Public relations concerns building and maintaining the
relationships organisations have with various internal and
external publics. PR acts as a spokesperson for the
organisation. This role will vary in substance between
organisations, depending on the nature and size of the
business, and the organisational culture.
Tench and Yeomans (2006) identify that organisations are
affected by, and in turn affect, the environment in which they
This theory describes organisations as a set of subsystems that affect
each other and simultaneously interact with the external environment.
The external environment is always changing, in turn the organisation
must adapt and evolve. Organisations form part of a social system that
consists of individuals or groups (publics). Organisations exist by
accepting inputs from these publics, and transforming them into outputs.
It then receives feedback on those outputs and adjusts accordingly, thus
developing a positive feedback loop.
It is this feedback function that illustrates the relevance of
systems theory to public relations in practice. PR undertakes
this role of strengthening relations between an organisation
and its subsystems, whether internal or external.
Mechanistic systems, referred
to as ‘closed’ systems,
operate within set parameters to
meet pre-determined goals
whilst maintaining equilibrium.
Not adaptable to change, they
focus on managing a unit with
limited considerations of
relationships with other units or
the external environment.
OPEN AND CLOSED
Organismic systems, referred
to as ‘open’ systems, are
responsive to environmental
change and continual
adjustments occur in order to
maintain balance and survive.
The units involved are affected
by and affect each other.
Doesn’t adapt to external
Active only when disturbed,
reacting to crisis, problems
Interconnection: (i.e. domino
Continual Interaction with
feedback (positive or negative)
CLOSED SYSTEM OPEN SYSTEM
Systems theory as applied to public relations practice seeks to
explain how organisations interact with the external and internal
environment and how those interactions are managed
PR in an open & living system is proactive and anticipates, scans
and monitors, detects, adjusts for and initiates corrective changes.
Proactive PR keeps an organization sensitive to environmental
Organisations should aim to work within an organismic system;
responding and adapting to environmental change will enable
them to meet their publics’ needs.
However, when referring to a social system, no system is completely
open or closed. In terms of public relations, the degree of openness
or closeness determines an organisation’s sensitivity to its
environment and relevant publics.