TOWARD A MODEL OF STRATEGIC MANAGEMENT OF PUBLIC RELATIONS: SCENARIO BUILDING FROM A PUBLIC RELATIONS PERSPECTIVE

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2004-12-03

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This dissertation explores how public relations can employ scenario building as part of strategic management. It examines the scenario-building process from a public relations' perspective and proposes a new model of scenario building. Scenario building is a strategic-planning technique that projects multiple future environmental situations for an organization to improve its understanding of the environment and to develop strategies based on alternative outlooks. Strategic management, scenario planning, issues management, environmental scanning, and the situational theory of publics serve as context for this study. After building the conceptual framework of scenario building, I apply the model to selected case issues of a large corporation and build possible scenarios.

    I conducted a case study based on two issues: insurers' use of credit scoring and insurance regulatory reform. The study first examines how the organization manages public relations through interviews with its public relations practitioners and document review. As an initial step of the model, I identified the organization's issues and environmental factors through individual interviews, a group interview, and extensive environmental scanning. I conducted interviews with members of activist publics using J. Grunig's (1997) situational theory of publics, which provided critical components of scenarios. After building multiple scenarios, I revised them based on the comments from the organization's public relations practitioners and discussed further development as well as future usage.  

     The findings suggest that public relations theories provide useful insights into scenario building. Publics' behaviors and attitudes, which are often overlooked in scenario-building processes, are critical environmental factors that structure scenarios. Scenario building can also be incorporated with issues management and initiate cross-functional strategic conversation. Furthermore, public relations practitioners will benefit from this model not only as a strategy-development tool, but as a device for internal educational and organizational learning. 

Consequently, scenario building can help public relations practitioners maximize their contribution to strategic management. It can empower communicators as it allows them to find novel and valuable ways to be involved in strategic decision-making. Thus the study extends the understanding of how practically, as well as theoretically, public relations can participate in strategic decision-making.

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