Applying Broom's role scales to Thai public relations practitioners.
Public relations in Thailand was officially born more than 60 years ago when the country changed her political system from absolute monarchy to constitutional monarchy. The profession has developed from primarily one-way asymmetrical system toward a two-way symmetrical communication with its practitioners using more management principles and research skills.
Public relations has become one of the most popular professions practiced in various types of organizations. In 1993, it was reported that 1,810 governmental units, state enterprises, corporations and non-profit organizations (317 in Bangkok metropolitan and 1,493 in other 71 provinces) carried out some kinds of public relations activities (National Public Relations Committee, 1993). The public relations major is offered in both undergraduate and graduate levels at almost every university. With more practitioners trained in the specialized field, their practice has gradually become more professional, moving from product oriented toward consumer and society oriented.
This article used Broom's (1979, 1982, 1993) role scales to examine roles behaviors of Thai public relations practitioners to see if they perceive their roles similarly to their American Counterparts. Also, it was of the author's interest to examine if Broom's role conceptualizations are applicable to the public relations practitioners in another culture.
When Thailand changed her political system in 1932, the military-led government felt the need to inform and educate the Thai people about the new political system and the government's policies to gain their understanding and cooperation. So it founded the Publicity Office, later upgraded to the Publicity Department in 1940, and changed its name to the Public Relations Department in 1952.
Public relations activities in earlier years could be categorized into Grunig & Hunt's (1984) press agentry/publicity role behavior. The government attempted to inform and persuade the people, mostly via broadcast media, about the democratic system, which was quite an innovative political concept for the country at that time. In addition, the government used the Public Relations Department as a propaganda mouthpiece to disseminate information about its activities.
In 1980, recognizing the shortcomings in previous administrations, Prime Minister Kriangsak Chamanand made a historical move for Thailand's public relations practice by announcing five principles of the national public relations policy and recommended the practitioners both in public and private sectors to use them as guidelines in their professional practice. The principles highlighted the importance of the two-way communication approach, the public relations practice from the grassroots level, the coordination between the Public Relations Department and the Association of Public Relations Practitioners of Thailand, the systematic planning and strategies through research, and the recognition of the public relations practitioners. Although Chamanand's administration was short-lived, his modern public relations policy served as a building block for the national public relations plan and policy officially instituted in 1988.
PRACTITIONERS' PROFILE: NUMBER
It is difficult, if not impossible, to estimate the number of public relations practitioners in Thailand. The Association of Public Relations Practitioners in Thailand (equivalent to the Public Relations Society of America) listed about 1,200 members in 1993 but that hardly reflected the true number since most practitioners were not affiliated with the association. The national directory of public relations practitioners compiled by the government's Public Relations Department listed some 1,800 people who were "responsible for" the public relations functions. But the directory only included the head officers' names and many of them did not have a public relations title. A good sign, however, was that those non-public relations titles included such executive, managerial positions as vice presidents, managers, and administrators.
Most public relations practitioners in the public sector lack formal training and education in the communication discipline (Srichanachaichok, 1989) although they received some kinds of professional workshop training. However, previous studies documented a gradual change in the practitioners' educational degrees in communication arts from 16% in 1981 to 33% in 1986 (Satawedin, Apiratanakul, Asawadorndecha, & Suthiworasate, 1981; Satawedin, Ekachai, Kansuwan, & Lerk-Klang, 1986). At any rate, both studies accounted that the majority (96% in 1981 study and 70% in 1986 study) of the practitioners held at least a bachelor's degree.
The dominant role behavior of Thai public relations practitioners in both public and private sectors appears to fall under the press agentry/public information model, emphasizing technical aspects of public relations work. Three prominent public relations practitioners of the Public Relations Department, Thai Airways International, and the Hyatt-Rama Hotel said in an interview that the essential portions of their public relations activities (i.e., fashion shows, international food festivals, free coupons, give-aways) were mostly press agentry/publicity tasks. Their main purpose was to attract the public interest, make them aware and publicize the information disseminated to them ("Public Relations Practitioners' Views," 1978).
The emphasis of technician role was also prevalent in the organizations where public relations works were to be measured quantitatively. Public relations people had to, therefore, send out as many news releases and set up as many press conferences as possible, since their efficiency depended largely on number of clippings of news stories appearing in the newspapers.
The practitioners' jobs in governmental public relations involved mostly technical chores of disseminating information to the target audience. The government employed public relations practitioners largely to implement the tasks of rural development (Photisuvan, 1988), i.e., providing knowledge on forest resource conservation, land reform, reforestation (Chancharatwatana, 1989; Malasri, 1989; Papui, 1989). Public relations activities for the developmental purposes were largely one-way, asymmetric communication approach transmitting one-sided messages (Chantarasiri, 1989; Chancharatwattana, 1989; Malasri, 1989; Papui, 1989; Srichanachaichok, 1989). Specifically, innovations and their beneficial impacts were stated, aiming to inform, educate, and make publics aware of and adopt the development projects introduced by the government. The information was disseminated via interpersonal communication, print and electronic media, videotapes, bulletin boards, and newsletters. In other words, public relations persons were primarily considered as a source to disseminate development information, whereas the public a receiver of the messages. They were also expected to generate certain effects among the publics such as changing attitude and behavior, establishing knowledge, awareness and interest. Evaluation after the implementation of the project was rare because of lack of funds and personnel. Without proper follow-up, however, public relations efforts operated by the government were just a have-to-do activity to complete the public relations policy proposed in the National Development Plan (Srichanachaichok, 1989).
Nonetheless, the roles of systematic, planned public relations have been increasingly recognized by administrators in the private sector. One study found that corporate managers believed that public relations department, typically housed in such units as marketing or advertising, is very much significant for the organization and should be separate and independent from other units (Dechacheep, 1988). Prachuab In-Odd (personal communications, 1993), former Bangkok Banks's public relations director and one of the public relations gurus in Thailand, agreed but did not envision that would happen in the near future because most public relations offices were still subsided under other profit-functioning units of the organization. According to In-Odd, factors that may promote the eminence of public relations activities include experiences of the administrators, their genuine recognition of public relations significance, and the initiation of thorough, clearly-written public relations policy and the systematic and effective implementation of public relations plans.
In addition, Thailand's booming economy in recent years appeared to play a major role in increasing the status and the development of public relations practice, especially in business sector. In a highly competitive environment, businesses were driven to use more publicity and advertising and it was generally agreed that public relations has contributed enormously to the prosperity of businesses in Thailand. However, many organizations still have not used their public relations to its full potential but treated it as a "must-be-there" element in the business practice. Public relations has also been used to fulfill organizations' interests instead of the publics' needs.
Organizational size and culture sometimes account for the scope of public relations activities. Large organizations that acknowledge the significance of public support and understanding, such as banks and consumer goods industries, have used public relations quite extensively and involved public relations practitioners in their policy decision-making. In this case, the practitioners will get involved more in the managerial role.
PRACTITIONERS' ROLES: BACKGROUND
A series of public relations practitioner role research in the United States, originally conceptualized by Broom and Smith (1979), consistently found two distinct roles of public relations practitioners - the manager role and the technician role (Anderson, Reagan, Sumner, & Hill, 1989; Broom, 1982; Dozier, 1984, 1992). Grunig and Hunt (1984) proposed a four-model typology of public relations behaviors: press agentry/publicity (one-way asymmetrical), public information (one-way symmetrical), two-way asymmetrical; and two-way symmetrical. They stated that PR practitioners might practice all behaviors, but one would be dominant.
The press agentry model is characterized by activities designed to promote an organization and seek to change public attitudes and behaviors. The practitioner adopting this model disseminates information that is primarily beneficial to the organization, without necessarily considering the public's needs or interests. The public information practitioners provide truthful and accurate information about the organization to the public but not to volunteer negative information. The two-way asymmetric model uses research to identify public opinion and use that information to produce public support without having to change the organization's policies. The two-way symmetrical communication, on the other hand, uses two-way communication strategy to bargain and negotiate to bring about changes that would benefit both the organization and its publics.
BROOM'S ROLE INSTRUMENT
Broom developed six measures for each of the four public relations roles: expert prescriber, communication technician, communication process facilitator, and problem solving facilitator. Each role represents a distinct behavioral pattern, but a practitioner may perform more than one role or develop a certain pattern as a dominant role behavior.
The expert prescribers are responsible for designing a public relations program as well as for diagnosing public relations problems and prescribing solutions to them. They are the best informed persons in the organization.
The communication facilitators operate as "go-between" or information mediators between an organization and its audiences. Their primary function is "to facilitate the exchange of information so the parties involved have adequate information for dealing with each other and for making decisions of mutual interest" (Broom & Smith, 1979).
The problem-solving process facilitators help an organization identify and solve its problems through a systematic problem-solving process.
The communication technicians use such technical skills as writing, graphics, photography and other publicity media production to help carry out a public relations program.
Since the conception of the 24-item role set in 1979, several role studies have tested the role measures using factor analysis. Role researchers concluded that the three conceptual roles of expert prescriber, communication facilitator, and problem-solving process facilitator were highly intercorrelated and actually constituted one single role dimension - the public relations manager - separate from the communication technician role (Anderson et al., 1989; Broom & Dozier, 1986, 1993; Dozier, 1984, 1992).
To explore what role behaviors the Thai practitioners perform and whether their roles could be described or categorized like those of their American counterparts, the author conducted a survey of Thai public relations practitioners in Bangkok in 1994. The author used a battery of 24 role items developed by Broom (Broom & Smith, 1979; Broom, 1982; Broom and Dozier, 1993) to measure different public relations roles. Then the 24 role items were subjected to an exploratory principal-component factor analysis and rotated to a varimax solution. The questionnaires used in a series of Broom's role research were sent to a purposive sample of 200 public relations practitioners working at different types of organizations in both public and private sectors. The total of completed questionnaires returned was 127.
Most respondents (52 out of 127 or 41%) worked for organizations that provided consumer goods or services (banks, travel, insurance). Fifteen respondents (12%) worked at public relations agencies, 13% worked at advertising agencies, and 11% worked for educational institutions. The remaining survey participants were practitioners for hotels, hospitals and entertainment companies. Only one governmental public relations officer responded to the survey, hence, the findings from this study may not be applicable to the governmental public relations work.
Consistent to the conventional wisdom that public relations is a "women's job," the majority of Thai public relations practitioners responding to the survey were female (90 of 127 or 71%). The average age was 28 years old. The majority of the practitioners held a college degree (93 or 73%) and one of every four of the degrees were in public relations. Another one-third of the respondents had degrees in journalism, mass communication or advertising. The remaining respondents had their educational background in business or marketing (14%), languages (15%), economics (10%), and political science (2%).
Respondents had an average of 3.4 years in public relations field (from a range of under 1 year to 17 years) and 2.5 years in journalism (from none to 11 years of experience). All but nine practitioners had worked as full-time practitioners in at least one organization. The median of their annual salary was 156,000 bath (about $US 6,300) but this figure might not be representative since 77% of the respondents did not report their income. Of all participants, only 10 were member of the Association of Public Relations Practitioners in Thailand, a professional organization.
FACTOR ANALYSIS RESULTS
Four factors and one isolate emerged from the factor analysis, accounting for 72.9 percent of variance in the set. Similar to previous role studies, the manager role emerged as the first factor in the Thai sample, accounting for 49.5 percent of the variance (see Table 1). The second factor, labeled the communication liaison, accounted for 9.1 percent of the variance.
Factor loadings and Alpha Reliability Coefficients for Four Public Relations Practitioners Roles (N=127)
Manager (alpha=.94) Factor Loadings
I encourage management participation when making important public relations decisions (PF) .82
I keep management actively involved in every phase of the public relations program (PF) .77
I take responsibility for the success or failure of my organization's public relations program (EP) .74
I plan and recommend courses of action for solving and/or avoiding public relations problems (EP) .74
When working with managers on public relations, I outline alternative approaches for solving problems (PF) .70
I make the communication policy decisions (EP) .67
I represent the organization at events and meetings (CF) .67
I operate as a catalyst in management's decision-making (PF) .65
I work with managers to increase their skills in solving and/or avoiding public relations problems (PF) .56
I observe that others in the organizations hold me accountable for the success or failure of public relations programs (EP) .51
Communication Liaison (alpha = .93)
I report public opinion survey results to keep management informed of the opinion of various publics (CF) .82
I keep management informed of public reactions to organizational policies, procedures and/or actions (CF) .80
I diagnose public relations problems and explain them to others in the organization (EP) .68
I conduct communication audits to identify communication problems between the organization and various publics (CF) .63
I create opportunities for management to hear the views of various internal and external publics (CF) .62
In meeting with management, I point out the need to follow a systematic public relations planning process (PF) .57
Because of my experience and training, others consider me to be the organization's expert in solving public relations problems (EP) .57
Media Relations Specialist (alpha = .70)
I am the person who writes the public relations materials presenting on information on issues important to the organization (TECH) .77
I maintain media contacts and place press releases (TECH) .72
I keep others in the organization informed of what the media report about our organization and important issues (CF) .56
Graphic Technician (alpha = .78)
I produce brochures, pamphlets and other publications (TECH) .83
I do photography and graphics for public relations materials (TECH) .82
I handle the technical aspects of producing public relations materials (TECH) .78
Identification of Broom's Conceptual Roles: EP = Expert Prescriber; PF = Problem-Solving Process Facilitator; CF = Communication facilitator; TECH = Communication Technician
Regarding the communication technician role, the Thai practitioners split the role into two factors - the media relations specialist and the graphic technician. The isolate, with the factor loading of .89, consisted of one technician role item ("I edit and/or rewrite for grammar and spelling the material written by others in the organization").
Cronbach's reliability coefficient equals .94 for the manager factor, .93 for the communication liaison factor, .70 for the media relations specialist factor, and .78 for the graphic technician factor.
The manager role consists of five measures of problem-solving process facilitator role, four measures of expert prescriber role, and one measure of communication facilitator role. Among the activities of the manager role in the Thai sample include encouraging management participation in public relation decision making, keeping management involved in public relations programs, recommending actions to solve public relations problems, making communication policy decisions, and being held accountable for the success or failure of the public relations programs.
The communication liaison factor consists of similar, if not identical, items to Broom and Dozier's (1993) "senior adviser" role scale. The communication liaison role contains four measures of communication facilitation, two measures of expert prescription, and one measure of problem-solving process facilitation. Specifically, the liaison activities include keeping management informed of the public opinion survey results as well as of the public reactions to organizational policies and/or actions, diagnosing public relations problems, and creating opportunities for management to hear the views of its various publics. Dozier (1992) characterized this role as informal managers without policy-making power. Further, this role appears to correspond to components described in Grunig and Hunt's two-way asymmetric model of public relations role.
The six measures of communication technician were split into two factors and one isolate, accounting for 14.2 percent of variance. The media relations specialists write public relations materials presenting information on issues important to the organizations, maintain media contacts and place press releases, and inform others of what the media report about the organization and related important issues. The graphic technicians handle the technical aspects of producing public relations materials such as brochures and pamphlets as well as doing photography and graphic work. Unlike what was found in American samples, the split of the technician role among Thai practitioners illustrated the two distinct roles they performed. The one-item factor, the editor, could be interpreted that Thai public relations practitioners also saw the editing work as separate from other technical aspects.
Overall, however, Broom's role scales appear to have a cross-cultural application, at least with the Thai sample. The manager and communication liaison factors found in this study were consistent with the findings in a series of role studies conducted by Broom and Dozier (Broom, 1979, 1982; Broom & Dozier, 1986, 1993; Dozier, 1983, 1992). Items describing technical aspects of public relations work, however, did not emerge as a single factor as they did in previous studies. When studying the items more closely, the split between the media relations specialists and the graphic technician could very well mirror the actual practice of Thai public relations, that is, they saw the two role behaviors as separate tasks which require different skills.
Based on the factor analysis result, items from each factor were combined to form an index and raw scores were calculated to get frequencies of each role (see Table 2). More than one-fourth (28%) of the sample performed the manager role frequently and almost half (48%) of the respondents said they almost always or always performed tasks related to media relations. One-third (32%) stated their work involved technical aspects frequently while 21% of the respondents acted often as a liaison promoting two-way communication between the organization and its publics.
Percent of Thai PR Practitioners' Four Roles
Frequency of Roles Performed
Infrequent Moderate Frequent(*) Percentage Percentage Percentage Role Types (1-2.99) (3-4.99) (5-7)
Manager 38% 34% 28% N = 120 Liaison 49% 30% 21% N = 123 Media Relations 19% 33% 48% N = 124 Graphic Technician 34% 34% 32% N = 127
* From 7-point scales, measuring frequency of different aspects of public relations behavior, where 1 = never and 7 = always
DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSION
The above findings illustrated a substantial shift from predominantly press agentry operation some 60 years ago toward two-way communication and management function in today's public relations operation, especially in the private sector. The dominant factor of manager emerged from the factor analysis showed that Thai practitioners perceived a clear characterization of managerial role in their public relations work. The communication liaison role, even though not widely practiced, entails two-way, asymmetric elements of public relations behavior, showing an encouraging, progressive sign for the public relations profession in Thailand. The findings showed a strong indication of management function emphasis in their practice even though only 28% of practitioners reportedly engaged frequently in the manager role and 21% in the liaison role.
To summarize, public relations activities in Thailand have been publicity-oriented aimed at promoting the organization's interests. Information disseminated by the government via any mass media channels is directed primarily to educating the public while simultaneously promoting the government's favorable images, and many businesses hold similar philosophy of one-way public relations.
However, the findings in this study suggest a progressive move toward two-way, asymmetric communication in public relations practice. Scientific methods are being used increasingly to measure public opinion and gain feedback. Further, an increasing number of university trained practitioners, growing emphasis on management function of public relations, and a promise of better understanding and cooperation from management bode well for the future. It is hoped that, in the near future, Thailand's public relations can focus heavily on change-and-negotiation-focused, two-way symmetric model. Then both organizations and their publics can benefit greatly from the public relations.
Acknowledgment: The author gratefully thanks Dr. Glen M. Broom for his permission to use his role questionnaire in this study.
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Dr. Ekachai is assistant professor in the Department of Speech Communication at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale.
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|Publication:||Public Relations Review|
|Date:||Dec 22, 1995|
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