Monophony and Polyphony in Public Relations

Allow both approaches to amplify each other.

Cover photo: @jerrysilfwer

tl:dr;
In corporate communication, monophony (speaking with one voice) and polyphony (speaking with multiple voices) should be considered separate PR strategies of equal importance.
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Monophony and poly­phony aren’t mutu­ally exclusive.

By main­tain­ing a clear, easy-to-under­stand, mono­phon­ic base and allow­ing for poly­phon­ic flex­ib­il­ity, organ­isa­tions can adjust to new trends, audi­ence feed­back, and extern­al pres­sures without los­ing their core mes­sage or brand identity. 

Here we go:

Monophony and Polyphony

Monophony and polyphony in public relations.
Monophony and poly­phony in pub­lic relations.
Spin Academy | Online PR Courses

Monophony and Polyphony in Public Relations

The oth­er day, Professor Catrin Johansson invited me to an aca­dem­ic brief­ing at Mid Sweden University, where Associate Professor Rickard Andersson from Lunds University presen­ted new research stud­ies. The study invest­ig­ated how vari­ous pub­lic organ­isa­tions con­veyed their mes­sages stra­tegic­ally. 1Andersson, R., Heide, M., & Simonsson, C. (2024). Slutrapport: Kommunikativa offent­liga organ­isa­tion­er –Strategisk kom­munika­tion som byg­ger rela­tion­er och förtroende. Institutionen för … Continue read­ing

I found one aspect of the ana­lys­is espe­cially intriguing:

The research­ers bor­rowed two terms from music­al com­pos­i­tion to aid their ana­lys­is: mono­phony and poly­phony. Note that poly­phony has also been used in lit­er­at­ure ana­lys­is. 2Polyphony (lit­er­at­ure). (2024, January 9). In Wikipedia. https://​en​.wiki​pe​dia​.org/​w​i​k​i​/​P​o​l​y​p​h​o​n​y​_​(​l​i​t​e​r​a​t​ure) 3Mikhail Bakhtin. (2024, February 19). In Wikipedia. https://​en​.wiki​pe​dia​.org/​w​i​k​i​/​M​i​k​h​a​i​l​_​B​a​k​h​tin

Based on my under­stand­ing of these con­cepts, here’s how I would define them:

Monophony = when an organ­isa­tion con­veys stra­tegic mes­saging with one voice. The mono­phon­ic approach offers numer­ous bene­fits, includ­ing nar­rat­ive focus and stra­tegic consistency.

Polyphony = when an organ­isa­tion con­veys stra­tegic mes­saging with mul­tiple voices. The poly­phon­ic approach offers numer­ous bene­fits, offer­ing authen­ti­city mul­ti­plied through many con­tact surfaces.

The strengths of one approach can be char­ac­ter­ised as the weak­nesses of the oth­er, and vice versa. At first glance, the mono­phon­ic and poly­phon­ic approaches to pub­lic rela­tions seem inversely cor­rel­ated — at least theoretically. 

In prac­tice, the poten­tial dicho­tomy isn’t apparent:

Monophony isn’t neces­sar­ily strengthened by sup­press­ing poly­phony, and vice versa. The hard prob­lem in cor­por­ate com­mu­nic­a­tions is facil­it­at­ing both approaches — sim­ul­tan­eously! — and hav­ing them amp­li­fy each other.

One com­mon mis­in­ter­pret­a­tion seems to be that lack of mono­phony leads to caco­phony, i.e. an organ­iz­a­tion filled with noise. However, as sev­er­al research­ers have argued, there is anoth­er altern­at­ive – namely, the poly­phon­ic com­mu­nic­a­tion approach (Schneider & Zerfass, 2018), which gives room for the inclu­sion of mul­tiple voices and the com­bin­a­tion of “diversity and unity with­in a coher­ent entity” (Christensen et al. 2008, p. 195). The poly­phon­ic approach comes with a decent­ral­ized struc­ture which is a much bet­ter match to the ambi­tion to encour­age employ­ees to engage in the organization’s com­mu­nic­a­tion.“
Source: EUPRERA (European Public Relations Education and Research Association 4Simonsson, C. (2021, May 7). Shifting to a poly­phon­ic com­mu­nic­a­tion approach – a pre­requis­ite for turn­ing employ­ees into engaged com­mu­nic­at­ors. EUPRERA. … Continue read­ing

How can an organ­isa­tion ensure both mono­phony and poly­phony at the same time?

Learn more: Monophony and Polyphony in Public Relations

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Monophonic Communication Approach 

Examples of how the mono­phon­ic com­mu­nic­a­tion approach can strengthen cor­por­ate communication:

  • Unified mes­saging: A single, clear mes­sage avoids con­fu­sion among stake­hold­ers and ensures every­one is on the same page.
  • Brand con­sist­ency: Consistent mes­saging across all plat­forms rein­forces the brand iden­tity and makes the mes­sage more reli­able and trustworthy.
  • Decision-mak­ing effi­ciency: Fewer voices in the mes­saging pro­cess make final­ising decisions and pub­lic state­ments easi­er and quicker.
  • Crisis man­age­ment: A mono­phon­ic approach can more effect­ively con­trol the nar­rat­ive in crisis situ­ations, redu­cing the risk of con­flict­ing information.
  • Strong lead­er­ship image: This approach reflects a strong, decis­ive lead­er­ship style, which can be reas­sur­ing to investors and stakeholders.
  • Streamlined com­mu­nic­a­tion: Simplifies intern­al pro­cesses by redu­cing the num­ber of people involved in the mes­saging chain, enhan­cing clar­ity and speed.

Examples of how the mono­phon­ic com­mu­nic­a­tion approach can weak­en cor­por­ate communication:

  • Lack of diversity in per­spect­ives: Relying on a single voice can miss out on diverse view­points, poten­tially over­look­ing import­ant considerations.
  • Risk of rigid­ity: The approach can become inflex­ible, mak­ing it dif­fi­cult to adapt to new situ­ations or feed­back from dif­fer­ent stakeholders.
  • Over-reli­ance on cor­por­ate spokes­per­sons: Overdependence on spe­cif­ic indi­vidu­als for mes­saging can cre­ate vul­ner­ab­il­it­ies, such as gaps in com­mu­nic­a­tion dur­ing their absence.
  • Potential for dis­con­nect: If the ‘one voice’ does not res­on­ate with all audi­ence seg­ments, it can ali­en­ate parts of the audience.
  • Innovation stifling: Less input from vari­ous sources might lim­it cre­ativ­ity and innov­a­tion in com­mu­nic­a­tion strategies.
  • Perceived as author­it­ari­an: Might be per­ceived as con­trolling or author­it­ari­an, which can be off-put­ting to some intern­al and extern­al audi­ences.

Polyphonic Communication Approach 

Examples of how the poly­phon­ic com­mu­nic­a­tion approach can strengthen cor­por­ate communication:

  • Diversity of per­spect­ives: Multiple voices can provide vari­ous stake­hold­ers with a rich­er and more relat­able array of perspectives.
  • Increased cre­ativ­ity: Greater input from dif­fer­ent areas of the organ­isa­tion can lead to more innov­at­ive and cre­at­ive mes­saging strategies.
  • Enhanced engage­ment: Engaging dif­fer­ent parts of the organ­isa­tion can improve mor­ale and make employ­ees feel val­ued, enhan­cing their com­mit­ment to cor­por­ate goals.
  • Adaptability: More voices mean more flex­ib­il­ity to adapt mes­saging to dif­fer­ent situ­ations and audiences.
  • Authenticity: Multiple voices can make the com­mu­nic­a­tion seem more authen­t­ic and less cor­por­ate, which can appeal to a mod­ern audience.
  • Comprehensive cov­er­age: Ensures that all areas of the organ­isa­tion are rep­res­en­ted and that com­mu­nic­a­tion is holistic.

Examples of how the poly­phon­ic com­mu­nic­a­tion approach can weak­en cor­por­ate communication:

  • Potential for mixed mes­sages: With mul­tiple voices, there’s a risk of deliv­er­ing mixed or con­flict­ing mes­sages, con­fus­ing the audience.
  • Coördination chal­lenges: More voices require great­er coördin­a­tion, which can be logist­ic­ally chal­len­ging and time-consuming.
  • Dilution of the core mes­sage: The main mes­sage can be diluted as dif­fer­ent depart­ments emphas­ise dif­fer­ent aspects. 5Silfwer, J. (2020, April 21). The Content Themes PR Strategy: The Power of Focus. Doctor Spin | The PR Blog. https://​doc​tor​spin​.net/​c​o​n​t​e​n​t​-​t​h​e​m​e​s​-​p​r​-​s​t​r​a​t​e​gy/
  • Internal com­pet­i­tion: Multiple voices could lead to com­pet­i­tion for atten­tion and resources with­in the organ­isa­tion, poten­tially cre­at­ing conflicts.
  • Digital chal­lenges: Social media algorithms and SEO favour organ­isa­tions with clear and con­sist­ent mes­saging over longer peri­ods of time. 6Silfwer, J. (2021, May 15). Social Media Algorithms and How They Rule Our Lives. Doctor Spin | The PR Blog. https://​doc​tor​spin​.net/​s​o​c​i​a​l​-​m​e​d​i​a​-​a​l​g​o​r​i​t​h​ms/ 7Silfwer, J. (2016, May 25). The Follower Contract. Doctor Spin | The PR Blog. https://​doc​tor​spin​.net/​f​o​l​l​o​w​e​r​-​c​o​n​t​r​a​ct/
  • Risk of off-brand mes­saging: Some mes­sages might not align well with the brand’s core val­ues or mes­saging guidelines.

The Core Message: Bridging the Gap

In pub­lic rela­tions, cor­por­ate com­mu­nic­a­tion pro­fes­sion­als must under­stand that mono­phon­ic and poly­phon­ic approaches are not mutu­ally exclus­ive but com­ple­ment­ary ele­ments of a robust com­mu­nic­a­tion strategy. 

To effect­ively blend these approaches, pro­fes­sion­als should des­ig­nate a clear and con­sist­ent core mes­sage as the found­a­tion of their com­mu­nic­a­tion strategy — the hall­mark of the mono­phon­ic approach. 

Different depart­ments or rep­res­ent­at­ives can offer unique inter­pret­a­tions or sup­ple­ment­ary mes­sages around this core mes­sage, echo­ing the poly­phon­ic mod­el. This strategy ensures that while the organ­isa­tion’s primary object­ives and val­ues are clearly com­mu­nic­ated and remain undi­luted, there is also space for indi­vidu­al­ity and per­son­al engage­ment with the audi­ence. This can be par­tic­u­larly effect­ive in large organ­isa­tions where dif­fer­ent divi­sions may have dis­tinct cul­tures but must align under a single cor­por­ate umbrella.

This stra­tegic syn­ergy amp­li­fies cor­por­ate com­mu­nic­a­tion’s effect­ive­ness and builds a more engaged and com­mit­ted workforce.

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Thanks for read­ing. Please sup­port my blog by shar­ing art­icles with oth­er com­mu­nic­a­tions and mar­ket­ing pro­fes­sion­als. You might also con­sider my PR ser­vices or speak­ing engage­ments.

ANNOTATIONS
ANNOTATIONS
1 Andersson, R., Heide, M., & Simonsson, C. (2024). Slutrapport: Kommunikativa offent­liga organ­isa­tion­er –
Strategisk kom­munika­tion som byg­ger rela­tion­er och förtroende. Institutionen för strategisk kom­munika­tion,
Lunds uni­versitet.
2 Polyphony (lit­er­at­ure). (2024, January 9). In Wikipedia. https://​en​.wiki​pe​dia​.org/​w​i​k​i​/​P​o​l​y​p​h​o​n​y​_​(​l​i​t​e​r​a​t​ure)
3 Mikhail Bakhtin. (2024, February 19). In Wikipedia. https://​en​.wiki​pe​dia​.org/​w​i​k​i​/​M​i​k​h​a​i​l​_​B​a​k​h​tin
4 Simonsson, C. (2021, May 7). Shifting to a poly­phon­ic com­mu­nic­a­tion approach – a pre­requis­ite for turn­ing employ­ees into engaged com­mu­nic­at­ors. EUPRERA. https://​euprera​.org/​2​0​2​1​/​0​5​/​0​7​/​s​h​i​f​t​i​n​g​-​t​o​-​a​-​p​o​l​y​p​h​o​n​i​c​-​c​o​m​m​u​n​i​c​a​t​i​o​n​-​a​p​p​r​o​a​c​h​-​a​-​p​r​e​r​e​q​u​i​s​i​t​e​-​f​o​r​-​t​u​r​n​i​n​g​-​e​m​p​l​o​y​e​e​s​-​i​n​t​o​-​e​n​g​a​g​e​d​-​c​o​m​m​u​n​i​c​a​t​o​rs/
5 Silfwer, J. (2020, April 21). The Content Themes PR Strategy: The Power of Focus. Doctor Spin | The PR Blog. https://​doc​tor​spin​.net/​c​o​n​t​e​n​t​-​t​h​e​m​e​s​-​p​r​-​s​t​r​a​t​e​gy/
6 Silfwer, J. (2021, May 15). Social Media Algorithms and How They Rule Our Lives. Doctor Spin | The PR Blog. https://​doc​tor​spin​.net/​s​o​c​i​a​l​-​m​e​d​i​a​-​a​l​g​o​r​i​t​h​ms/
7 Silfwer, J. (2016, May 25). The Follower Contract. Doctor Spin | The PR Blog. https://​doc​tor​spin​.net/​f​o​l​l​o​w​e​r​-​c​o​n​t​r​a​ct/
Jerry Silfwer
Jerry Silfwerhttps://doctorspin.net/
Jerry Silfwer, alias Doctor Spin, is an awarded senior adviser specialising in public relations and digital strategy. Currently CEO at Spin Factory and KIX Communication Index. Before that, he worked at Kaufmann, Whispr Group, Springtime PR, and Spotlight PR. Based in Stockholm, Sweden.
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The Cover Photo

The cover photo isn't related to public relations; it's just a photo of mine. Think of it as a 'decorative diversion', a subtle reminder that there is more to life than strategic communication.

The cover photo has

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