Situational Theory and Public Relations

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njoku obinna
Student (University), Nigeria

Situational Theory and Public Relations

What are the situational theory assumptions on public relations? I want to know more about the influence of situational theory on public relations.


Jaap de Jonge
Editor, Netherlands

Situational Theory of Publics

The situational theory of publics, developed by Professor James E. Grunig, defines that publics can be identified and classified in the context to which they are AWARE of the problem and the extent to which they DO something about the problem. This theory explains when people communicate and when communications aimed at people are most likely to be effective.
Grunig distinguished between stakeholders and publics and used the two concepts to segment the general population into categories that help communication professionals identify strategic publics and to plan and evaluate public relations programs. He considered the term "general public" to be a contradiction in terms because a "public" is always a specialized group whose members have a reason to be interested in the activities and behaviors of organizations.
Grunig theorized that publics arise when organizations make decisions that have consequences on people inside and outside !he organization who were not involved in making that decision. In addition, publics often want consequences from organizational decisions that organizations might be reluctant to provide-such as lower prices, stable employment, or less pollution.
Grunig reserved the term "stakeholder" for general categories of people who are affected by the actual or potential consequences of strategic - or important - organizational decisions. Stakeholders are people who have something at risk when the organization makes decisions. Stakeholder categories generally are the focus of public relations programs such as employee relations, community relations, investor relations, consumers relations, or government relations.
Within each of these stakeholder categories, however, the situational theory can be used to identify types of publics that differ in the extent to which they communicate actively, passively, or not at all about organizational decisions that affect them. Active publics in turn can develop into activist groups, or join or support activist groups. Active and activist publics make issues out of organizational consequences, and these issues may lead to crises. Thus the situational theory can be used to identify active publics in programs of environmental scanning, issues management, and crisis communication.
The situational theory is built from an explanation of why people communicate and when they are most likely to communicate. It uses the concepts of active and passive communication behavior to segment the general population into publics likely to communicate about one or more problems that are related to the consequences of organizational behaviors.
Source: James E. Grunig, "Situational theory of publics", in Encyclopedia of Public Relations, 2005


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