Agenda-Setting Hypothesis vs. Uses and Gratifications Theory

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PR practitioners use many communication theories to engage the different types of audiences.The most prominent theories would have to be the uses and gratification theory and the agenda-setting hypothesis.Both theories help public relations practitioners inform publics and shape public opinion through mass media in different ways.  

 Uses and Gratifications Theory

The Uses and Gratifications Theory was coined by J.G. Blumler and E. Katz in 1974.The theory suggests that media users play an active role in choosing and using the media.Users take an active part in the communication process and are goal oriented in their media use.The uses and gratifications theory grants power to the individual audience members and they choose which messages will be received and acted upon.

Agenda-Setting Hypothesis 

The Agenda-Setting Hypothesis or theory was pioneered by Max McCombs and Don Shaw in 1972.This theory conveys that media content sets the agenda for public discussion.The media does not tell people what to think, but what to think about.The agenda-setting theory is also known as the limited-effects model of mass media. Social scientist Joseph Klapper explains here how the mass media functions through this theory, “Mass media ordinarily does not serve as a necessary and sufficient cause for audience effects but rather functions among and through a nexus of mediating factors and influence.”For example with newspapers, the headlines are telling readers “hey this is important” but not “hey he is wrong or she is right” it leaves the decisions and opinions to the reader. 

Differences in Theories

These two theories have very little to do with each other at first thought, but after analyzing both, the audience does find something that gratifies them or catches their attention that lies under the agenda setting hypothesis.For example, when reading the news publications, I’m not interested in politics, weather, or comics, but when I see the entertainment section and it says “Kardashian Sisters: Tears behind the Smiles. TOXIC LOVE.”I have used the uses and gratifications theory to find what appeals to me but when I see the headline I automatically think about this headline and try to come up with a decision or opinion.

What do PR practitioners do with them? 

PR practitioners play a huge role in what is seen and read.The PR practitioner must know his or her audience; they have to know what to play and when to play.If someone is watching a basketball game, it wouldn’t be in the best interest to show a Nickelodeon commercial; because it doesn’t make sense to the target audiences or sports fans.That would make them turn to something more gratifying and there goes the TV ratings or the client’s’ big commercial coming on next.PR practitioners have to understand that people like to feel smart and they like to produce something that they feel connected too. Nobody wants you someone to think for them but they need PR practitioners to help them see what’s important. The agenda setting theory is all about helping the audience see what’s important but leaving them to see why it’s so important.


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