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Internal communication with its Public

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Participants indicated that it is imperative forthe organization to communicate with a widerange of individuals, groups and organizations.The main constituencies participants mentionedinclude GIs, COs, different religiousorganizations and faith groups, other peace oractivist organizations, and organizations withsimilar missions.The organization communicates with differentconstituency groups for different reasons.According to the Counselling Coordinator, theorganization communicates with people inthe military to ensure that their rights areprotected, for instance, through the GI RightsHotline and other forms of counselling. The BVSVolunteer argued that the organization needs tobuild relationships with different religiousorganizations as they are the ‘backbone’ ofthe organization, or the source of ‘the majorityof our donations’. Board Member 1 added, ‘It isvery important to engage them [the religiousand faith organizations] in our advocacy efforts’.The Executive Director revealed in the interviewthat the organization participates inactivities other organizations with similar missionsarrange: ‘[We] go and table [set up a tablein those activities for] the Centre… We workwith some organizations to set up conferences’.The BVS Volunteer regarded the communicationbetween the organization and otherorganizations with similar missions as a kind ofalliance-building effort:Beyond just the different faith organizations,there are a lot of other organizationswith similar missions that we needto communicate with, like XXXX, a veryvery similar organization to us, likedifferent counter-recruitment organizations…I mean, especially now they areplanning a kind of large internationalconscientious objection day with all theother different groups that are againstwars persistently.The organization communicates with itspublics through literature, newsletters, the GIRights Hotline, conferences and meetings,speaking engagement, trainings and workshops.Among them, literature is probablythe most used communication channel, asevident on its Web site.Participants confirmed the critical role ofliterature. The BVS Volunteer thought literatureis a good way to help the organizationreach a large group of publics or constituenciesall at once. For the Executive Director,literature is also an important part of theireducational efforts. All participants nominatedthe GI Rights Hotline as one big part of theorganization’s public relations. Also demonstratedon its Web site, the organization’scounsellors do address critical issues andconcerns through the Hotline.The Lobbyist, the Outreach Coordinator andthe Counselling Coordinator suggested thatthe organization also works with local organizations,such as community councils andschools, to organize speaking engagementsand draft trainings. As the Outreach Coordinatorsaid, ‘We go there and educate themabout conscription, CO issues, and draftregulations. And we train pre-enlistmentcounsellors and draft counsellors’.External communication with targetorganizationsThe two key target organizations the organizationworks with are the Selective Service andthe Congress. Participants indicated that theirrelationship with the Selective Service islargely cooperative, with mostly direct andtwo-way communication. Board Member 3analysed the reasons for such a relationship:We communicate with the Selective Servicefor two reasons. For one,we get informationCopyright # 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Journal of Public Affairs, November 2009DOI: 10.1002/pa296 Hua Jiang and Lan Nifrom them and their manuals so that we getinformation to draft counsellors who needto know how the Selective Service functions.And also, we need to communicate withthem because we want to change theprocedure, i.e. the way they handle thingsrelated to the draft or CO.The organization communicates with theCongress mainly through lobbying, indicatedby the Lobbyist and shown on its Web site aswell. When the Lobbyist goes to Congress, hebrings the organization’s various publicationssuch as rationale for a Military ConscientiousObjector Act, a flow chart of current ConscientiousObjector policy versus proposedbill, a brochure about the organization, etc.The Lobbyist stressed the importance oftalking to those Congresspersons face to facein order to influence and change their attitudesand inform them about what the organizationactually does.Discussion and conclusionsThe findings of this study have importantimplications to both theory and practice aboutactivist public relations.Explicating the levels of identity foractivist organizationsThis study suggests that the identity of anactivist organization does involve multiplelevels (Cote and Levine, 2002). First, regardingthe ego identity, the way an activist organizationidentifies itself comes from its fundamentalgoals and missions. The activist organizationaims to serve as an educator andprotector for a certain population (GIs andCOs), which was revealed as a key concept inboth the interviews and on-line publications.Second, its personal identity is manifested in itsinteractions with other organizations andpublics. The participants knew very well thatthe target organizations (e.g. the Congress)might perceive them as a typical activist group.However, this organization tried to maintain itsown identity as mostly an education and rightsprotectionbased faith organization and made avisible effort to differentiate itself from otheractivist groups who were perceived to engagein disobedience behaviours. Third, socialidentity is established by conforming toaccepted conventions or norms, in this case,being a credible representation for its publics.When explaining what it is and who it isworking for, this activist organization constructedits central identities that originatedfrom its fundamental goals and values, whichwere used to distance itself from other activistgroups but were still conforming to acceptedsocial norms for any activist group. This findingprovides a useful framework for understandingthe identities of activist organizations, not fromhow they stand in relation to target organizations,but from their own multi-level constructionof identities. This finding has practicalimplications as well. Practitionerscommunicating with activist groups may usethe framework as a general guideline; practitionersworking for activist groups, on theother hand, may use this to learn how toovercome one major challenge all currentactivist groups confront (Smith and Ferguson,2001), i.e. to position the organizations and tocompete for the limited resources and attentionfrom publics.A dual role—the most salient featureof identity negotiation for activistsWhen playing the dual role in their interactionswith internal publics and target organizations,activist groups face great challenges. Results ofthis study helped explicate what the ‘dual role’actually entails.The biggest challenge for the organizationwas the expectation of being the full representationfor themultiple voices uttered by theirdiverse publics internally and serving as therepresentative with a clear, unified and easy-tounderstandmessagewhencommunicatingwithtarget organizations. Such a challenge ordilemma, to a large extent, stemmed from themanifestation of this organization’s identitysalience in different situations. As a ‘public’, ithas tomake sure its voices are heard.As a ‘publicCopyright # 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Journal of Public Affairs, November 2009DOI: 10.1002/paActivists playing a dual role 297communicator’, it is supposed to be a responsibleand ethical representative.The way this activist organization resolvedthis challenge has much to do with establishingoverlapping ‘zones of meaning’ in identitynegotiation. First of all, the organization stayedtrue to its fundamental goals and values, to serveas the educator and source of information.These goals remained the same with differentaudiences. Second, it remained credible in frontof both audiences. By being an honest advocatefor its own publics, the organization gainedtrust from its target organizations. By speakingup in front of target organizations, it woncredibility from its own publics. Such atheoretical understanding may help practitionersaddress the dilemma of facing conflictingexpectations from different publics.Identities and public relationspracticesThe activist organization used publicity orpublic information as its key public relationsstrategies. From the perspective of the normativemodels (Grunig and Grunig, 1997; Rodinoand DeLuca, 1999) or the developmental stagemodel (Heath, 1997), this organization may notbe practicing the best public relations. However,we found that this organization did whatthey did because of their self-perceivedidentities: a peace and education faith organization.For example, they distributed a largeamount of literature because they wanted toeducate people about what CO actually is.They offered the hotline service because theywanted to provide assistance to GIs and COs.They did not engage in violent or radicalactions, because they perceived themselves asdifferent from radical activists.This finding also supported the notion thatlanguage, semantics included, can play apowerful role in the construction of identity(Henderson, 2005). The way that the activistgroup in the current study consistently choseto use words such as ‘education’ and ‘informationprovider’ demonstrated its choice inpresenting themselves, their values and theirmissions.As discussed in the conceptualization, anactivist organization may not go through all fivestages of Heath’s (1997) model. In fact, thisstudy supported the argument that an activistgroup’s mission or goal may determine whichstages it goes through. Positioned as aneducation faith organization, this group didnot attempt to engage in confrontation, negotiationor resolution. Rather, it focused mostlyon the stages of strain (recognizing issues andseeking legitimacy) and mobilisation (formingorganizations and mobilizing resources).Interestingly, many challenges facing thisgroup may also result from their self-identities.The difficulties they face, including misunderstanding,misperceptions and the most frustratingone, the difficulties in arousing actionsfrom its internal publics, might arise from itsperceived role of being mainly a helper oreducator. With a rather loose structure, theorganization found it difficult to create anintegrated whole. This interactive processbetween identity and goals certainly presentsan important question for future study: to whatextent does an activist group negotiate itsidentity to better achieve its goals? Can it orshould it?Discussion about the propositionResponding to the call for more studies onactivist public relations from the perspective ofactivists themselves, this study suggested apreliminary framework of the relationshipamong goals, identities and public relationspractices. The proposition was mostly supportedby the findings. The identities of anactivist organization in communication withtarget organizations and its own publics areindeed consistent with its organizational goals.In interacting with different audiences, itengaged in identity negotiation through buildingan overlapping zone of meaning. Inaddition, the self-perceived identities, to agreat extent, influence the public relationspractices.Theoretically, this framework helps integratedifferent constructs (i.e. avowedvs. ascribed identities, identity salience andCopyright # 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Journal of Public Affairs, November 2009DOI: 10.1002/pa298 Hua Jiang and Lan Niidentity negotiation) to the exploration ofactivist public relations. Practitioners also get asense of the underlying reasons why activistgroups practice public relations in certainways. Practitioners may want to identify thefundamental value and purpose of a particularactivist organization before planning publicrelations strategies.Biographical notesHua Jiang is a PhD candidate in PublicRelations at the University of Maryland. Shefocuses her research on public affairs, socialjustice and ethics, work-life conflict andemployee-organization relationships, leadershipin public relations, and global publicrelations. She has published scholarship inPublic Relations Journal and Public RelationsReview. She has also presented more than10 papers at flagship conferences such asInternational Communication Association,Association for Education in Journalism andMass Communication, and National CommunicationAssociation.Lan Ni (PhD, University of Maryland, CollegePark) is an Assistant Professor in the JackJ. Valenti School of Communication at theUniversity of Houston. Her research focuseson strategic management of public relations,relationship management, identification ofpublics, intercultural communication, andinternal communication. She has publishedat major journals such as Journal of PublicRelations Research, Public Relations Review,Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly,Journal of Communication Managementand International Journal of StrategicCommunication. She has presented morethan 20 papers at major conferences such asInternational Communication Association,Association for Education in Journalism andMass Communication, and National CommunicationAssociation.
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