Rhetorical and Critical Approaches to Public Relations

Rhetorical and Critical Approaches to Public Relations

Rhetorical and Critical Approaches to Public Relations

Rhetorical and Critical Approaches to Public Relations


This volume is the first to illustrate the application of rhetorical theory and critical perspectives to explain public relations practices. It provides a systematic and coherent statement of the critical guidelines and philosophical underpinnings of public relations and as such should guide pedagogy and practice. It also supplies pedagogic and critical standards with which to meet the needs of an increasingly sophisticated society that tends to reject all of public relations as propaganda. With the enormous amount of money spent on product publicity and public policy debates, this book gives practitioners a sense of whether their public relations campaigns make a contribution to the organizational bottom line by means of achieving the timeless standards of the art of rhetoric.


Addressing the relationship between ethics, corporate actions, and public relations, Ron Pearson (1989) reasoned:

Dialogue is a precondition for any legitimate corporate conduct that affects a public of that organization. The prime concern of those departments is the constitution and maintenance of communication systems that link the corporation with its publics--those organizations and groups affected by corporate actions. The goal of public relations is to manage these communication systems such that they come as close as possible to the standards deduced from the idea of dialogue. This is the core ethical responsibility of public relations from which all other obligations follow. (p. 128)

This observation sets the tone for the analysis of the rhetoric and criticism of public relations. Rhetoric is used to advance interests by expressing and challenging ideas. It entails the assertion of many interests, some competing and some compatible.

Rhetoric can be thought of as a one-way flow of information, argument, and influence whereby one entity persuades and dominates another. It can be used on behalf of one interest and against others. It is sometimes used to distort and avoid truth and wise policy rather than champion them. That view may capture what happens at times, but interests do not remain imbalanced for long.

In the best sense, rhetoric should not be thought of as monologue, but . . .

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