Dialogic communication and media relations in non-governmental organizations Seow Ting Lee and Mallika Hemant Desai Department of Communications and New Media,

Dialogic communication and media relations in non-governmental organizations Seow Ting Lee and Mallika Hemant Desai Department of Communications and New Media,

Abstract

Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to seek to clarify the conceptual building blocks of relationship building between non-governmental groups (NGOs) and news media, which is essential for the development of civil society where dialogue is a product of ongoing communication and relationships. Design/methodology/approach – The paper is based on an online survey with a sample size of 296 NGOs from India. The data are analyzed with SPSS to test six hypotheses related to dialogic orientation, media relations, relationship quality and the NGOs’ structural characteristics. Findings – The study found that an organization’s dialogic orientation has a positive impact on media relations knowledge and strategy but not on the action dimension that focusses on providing information subsidies to journalists. A stronger dialogic orientation is also associated with better organization-media relationships. A stronger engagement in media relations also has a more positive impact on the quality of organization-media relationship. Theoretical and practical implications are discussed. Research limitations/implications – The findings of this study are limited to a sample of NGOs from India. Future research should address more diverse samples to better understand the dynamics of media relations in NGOs, and how their patterns of media relations, use of information subsidies, culture and media choice shape news coverage and their impact in developing civil society. Originality/value – By approaching media relations from an organizational perspective to investigate media relations in the NGO sector to address an under-researched area, the study is able to draw out the significant relationships between and among three distinct and yet connected conceptual building blocks of public relations.

Keywords Public relations, Press relations, Dialogic communication, NGOs

Paper type Research paper

Introduction Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and news media are two fundamental players in the development of civil society (Taylor, 2000, 2004; Taylor and Napoli, 2008). NGOs are non-profit, voluntary citizen groups or organized groups of individuals that are not yet institutionalized working on behalf of issues at a local, national or international level. According to Gandy (1982), NGOs can maximize their efforts by working with the news media to provide information subsidies about issues. The news media help disseminate information, play an agenda setting function as opinion leaders and also serve as watchdogs of government, business and society. “The media provide information about democratic change, champion social and political issues, and their investigative reporting can expose corruption of political leaders. NGOs also contribute to civil society by advocating for the under-represented, serving marginalized publics, and agenda setting” (Taylor and Napoli, 2008, p. 1226). Taylor (2000) suggested that a civil society “is a place where many voices are heard, many positions debated, and disagreement respected and tolerated. Relationships between

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Received 18 July 2012 Revised 11 September 2012 26 February 2013 Accepted 3 May 2013

Journal of Communication Management Vol. 18 No. 1, 2014 pp. 80-100 r Emerald Group Publishing Limited 1363-254X DOI 10.1108/JCOM-07-2012-0059

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NGOs and [y] media outlets are one of the most important ways to ensure this dialogue” (p. 45).

India, the second most populous country and the most populous democracy in the world, has a thriving sector of NGOs that have been vocal activists of civil society since the country’s independence in 1947. The country “has possibly the largest number of active non-government, not-for-profit organizations in the world” (The Indian Express, 2010). India is estimated to have around 3.3 million NGOs in 2009, which translates into one NGO for fewer than 400 Indians. NGOs play a prominent role in Indian civil society through their expansive work and programs in numerous and diverse areas including education, health, provision of safe drinking water, forest management, farming innovations, child labor issues, micro finance and thrift societies for rural women.

The rise of NGOs in India coincides with the demise of developmentalism as a responsibility of the nation-state and the emergence of post-developmentalist neo-liberal political economy, or what also been described as market triumphalism (Ghosh, 2009). Historically, NGOs in India have worked in collaboration with the government to reform the country post-independence. However, as skepticism arose about the ability of the institutional structures of the state to politically process and implement solutions for the needs of the poor, NGOs began to distance themselves from the government (Sheth and Sethi, 1991).

Despite the proliferation of NGOs in India, they remain mostly, in internal structure, small, financially insecure and their decision-making power continues to be concentrated among their small groups of founders, with authority often being vested in one charismatic figure who started the NGO (Ghosh, 2009). One of the most acute vulnerabilities of India’s voluntary sector continues to be its dependence on funds from international donors (Viswanath and Dadrawala, 2004). Most Indian NGOs have individuals working for them on a voluntary basis and 73.4 percent of the NGOs have only one or no paid staff (Asian Development Bank, 2009). Despite their sheer numbers, little is known about Indian NGOs and even less is known about their financial management. In December 2011, US Secretary of State Robert Blake announced a US-led initiative to set up a database of Indian non-governmental organizations that are accountable, transparent and keep only a small portion of their donations, and spend most of it on intended beneficiaries (Hindustan Times, 2011).

India has one of the world’s biggest print markets with rising print readership, and the country enjoys a vibrant and a relatively free news environment (Sudhaman, 2010). In its latest annual ranking of press freedom, the Freedom House categorized India as partly free (Freedom House, 2011). In India, media relations is one of the most important functions of public relations. Press agentry remains the predominant model of public relations practice with an emphasis on technical and functionary roles as opposed to the strategic (Singh, 2000). The thriving media industry in India offers immense potential for vocalizing the NGO sector’s importance and impact as well as contributing to NGOs’ relationship-building programs through media relations. Media relations plays a central role within the public relations domain precisely because the media are the information gatekeepers that control the flow of information to relevant publics (Grunig and Hunt, 1984). Many practitioners and scholars acknowledge that media relations is the core of public relations (e.g. Desiere and Sha, 2007; Grunig and Hunt, 1984; Hunt and Grunig, 1994; Sriramesh and Vercic, 2003; Zoch and Molleda, 2006). However, little is known or has been studied about media relations in NGOs in India.

Although macro- and micro-level interactions in combination form media relations, organization-media relations have been largely understudied. Few scholars have

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analyzed media relations as an organizational-level practice, as the focus has been on micro-level analyses of individual practitioner skills especially in the context of practitioner-journalist relationships (e.g. Aronoff, 1976; Cancel et al., 1997; Jo and Kim, 2004; Shin and Cameron, 2003) and information subsidies (e.g. Taylor, 2000; Zoch and Molleda, 2006; Yoon, 2005).

An organizational-level approach could offer much unexamined potential for understanding media relations. This study assesses media relations within the domain of NGOs in India through a macro, organizational-level analysis to understand the interactions between and among an organization’s approaches to public relations and the impacts on relationship building.

Theoretical framework Dialogic communication theory Maintaining dialogue is a crucial part of a successful relationship between an organization and its publics, including the news media. Dialogue can benefit organizations by increasing their credibility and public support, enhancing their image and decreasing governmental interference through transparency (Ledingham and Bruning, 2000). Buber (1967), explained that a genuine dialogue is one in which a mutual relationship grows. He suggested that dialogue involves an effort to recognize the value of the other where the other should not be viewed as objects (I-You) but as equals (I-Thou). Botan (1997) observed that “dialogue manifests itself more as a stance, orientation or bearing in communication rather than as a specific method, technique or format” (p. 4). Stewart (1978) argued that dialogical communication can reconceptualize the notion of relationships.

Although dialogue as a concept predates two-way symmetrical communication by decades, it was mostly ignored in the context of public relations. The theoretical shift from an emphasis on management to a relational approach in public relations has brought on the importance of dialogue within relationships, and hence a reconceptualization of the dialogic approach (Kent and Taylor, 2002). With the new emphasis on relationships in public relations, “dialogue appears to be joining and perhaps even replacing the concept of symmetry as an organizing principle in public relations theory building” (Taylor et al., 2001, p. 265). According to McAllister-Spooner (2009), “deeply rooted in philosophy and relational communication theory, Kent and Taylor extended dialogic theory as an honest and ethical means to guide practitioners and scholars in the creation and maintenance of effective organization-public relationships” (p. 320).

Kent and Taylor (1998) suggested that in dialogic communication, dialogue is “not a process or a series of steps” but rather “a product of on going communication and relationships” (p. 24). This product, Botan (1997) explains, “elevates publics to the status of communication equal with the organization” (p. 196) as opposed to the traditional secondary role of publics in public relations. In ethical public relations, it is important to “have a dialogic system rather than monologic policies” where relationships are more important than feedback (Kent and Taylor, 2002, p. 23). Pearson (1989) viewed dialogue as a practical and ethical public relations strategy, as “it is morally right to establish and maintain communication relationships with all publics affected by organizational action and, by implication, morally wrong not to do so” (p. 329).

Kent and Taylor (2002) outlined five features of dialogue: mutuality, propinquity, empathy, risk and commitment. Mutuality is characterized as collaborative orientation, including co-learning, where participants should understand each other’s positions and how they arrived there and a spirit of mutual equality that emphasizes the

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maintenance of fairness in a relationship. These values would enable the professionalization of public relations and would help “move our democratic societies away from confrontation and divisiveness to more collaborative cultures” (p. 25). Mutuality is already an accepted practice in public relations, according to Kent and Taylor (2002), as seen in the relationship between the media and public relations practitioners.

Mutuality is also related to the second tenet of dialogue: propinquity that represents an orientation to a relationship. Propinquity involves participants communicating in the present, and not only after a decision has been made. Such dialogue focusses on the equitable and acceptable future of all participants and the accessibility and involvement of participants in the interaction. “For organizations, dialogic propinquity means that publics are consulted in matters that influence them, and for publics, it means that they are willing and able to articulate their demands to organizations” (p. 26). The implications of propinquity on public relations thus include organizations pre-empting public dissatisfaction, and demonstrating an ability to engage in two-way communications to improve organization effectiveness.

Propinquity is further facilitated by empathy or the support and trust inherent in a dialogic relationship. Organizations, according to this principle, must treat publics as colleagues as opposed to outsiders, develop a community building function in their public relation activities and acknowledge groups who do not agree with the organization. The assumption in this principle is that “a sympathetic orientation to publics may help the organization improve relationships with external groups” (p. 28).

However, there is risk involved in dialogic organization-public relationships as they have a potential to produce unpredictable and dangerous outcomes. The principle of risk explains that dialogue can make participants vulnerable to manipulation and expose them to uncertainties, yet individuals need to take the risk and self-disclose to build the relationship. Thus, risk is a positive value that must be accepted in order to reap the benefits of a dialogic relationship. Public relations is about minimizing environmental risk for organizational stability and the dialogic risk offers to strengthen organization-public relationships by facilitating a sharing of information and thereby averting risk.

Finally, the aforementioned four features of dialogue in public relations make up the foundation for the final tenet – commitment. The value of honesty and genuine participation and a commitment to conversation and interpretation are key aspects of this principle. This principle is the foundation of ethical public relations as commitment to their publics enables public relations practitioners to forge successful dialogic relationships.

Kent and Taylor (2002) attempted to make these five principles accessible and applicable to practitioners by proposing three ways in which dialogue can be incorporated into everyday public relation activities: by building interpersonal relationships, demonstrating their commitment through engaging in dialogic relationships through mass-mediated channels.

However, there is very little research on dialogic communication principles (Kent and Taylor, 2002), especially in the context of media relations. Bruning et al. (2008) observed that the role of dialogue in organization-public relationships has been relatively unexplored. Their study, which operationalized three out of the five principles of dialogue (mutuality, propinquity and empathy), found that relationship attitudes and dialogue positively affected respondent evaluations of, and intended behaviors toward, an organization. Bruning et al. concluded that “a relational approach, grounded in dialogic principles, requires that the organization tailor

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communication and organizational action to specific recipients based upon relational needs” (p. 26).

Other studies that employed dialogic theory of public relations included an examination of zoo managers employing relationship-building communication, evaluation and feedback strategies to retain membership (Kinser and Fall, 2006), the role of trust in practitioner-client relationships (Chia, 2005) and in the contexts of public relations practice, research and education (L’Etang and Pieczka, 2006).

More recent applications of the dialogic theory have shifted to focus on relationship building on the internet (Bortree and Seltzer, 2009; Kang and Norton, 2006; Kent et al., 2003; Reber and Kim, 2006; Rybalko and Seltzer, 2010; Taylor et al., 2001) based on the application of the web-based dialogic principles proposed by Kent and Taylor (1998, 2002). McAllister-Spooner (2009) in a ten-year literature review on the past, current and future directions of Kent and Taylor’s (2002) dialogic internet principles, suggested that “organizations do not seem to be fully utilizing the interactive potential of the Internet to build and maintain organization-public relationships” (p. 320). Web sites “are very poorly used dialogic tools” and “are effectively utilized for introductory level of relationship-building functions” (p. 320).

McAllister-Spooner (2009), who conceded that dialogue is “difficult and time consuming,” argued that, “[a]lthough mediated tools offer opportunities to reinforce their commitment to dialogue and foster more interaction with publics, the advanced relationship-building functions may be better suited for face-to-face communications.”

This study, within the context of NGOs in India, seeks to understand dialogic communication in media relations. The Indian public relations context, with its strong media relations component, offers a rich locus for understanding dialogic approaches for relationship building between NGOs and the news media.

Media relations and NGOs Media relations is essential for maintaining dialogic relationships between organizations and their key publics. In the context of NGOs, media relations is a tool that brings together like-minded individuals and groups to articulate needs, pressure governments and represent interest group needs (Taylor, 2000, 2004). This function places public relations as a building block of civil society. Furthermore, relationship building between social groups and a free press is essential for the development of civil society (Taylor, 2000). The development of a media system that allows for communication between groups is the most critical aspect in supporting civil society, especially organizations that articulate public needs and opinions (Shaw, 1996). In this way, public relations, with a focus on media relations and relationship building, can be seen as playing an integral part in civil society. According to Reber and Kim (2006), activists “use public relations to rectify conditions they deem undesirable and to maintain the activist organization itself through membership involvement and growth” (p. 317). Media were used to set the public agenda and to convey legitimacy to the activists’ cause. In a content analysis of 74 activist organization web sites, their study found that the activist web sites did not provide strong dialogic features for journalists, but dialogic features were more available for the general public.

Rouner and Camden (1988) suggested that NGOS, despite their clear good intentions, lack the expertise and sophistication in public relations that is needed to maximize their impact. Taylor and her co-researchers examined NGOs and media relations in Bosnia (Taylor, 2000), Croatia (Taylor, 2004; Taylor and Napoli, 2008) and

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Kosovo (Taylor, 2009). Taylor (2000) interviewed NGOs in Bosnia to investigate the perceived importance of media relations, use of media tactics (i.e. press releases, media events, etc.), media coverage and building relationships with the media. Taylor and Napoli (2008) used a longitudinal case study to examine how Croatians perceive the media’s and NGOs’ contributions to civil society as their nation moves toward European Union accession.

In exploring public relations in Croatia, Taylor (2004) applies communication and the media richness theory to determine the use of media tactics at NGOs to examine organization-media relationships. She found that Croatian public relations “is often practiced through personal relationships and rich communication channels” (p. 159). Taylor (2009), who examined the relationships between public relations practitioners of NGOs and media representatives in Kosovo, found that the media lacked strength and experience and thus were unequal partners in the relationship. Taylor suggested that “by making a concerted effort to help the media become the valuable members of civil society that they should be, public relations can fulfill its relationship-building function and solidify its role in civil society” (p. 29).

A number of recent studies (e.g. Naude et al., 2008; Reber and Kim, 2009; Seo et al., 2009) have examined the use of new media by NGOs. Seo et al. (2009), for example, analyzed how transnational non-governmental organizations make use of new media tools in their public relation activities and what factors influence their online public relations. Their survey of communication representatives at 75 transnational NGOs based in the USA found that promoting the organization’s image and fund raising were the two most important functions of new media for the NGOs.

In the context of Indian NGOs, little is known about their media relations work. This study seeks to first understand media relations in Indian NGOs through the research question:

RQ. What are the functions of media relations in Indian NGOs?

Measuring media relations activities There have been few attempts by scholars to measure media relations among organizations, let alone NGOs. According to Yoon (2005), “professional PR involves more than supplying information subsidies and developing favorable images of PR among journalists. To effectively achieve access to the media, sources should have great knowledge of journalists’ work habits and news values and adopt sophisticated strategies and well-planned, timely actions in relation to the media” (p. 767). Thus, Yoon conceptualized media relations to cover three dimensions: knowledge, action and strategy.

Yoon (2005) created a 31-item survey questionnaire that included 17 items for the action dimension (information subsidies), seven items for the knowledge dimension (knowledge about media industry) and seven items for the strategy dimension. The knowledge aspect includes “the degree to which the PR team understands news values and routines of journalists, such as journalists’ deadlines, their favorite types of stories and formats, and their pursuit of objectivity” (p. 767). The action dimension addresses the ability of the public relations team to fulfill journalists’ need for timely, accurate and relevant information and story ideas. The strategy dimension focusses on “the degree to which the PR team addresses public concerns rather than promotes its private interest” (p. 767).

Yoon’s (2005) measurement scale is adapted for this study to measure media relations by Indian NGOs to answer the following hypotheses for the RQ2, which seeks

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to understand the relationships between dialogic orientation and media relations based on the following hypotheses:

H1. A stronger dialogic orientation will be associated with a more positive impact on media relations.

H1a. A stronger dialogic orientation will be associated with a more positive impact on media relations knowledge.

H1b. A stronger dialogic orientation will be associated with a more positive impact on media relations action.

H1c. A stronger dialogic orientation will be associated with a more positive impact on media relations strategy.

Another aspect of media relations performance centers on the expected outcome of media relations practices, or the quality of organization-media relationship (e.g. Ledingham, 2003; Ledingham and Bruning, 1998; Hon and Grunig, 1999; Kent and Taylor, 1998, 2002). Although it is often assumed implicitly that more media relations naturally translates into good relationships between an organization and the media, an organization’s engagement in media relations activities may or may not be directly proportionate to success in maintaining a high quality relationship between the organization and the media. It is also unclear if a good relationship between an organization and the media enables more media relations activities, or vice-versa.

Measuring organization-media relationship Ledingham and Bruning (1998) identify the key dimensions of organizational-public relationships as trust, openness, involvement, commitment and investment. Trust is conceptualized as an organization doing what it says it will do; openness is sharing the organizations plans for the future with members of the key publics; involvement is the organization being involved in the welfare of the community; commitment is the organization being committed to the welfare of the community; and investment is the time, energy, effort and other resources given to build the relationship (Ledingham, 2003). Ledingham and Bruning (1998), in a survey of 384 telephone subscribers in territories competing for local phone service, found that consumers who ranked an organization highly on these five dimensions were more likely to use that organization’s services when given a competitive choice. Although Ledingham and Bruning’s work focussed on for-profit organizations, many of the concepts are just as likely applicable to NGOs.

Hon and Grunig (1999) developed a scale for measuring organization-public relationships based on the dimensions of control mutuality, trust, satisfaction, commitment, communal relationships and exchange relationships. Control mutuality is the degree to which parties agree on who has rightful power to influence one another; trust is one party’s level of confidence in and willingness to open oneself to the other party with dimensions of integrity, dependability and competence; satisfaction is the extent to which one party feels favorably toward the other because positive expectations about the relationship are reinforced; commitment is the extent to which one party believes and feels that the relationship is worth spending energy to maintain and promote with action and emotional orientations; communal relationships occur

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when both parties provide benefits to the other because they are concerned for the welfare of the other, even if they do not get anything in return; and exchange relationships are those where one party gives benefits to the other only because the other has provided benefits in the past or is expected to do so in the future. According to Hon and Grunig, the presence or absence of these dimensions determines the quality of the organization-public relationship. The scales (Ledingham and Bruning, 1998; Hon and Grunig, 1999) are adapted to measure the quality of NGO-media relationship in this study and explicate the relationships between dialogic communication, media relations and organization-media relationship. The following hypotheses are proposed:

H2. A stronger dialogic orientation will be associated with a more positive impact on organization-media relationship.

H3. A stronger engagement in media relations will be associated with a more positive impact on organization-media relationship.

In terms of organization, NGOs tend to be less structured compared to their for-profit counterparts, and few have dedicated teams of staff in public relations or an in-house public relations unit. In the Indian context, public relations work also tends to be attached to marketing and advertising. Public relations is a relatively new industry in India, compared to the more developed fields of journalism and advertising. In 2007, there were only about 700 PR firms in India with a workforce of approximately 10,000 people (Gupta, 2007). The lack of professional public relations infrastructure in India may be an obstacle to media relations. As noted by Sudhaman (2010), public relations continues to be undervalued in India.

Seo et al. (2009) found that the two most important predictors of US-based NGOs’ new media use in their public relations are organizational capacity and main objective. The higher the organizational capacity of the organization, the more important was the use of new media. This is because NGOs that work under tight budgets do not have sufficient resources to develop new means of communication and are therefore would not as actively involved in media relations for their organizations. Organizational efficiency and revenue, however, did not significantly predict the NGOs’ use of new media. Seo et al.’s study offers important insights into how characteristics of an organization, including its public relations infrastructure, may influence the way NGOs utilize new media for external communications. Organizational or departmental factors are inhibiting public relations practitioners’ ability to take full advantage of the internet’s dialogic potential (McAllister-Spooner, 2009).

In this study, it is compelling to investigate whether the Indian NGOs’ public relations infrastructure is associated with dialogic orientation and their engagement in media relations as well as the quality of organization-media relationship. The following hypotheses are proposed:

H4. Having a public relations or communications department will be associated with a more positive impact on dialogic orientation, media relations and organization-media relationship.

H5. Higher funding is associated with a positive impact on dialogic communication, media relations and organization-media relationship.

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Organization size, operationalized as the number of permanent employees in an NGO, is another organizational characteristic that may shape media relations work differently. Larger NGOs may have better access to resources that impact their dialogic orientation and media relations work. Thus, a sixth hypothesis is proposed:

H6. Organization size is associated with a positive impact on dialogic communication, media relations and organization-media relationship.

Method An online survey was conducted on SurveyMonkey (www.surveymonkey.com) over a period of five months, between May 14 and September 17, 2010. Systematic sampling was conducted on a master population list of 18,503 Indian NGOs retrieved from the online database www.karmayog.org on May 12, 2010. The online database is one of the most well established and comprehensive databases of NGOs operating in India.

Starting with the third NGO on the list with an e-mail address, every fourth NGO with an e-mail address thereafter was included in the sample. The mailing list was thoroughly checked for any repeating pattern to ensure there is no periodicity. Invitation e-mails were successfully sent to 1,489 NGOs to participate in the online survey.

A total of 296 NGOs completed the online survey, resulting in a response rate of 19.9 percent, which is an acceptable response rate considering the typically low response rates from public relations practitioners in academic surveys. Most of the individuals who responded to the survey on behalf of their NGOs are CEOs, founders, chairmen, presidents, managing trustees and program directors. The questionnaire, which is in the English language, takes between 30 and 40 minutes to complete. It begins with a demographic section that seeks to understand the organization, including the development sector in which it mainly operates, funding sources, geographic location, staff size, number of volunteers and whether the NGO has a public relations or communications department.

Next, respondents were asked to rate their agreement, on a five-point Likert scale, with statements that describe the functions of media relations work as practiced in their organizations. The subsequent sections also utilized a five-point Likert scale through multiple questions to measure three areas of interest:

(1) Dialogic communication: the 26 questions, adapted from Kent and Taylor (2002), addressed elements of bridge building, external threats, external publics, organization characteristics, public relations department and dominant coalition.

(2) Media relations: the 34 questions, adapted from Yoon (2005) to measure media relations activities, asked about knowledge of how news media operate and access to journalist contacts, the organization’s engagement in action such as organizing press conferences, issuing press releases and media tracking, and understanding of media relations strategy such as using media relations to improve the NGO’s image, raise funds, enhance networking, etc.

(3) Organization-media relationship: the 29 questions, adapted from Ledingham and Bruning (1998) and Hon and Grunig (1999) addressed the quality of the relationship between the NGO and news media, for example, trust and confidence in news media, and the value of the relationship to the NGO.

Please refer to Appendices 1 through 3 for the full lists of questions.

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Results Among the 296 NGOs, 20.3 percent (60 organizations) are involved in programs for displaced populations (refugees or persons who are displaced by natural disasters, disease or conflict), followed by health care (22 or 7.4 percent), agriculture (20 or 6.8 percent), education (20 or 6.8 percent) and a number of diverse areas such as suicide prevention, child labor issues, sexual harassment prevention, family planning, empowerment of women and gender issues, etc. Nearly 75 percent of the NGOs are engaged in direct aid and services while the rest work in research, training and policy evaluation and monitoring. Examples of NGOs that participated in the survey included the following:

. Udyama, an NGO that focusses on poverty reduction and promotion of livelihoods. Udyama bagged the “Rajiv Gandhi Award” as the best NGO for the year 2006- 2007 in the field of rural reconstruction and environment (www.udyama.org).

. Ujjain HIV/AIDS Network Peoples Society, an NGO that provides medical care and support to HIV/AIDS patients.

. Vallalar Educational Trust, an NGO that focusses on empowering rural villages through social, economical and children’s educational development for creating a sustainable village atmosphere (www.vetngo.org).

. Loka Dharma Seva Foundation Trust, an NGO engaged in the preservation of Hindu customs and temples (www.lokadharma.org).

. Manav Sewa Society, and NGO that focusses on empowerment of the Dalits (untouchables) and the marginalized sections of the society through raising their educational, social, economic and health status (www.manavsewa charitablesociety.org).

. Pahal Trust, an NGO that works in areas of women empowerment (www. pahaltrust.com).

. Shramdeep, an NGO of Nagpur Diocese of the Church of North India (www. shramdeepindia.org).

On average, the 296 NGOs have 182 employees and 405 volunteers each. The NGOs’ monthly funding averages 885,771 rupees (approximately $16,587). A majority (214 or 72.3 percent) of the NGOs do not have any foreign donors while the rest (82 or 27.7 percent) do. More than half (179 or 60.5 percent) of the NGOs have a standalone public relations department or communications department. On average, the public relations or communications department employs seven staff members each. The 296 NGOs are distributed across 28 states all over India.

Based on the questions asked with regard to dialogic communication, media relations (knowledge, action and strategy) and organization-media relationship, indices were created by summing up the responses to the specific sets of questions asked in the survey to produce a Dialogic Communication Index (Cronbach’s a¼ 0.901), a Media Relations Index (Cronbach’s a¼ 0.937) and an Organization-Media Relationship Index (Cronbach’s a¼ 0.954). For example, under a five-point Likert scale for the responses, the more dialogic an organization, the higher the number on the Dialogic Communication Index. Similarly for media relations; the higher the number on the Media Relations Index, the stronger the media relations work. The higher the number on the Organization-Media Relationship Index, the better the quality of the relationship.

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The Dialogic Communication Index ranged between 32 and 115, with a mean of 88.00 (SD¼ 13.64). The Media Relations Index ranged between 68 and 170, with a mean of 122.41 (SD¼ 21.45). The Organization-Media Relationship Index ranged between 29 and 145, with a mean of 101.47 (SD¼ 18.02). The three indices have excellent internal consistency or reliability, as seen in the strong Cronbach a values:

RQ1. Functions of media relations.

Based on the percentages of “agree” and “strongly agree” with specific statements, the functions of media relations in the NGOs are mainly for informing their publics about their organization’s goals and objectives (66.4 percent), for obtaining feedback from their publics to improve society (63.7 percent) and for assuring their publics that they can voice their concerns (61.9 percent).

Less significant functions are to demonstrate support for their publics (59.9 percent), to show the public that they are the NGOs’ equals (59 percent), to encourage our publics to be more involved in the NGOs’ activities (58.9 percent), to respond to current issues affecting the NGOs’ publics (58.4 percent), to emphasize the importance of the well-being of their publics (56.5 percent), to consult the publics on the NGOs’ activities (54.4 percent), to show the publics that the NGOs are committed to them (52.1 percent), to demonstrate that the NGOs listen to the concerns of their publics (51 percent) and to show their publics that they value them (50 percent):

RQ2. Dialogic communication, media relations and organization-media relationship.

The results, based on a correlational analysis, reveal a number of significant relationships between and among dialogic communication, media relations and the quality of organization-media relationship. The next section outlines the findings pertaining to each hypothesis:

H1. A stronger dialogic orientation will be associated with a more positive impact on media relations. This hypothesis is not supported. There is no evidence of a relationship between dialogic orientation and media relations.

H1a. A stronger dialogic orientation will be associated with a more positive impact on media relations knowledge.

This hypothesis is supported (r¼ 0.351, po0.01). This finding suggests that NGOs with stronger dialogic orientation tend to have stronger media relations knowledge:

H1b. A stronger dialogic orientation will be associated with a more positive impact on media relations action.

This hypothesis is not supported. There is no evidence of a relationship between dialogic orientation and media relations action:

H1c. A stronger dialogic orientation will be associated with a more positive impact on media relations strategy.

This hypothesis is supported (r¼ 0.265, po0.01). This finding suggests that NGOs with stronger dialogic orientation tend to have stronger media relations strategy.

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The results for the first hypothesis shows that NGOs with a stronger dialogic orientation tend to have stronger media relations in two dimensions, knowledge and strategy, but not the third dimension, which is action:

H2. A stronger engagement in media relations will be associated with a more positive impact on the quality of organization-media relationship.

This hypothesis is supported (r¼ 0.714, po0.01). This finding suggests that NGOs that engage more in media relations tend to have higher quality organization-media relationships:

H3. A stronger dialogic orientation will be associated with a more positive impact on organization-media relationship.

This hypothesis is supported (r¼ 0.332, po0.01). This finding suggests that NGOs that have a stronger dialogic orientation tend to have higher quality organization-media relationships:

H4. Having a public relations or communications department will be associated with a more positive impact on dialogic orientation, media relations and organization-media relationship.

The hypothesis is not supported for dialogic communication. However, having a public relations or communications department is associated with a more positive impact on media relations; this hypothesis is supported (r¼ 0.268, po0.01). Having a public relations or communications department is also associated with a more positive impact on organization-media relationship; this hypothesis is supported (r¼ 0.183, po0.05). These findings suggest that NGOs that have a public relations or communications department tend to engage more in media relations and tend to have higher quality organization-media relationships:

H5. Higher funding revenue is associated with a positive impact on dialogic communication, media relations and organization-media relationship.

This hypothesis is not supported:

H6. Organization size is associated with a positive impact on dialogic communication, media relations and organization-media relationship.

Contrary to expectations, organization size is negatively correlated with dialogic communication (r¼�0.362, po0.001), with media relations (r¼�0.241, po0.001) and with organization-media relationship (r¼�0.393, po0.001). This finding suggests that larger NGOs tend to be less dialogic in orientation, do less media relations and have a weaker organization-media relationship compared to smaller NGOs.

Discussion This study approaches media relations from an organizational perspective to investigate media relations in the NGO sector in India and to address an under-researched area in public relations. By measuring dialogic communication,

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media relations and the quality of organization-media relationship, this study is able to draw out the relationships between and among these three distinct and yet connected conceptual building blocks of public relations.

As seen in the findings pertaining to the functions of media relations, the significance of media relations as a tool for informing publics about the NGOs’ goals and objectives, for obtaining feedback from their publics, and for assuring their publics that they can voice their concerns – reveals a pattern of responses mostly consistent with one-way, asymmetric communication such as the press agentry model of public relations practice rather than dialogic communication. Historically, public relations in India underwent an era of propaganda from 1500 BC to 1858; an era of publicity and public information from 1858 to 1947 and the era of public relations albeit mostly in the asymmetric form from 1947 to date (Singh, 2000). Although this trend refers to the for-profit sector, its applicability to the NGO sector appears sound. As noted by Singh (2000), press agentry remains the predominant model of public relations practice in India with an emphasis on technical and functionary roles as opposed to the strategic.

As suggested by McAllister-Spooner (2009) dialogue is “difficult and time consuming” (p. 320). The concept of dialogue may also be an anathema to Indian culture, as some scholars suggest. Societal culture has tremendous impacts on the function of public relations in India (Sriramesh, 1992), as Indian culture tends to breed management philosophy that is authoritarian in nature. This in turn causes public relations work to be shaped similarly, in a one-way or top-down approach. The high power distance in Indian culture can also be attributed to a clear-cut hierarchy in organizations where senior executives “will be less inclined to seek information from their publics because they do not intend to shape organizational activities to the needs of their environment” (p. 204).

As such, dialogue may not be as strong a focus in media relations as a perceived need to inform the publics and gather feedback from them. Like their for-profit counterparts, NGOs are just as affected by cultural dimensions especially as they are increasingly adopting commercial organization qualities (Blood, 2005). This entrenched approach to public relations could prove detrimental for NGOs, as unlike for-profit organizations, their functions and programs are more necessarily shaped by the publics that they are attempting to reach out to.

It is therefore unsurprising that the NGOs assign a low priority to goals such as treating their publics as equals, consulting their publics on their organization activities, showing the publics that the NGOs are committed to them, demonstrating that they listen to the concerns of their publics and showing their publics that they value them – media relations functions that connect better with Kent and Taylor’s (2002) dialogic framework featuring the five principles of dialogue: mutuality, propinquity, empathy, risk and commitment. For instance, mutuality is characterized as collaborative orientation where participants should understand each other’s positions and how they arrived there and a spirit of mutual equality that emphasizes the maintenance of fairness in a relationship. However, in an environment where organizations reject the notion of the publics as equal partners, dialogue cannot thrive.

The findings from the RQ2 seem to support this rejection of dialogic communication to some extent. The hypothesis that a stronger dialogic orientation will be associated with a more positive impact on overall media relations is not supported, but dialogic orientation is found to be positively correlated with two dimensions of media relations, knowledge and strategy but not with the action-based dimension of media relations that

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addresses whether the public relations team endeavors to meet the needs of journalists including consistent and timely provision of information subsidies in the forms of press releases, news conferences, background briefings and phone queries (Yoon, 2005).

On the other hand, the two dimensions of media relations, knowledge and strategy, by addressing public relations practitioners’ understanding of news values and journalistic routines including the prevalent angles, formats and notions such as objectivity and public interest – focus on more on less tangible, tacit processes instead of outputs, which are more tangible and explicit. In this sense, it may appear that knowledge and strategy may not be easily transferred into action. A public relations practitioner may know or understand the value of dialogic perspectives in his or her dealings with the news media, and yet could not translate these principles into the information subsidies provided to journalists. This finding somewhat parallels the findings from studies on dialogic internet principles, in which there appears to be “an inconsistency between what practitioners think is possible through the internet, and what they are actually doing to facilitate relationship-building” (McAllister-Spooner, 2009).

This finding further raises significant questions for dialogic communication theory. Theoretically, Kent and Taylor’s (2002) dialogic theory suggest that the five principles are accessible and applicable to practitioners and could be easily incorporated into everyday public relation activities: by building interpersonal relationships, demonstrating their commitment through engaging in dialogic relationships through mass-mediated channels and creating organizational mechanisms that facilitate dialogue. However, structurally, the traditional practice of media relations premised on the provision of information subsidies to journalists such as press releases and news conferences – as tools of information rather than dialogue – may be an obstacle to the development of dialogic relationships between organizations and news media. This structural limitation deserves more attention than it has received in dialogic theory. Structural limitations may inhibit public relations practitioners’ ability to take full advantage of the dialogic capacity in media relations.

Another significant finding centers on the potential impact of media relations on the quality of organization-media relationships. Media relations could be a condition for or outcome of (or both) good relationships between the organization and media. Intuitively, it suggests that when organizations have good relationships with the news media, they are able to engage more in media relations. Similarly, organizations that are more active in media relations work are able to reap the benefits of their efforts and have better relationships with the news media. With dialogue as the centerpiece of relationships, it is unsurprising that a stronger dialogic orientation is also found to be associated with better organization-media relationships. This finding reaffirms the theoretical centrality of dialogue as a necessary component of excellent public relations (Botan, 1997; Kent and Taylor, 2002; Pearson, 1979; Stewart, 1978).

Although having a public relations or communications department is associated with a more positive impact on media relations and organization-media relationship, the finding is not significant for dialogic communication although NGOs that have a public relations or communications department tend to engage more in media relations and tend to have higher quality organization-media relationships. This finding reinforces the importance of public relations infrastructure in media relations, as the existence of a public relations or communications department can help shape media relations performance and organization-media relationships. This finding to some extent supports McAllister-Spooner’s argument that organizational and departmental

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factors are inhibiting practitioners’ ability to take full advantage of dialogic potential in organizations.

In the context of India, where public relations is undervalued, this finding reaffirms the value and importance of structured public relations efforts within organizations. Consistent with Seo et al.’s (2009) findings who found that organizational efficiency and revenue did not significantly predict the NGOs’ use of new media, this study also found that NGOs’ funding strength does not have any significance on media relations, thus offering hope to many struggling and financially strapped NGOs.

The finding that organization size is negatively correlated with dialogic communication, media relations and organization-media relationship is surprising. Contrary to expectations, the larger NGOs tend to engage less in media relations. They are also less dialogic in orientation, and have weaker organization-media relationships than smaller NGOs. Further analysis shows that larger NGOs are not necessarily characterized by more funding, or a reliance on foreign donors, a stronger volunteer base compared to smaller NGOs. Nor are larger NGOs more likely to have a public relations or communications department.

In India, the work of NGOs is highly localized. In disaster management, for example, Indian NGOs are quick to react at a local level and often the first organized group to reach the disaster site. Indian NGOs work mostly with the disenfranchised and marginalized segments of society, and due to their essentially localized scope of operations, they have the ability to outreach to underprivileged sections of society who may not have access to the media or who lack literacy competence.

It may seem plausible that the larger NGOs, which are also more established, are able to harness its substantial strength in employees and to deploy them on house-to-house visits, collaborations with local opinion leaders as the village panchayat (village councils) and other forms of direct communication networking or interpersonal relationships. In this context, media relations may be of a lower priority. More research is needed to understand the role played by the face-to-face approach in dialogic communication, as discussed by McAllister-Spooner (2009) who suggested that dialogic theory could benefit from further exploration of media choice and effectiveness.

The findings of this study are limited to a sample of NGOs from India. Future research should address more diverse samples and employ qualitative research approaches to understand more fully the dynamics of media relations in NGOs, and how their patterns of media relations, use of information subsidies, culture and media choice shape news coverage and their subsequent efficacy in developing civil society.

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Rounner, D. and Camden, C. (1989), “Not-for-profits appear to Lack P.R. sophistication”, Public Relations Review, Vol. 14 No. 4, pp. 31-42.

Taylor, M. and Kent, M.L. (2000), “Media transitions in Bosnia: from propagandistic past to uncertain future”, Gazette, Vol. 62 No. 5, pp. 355-378.

Taylor, M. and Napoli, P. (2003), “Media development in Bosnia: a longitudinal analysis of citizen perceptions of media realism, importance and credibility”, Gazette, Vol. 65 No. 6, pp. 473-492.

Appendix 1. Dialogic communication

To what extent do you agree with the following statements? Bridge building

1. Public relations is a bridge-building profession where bridges are formed between organization and public

2. Bridge-building and generating dialogue between organization and public is always best External threats

3. My organization is often unable to engage in dialogue with stakeholders because of government regulation

4. When faced with potentially damaging publicity I am unlikely to engage in dialogue with those opposed to my organization’s stance

5. I am unlikely to engage in dialogue with a stakeholder whose position threatens my organization’s reputation in the eye of our publics

External publics 6. The number of members in a group would be likely to affect whether I would engage in

dialogue with that public

(continued)

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Appendix 2. Media relations knowledge, action and strategy

7. The degree of credibility the group has would be likely to affect whether I would engage in dialogue with that public

8. The level of commitment and involvement of the group’s members would be likely to affect whether I would engage in dialogue with that public

9. I am more likely to engage in dialogue with publics that know of the organization and like representatives of the organization

10. I am more likely to engage in dialogue with publics that the organization knows of and likes the representatives of

Organizations characteristics 11. I may be more likely to engage in dialogue with a public if my colleagues work well together

at the organization 12. The age of my organization is likely to affect whether I would engage in dialogue with a

public 13. The economic stability and capacity of my organization is likely to affect whether I engage in

dialogue with a public 14. I am more likely to engage in dialogue with a public if my organization has an open and free

culture where everyone’s voices are heard Public relations department 15. The number of trained public relations practitioners in our organization would affect the

likelihood of my engaging in dialogues with a public 16. I would be more likely to engage in dialogue with a public if public relations is represented in

my organization’s top decision-making structure 17. The experience level of the public relations practitioners in dealing with conflict would likely

affect whether I engaged in dialogue with a public 18. The amount of resources, such as time, personnel and money, available for dealing with

external publics is likely to affect whether I am willing to engage in dialogue 19. The position of public relations as a separate department and not under marketing or

communications would likely affect whether I engage in dialogue with a public Dominant coalition 20. I am less likely to engage in dialogue with a public if my organization’s management style is

domineering 21. I am less likely to engage in dialogue with a public if my organization’s management style is

laid back 22. I am more likely to engage in dialogue with a public if my organization’s management has an

understanding of public relations 23. The frequency of external contact with publics is likely to affect my likelihood of engaging in

dialogue with a public 24. The existence of ideological barriers between my organization and public is likely to affect

my willingness to engage in dialogue with a public 25. I usually will not engage in dialogue with a public if doing so may result in economic loss for

my organization 26. I usually will not engage in dialogue with a public if doing so may result in marring of

employees’ and/or stockholders’ perceptions of the company

Media relations knowledge: how important is it for your organization to y 1. Follow the deadlines provided by the media 2. Know the kind of angles of a story regarding your organization that journalists would use 3. Know how the media thinks 4. Have a database of journalist contacts 5. Know how to reach particular journalists for specific kind of stories (i.e. via phone or e-mail)

(continued)

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Appendix 3. Organization-media relationship

6. Provide quick responses to any media query regarding your organization 7. Train members of the organization in media relations 8. Have good relationships with journalists 9. Make journalists key members of your organization

10. To use media relations to fulfill your organization’s objectives Media relations action: how often does your organization y 11. Track the media to find articles or coverage on your organization and its cause 12. Find stories about your organization and its activities in the media that have not been

pitched by your organization 13. Find stories about your organization and its activities in the media that have been pitched by

your organization 14. Organize press/news conferences 15. Send out press releases 16. Personally invite the media to your events and program launches 17. Prepare a press kit (i.e. package of background information, press release and extra

materials regarding a new service or topic of concern) for the media 18. Arrange for interviews between members of your organization or publics and the media 19. Get queries from journalists regarding your organization 20. Answer queries of journalists regarding your organization 21. Update your journalists’ database of contacts 22. Train your members on communicating with the media 23. Maintain a web site about your organization 24. Update your web site regularly 25. Provide a media section on your web site 26. Use online social media (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, Hi5, MySpace, YouTube, etc.) to reach out to

your publics 27. Use different types of media for different types of publics Media relations strategy: to what extent does your organization y 28. Use media relations to promote our NGOs image 29. Use the media relations for fund raising 30. Use media relations to engage and interact with the general public 31. Use media relations to forge and facilitate networking with other NGOs 32. Use media relations to provide journalist with easy access to materials about our NGO 33. We use media relations to facilitate dialogue between our NGO and our various publics 34. We use media relations to build and maintain relationships with our publics

To what extent do you agree with the following statements? 1. We treat the media and journalists as equals (i.e. not inferior or superior) 2. When making important decisions we keep the media in mind 3. The media can rely on us to provide information regarding our organization and its services 4. We can rely on the media to publicize our cause and our activities 5. We rely on the media to help us reach out to our publics 6. When making decisions for our organization we take into account various opinions

presented by the media 7. The media demonstrates that it is confident in our organization’s abilities 8. Through our interactions with journalists and the media we ensure that we do as we say 9. Our organization and the media are attentive to what each other say

10. Our organization believes that the opinions of the media regarding our organization are legitimate

11. Our organization really listens to what the media has to say in terms of our cause

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Corresponding author Dr Seow Ting Lee can be contacted at: lee.seowting@gmail.com

12. Our organization gives the media enough say in the decision-making process at the organization

13. Our organization is trying to maintain a long-term commitment with the media through constant interaction and exchange of information on our cause

14. We make a conscious effort to maintain relationships with the media by staying in touch with journalists

15. There is along-lasting bond between our organization and the media that we have been maintaining

16. We value our relationship with the media 17. The media is generally happy with our organization 18. We are generally happy with the media 19. We and the media both benefit from our relationship 20. The media is relatively happy with their interaction with our organization (i.e. response rate,

providing information and answers to queries) 21. We are generally happy with our interactions with the media (i.e. journalists show interest in

the stories we pitch to them, the media comes to our events, etc.) 22. Generally speaking, our organization is happy with our relationship with the media 23. The media is very concerned about the welfare of our organization 24. Our organization takes advantage of the services the media can offer 25. The media helps our organization without expecting anything in return 26. The media compromises with our organization when they know they will gain something in

return 27. We help the media without expecting anything in return 28. We compromise with the media when we know we will get media coverage in return 29. The media expects something in return for their contributions to our organization despite

our long-lasting relationship

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