PR book On-line Readings in Public Relations by Michael Turney
Further perspective on the mutual satisfaction phase of public relations:
Asymmetric v. symmetric public relations
© 1998; 2017 Michael Turney Table of contents Practicing Public Relations home page About the author

The distinction between asymmetric and symmetric two-way approaches to public relations was developed by James Grunig and Todd Hunt in their 1984 book Managing Public Relations. It was subsequently promoted in textbooks such as Baskin and Aronoff's Public Relations: The Profession and the Practice and in journal articles and conference presentations.

It did not, however, gain wide-spread attention until Grunig and his colleagues spotlighted it in the International Association of Business Communicators' "Excellence Study" in the early 1990s.

Asymmetric two-way public relations ...

Symmetric two-way public relations ...

Initially, symmetric approaches seemed more excellent.

The preliminary reports of the IABC Excellence Study published in 1992 as Excellence in Public Relations and Communication Management edited by James Grunig suggested that virtually all companies which had reputations for excellent communication practices used the two-way symmetric approach. This viewpoint was widely touted at professional conferences for the next several years, not only by Grunig, Hunt, and their associates but by the IABC and numerous academicians who jumped on board.

Ooops. -- "Never mind."

But, remember: this interpretation was based on preliminary reports. It wasn't among the final findings reported for the study. The data analysis and final report-writing dragged on for several more years and, when it did come out, it contained several surprises and brought a lot of disappointment to those who had accepted the preliminary report as gospel.

Even Grunig had to admit his preliminary assertions about symmetric communication had been wrong. He was quoted in the Public Relations Society of America's 1997 PRSA Accreditation Guidebook admitting that many of today's most effective and most highly regarded public relations practitioners continue to prefer and actually rely on two-way asymmetric techniques much more than the symmetric approach he preferred. -- At one level, it was quite a set-back for Grunig's pet theories. But, much more importantly, it was a clear demonstration of his integrity as a researcher and scholar.

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