Public Relations Inquiry as Rhetorical Criticism: Case Studies of Corporate Discourse and Social Influence

By William N. Elwood | Go to book overview

5
"I Am a Scientologist"
The Image Management of Identity

Jeffrey L. Courtright

The business world has recently devoted much attention to the importance of a good public relations "image." Business and trade periodicals recommend changes in logo or corporate name, office appearance, and clearer communication of organizational goals and objectives to handle image problems (e.g., Burns, 1992; Cobb, 1990; Croft, 1989; Franzoni, 1991; Marken, 1990; Napoles, 1988). A closer look at the concept of "image" indicates that such recommendations treat the symptoms of image problems with a public relations bandage. True, images may be related to these observable features of business operations (and many others--see Marken, 1990; Sobol, Farrelly, and Taper, 1992), but the presentation of image must focus also on the intangible aspects of images, fleeting and ephemeral perceptions of publics. Thus, image is a projection of corporate identity and a reflection of public opinion, a complex of cognitive interpretations that members of key publics hold of an organization ( Alvesson, 1990; Cheney and Vibbert, 1987; Dutton and Dukerich, 1991; Grunig, 1993; Treadwell and Harrison, 1994).

The difficult duality of organizational image may be more critical for nonprofit organizations (NPOs). Social agencies sell "intangibles" ( Cutlip, Center, and Broom, 1985); therefore consumer response to their "Products" is as hard to measure as their images. Indeed, the organization and the service it offers become fused in the minds of publics: "Churches and other religious and charitable organizations depend on positive public images for their very lives" ( Baskin and

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