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Rhetorical Theory of Public Relations

Øyvind Ihlen

Subject Linguistics
Communication Studies » Strategic Communication and PR

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405131995.2008.x


Rhetorical theory can help public relations to account for the symbolic aspects of communication, which arguably are the heart of →  Public Relations activity. Although some fleeting mentions were made of the term in the early public relations literature, it is often said that the rhetorical approach originated around 1980, when Robert L. Heath proposed rhetoric to be the essence of an organization's relationship to its environment ( Heath 1980 ; →  Rhetorics: New Rhetorics ; Rhetorical Studies ; Organization–Public Relationships ). Heath has since argued consistently that rhetoric affords public relations with the possibility for an ethical and pragmatic practice: “the good organization communicating well” ( Heath 2001 , 39; →  Public Relations Ethics ). Rhetoric assists organizations to achieve legitimacy as well as specific goals. It helps to focus the different interpretations, the zones of meaning, of stakeholders and, ideally, to co-define and co-create these (→  Stakeholder Theory ). Concurrence is the aim, and the clash of different viewpoints strengthens the public opinion process. Rhetorical studies related to public relations have been conducted both within the public relations field itself and in →  organizational communication. Some scholars have seen organizations as symbolic contexts, while others have focused on the relationship between corporate advocacy and ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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