The Excellence theory is a general theory of public relations that “specifies how public relations makes organizations more effective, how it is organized and managed when it contributes most to organizational effectiveness, the conditions in organizations and their environments that make organizations more effective, and how the monetary value of public relations can be determined”. The excellence theory resulted from a study about the best practice in public relations, which was headed by James E. Grunig and funded by the Foundation of the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) in 1985. Constructed upon a number of middle-range theories, and tested with surveys and interviews of professionals and CEOs in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada, the Excellence theory provides a “theoretical and empirical benchmark” for public relations units.
The Excellence Theory explained that the value of public relations lies in organization-public relations. Good relationship with its strategic publics is helpful for an organization to develop and achieve goals desired by both the organization and its publics, reduce costs of negative publicity, and increase revenue by providing products and services needed by stakeholders. To maximize value of public relations, public relations must identify strategic publics and build long-term relationships with them through symmetrical communication programs. The Excellence study identified characteristics of effective public relations in four major categories:
- Empowerment of public relations function: effective organization must empower public relations as a critical management function
- Communicator roles: let public relations executives play managerial role as well as administrative role
- Organization of communication function: public relations should be an integrated communication function and separate from instead of being sublimated to marketing or other management functions
- Public relations models: effect organization should base its internal and external communication and relationship building on two-way symmetrical model.
The excellence theory evolved from four approaches: goal attainment, systems, strategic constituencies, and competing values, with the competing values approach bridging the gap between strategic constituencies and organization’s goals by stating that an organization must integrate strategic constituencies’ values with its goals so that the organization attains the goals of most value to its strategic constituencies.
The goal-attainment approach states that organizations are effective when they meet their goals. In 1952, Cutlip and Center first described the concept of public relations management. In 1954, Drucker proposed management by objectives approach, which warned that managers might get involved in day-to-day activities and forget their main objectives, and suggested that everybody within an organization should have a clear understanding of the organization’s aims, and awareness of their own roles and responsibilities in achieving those aims.
The systems approach here recognizes the importance of environment for an organization to be effective by indicating mutual need between an organization and its environment. According to the open system theory proposed by von Bertalanffy, a system is a complex of interacting elements, and “a system is …open if there is import and export, and therefore, change of the components” (p. 23). Similarly, organizations are linked with resources in their external environment, and in the mean time, external environment needs products and services from the organizations.
The strategic constituencies approach identifies the elements of the environment whose opposition or support can threaten the organization’s goals or help to attain them. It based on Grunig’s situational theory of publics and multi-systems theory of organizational communication. The situational theory postulates that people can be identified and classified according to their problem awareness and information seeking behavior in problems solution process. The situational theory provided a means to segment stakeholders as nonpublic, latent public, aware public, and active public according to their relationship and response to a problem. The multi-systems theory of organization communication explains that it is important for organizations to deal with communication at various system levels, including employee subsystems, consumer system, intersystem relations between employees and a clientele, public relations communications of the total organization, and inter-organizational communication.
Organizational literature shows that organizational effectiveness can be sorted according to criteria of competing values model:
- Stability vs. Flexibility: represents debating viewpoints in order, control, authority, versus diversity, individual initiative, and organizational adaptability.
- Internal vs. External: refers to conflict between emphasis on well-being of people in an organization and emphasis on development of the organization itself.
- Means vs. Ends: emphasis on process like planning and goal setting.
Global Theory of Public Relations
During the last decade, scholars have replicated excellence study around the world. Results from these studies extended the Excellence theory into a global public relations theory, which provides generic principles that are understood in the same way around the world and can be operated effectively in most nations. The global public relations theory also suggests that practice in different countries should be different based on culture, political system, economic system, media system, level of economic development, and extent and nature of activism in a certain country.
Personal Influence Model
The Personal influence model is developed by Sriramesh, which described practitioners building personal influence with key individuals like government regulators, media, and tax officials by doing favor for them so that they could solicit favors in return when the organizations need help. Sriramesh  noted that this model plays a dominant role in many developing countries. Therefore, this model is known as the non-Western model.
Many scholars have questioned the possibility of the two-way symmetrical model in real-life context. Van der Meiden  observed that the two-way symmetrical model is unrealistic since it suggests that organizations should value the interests of their publics more than those of the organization. Murphy  proposed that the concept of symmetrical communication works along a continuum from pure conflict to pure cooperation, which is based on mixed motives. Leichty  argued that completely collaborative public relations is not feasible in some situations, and pointed out that public relations practitioners’ lack of power within an organization further increases the limitation of collaboration. Cameron and his colleagues developed the contingency theory of accommodation,which represent the stance movement of an organization toward a given public at a given time and in a given situation  and suggests that the true excellence in public relations may result from picking the appropriate point along the continuum that best fits the current need of the organization and its publics.
- Grunig, J. E. (1992). Communication, public relations, and effective organizations: An overview of the book. In J. E. Grunig (Ed.), Excellence in public relations and communication management (pp. 1–28). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, p. 27
- Grunig, J. E., & Grunig, L. A. (2008). Excellence theory in public relations: Past, present, and future. In A. Zerfass, B. V. Ruler & K. Sriramesh (Eds.), Public relations research: European and international perspectives and innovations (pp. 327–347). Wiesbaden: VS Verlag.
- Grunig, J. E., Grunig, L. A., & Dozier, D. M. (2006). The Excellence theory. In C. H. Botan & V. Hazelton (Eds.), Public relations theory II (pp. 21–62). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
- Cutlip, S. M., & Center, A. H. (1952). Effective public relations. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
- von Bertalanffy, L. (1950). The theory of open system in physics and biology Science, 111(2872), 23–29.
- Grunig, J. E. (2003). Constructing public relations theory and practice. In B. Dervin, S. H. Chaffee & L. Foreman-Wernet (Eds.), Communication, a different kind of horserace: Essays honoring Richard F. Carter (pp. 85–115). Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press.
- Grunig, J. E. (1975). A multi-systems theory of organizational communication. Communication Research, 2(2), 99–136.
- Quinn, R. E., & Rohrbaugh, J. (1983). A spatial model of effectiveness criteria: Towards a competing values approach to organizational analysis. Management Science, 29(3), 363–377.
- Lawrence, P. R., & Lorsch, J. W. (1967). Organization and environment: Managing differentiation and integration Boston: Division of Research, Harvard Business School Press.
- Sriramesh, K. (1992). Societal culture and public relations: Ethnographic evidence from India. Public Relations Review, 18(2), 201–211.
- Van der Meiden, A. (1993). Public relations and "other" modalities of professional communication: Asymmetric presuppositions for a new theoretical discussion. International Public Relations Review, 16(3), 8–11.
- Murphy, P. (1991). The limits of symmetry: A game theory approach to symmetrical and asymmetrical public relations In L. A. Grunig & J. E. Grunig (Eds.), Public relations research annual (Vol. 3, pp. 115–131). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.
- Leichty, G. (1997). The limits of collaboration. Public Relations Review, 23(1), 47–55.
- Cameron, G. T., Pang, A., & Jin, Y. (2007). Contingency theory: Strategic management of conflict in public relations. In T. Hansen-Horn & B. Neff (Eds.), Public relations: From theory to practice (pp. 134–157). Boston, MA: Pearson Allyn & Bacon.
- Cancel, A. E., Cameron, G. T., Sallot, L. M., & Mitrook, M. A. (1997). It depends: a contingency theory of accommodation in public relations Journal of Public Relations Research, 9(1), 31–63.