Thomas Jacobson came to Michigan State University on behalf of Charles T. Salmon, an Ellis N. Brandt Endowed Chair in Public Relations at MSU. Thomas Jacobson appeared to deliver the annual Ellis N. Brandt Lecture standing as the third speaker to honor the podium. He proposed to the crowd his theory on public relations and communication symmetry.
He opened by reminiscing about a quote from Jim Grunig reading, “The problem with public relations is that it’s sometimes seen as mainly interested in getting its message across at all costs.” Jacobson begged to differ.
He upheld his disagreement by explaining how the field has become better over time. The patrons of public relations have become more experienced, constantly constructing new theories of sending messages out.
The product of these new public relation agents resulted in the move to focus on citizen engagement and feedback to citizen dialogue.
From this introduction, Jacobson wove his theory of symmetrical communication. His theory explores the idea that communication, as previously thought, was only one way. Communication ended once the media delivered its respective message to its audience.
Jacobson thought, however, that the communication did not end at the audience, but continued the cycle through the audience’s reaction. In two step communication, the first step sees the media distributing its message to the public. The second step relies on the impact the message has through the influence of prominent figures in the community.
He then transitioned into explaining the general systems theory. It detailed how symmetry can and is important to public relations and not just trying to tell people what they want to hear. Instead, symmetry worked to engage in community building projects. It only matters what the citizens think.
Rounding out his segment on theory, Jacobson offered to support the need of symmetrical communication by detailing the conditions on which it functions. First was the need of symmetrical distribution of opportunities to contribute. Second is the ability to freely raise any proposal and question. Finally, that there is a need for all proposals to be dealt with fully and equally.
– John Dinger