How to Become a More Successful PR Specialist: Master PR Theories and Models First


When developing a public relations campaign, communicators and public relations practitioners should be not only practical but also theoretical. Theories and models are developed from observed practice and help predict outcomes. Thus, they are great companions for PR pros doing a thorough research and meticulous planning for the design and implementation of a compelling and robust campaign. This article discusses two PR theories – excellence and two-step flow theory, and three PR models – RACE, two-way symmetrical and PESO model. (In particular, these can help you in designing a PR Instagram campaign.)


Public Relations Theories


Excellence Theory


J. Grunig and L. Grunig (2008) defined a set of elements of public relations functions that can contribute to an effective management in an organisation. According to the authors, “excellence in public relations as a set of attributes and practices that help to build quality, long-term relationships with strategic constituencies” (L. Grunig & J. Grunig, 2008). The theory also states that public relations can help an organisation to adapt its internal and external environment so it can behave the way it wants. In addition, the theory discusses symmetrical communication that can manage the relationship between both internal and external environment and organisations more effectively. Excellence theory describes the two-way symmetrical model of public relations which focuses mainly on making sure that decisions made by an organisation are mutually beneficial for itself and its audiences. The model is described in the section about Public Relation Models.


Two-Step Flow Theory


Two-step flow theory, originally proposed by Paul Lazarsfeld in 1944 and later expanded by him and Elihu Katz in 1955, tries to explain how the media can influence audience’s behaviours and beliefs. According to the theory, the media does not affect the audience directly, but rather is used to inform opinion leaders, known as thought leaders or influencers, who exert a high level of influence in getting people to change their attitudes and behaviors. The first step occurs when the media passes on its message to the opinion leader, and the second step occurs when the opinion leader transmits the message to the audience (Fig.1).


When opinion leaders transfer a media message, they usually add their own opinion to the original content and interpret it as they understand it. Besides, they are also similar to the audience they are trying to influence. While the authors talked more about word-of-the-mouth conversations between opinion leaders and audiences, today such conversations occur on social media platforms such as Facebook or Instagram (Kuchta, 2017). Instagram influencers who have many followers have the power to influence and persuade them because they communicate with the audience on a more personal level, which brings authenticity and credibility to the communication.

two steps flow model katz and lazarsfeld
Fig.1. Two-Steps Flow Model by Katz & Lazarsfeld, 1955.


Public Relations Models


RACE Model


The RACE model, developed by John Marston in 1963, is a model derived from an acronym of the following words: research, action planning, communication and evaluation (Creative Commons, 2012). The model helps to develop a public relations plan from a strategic point of view (Fig.2).


·       Research is used to analyse a situation or an issue an organisation is facing, and to define a problem or an opportunity in such a way that public relations efforts are directed to solve the issue.


·       An action plan is developed to address the issue analysed in the research phase. The main focus during this phase is on determining the best course of action to address the issue.


·       The public relations plan is then executed by means of communication tools that help to reach the main objectives.


·       During the evaluation stage the success of reaching the set objectives is measured and analysed.

RACE public relations model
Fig.2. RACE model developed by John Marston, 1963.

Two-way symmetrical PR Model


Grunig and Hunt (1984) distinguish between four models of public relations. The most relevant and applicable model for the executive report is the fourth model, i.e. two-way symmetrical PR. This model supports the idea of dialogue and stresses the balance of power relationships. With the rise of social media as a platform for the creation of public relations, this model is gaining ground.

Grunig (2013) states that “digital communication makes symmetrical communication fairly easy to practice and, in fact, might make it unavoidable. With digital communication, publics have much more control over their sources of information; and organisations have little choice other than to communicate with them symmetrically.” For example, organisations use Instagram to connect and communicate with current and potential customers. Users also have power to influence organisations by expressing their opinions about an organisation visible to a wider public.


PESO Model


The model helps to divide all the company’s digital channels into concrete groups, and provides insights into how these types of media can be employed in the Instagram strategy. Definitions of the four media types and their examples are provided below (Bartholomew, 2010):


·       Paid media refers to all forms of paid content that exists on third-party channels. This includes Facebook ads, promoted tweets, sponsored Instagram posts, banner or display advertisements, pay-per-click programs and advertorials.


·       Earned media refers to traditional media outreach and blogger/influencer relations with the purpose to encourage third-party content providers to promote a brand, content, products and services. This includes influencer reviews, traditional public relations and media relations.


·       Shared media refers to shares received on various social media networks. This includes shares on Facebook, Instagram, Tweeter and others.


·       Owned media refers to all web properties owned by a company. This includes websites, blogs, email, micro sites, apps and user-generated content.

PESO public relations model
Fig.3. PESO Model (Credit: Gini Dietrich, Spin Sucks)


Article written by Liudmila Kazak




1.       Bartholomew, D. (2017). The Digitization of Research and Measurement in Public Relations. [online] Social Media Explorer. Available at: [Accessed 11 Dec. 2017].

2.      Dietrich, G. (2014). Spin Sucks: Communication and Reputation Management in the Digital Age. Que Publishing (1859).

3.      Grunig, J. E. (2008). Excellence theory in public relations. In. W. Donsbach (Ed.), The International Encyclopedia of Communication, Volume 4 (pp. 1620-1622)

4.      Grunig, J. and Hunt, T. (1984). Managing Public Relations. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.

5.      James Grunig: Excellence Theory. (2017). The Two-Way Symmetrical Model of Communication. [online] Available at: [Accessed 8 Dec. 2017].

6.      Katz, E., & Lazarsfeld, P. (1955). Personal Influence. New York: The Free Press.

7.      Kuchta, L. (2017). Two-Step Flow Communication Model | [online] Available at: [Accessed 12 Dec. 2017].