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Communication Theories – Understanding is Essential for Effective Corporate Media Relations

Having an understanding of how communication (comm) is shaped and has developed over the years helps understand media, and the practice of corporate media relations. This analysis and understanding can be done by considering long-standing communication theories.

In this new series of blog posts, we’ll take a look at some of the more important comm theories that have been derived and studied over the years, and what they mean for corporate communications and relations with the media.

Corporate Media Relations, Communication Theories

Agenda Setting

Our first is agenda setting. Agenda setting is when the media sets the table on what to discuss, or in other words, the agenda of what is broadcasted, reported, or aired for its viewing/reading/ listening audience. This means you could have a top-level story that is of the greatest importance, but if the media does not deem it important enough to be part of the public discourse, or hasn’t “heard” about it, the story likely won’t be part of the public discussion.

This is why media relations is absolutely essential because without communication professionals forming and sharing stories with the media, important corporate news that could be considered newsworthy for an audience might never be reported to the general public. And of course, this could have ramifications on sales potential, which leads to our next theory.


Gatekeeping refers to professionals within the media relations sphere - perhaps an editor, a producer, or assignment desk staffer - who control the selection of the media and dictate what their editorial staff will review for consideration for their journalistic agenda. This is why it’s imperative for corporate communicators to have a knowledge base of each medium, outlet, reporter, and the overall process.

What we often see with national stories is that a issue, debate or controversy forms at a local level. This could be derived from new research, a controversial speech, or an emerging trend that has formed. Then, this topic begins to get traction in the form of news and feature stories, op-ed pieces, and thought leadership stories. Companies begin to setup meeting with analysts, luminaries and press. As the story takes hold, press begin to write about it and their respective audience start to take notice. From this lifecycle, a national movement can be formed.

Two-Step Flow

The final theory that I want to discuss in this post is what is known as two-step flow. This theory states that people are influenced more by personal communication rather than media message and content. For example, a thought leader, opinion leader or industry influencer sharing information to someone is of more value to someone looking for insights than what a media member shares with an audience.

This opinion leader is a group leader who has credibility and trust and gives information to lesser informed people in the group. These opinion leaders might also get their information from the media before transmitting to their followers. These opinion leaders might add their thoughts on particular media messages or remove or add information, acting as a filter for the information being passed down. An example of an opinion leader could be the head of a company, an industry analyst, an association executive, a professor of higher education, or a senior family member.

Having an understanding of these communication theories is essential for forming and applying the proper application of corporate communications. In our next blog post, we’ll discuss more theories about the media.

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