Stalagmite Theory in Public Relations

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I would like to borrow a concept that is oft used for television viewership to Public Relations and I think it suits just fine. The concept is that of Cultivation Theory or the Stalagmite Theory. I quote “Black et. al. used the metaphor of stalagmite theories to suggest that media effects occur analogously to the slow buildup of formations on cave floors, which take their interesting forms after eons of the steady dripping of limewater from the cave ceilings above. One of the most popular theories that fits this perspective is cultivation theory.”

Cultivation theory (sometimes referred to as the cultivation hypothesis or cultivation analysis) was an approach developed by Professor George Gerbner, dean of the Annenberg School of Communications at the University of Pennsylvania.

One of the core assumptions and statements of the Cultivation theory is that television is responsible for shaping, or ‘cultivating’ viewers’ conceptions of social reality. The combined effect of massive television exposure by viewers over time subtly shapes the perception of social reality for individuals and, ultimately, for our culture as a whole.

I believe that Public Relations does that too…or rather primarily Public Relations is doing that all the time. Slowly and steadily honing the opinions and perceptions of the masses to cultivate attitudes, beliefs and notions about products, services and people. We are always cultivating our media, who are not just our vehicles but in fact they are our primary audiences. You grow on them by continuously orientating them about your Clients, the messages that you want to be widely spread, by convincing them about why they should write about your Clients et al. Just as a continuous dripping of limewater on the cave floor helps in the slow build up of formations on the floor, so also a continuous and steady feeding of messages leads to a slow and yet a sure formation of opinion and perception about the Client.

This holds true especially when you are carrying out a Public Relations exercise for a new and niche sector such as electronic home securities or a new brand in an already established market space. In either cases the effort of message dissemination has to be relentless, continuous and steady. And the results won’t be to your disappointment.

But as PR professionals, what you have to do is innovate, ideate and create new ways and means of getting the Client talked about…Cultivate the primary opinion makers (Media) to get talking about your Client, Cultivate your Client to have faith in the system and the process. The effects and the measurement of sucess of this model is difficult since it is a long driven effort and not related to a sudden burst of activity like a promotional campaign, but the long term effect is that it homogenizes a category of audience to see meaning into what your Client is doing and saying and to become ardent believers of your Client.

Next week, we will discuss more topics in PR. Till then your views and feedback will be much appreciated.