If you’re a student of public relations for even less than a minute, you’re bound to hear about Grunig and Hunt. OK, these aren’t really the two scholars, but that doesn’t matter.
In 1984, James Grunig and Todd Hunt proposed these four models of public relations and this theory is still valid today.
The first model is call press agentry or publicity. It’s a one-way style of communicating where an organization pumps out information, often through a press agent, if that helps you remember the term. Another word for this might be “propaganda” because messages are often based on emotional appeals that can be presented as only part of the information or that has been distorted in some way. There is little emphasis on facts.
The second model, also a one-way style of communicating, is called public information and it differs from press agentry in one important way: There is an emphasis on truthfulness. The organization is generally trying to provide information that is meaningful to audiences. While messages might also use emotional appeals to connect with those audiences, there is an effort made to provide truthful facts or information.
In the two-way asymmetrical model information is presented and feedback from a small number of receivers is solicited. Therefore, more information goes out than feedback is returned, which is why it’s called asymmetrical. The message appeal used in this model usually involves a scientific persuasion base or an expert. Sometimes, an organization is thought to be trying to manipulate its publics using this model.
In the gold-standard of models, a two-way symmetrical approach means that equal information is being sent out as feedback is received by an organization, hence it’s termed symmetrical. An organization is often reacting to and changing how it communicates based on information its receiving back from its audiences.
It’s essential to understand that each of the four models of public relations suggested by Grunig and Hunt have a place within a successful PR strategy. Even though we call one of them the “gold standard” it doesn’t mean that there is no value in using the other models, too. In fact, these are the two most common models used in sport public relations: press agentry/publicity and public information.
At some point in every communicator’s professional life, they will use each type of model so, get comfortable with Grunig & Hunt’s (1984) four models of public relations.
Grunig, J.E., & Hunt, T. (1984). Managing Public Relations. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.