Week 7 Blog Journal: Grand Strategy, Strategy and Tactics

In chapter 8 of Public Relations Theory II, Carl Botan introduces the notion of a meta-strategy level of discursive activity within the sphere of public relations activities: the grand strategy. Grand strategies are organisation-wide or meta-organisational policies or practices which function to direct the actions of all parts of the organisation or organisations. The notion of a grand strategy is functionally similar to ideas of organisation culture in that both are notions professing hegemonic influence that dictates strategy. Meta-strategy exists within a level of meaning that often is invisible to pure ethnography, and the discourses surrounding them are rarely formalised and therefore are hard to prove conclusively. Notwithstanding this limitation, the author proposes a commonplace notion of strategy, which in turn dictates the tactics used.

Grand strategy is the policy level decisions an organisation makes about goals, alignments, ethics and relationships with publics and other forces in its environment

(Botan, p.198)

Grand strategy, strategy, and tactics are notions within a structural-functionalist framework which Botan adopts to in an exercise in typological expounding of structures, which is in line with the typical epistemology adopted by the fields of social science. Botan devotes the chapter to a socio-scientific model of explanation for the organisational function within which the axiomatic interpretation of publics and issues becomes the premise for grand strategy and the peripheries thereof. The axiom applied is a simplified appeal to the function of an organisation in its environment. In particular, Botan focuses on the question of whether the organisation believes it exists in concert with its environment and communications thereof, or otherwise.

Botan describes the axiomatic premise of meta-strategy through the elucidation of six facets of organisational culture which vary within four possible archetypes. These six facets are:

  1. Organisational Goals and attitudes on
  2. Change
  3. Publics
  4. Issues
  5. Communication
  6. Public Relations Pratitioners

These interrelated facets are contrasted across the 4 four archetypes: 2 on the extreme and 2 on the middle ground. These are, in ascending order of favour of the author, Intransigent, Resistant, Cooperative, and Integrative.

In one extreme, Botan proposes the Intransigent organisation, whose take on the axiom of the existence of the environment is that the environment only serves to be competition and threat. Communicative imperative therefore take the function of either persuading the environment to the organisation’s understanding, or otherwise deriding and attacking any contentious messages and messengers. On the other extreme, Botan advocates the existence of the Integrative organisation, which sees itself as a co-created entity in which all stakeholders have a part to play. The environment is treated as a discursive ecosystem to be included in the decision-making process and the function of communications is to facilitate such discursive synchronism. Resistant and Cooperative organisations are the moderate versions of both extremes.

Botan notes that PR practitioners would have a greater role to play in Cooperative or Integrative organisations due to the feedback and dialectic processes which take place in these organisations. The PR practitioner, as well as other specialised communicators, function as the antenna of the organisation, and facilitate 2-way communications. On the other hand, Botan stops short of warning PR practitioners to not work with Intransigent and Resistant organisations, noting severe ethical and actualisation limitations within these organisations for communications professionals, where he dubs them “technicians” rather than persons with any autonomy.

Besides explicating these different archetypes, Botan explores a typology of the stages of  issues, taking the definition of an issue as the perception of problem or issue within a public. Through this exposition, Botan defines the freedom to act with many options as the domain of early detection and action towards an issue. He thus finds that the more resistant and intransigent organisations face massively reduced options due to the lack of early-response.  His adopts a necessarily egalitarian perspective in his description of issues, casting aspersion on the Big Bad of Unilateral action from the organisation.

Botan concludes with a note that the main ethical decision a practitioner adopts is the choice of his client/employer. Said organisation’s grand strategy will  ultimately tie the hands of the practitioner as he/she cannot create a strategy in conflict with the rest of the organisation and its culture. Also, the grand strategy may change, but this is often a slow process, and not a recommended solution to ethical disagreement. With such limitations to the activities PR practitioners can put forth, any evaluation should be viewed in context with the grand strategy of the organisation.

The arguments Botan puts forth are valid, and there is much difficultly in establishing the soundness and truth of the premises. The primary reason for this is that what Botan offers is not an account of the truth, but an account for the approximation of the truth. Botan himself admits that the 4 examples of grand strategy do not represent actual organisations but rather are yardsticks for the purpose of discursive argument. Furthermore, as this entry noted above, empirical measurement of grand strategy is near impossible as such notions are often understood in actions and not formalised as written discourse. Particularly with intransigent organisations, there is no convincing reason for members to flesh out their policies in language where it can be rendered attacked by surrounding discourses in the environment. Therefore, this exercise does not depart much from navel-gazing. Therefore critical analysis cannot effectively reject the arguments proposed.

Aside from the logical foundations, this entry finds that Botan takes an extremely egalitarian approach to public relations but does not effectively address the issue of hegemony at hand. The very definition of “issue” used is a problem perceived by a human. However, just because someone finds something an organisation does to be a problem, does an uncaring organisation necessarily make for an ethically irksome Public Relations workspace? The greater problem here, which Botan has not approached, is that the very definition of what is or is not a problem is in itself the result of a complex discourse where hegemony has a huge role. Foucault, for example, introduced the notion of discipline. If an organisation has sufficient control of a discipline, it’s sway over what is or is not an issue is quite great. However, the avoidance of this topic is understandable as the breadth thereof would surely veer past the scope of public relations alone.

Lastly, Botan adopts the methodologies of political science in his exploration, but these lack the finesse and attention to detail which is so crucial in making or breaking the effect of a message in the media. Tools of greater precision should therefore be used in the analysis of organisations on top of the model that Botan has proposed.

References:

Botan, C. (2009). Grand Strategy, Strategy, and Tactics in Public Relations. In C. Botan, & V. Hazleton, Public Relations Theory II (pp. 197-218). New York: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Foucault, M., & Morey, M. (1978). Sexo, poder, verdad : conversaciones con Michel Foucault. In Cuadernos Materiales 8 (1 ed., p. 280). Barcelona: Materiales.

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