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The Societal and Organizational Functions of Public Relations

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The function of public relations is to effectively manage communications between an organization and its publics. (Grunig 1992) It is an accepted position in organizational theory that organizations like humans exist and function within the larger environment and like other organisms, their relationship with the environment is very crucial for its existence. Organizations thus have different public that they communicate with and the management of communication with these publics is essential. Grunig (2001) likens the relationship organizations have with its publics to that of humans within a social setting. He asserts that:

“If people had no relationships with family, neighbors, friends, enemies, or co-workers, they would have no need to take anyone but themselves into account. But people do not live alone, and they must coordinate their behavior with people who affect them and are affected by them.” (p.5)

Consequently, communication with an organization’s publics, or its stakeholders – i.e. employees, communities, governments, consumers, investors and the media – must be managed as these publics can either support or oppose the goals or an organization. (Grunig 2001) The actions of publics like employees and investors can have a direct impact on an organization. Effective communication aimed at these publics can thus be termed as an organizational function of public relations.

The organizational function of public relations must help the organization to be effective in achieving its organizational goals. On the other hand, publics like the media, and the society whose actions affect an organization, or who are affected by an organizations’ actions constitute an important group that effective communication must be directed at to achieve goodwill between the organization and these groups. Thus the societal function of public relations must advance good relations with the wider society.

            This essay identifies and elaborates on two organizational functions (employee and investor relations) and two societal functions of public relations (media relations and social responsibility).

            The employees of any organization form an internal public of an organizations whose actions determine the achievement or failure of organizational goals. Employees also have goals that are not necessarily organizational in nature. Needs like being valued, professional development and remuneration are typical aspirations of employees.

Thus organizational needs can effectively be met when there is a good balance between meeting the needs of employees and achieving the goals of the organization. Communication packages like internal corporate magazines that are channelled to meeting the needs of employees thus achieves an organizational function of public relations. Also, creating the forum for employees to air their opinions and grievances allows for addressing these concerns before they spiral into a crisis.

Investors’ actions directly affect the running of an organization. Individuals and organizations who have invested in an organization for example through the buying of shares, have a stake in the well-being of the organization whose fortunes will also determine theirs. Communication packages by the public relations department of an organization must thus be geared towards safeguarding the interest of investors. Bad publicity in the media for example can have an adverse effect of a company’s share prices on the stock market and negatively affect the investments of investors. Also, a lack of good relations between an organization and its investors may result in the investments being diverted to other organizations.

Beyond the organizational functions or public relations, there very important social functions. The media for instance serves as a formidable tool in an organization’s communication strategies. Press releases by an organization must be covered by the media before such information can reach the target audience. Thus public relations activities like press releases is vital in its press relations.

A refusal by an organization to make a statement on a topical issue affecting the organization’s may result in guess work and false information being peddled in the media. An organization must take an active part in communication that affects its image. Also, good media relations will ensure goodwill between an organization and powerful media organizations whose media coverage can be detrimental to an organization and build bad public opinion about the organization.

Lastly, social responsibility has become one of the very important concepts in how organizations are viewed in the modern day. Issues like the protection of the environments and child labor have become very important global issues that affect public perceptions about organizations. Wal-Mart has for instance received consistent bad publicity in the media concerning its sourcing of products from places like China where child labor and prison labor are used. Thus social responsibility in the modern globalized world transcends national boundaries.

Social responsibility in the treatment of the environment for example can affect the patronage of an organizations goods and services globally. Thus some organizations are eager to portray in advertisements, their commitment to the environment and other conscientious issues that that wider society are concerned about. The Body Shop for instance undertakes ethical marketing by stating in its advertisements that it does not use animal testing for any of its cosmetics. Such communication thus serves to build goodwill amongst customers and animal rights groups who are against the use of animal testing.

References and Bibliography:

Grunig J. E. (1992) Excellence in Public Relations and Communication Management. Hillsdale NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates


Grunig J. E. (2001) ‘The Role of Public Relations in Management And Its Contribution to Organizational and Societal Effectiveness’. Speech delivered in Taipei, Taiwan, May 12, 2001, Retrieved February 17 from http://www.instituteforpr.org/files/uploads/2001_PRManagement.pdf

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