Cameron sug- gested that involvement can be explained functionally as a process ot'spreading activation within associated networks in memory.“ ALTERNATE STRATEGIES FOR COMMUNICATING WITH PUBLICS Communicating with inactive publics, characterized by low levels ofknowledgc and involven'ient. impose special challenges to public relations communicators~problems that have been overlooked in theorizing about dealing with publics. Normative theorists contend that the ideal Way to practice public relations involves m-‘o-wav, symmetric communication.” Such approaches make sense when an organization is responding to active publics. Where the principal actors involved in communication exchanges are the leaders of" a social movement or special interest group. Generally, these leaders are hoth highly motivated and able to engage in an aetive, tWo—wrljiJ collaboration. ]. Grunig has argued diat symmetric communication involves (“can include“) central route processingfi" Indech1 die idea ot‘two-wav. symmetric communication is important to the extent that it is an ideal or a strategy to be used by organizations to be open to the worldviews of others and contributes to a more accurate enactment ofthe can-'irtmment around 508 Vols 26, No. 4 i'mreto-r Public; them.:11 However, two-way. svmmetric communication mi gilt not he adequate to describe what actually occurs in organizational—public relationships. except in limited instances. Coleman has obscn'ed that modern socier is becoming increasingly norm.- merri'r in its orientation, particularly with the rise ot‘corporate entities. He suggests that at least three types ol‘relationa] exchanges can take place: person-to-person, corporate-to-corporate and commitments—person.“ Notions ol'twwwav, symmet- ric communication make sense in communication exchanges involving, one orga— nization to another organization, such as large corporation dealing with a large activist group. such as an environmental group, a labor union, or competing, corporation. Hotvever, when the exchange Crosses levels of actors and involves a corpomte-to-person exchange, the presumption ol'svmniettic comn‘nmication is problematic. Significantly. this is not because of the organization's lack oi‘eom- mitment to lipstering good relatit'mships. instead, the lack ol'halance stems From the lesser motivation and ability found on the part ol'the public in an}J exchange with an organixation. Despite etlorts to personality; organizations. that is‘ to help organizations develop a persona.“ theorists confound reality when they suggest that Ct‘ln‘ll‘l‘llll'll" cations involving a large mmnmm! organization operates in the same way as communication among natural persons. Coleman observes that corporate actors (I) typically have large resources, :2) nearly always control the conditions sur- roundng the relationship. and (3) control much (Ii-[ht information relevant to the interactit'in.“ This is not unexpected because olten, organizations possess far more knowledge and are more involved. Indeed, organizations often have greater in- centives to establish and maintain a relationship and extract favorable outcomes with potential customers. investors. donors, employees. or voters than do the public-s with whom they are trying to establish and maintain a re lationship. The issue ol‘probahle asymmetry is particularl}r important when dealin I with inactive publics, where large organizations inherently possess greater power.‘ 5 The concern here does not involve attempts to exploit or manipulate people. Rather, with the possible exception ot‘its highest leadership, the mnk-and-file members of many publics are never likely to share the same level ol'ltnowledge and involvement about a topic as the organizatitm that seeks to communicate with them about it. Many times, individual members ofpuhlics have other options available to them and thus might have less incentive to increase either their knowledge or invtgilve- ment. Figure 2. illusoates the alternatives challenges conlionting an organization when dealing with puhlics that might be found in each category. Figure 2 also suggests that the comnnlnication Strategies appropriate to pursue are considerath different depending on the type ol'puhlic involved. Active publics. that is, those with high knowledge anti involvement, are the groups most likely to he orgaltizcd‘ with formal structures and leaders, and are most likely to collaborate. Organisations do not need to attract attention or entice active publics to communicate with them. The public 1.vill come to them and will create their own opportunities to Communicate. W‘intur Jim" l-‘iririrr' Ri’inrr'om Rri-r'i-ii- Active Poetics Aware Publics inactive Public-s Nonpublic-s Publlos Characteristics Charactenatr‘cs Characteristics: Characteristics Characteristics High knowledge High knowledge. Moderate-high Low Involvement No lnvolvamont and involvement low involvement. involvement, out and low and no Potentiallv vocal Stable. reticent. low knowledge. knowledge knowledge. and aggressive. potentlsilv Potentiallv inert. Irrelevant influential. volatile. Situation: Situation: Publies Situation: Publios Situation: Publios Situation: Public Publlcs have might recognize are at least are unaware or completely recognized Issue. spend lemilier with only minimally unaware ol problem or effort to learn problem or lamillar with and organization opportunity. about it. but opportunity. Interested in lend vioo veraal. have devoted don't get Liker to seek organization. cognitive effort to understand It, and might have xer‘ted effort to effect a change. Public: are likely to come forward and to create the opportune-i,r to communicate. Involved directly. Publics monitor situation, might attempt to inlluence othere. but are unlikely to communicate will-1 the orgenlv zation. except when it serves their own interests. knowledge to reduce risk or uncertainty. depending on motivation and access to resources. product. service. candidate Or cueo. Unlikely to attend to messages. focus on COHCBTHS. or seek information withom DIDmpL Organi'zarr'tinai Communication Organizational-i Organizationai Organizational! Response Response Response Response RoSpOi'tse Sire tegi'es: Strategies: Sm: togies: Stre tegies: Sire :egy: Acknowledge Supply Understand Enhance Ignore Provide support intormstiun soume of motivation and Create reason and nurture Encourage [or arousal ability to for knowledg Engage in discomagel Examine argu- process. or involvement dialogue role as manta, causes Create oppor— Negotiata and intluencer tor public'e tunitres to bargain with ol others concerns communicate. leaders Monitor behavior Supply Possibly alter information organization that addresses policies concerns and Seek thirdv clarifies misun- pertv derstandings intervention Monitor behavior Form? 2. Alternative Strategicrr For Communicating with [‘ul‘rlics 0n the other hand‘ l'l'lCl'Cl)’ aware public; and merely aroused piiblics are much lesa likely in l‘JL‘ organized or to be. spearheaded by a leadership group that presses demands. Organizations dealing with aware or merely aroused. publics are likely to need to respond to individual mcr‘nbcrs of those groups on on individual 51" Vol. .16. NH. 4 Imtrm-r Poirot-a basis. Members ol'aw-are or aroused publics might call. write. or visit as part ot'their process of monitoring {aware publics J or active information- or remedy-seeking (aroused publicsl. The imperative of the organization is to be responsive to such inquiries and thus seize opportunities to build relationships or to contain potential problems that might escalate later. Organizations also might choose to seek our such groups and to educate them or allay ltheir concerns. as appropriate. liy contrast1 inactive publics {and certainly nonpublicsi are unlikely to en- gage in any deliberate iniormation seeking, eti‘orts, other than to satisfi; routine personal needs. in the ease oi‘inaetive publics. it becomes incumbent on organi— rations to reel: rm: these groups. not because they are will become aetivistst but rather to build positive relationships. Organizations must initiate and assume responsibility tint the communication process because of the unrecognized 01' marginal interest often exhibited by inactive publics.“ The inertia that characteriZes inactive publics places the burden on the organization to establish communication programs that gain the attention and engage less attentive publics. Indeed, this often merits use ot‘technitlues associated with the much—maligned models ol'publie relations involving press agentry; public infiirmation; and one-Way, asymmetrical cennrmlnication, indeed, before any higher-order levels of conununieation [such as dialogue or negotiationl can begin. it is first neeessary to engage otherwise inattentive publies. This invoh-‘es enhancing their motivation and ability to locus on the organization and its messages and by providing adequate opportunities for them to do so}? CONCLUSION This article challenges ccmtemporary thinking about public relations by reminding. theorists and researchers about inactive publies, a category ol’publiCs that have been largely ignored in the literature. Inactive publics need t0 be understood better because oi'the large numbers of people they often represent and the emphasis placed on them in many public relations campaigns as organisa- tions strive to influence the way inactive publics buy, int-est1 donate, work, and vote. Inactive publies. as a group. are important, longterm constituents lot many organizations. which are desperately seeking ways to do a better ioh oi‘communi- caring with them. By defining inactive publics as groups with low involvement and low ltnowb edge in an organization (or its products. services, candidates1 or causes], this article has identified two of the most critical variables that also merit greater theoretical attention from the field. The degree to Which an individual or group is involved or perceives that an organization is relevant to them personally is .1 critical Factor in determining the degree to which people are motivated to attend to or respond to an organization's public relations eilitrth'. At the same time. the degree to which an individual or group is knowledgeable about an orgatiixation drantatieally iniluv enees their ability to comprehend those efforts and to respond accordingly. From this discussion it should be evident that a Wide range oi'alt'ernative W'Inler zunn 5] l Puuiir Kristian: Review response strategies, based on whether a public is active, merely aware, merely amused, or inactive, might be appropriate. Although normative theory suggests that public relations is ideally practiced as two-way, symmetric communication, that notion has been challenged in recent years by Contingency theories that suggest that a combination ol'advocacy and accommodation might be called for.“ The model presented here contributes to that discussion by suggesting that advo- cacy might be especially valuable, to the estent that a particular public is less active, that is, less involved and less knowledgeable, in a particular topic or issue. 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