My last blog ‘Marketing vs PR – What’s the difference?’ generated a few comments and questions about PR and marketing and which discipline should prevail. The discussion led to a different but related topic raised by PR professional Craig Pearce: the relationship between dialogic [two-way] vs monologic [one-way] communication and when it might be appropriate to use one over the other.

In the first instance, let’s look at one-way communication.


One-way communication

Examples: statements or media releases issued to the media, flyers/brochures, static websites and advertisements

You would ask Dennis Rutzou, who started his career in public relations more than 50 years ago, and he would say that the early days of PR relied much more on one-way communication. It was about controlling the information that was being communicated to the market about an organisation [presumably, this is also how and why the myth of ‘spin doctors’ came about].

This definition of public relations has changed over time, particularly with the advent of social media which have opened up the way to dialogues between organisations and their customers.

But despite changes in technology and customer engagement, one-way communication still has its place in a good public relations program.


So when or why should an organisation use one-way communication?

Media releases, brochures, advertisements, websites, etc. all serve an important purpose: to increase brand exposure and thus awareness. This exposure is the first step in a long process of successful customer engagement (see diagram below).


The ultimate aim of a public relations program is for customers to take action, i.e. buy your products/services/shares. But due to the long-term nature of public relations, PR outcomes usually measure the creation of added value rather than direct return on investment. Value is created when people become aware of you, when they engage with your brand or content, when they are influenced by this engagement, and when they take some action like recommending to a friend or buying your product. Value creation occurs over time, not at a point in time.  

So organisations need to expose their stories repetitively to increase awareness of their products or services. Tools like media releases and websites can be effective means of doing so.

Another example of when organisations may rely on monologic communication is during issues or crisis management, i.e. when statements must be issued but not commented on or when a particular problem does not or should not require engagement. However, the decision to engage or not with customers’ comments in these instances is one that must be taken seriously and with precision.

But as PR is about long-term relationships and reputation, it is – or should be – also focussed on creating interactions with customers.


Two-way communication

Examples: networking, social media and, in some cases, speaking engagements with Q&As

It is hard – and slightly counter-productive – for an organisation to undertake one-way communication only. Even a statement issued to the media or on an organisation’s website (which could be seen as a monologue) can generate comments and conversations online. And, if the organisation is doing appropriate online monitoring, it may find and start engaging with these comments (thus becoming a dialogue).


Why should an organisation use two-way communication?

Today’s society is dialogic.

People engage and interact with thousands of brands, people and organisations. The world is at the tip of their fingers – everywhere, at all times.

Social media has shaped us into customers who want to feel listened to and engaged with.

Some very traditional industries may be slower at taking up social media, but for most of us, not investigating it – at the very least – isn’t an option.

Tools such as forums, blogs, Facebook and Twitter facilitate the engagement, the sharing of information and, ultimately, help create better relationships with customers. More importantly, they help create a buzz… a buzz which keeps on going.

So depending on the type of organisation and your objectives, you may need to rely on one-way communication more than two-way, or vice versa. But realistically, any thought-out public relations program should address both options.