Role of Public Relations in an Organization

Role of Public Relations in an Organization

‘Public relations’ (PR) is normally associated with communication activities designed to make and preserve the organizational image and its relationship with the ‘publics’. It is increasingly about communicating credibly with key audiences, such as media analysts, policy-makers and policy influencers, and customers and shareholders etc., who affect the organizational results.

PR is a strategic approach towards the creation of goodwill and brand image through developing a cordial relationship between the organization and its target audience. Every organization exists in a social, legal, and political environment where it has to interact with different agencies and individuals.

It is in the interest of every organization to maintain a positive public image. Whether it is a public sector organization or a private sector organization, both types of organizations can only be benefitted from proper management of the perceptions of the publics of the organization. Both types of organizations can reap benefits from a positive public image which not only helps to increase confidence in the organization on the behalf of the organizational publics and key stakeholders but also reinforce trust in the organizational capabilities towards success.

It is frequently misunderstood that the organizations practice PR only for the purpose of publicity. But instead, the discipline of PR deals with shaping and maintaining the image and reputation of the organization in the eyes of its different publics. It is the deliberate, planned, and sustained effort to institute and maintain mutual understanding between the organization and its publics. It uses information to influence opinion for creating and maintaining goodwill. It is the practice of managing communication between the organization and its publics.

The image of the organization is strongly linked to its vision and mission of the organization and is considered a manageable resource. The vision and mission guide the organization in its daily interaction with external publics, and these principles logically reflect the corporate image of the organization. Since the corporate image of the organization is believed to be the visible element of the organization, the organization is required to have the ability to create and manipulate a desired image of itself in the minds of the external publics. For achieving a desired image, the organization is required to encourage and facilitate constant two-way communication with its target audiences. Hence, the organization is to be fully aware of the image, it is sending to both its external and internal audiences. Image affects not only the perceptions which the external publics have of the organization, but also the perception of the employees of the organization.

Every organization has an image, whether planned or not and a good image can offer much to the success of the organization. The corporate image of the organization is to be of such value that it can serve to differentiate the organization from other organizations which in other respects can be similar if not identical. The image can create value and impacts on consumer behaviour but can include perceptions which does or does not reflect the objective truth. Corporate image of the organization is considered a strategic tool of high value for the organization, since besides helping to achieve long-term objectives, it can turn into a source of competitive advantage. Since the ‘image is everything’ and reputation is an asset of immense value, it enables the organization to charge a premium for its products and services. A good image can compel the customers to prefer the product of the organization against a lower-priced though equally good one. A good corporate image of the organization contributes to improve behaviour and better attitudes on the part of its employees. It is a treasure. Such perceptions have an enormous impact on the ability of the organization to survive in the complex and competitive market place of today and hence a strong positive corporate image gives the organization a long term sustainable competitive advantage.

PR is basically the art and science of managing relationship with publics. It attempts to establish and sustain mutually beneficial relationships between the organization (commercial or non-commercial) and its stakeholders or publics.

The concept of publics varies from persons to person or organization to organization. These are the people, groups or institutions upon which success of the organization depends. Publics, in PR terms, are the ones who ever have or going to form an opinion about the organization. Publics are the interested audiences which are important in some way to the organization. They can be internal within the organization or external to the organization.

The ‘publics’ in PR (Fig 1) are (i) traditional publics constituting groups (e.g., employees, media, government and its bodies, investors, and customers etc.) with which the organization has an on-going and long-term relationship, (ii) non-traditional publics constituting groups which are typically unfamiliar with the organization and do not have a relationship with the organization but can become traditional publics because of the changes in the organization, in society, or if a group changing event occurs, (iii) latent publics constituting a group whose values have come into contact with the values of the organization but whose members have not yet realized it, i.e., the members of that public are not yet aware of the relationship, (iv) aware publics constituting a group of members who are aware of the existence of a commonality of values or interests with the organization but have not organized or attempted to respond to that commonality, (v) intervening publics constituting those publics which help a public to send a message to another public, and it can be the media or someone with stature, (vi) primary publics which consist of a public (e.g., media, employees, government, shareholder, financial institutions, and the immediate community) who can directly affect the organization’s pursuit of its values-driven goals, (vii) secondary publics who have high interest in the organization such as the primary publics but are not getting directly affected by decisions of the organization, (viii) internal publics constituting people within the organization, (ix) external publics constituting people outside of the organization, (x) domestic publics constituting those who are within the country, and (xi) international publics constituting those who are outsides of the country and when communicating with these publics, organization is to be cautious about that areas culture, beliefs, values, ethics, and other valuable cultural differences so as not to offend anyone.

Fig 1 Publics in public relations

PR is an important sub-system of the organization and the effective PR practice is integrally bound to the health of an organization. Hence, it provides the avenue for the organization to effectively monitor, interact, and react with other key groups within the organizational environment.

PR is a strategic approach towards the creation of goodwill and brand image through developing a cordial relationship between the organization and its target audience. Image is the reputation or perception of the organization held by others, frequently as a result of what the organization does or has done.

PR in organizations has evolved tremendously. Some organizations have opened their doors for PR personnels. However, it seems that organizations still battle to define the functions and the role of PR, let alone positioning the discipline. It is evident that the activities of PR differ within different organizations.

PR is an interactive form of communication in which the targeted audiences yield information and is not mere information consumers. Briefly, the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), in its official statement on PR, described PR as helping the organization, pluralistic society to reach decisions and function more effectively by contributing to mutual understanding among groups and institutions. It serves to bring private and public policies into harmony.

The major roles of PR include three functions. First is the management function which creates, develops, and carries out policies and programmes to influence opinion, or PR about an idea, a product, or the organization, as well as improves the mutually beneficial relationships between the organization and the targeted groups. Second is, the promotion of a favourable image, in other words, the practice or profession establishes, maintains or improves a favourable relationship between the organization and the publics. Third is, shaping public image i.e., the relationship between the organization and the publics, with respect to whether the organization is seen in a positive or negative light.

Like all human endeavours, an organization is never devoid of crises, both internal and external. The success of PR in building a mutually beneficial organization-public relationship depends on an effective PR practice.

Definitions of public relations

PR is a strategic communication process which the organizations use to build mutually beneficial relationships with the publics. In 1987, Institute of Public Relations (IPR) has provided a definition of public relations, which is still being used. In this definition, PR is planned and continuous efforts to establish and maintain goodwill and understanding between the organization and its target audiences. Words ‘planning’ and ‘continuous’ show that goodwill and understanding themselves are not obtained easily and in fact, it is necessary to ‘create’ and ‘maintain’ them. The definition also has determined that the PR activities are planned and the purpose of PR is to create goodwill and understanding. Different definitions of PR are given below.

‘Public relations is the deliberate, planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain mutual understanding between on organization and its publics’. – Institute of Public Relations, USA

‘Public relations is the attempt by information persuasion and adjustment to engineer public support for an activity, cause, movement or institution’. – Edward L. Bernays

‘Public relations is a combination of philosophy, sociology, economics, language, psychology, journalism, communication and other knowledges into a system of human understanding’. – Herbert M. Baus

‘Merely human decency which flows from a good heart’. – Charles Plackard

‘Good performance, publicity appreciated because adequately communicated’ – – Fortune magazine

‘Everything involved in achieving a favourable opinion’. – George F. Meredith

‘The Management function which gives the same organized and careful attention to the asset of goodwill as is given to any other major asset of business’. – John W. Hill

PR activity is ‘the strategic management of communication and relationships between organizations and their key publics’. – Kent State university

‘Public Relations is distinctive management function which helps establish and maintain mutual lines of communication, understanding, acceptance and cooperation between an organization and its publics; involves the management of problems or issues; helps management to keep informed on and responsive to public opinion; defines and emphasizes the responsibility of management to serve the public interest; helps management keep abreast of and effectively utilize change, serving as an early warning system to help anticipate trends; and uses research and sound and ethical communication as its principal tools’. – Rex F. Harlow

‘PR practice involves anticipating analyzing and interpreting public opinion, attitudes future trends and issues which might be relevant to any section of the corporate organization’ – Udeze

‘PR is a strategic communication process which builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics’. – Elliott

‘PR can also be defined as the practice of managing communication between an organization and its publics’ – Grunig and Hunt.

‘PR refer to the variety of activities conducted by a company to promote and protect the image of the company, its products and policies in the eyes of the public’ – Pranashree

Historical aspects

Historians disagree about when ‘public relations’ was first practiced, who practiced it first, and where it was practiced originally. Traditionally, Americans have claimed that they invented PR, but Chinese scholars have pointed out that Chinese rulers practiced something resembling contemporary PR over 5,000 years ago. Even though the first rudimentary practice of PR has begun thousands of years ago, PR has been an occupation only for around 100 years.

The idea of PR has been around as long as people have sought to persuade other people to get them to do something, not do something, or keep on doing something. But PR became a formal profession in America roughly between late 1800s and early 1900s. In the 1800s, PR techniques were used to encourage settlement in the American West. Railroad companies, which were laying down new tracks across America, employed former journalists to create flyers and pamphlets which described the vast opportunities in the American frontier. And several people believe it was the railroad companies which first used the term ‘public relations’.

The person who is credited for moving the PR profession to its next age was Ivy Lee. In 1906, he published his ‘Declaration of Principles’ which advocated truthfulness and openness, and hence ushered PR into the ‘Public Information Age’. The main difference with this new age was the emphasis on the accuracy and honesty of the information issued by public was to make sure the public had truthful information. During this time, as the public increasingly found its ‘voice’, corporations began to be concerned with public opinion.

Only 20 years earlier had railroad tycoon uttered his famous words: ‘Let the public be damned’! Things had changed. Organizational executives began to realize that an angry public could make doing business much more difficult, if not impossible. That is why several organizations began to employ PR personnel whose job was to keep the public informed. The goal was to provide accurate information to the organizational stakeholders (anybody or institution which could be affected by the business of the organization).

Thomas Jefferson used the phrase ‘Public relations’ in the place of ‘State of thought’ while writing his seventh address to the US Congress.

Tench and Yeomans support this view by defining public relations as a distinctive management function which (i) helps establish and maintain mutual lines of communication, understanding, acceptance and co-operation between an organization and its publics, (ii) involves the management of problems or issues, (iii) helps management to keep informed on and responsive to public opinions, (iv) defines and emphasises the responsibility of management to serve the public interest, (v) helps management to keep abreast of and effectively utilize the change, (vi) serves as an early warning system to help anticipate trends, and (vii) uses research and ethical communication techniques as its principal tools.

Today, the organizations which employ an individual PR person or a number of PR personnel have begun to recognize PR as an important management function. They recognize that PR has value to the organization since it helps to balance the self-interest of the organization with the interests of people who are affected by the organization or who have the power to affect the organization, people who are called ‘publics’.

Duties of PR are classified into three main categories namely (i) informing, (ii) advertising and encouraging, and (iii) seeking cooperation, integration and optimizing affairs. PR also has been considered as an occupation defined more by its techniques than by its theory. Majority of PR personnel are the masters of a number of techniques. They know how to secure media coverage, prepare press releases, write speeches, write and design brochures, produce video news releases, do lobbying with the representatives in government, stage a special event, or prepare an annual report.

The systems theory of PR

Heath has asserted that PR can productively rest on systems theory, the rhetorical heritage and premises adopted by social change theory which guides the understanding of relationships. The systems theory offers a big perspective of the role and influence which PR has within the organization. PR is strategically positioned at the heart of all operations within the organization.

Tench and Yeomans have postulated that it is clear that organizations are not free-floating bodies unaffected by what is around them. They are affected by and in turn affect the environment in which they operate. Systems theory describes organizations as a set of sub-systems which affect each other and jointly interact with the external environment.

Lubbe and Puth define a system as ‘a set of objects or entities which inter-relate with one another to form a whole’. Organizations have to adjust and adapt as they change from within and as the environment changes. They form part of a social system which consists of individuals or groups such as suppliers, local communities, employees, customers, and government, who all interact with it. PR is there to develop and maintain good relationship with these publics, to help the organization achieve its objectives. Tench and Yeomans describe organizations as having typically five sub-systems as shown in Fig 2.

Fig 2 Organizational sub-systems

The production sub-system produces the products or services of the organization. The maintenance sub-system works through-out the organization encouraging employees to work together. The disposal sub-system encompasses the marketing and distribution of products and services. The adaptive sub-system helps the organization adjust to its changing environment, such as the strategic planning role. The management sub-system controls and directs all the other sub-systems and manages any conflicting demands which they can have. It also negotiates between the requirements of the environment, e.g., demand for a particular product and the survival needs of the organization (supply of that product). Normally the board of directors and senior management of the organization undertake this responsibility.

As per Lubbe and Puth, ‘the systems approach is one of the most fruitful approaches to PR management. This approach illuminates the part which PR plays in the effective operation of the organization’. For an organization to be successful, it needs to operate as an open system. It has been noted that the organization which has the highest potential for on-going success is one which interacts actively with its environment.

Tench and Yeomans suggest that by taking a systems perspective, it can be seen that PR personnel have a boundary-spanning role. They work at the boundaries within organizations, working with all the internal sub-systems by helping these sub-systems with their external communication by both providing expert advice on what and how to communicate and by helping them with implementation. As an example, PR can work closely with marketing (disposal sub-system) on product support and with senior management (management sub-system) on investor relations.

Seitel further claims that PR personnel function at the edge of the organization as liaisons between the organization and its internal and external publics. In other words, PR personnel have one foot inside the organization and one outside. As ‘boundary managers’, PR personnel support their colleagues by helping them communicate across organizational lines both within and outside the organization. In this way, PR personnel also become systems managers, knowledgeable about and able to deal with complex relationship inherent in the organization.

Broom, Casey and Ritchey base their theoretical framework on the systems theory. They state that the inter-dependence of elements in a system forms the basis of all inter-actions and relationships. Also, the elements of ‘mutuality of understanding, trust, credibility, emotion, intimacy and similarity, immediacy, and dominance-submission’ are to be taken into account, as all contribute to the understanding of relationships. Based on this, PR is, hence, a practice where the process includes the influencing of the environment. PR performs surveillance and information- distribution roles. In addition, it has an important role to govern and maintain the organization as an open system and ensure that the organization is adaptable and flexible to all changes within the environment and remains stable at all times. PR can help and govern organizations to maintain this interaction.

Lubbe and Puth maintain that the systems approach offers a frame-work which places and positions the PR process logically within the ambit of the operations of the organization. The systems approach is an abstract perceptual frame-work which is an exceptionally good aid for understanding and practising PR.

Cutlip and colleagues maintain that applying the open systems approach to PR calls for purposeful sensing of the environment to anticipate and detect changes which affect organizational relationships with publics. PR is to be selectively sensitive to specifically defined publics which are mutually affected or involved by the organizational policies, procedures, and actions.

An open systems approach to PR has the capacity to initiate corrective actions within organizations and direct programmes to affect knowledge, pre-disposition and behaviour of both internal and external publics. The outcomes sought are maintenance or achievement of goals which reflect the mutual interest of organizations and their publics. Hence, organizations employing open systems PR maintain their relationships by adjusting and adapting themselves and their publics to ever-changing social, political, and economic environments. Hence, PR is important to build an understanding and knowledge of the contribution of both terrains to the importance of relationships. Emphasis is also to be placed on the strategic importance of PR in organizations so that organizations can acquire a holistic approach to communication and relationship management.

Lubbe and Puth reinforce that it is also to be noted that in addition to all the PR functions, the open systems approach gives PR the role to recognize changes in the social settings of the organization and advise customers or employees on how the organization is to change itself and respond to establish a ‘common meeting ground’. PR personnel are agents and managers of change, both inside and outside their organizations.

Types of public relations

Public relations can be categorized into (i) media relations, (ii) investor relations, (iii) government relations, (iv) local community relations, (v) internal relations, (vi) customer relations, and (vii) marketing communications.

Media relations consist of establishing a good relationship with the media organizations and acting as their content source. Investor relations constitute handling of investors events, releasing financial reports and regulatory filings, and handling of the queries and complaints of the investors, analysts, and media. Government relations is the representing of the brand to the government with regard to the fulfillment of policies like corporate social responsibility (CSR), fair competition, consumer protection, and employee protection etc. As regards community relations is concerned, it means handling the social aspect of the brand and establishing a positive reputation in the social issues such as environment protection, and education etc. Internal relations consist of counselling the employees of the organization with regard to policies, course of action, responsibilities of the organization and the employees, and cooperating with the employees during special product launches and events. Customer relations constitutes handling relationships with the target markets and major customers. It also consists of conducting market research to know more about interests, attitudes, and priorities of the customers and making strategies to influence these using earned media. Marketing communications means supporting marketing efforts relating to product launch, special campaigns, brand awareness, image, and positioning.

Elements of public relations

The elements of PR include (i) it is a planned effort i.e., it is a management function, (i) it consists of the relationship between the organization and its publics, (iii) it carries out evaluation of public attitudes and opinions, (iv) It constitutes organizational policies, procedures, and actions as they relate to the organizational publics, (v) it constitutes the steps which are to be taken to ensure that said policies, procedures, and actions are in the public interest and they are socially responsible, (vi) it consists of execution of an action and or communication programme, and (vii) it ensures development of rapport, goodwill, understanding, and acceptance as the main end-result expected from the PR activities.

Functions of public relations

PR is establishing the relationship among the two groups (organization and public). It is the art or science of developing reciprocal understanding and goodwill. It analyses the public perception and attitude, identifies the organization policy with public interest and then executes the programmes for communication with the public.

PR specialized functions are categorized by the publics with which relationships are established, and to whom appeals are made to understand and / or accept certain policies, procedures, individuals, causes, products or services. PR personnel who perform specialized functions can play a management role, operate as a communications person, or play a dual role.

The major functions of PR are to create and maintain excellent relations with the internal and external publics of the organization. These publics are the stakeholders of the organization and can be private, governmental, and societal entities in general. PR can have a strong impact on public awareness at a much lower cost than advertising. PR functions are designed to help build trust and credibility with groups which are important to the organization. PR helps raising awareness about the organization as well as give it a chance to define, control, and distribute its message to those both inside and outside the organization. Effective PR functions can also promote the organization, help communicate during a crisis, or defend its reputation from attacks which people make on the organization in the media.

The functions of PR can be categorized into four functions. The first is the crisis management which deals with emergencies affecting the organization. It helps in establishing policies for dealing with emergencies, such as who are to communicate with the media, or how management is to share the information with the employees. The second is the relationship management which establishes strategies for building and maintaining relationships with important segments of the publics such as customers and media. The third is the image management, e.g., PR personnel work to present the organization as a socially responsible, compassionate and involved organization in the local community. The fourth is the resource management which looks at the budget and resources available for the PR of the organization and to figure out how to make the best use of it.

The organizational management normally needs its PR team to fulfill more than one role. Managing relationships and shaping the organizational image can generate a lot of goodwill for the organization. When a crisis or negative news breaks out, the PR role has to be the minimization of any damage or blow-back from the events. In other words, damage control is what the PR unit is expected to do.

Major tasks of public relations

Good PR is important to improve public understanding of the organization. It is important to have a favourable public opinion for the organization. The major tasks of PR consist of (i) information service, (ii) image building, (iii) counselling, (iv) preparation of messages, (v) co-ordination and leadership, (vi) carrying out liaison activities, and (vii) evaluation.

Information service is meant for ensuring public acceptance. For achieving public acceptance, it is needed that the information is provided to the public about the policies, accomplishments, special events, and the beneficiaries. This can be done through the press and other media. Good information services are necessary for creating awareness and countering of any damaging propaganda.

Image building starts with the identification of the specific publics and the determination of the existing public attitude. PR personnel are required to carry out an opinion-research to find out any prevailing misconception, and then take the needed corrective steps.

Counselling is done after determination of the public opinion and assessment of the needs. The PR activity and projects are to be planned with the administrators. This involves establishing policies and planning of the PR programmes.

Preparation of messages means that the message which are to be communicated to the publics whether it be a speech, a letter, a script or a news story, are to be prepared in such a way so that the publics is influenced in a desired and a favourable way.

Co-ordination and leadership constitute all those activities which the organization is required to carry out under close supervision of the PR personnel. This involves training, planning, budgeting, and controlling etc.

Liaisoning is carried out with the government, as well as with the related associations for securing their support for the organization.

Evaluation is important for maintaining reports, and clip books etc. for the measurement of the qualitative and quantitative progress of the media coverage. Evaluating the effectiveness of PR campaigns is also an important part of the responsibility.

When PR personnel realize that their primary role as identifying, building, and sustaining relationships between an organization and its stakeholders, the nature of the PR work changes. Now, instead of emphasizing one-way communication, organizations have begun to place increasing importance on two-way communication. Also, if these relationships are to be sustained, they have to be mutually beneficial, where both the organizations and their stakeholders are benefitted. When relationships become the primary focus for PR activities, spin (i.e., intentionally making something appear better than it is) becomes counter-productive to long-term public relations goals. This is, since spin destroys the most important ingredient for a vital, and healthy relationship which is the ‘trust’.

Spin can take several forms. At one end of the spectrum is lying, either by commission (saying it directly) or omission (intentionally withholding important information). At the other end of the spectrum is exaggeration which is making a product or service appear better than it actually is. Whether it is lying or exaggeration, or something in between, spin destroys trust and undermines the attempt of the organization to build valuable relationships.

It is to be noted that the shift to relationship building does not negate the emphasis of the PR personnel on persuasion. PR personnel spend a great deal of time persuading several stakeholders of the organization that the organization is worthy of being in a relationship together. That is achieved by demonstrating that the organization is being responsive to stakeholder needs. This means adjusting policies, positions, and products to fit stakeholder needs.

PR personnel have always realized the importance of influence with the top management. Beginning roughly in the 1970s, PR personnel have begun to increasingly identify themselves as ‘business people first, and communicators second’. As a result, PR has become more concerned with establishing measurable objectives aligned with the organizational goals, and demonstrating a tangible ROI (return on investment). After all, if the organization allocates resources for the PR activities, it deserves to know what kind of ‘return’ it can expect from PR activities.

Nature of PR activities

The three general kinds of PR activities are publicity, event management, and publication design. The purpose and intention of these activities are to influence public opinion and to promote and protect the image of the organization.

Publicity is the communication written and produced by the PR personnel which is intended to create a favourable public image for the organization. Publicity normally takes the form of text, audio, and video news releases about the organization which are distributed to newspapers, magazines, radio and television stations, Internet sites, and other forms of media. While there can be production costs, the organization does not pay a fee for placement of the information in media. This is called free media. Publicity efforts can also include persuasive inter-personal communication, such as email and other forms of personal messaging, telephone calls, visits, and meals.

Event management consists of the conception, creation, development, scheduling, arrangement, logistical coordination, talent sourcing, production, promotion and execution of events such as product launches, press conferences, corporate meetings, educational conferences, road shows, grand opening events, award ceremonies, launch parties, festivals, games and a variety of meetings. Such managed events are intended to accomplish the desire of the organization to generate goodwill.

Publication design involves conception, writing, layout, and production of a wide variety of presentation media including promotional, sales and image building materials such as catalogs, brochures, manuals, flyers, newspapers, videos, DVD covers, podcasts, film credits, stage props, websites, logo-types, and branded packaging etc.

These PR activities by the organization are intended to promote goodwill with different publics, including the general public, the community, customers, consumers, employees, management, government officials, stockholders, suppliers, opinion leaders and others.

PR principles

The PR activities have evolved greatly since it first began in the early 1900s. In fact, it has dramatically changed even in the last decade with the introduction and expansive growth of the social media. There are 10 PR principles which remain true regardless how the media landscape changes in the next 10 years to 20 years. These are principles which have proved to be true over and over again in the field of PR and are followed by the PR personnel all over the world. These principles are based on the idea that the purpose of PR is ‘to identify, establish, and maintain mutually beneficial relationships between the organization and its different publics’. All of these 10 principles are designed to achieve this objective.

The first principle – It states that the organization exists only by public consent. It is one of the oldest principles in the PR field of activities. The word ‘consent’ here means ‘agreement’ or ‘permission’.  But what is the way by which the public give its ‘consent’ for the organization to exist. If the organization is a ‘for-profit’ organization, its existence rests upon whether the public buys its product or services. Without this customer public, the organization cannot exist. If it is a ‘not-for-profit’ organization, its existence is dependent upon people giving their time (volunteering) or money (donations). Without these things, the organization cannot exist.

More broadly, though, the existence of the organization is dependent on a wide variety of publics, several of whom do not buy the product or donate money. This is since the organization has several publics which more or less have a stake in what the organization does. These people or groups or associations are called stakeholders since in some way they can either influence or are influenced by the operation of the organization. These stakeholders include the customers of the product, but they also include employees, government, media, financial institutions, and neighbours in the community where the organization conducts its operations. All of the stakeholders can either help or hinder the mission of the organization. The function of PR is to manage the relationships between these stakeholders and the organization.

The second principle – This principle states that the mutually beneficial relationships need two-way communication. PR has evolved from one-way communication to two-way communication. With the possible exception of the government, which practices the public information model, majority of the PR personnel practice two-way communication. This simply means that in addition to sending messages to its publics, an organization receives them as well.

Today, organizations are to listen to their stakeholders / publics, especially given the prevalence of social media. There needs to be a dialogue, not a monologue. Additionally, the organization is to demonstrate that it has heard its publics by adjusting policies and products to the needs and wants of the publics as much as possible. If the goal is to build and sustain mutually beneficial relationships between the organization and its different publics, two-way symmetric (balanced) communication is needed to be practiced.

The third principle – The third principle states that ‘It is not my job to put a clean shirt on a dirty body’. Several people believe this is the fundamental job of PR personnel, to make something appear better than it actually is. Using hype, manipulation, distraction, and maybe outright lies, the PR personnel use ‘spin’ to put a good face on someone or something which is basically not good.

While spin can work, and several amateur PR personnel still do it, it is counter-productive for the long-term PR goals. If the job is to build and sustain relationships, spin destroys the most important ingredient for a healthy relationship which is the ‘trust’. Once the trust is lost, it is very difficult to regain it. And, at that point, the relationship is in danger. If the publics has a choice whether to be in relationship with the organization or not (e.g., there are comparable products or services in the market), it can decide to abandon the relationship.

Even if the publics decides to stick with the organization, the lack of trust is going to cost the organization. In their book titled ‘The Speed of Trust’, Stephen Covey and Rebecca Merrill argue that trust is fast. In other words, when the organization is in a trusting relationship, it does not have to spend a great deal of time analyzing out every bit of communication between the organization and its publics.

Trust in business, as with all of life, is a valuable asset. PR personnel can help the organization to make better products, policies, and services, and communicate more effectively with all of its publics. It can ensure that its publics are ‘heard’, that everything the organization does, as far as possible, is in the best interest of its publics.

The fourth principle – it tells first to act, and then to communicate. The key idea here is that people cannot talk their way out of something they behaved their way into. There is a saying which says that ‘talk is cheap’. PR personnel have the reputation of talking while publics need to see action.

The fifth principle – This principle states that ‘clarity is more important than cleverness’. Clear communication is difficult. PR personnel are not to lose their message by trying to be clever. If the goal is to build relationships, then clear communication is necessary. There is a lot of focus today about the channels of communication, from the changing digital landscape (e.g., media convergence) to the ever-expanding social media tool-box.

Selecting the right channel to reach the audiences is critical. The wrong channel ensures that the message is not delivered. But the use of the right channel does not necessarily mean communication is going to take place, it only means that the message is received. In order for a message to be acted upon, it needs to gain the attention of the audience, be understood, and clearly address the needs and wants of the audience.

The sixth principle – The sixth principle says that the activity does not equal results. There is a difference between the production and the outcome, between the activities and the results. Organizational management expect that the PR strategies and tactics of the organization ‘move the needle’. In other words, something has to happen as a result of PR efforts of the organization. The PR situation needs to change.

More than ever before, organizational management seeks, even demanding, and tangible ROI (return on investment). It wants to know if funds and resources of the organization are spent on the PR, then it is going to yield a return in the form of better stakeholder relationships, less opposition, stronger support, improved reputation, positive attitudes, higher cooperation, more customers buying the product or using the service.

Since there is more client demand to demonstrate results, measurement tools are becoming increasingly sophisticated. It is no longer sufficient to simply count press clippings. Organizational management wants to know the quality of these clippings, whether they are positive or negative.Ultimately, organization management wants behavioural results such as increasing product sales. The more PR personnel can demonstrate real results which are tied directly to the organizational goals, the more valuable the results become.

The seventh principle – It states not to refuse an opportunity to tell the organizational side of the story. This is one of the most common PR errors. If the organization does not tell its side of the story, someone else is going to do it such as a former (angry) employee, competitor, victim, or sour neighbour. If the media is doing a story, they need a quote. Let it be from the organization, and not from of these people. When the news is bad, several organizations refuse to talk to the media. Instead, they say, ‘no comment’. For the publics, however, ‘no comment’ means ‘the organization is guilty’. It also means that the organization is not cooperative.

By telling the organizational side of the story (especially in a bad situation), the PR personnel can help to frame the story in the best possible light, without of course, making a bad situation look better than it is (i.e., spin). But the fact is, there are normally multiple ‘frames’ which can be legitimately applied to the same situation. The media normally picks the most dramatic frame since it makes a better story for them. The job of the PR personnel is to make sure the frame is fair and accurate and also to suggest another frame, if necessary, which reflects more accurately the reality of the situation. All of this needs that the organization cooperates and works with the media to help them get a story. Understanding the job of a journalist job, from what the media needs and when they need it, is fundamental to establishing constructive media relationships.

The eighth principle – The eighth is the managing of the expectations. The key to fostering healthy relationships with all stakeholders is managing expectations. As an example, if the organization exaggerates product claims, customer is going to be disappointed when the product falls short. Likewise, when PR personnel hype (exaggerate) an event, the publics gets upset when the reality does not match the rhetoric. Same is true about pitching a story in the media. Media stops using the organization as a news source, if PR consistently offer ’fluff’ stories with little or exaggerated substance.

This principle is also true, by the way, in maintaining positive relationships between the PR personnel and the organizational management. The management is required to know what PR can do, and what it cannot do. As an example, if the organization has a negative reputation in the eyes of its publics, PR personnel cannot change a negative reputation into a positive reputation overnight. Ethical PR personnel, being aware of long-term PR goals, do not put a clean shirt on a dirty body.

The ninth principle – This principle guides the PR personnel to ‘practice PR proactively, whenever possible’. ‘Proactive’ means ‘controlling a situation by causing something to happen, rather than waiting to respond to it after it has happened’. PR is more effective if it is planned, intentional, and controlled. Reactive PR puts the organization on the defensive and creates an environment ripe for spin. Proactive PR needs the organization to continually monitor different environments, assess relationships, and identify and track issues which can affect the organization. Different studies have shown that the majority of the organizational crises can be prevented through early intervention. The goals of ‘issues tracking’ are to prevent the problems and take advantage of the opportunities.

In terms of managing relationships, organizations are to be continually filling the ‘reservoir of goodwill’ or ‘making deposits into the emotional bank account’. Both of these metaphors speak to the idea of proactively and intentionally managing relationships. If the reservoir of goodwill is filled, there will be something left in times of drought (a crisis with that particular stakeholder or stakeholders). Likewise with the emotional bank account, if it is full, the organization has something left even if there is a big withdrawal (i.e., a crisis).

The tenth principle – This principle tells ‘be a bridge, not a barrier’. There are at least two ways to practice PR. They are the polar opposites of each other. One way to practice PR is to be a barrier which protects the organization from its publics. This kind of PR uses one-way communication, does not listen to stakeholders in any meaningful way, ignores the media, and uses spin to help the organization not to take appropriate responsibility. The problem is, if the organization wants to maintain relationships with its stakeholders, ‘barrier’ PR does not work at least in the long term.

A barrier can work in short term. But as soon as the stakeholders know that they have been lied to or manipulated, or are simply not being heard, the stakeholders leave (i.e., use another product or service) or protest if they cannot leave (e.g., neighbours near a plant etc.). But long-term, being a barrier is counter-productive for the organizational goals. The present-day environment, where transparency is becoming increasingly important, barrier PR simply do not work.

A much more effective (and ethical) way to practice PR is to be a bridge which connects the organization to its publics. PR personnel who see themselves as bridges use two-way communication with the organizational stakeholders, conduct transparent dialogue through the social media, and respond affirmatively to the needs of the media. The world does not need any more spin doctors, but it does need bridge builders who can foster dialogue, create mutual understanding, and build cooperative, mutually beneficial relationships.

A positive public image of the organization is the result of carefully planned media placement, interview publishing, press release composition, on-line reputation management, social media campaign management, and several other PR factors. The success of PR needs a deep understanding of the interests and concerns of each of the organizational publics. The PR personnel are required to know how to effectively address these concerns using the most powerful tools of the PR.

Roles of PR management

PR can and makes an important contribution in helping to form the ideas of the organization about what it is, what it is required to do and what its publics want and expect from it. The roles of PR management are given in Fig 3 and described below.

Fig 3 Roles of public relations management

Communication management – Communication plays a key role in maintaining a satisfactory, long-term, trusting relationship with publics and stakeholders. One of the major roles of PR is managing the flow of information between the organization and its publics. It develops communication objectives in line with the overall objectives of the organization. It sets a two-way communication process facilitating exchange of information between key publics and the organization.

It is a fundamental technique used in PR which is used to identify the target audience and to tailor messages to be relevant to each audience. As two-way communicators, PR personnel interact directly with key publics, relaying the resulting information (with recommendations) to other members of the management team.

Crisis management – PR plays a critical role in protecting reputation of the organization when there is negative, unfavourable, or adverse publicity because of presence of a crisis situation in the organization which is affecting the publics. PR not only establishes methods and policies to be used for facing such emergency situation but also responds to the crisis situations through effective communication to mitigate concern of publics. This includes policies and procedures for the distribution of information to employees, media, government, and other key publics.

Issues management – This involves identifying and analyzing problems, issues, and trends relevant to the organization and then developing and executing a programme to deal with them. This also includes the study of public policy matters of concern to the organization.

PR in marketing management – PR role in marketing management includes product publicity, product placement, third party endorsement, use of spokespersons, participation in trade exhibitions, and cause related marketing.

Relationship management – This involves the role of PR in identifying key publics and establishing strategies for building and maintaining mutually beneficial relationships with those publics. Through different techniques, PR earns trust and support of the publics to achieve the organizational objectives.

Reputation or image management – PR function of the organization shapes its image. In consultation with the management, it prepares with care an overview of how the organization wants to be perceived, and how it is going to project a positive image. The planning and implementing of policies, procedures, and strategies which demonstrate the commitment of the organization to public and social responsibility, ethical behaviour, corporate identity, and reputation with key publics.

Resource management – PR management of human and financial resources revolves around setting objectives, planning, budgeting, and recruiting PR personnel and administering of these resources.

Risk management – As preventive PR, this role involves making the organization recognize areas of potential danger and risks so that needed changes can be made before potential dangers develop into crises.

Strategic management – Acting as a counselor, the PR personnel helps the management team in developing sound policies which are in the best interests of the publics as well as the organization. The PR personnel integrates an understanding of the concerns and attitudes of key publics into the managerial decision-making process of the organization.

Fig 4 displays this role of an excellent PR department in the overall strategic management process of the organization and the nature of strategic management of PR programmes. The central concepts in Fig 4 are management decisions at the top, stakeholders and publics on the right, and relationship outcomes on the left. Connecting management and publics are the consequences that the behaviour of each has on the other, the inter-dependence between the organization and its environment which creates the need for PR.

Fig 4 Model of strategic management of public relations

The double arrows between management decisions and stakeholders at the upper right of Fig 4 show that strategic decision-makers of the organization are to interact with stakeholders through the PR function since their decisions have consequences on publics or since the organization needs supportive relationships with stakeholders in order to implement decisions and achieve organizational goals. Stakeholders also can seek a relationship with the organization in order to seek a consequence from the organization to solve a problem it recognizes, such as an environmental group which seeks a reduction in pollution from the operating plant. Hence, the consequences of organizational decisions (and behaviours resulting from those decisions) define who the stakeholders of the organization are and, hence, the stakeholders with whom the organization needs a relationship.

PR tools

A number of PR tools are available which include press releases, press conferences, exclusives, interviews, and community involvement.

Press release – One of the most important publics is the press. To be used by the press, information is to be factual, true, and of interest to the medium as well as to its audience. The information in a press release is not going to be used unless it is of interest to the readers of the media it is sent to. While a press release is a necessary tool in PR, it is one of several tools. It is normally the primary tool by which the organization communicate the ‘news’ and information to the outside world.

A press release is required to relate to some genuine news. It is to be brief, clear, factual, accurate, thoroughly proof-read and neat. It is to answer who, what, where, why, when, and how in the first paragraph and it includes information in descending order of importance. Name of contacts, phone numbers, and the release date are to be clearly indicated. Press release is to be limited to two pages. If there is more to the story, other information can be added as attachments (e.g., fact sheets, biographies, or brochures etc.). Quotes are important in a press release. Normally it is best to quote the head of the organization or the person responsible for the programme being announced.

Quotes flesh out the factual presentation, lend meaning and colour to the press release. They are not to sound ‘stiff’. It is better to use quotes which express an opinion or a position. The release itself is to be factual. Press releases can be written on new appointments of top management, special events and programmes, awards and publications, to name a few.

Good press releases tie into local angles. The press releases from the organization are going to be used if the organization gains a reputation for submitting timely, newsworthy information which does not need massive editorial overhaul. Press releases are to be brief. If the media, wants more information, then the editor or reporter calls PR personnel in the organization.

Press releases are written in inverted pyramid style, since editors cut from the bottom of a story. The most important information belongs in the first paragraph, and additional information follows in order of importance. For press releases, facts and not hype are used. The typical editor sees hundreds of ‘dramatic, new, state-of-the-art improvement stories every day. The facts are to be clearly and simply presented, to let the editor or reporter decide what is important. Active voice, subject-verb construction and conversational language is to be used. Press release is to be written in simple sentences (17 words is a good average for readability), with two or three sentences per paragraph.

Press releases are addressed to the editor personally. Information which looks like junk mail normally ends up in the news-room trash. One page is good, two pages is more than enough for a press release. Additional background information can be attached, but the editor or reporter is not to be buried in the information. Normally, the contact details are listed at the top of the press release with the notation, ‘for immediate release’. The job of the editor is to be made as easy as possible. The press release is to be written in double-space for easy, and clear editing. A wide margin is to be used for the same reason.

Press release is to be read by someone who is unfamiliar with the subject or contents. If it does not make sense to the test-reader, it probably not going to make sense to the editor or reporter. A photograph is to be included whenever possible. Even if the photograph is never printed, a good photograph can get the press release a little closer to the top of the editor’s crowded desk. When a photograph or other artwork is included in the press release, then it is to be labelled at the top of the release ‘with photo’ or ‘with art’.

A typed label is to be placed on the back of every photograph. The label is to have the subject, news release title, and the name of the organization. This makes sure that the photo finds a home in case it gets separated from the press release. Some newspapers never use a photograph which has not been taken by a staff photographer, while others welcome an interesting, creative shot. It is worthwhile, however, to send most types of photographs to smaller, weekly papers. Always it is to be indicated on the press release that photos are available.

A standard press release distribution list is to be developed in which appropriate local newspapers (daily and weekly), radio and television stations, cable news stations, trade publications, and business publications are to be included. Some PR personnel believe sending out hundreds of releases, while others believe sending the press release to only a handpicked list of key media. Normally it is better to do a bit of both with the use of judgment. Two mailing lists, a large, general list, and one carefully targeted to key media whom the PR personnel contact individually, are to be developed. If the PR personnel want to send news releases to reporters electronically, then first an e-mail is sent asking whether they want to receive them in that format. Some reporters are still paper-based. Press releases are to be faxed only when they are to be distributed in a hurry because of their timely news value, not because PR personnel have not got them done on time.

Press conferences – Press conferences are used less frequently by the organizations. but this form of delivery can be very effective. The topic is required to be of major interest to a specific group before it is likely to gain coverage. Normally major accomplishments, major break-throughs, emergencies, or catastrophes warrant a press conference. Organizations frequently call press conferences when they have significant news to announce, such as the introduction of a new product or advertising campaign.

Exclusives – Although, majority of PR efforts seek a variety of channels for distribution, an alternative strategy is to offer one particular press medium exclusive rights to the story if that medium reaches a substantial number of people in the target audience. Offering an exclusive can improve the likelihood of acceptance. The media also use these exclusives to promote themselves.

Interviews – Interviews are normally given to the media by a member of the top management. In interviews normally some representative of the media asks specific questions, and the interviewee (the person giving the interview) answer those questions. The topics of interview can be performance of the organization, spectacular achievement of the organization, launch of new product, explaining of the expansion or diversifying plans, or defending the organization (clarifying the position) on certain charges against the organization etc.

Community involvement – Organization improves its public image through involvement in the local community. This involvement can take several forms, including membership in local organizations, contributions to or participation in community events, donating certain amount or providing support for some local cause (frequently termed as CSR activity).

The internet – Internet has become a means by which organizations can disseminate PR relations information. Just as in the print media, Organizations are using the Web to establish media relations and government, investor, and community relationships, deal with crises, and even conduct cause marketing. Organizations are also using their websites to address issues, as well as to provide information about products and services, archive press releases, link to other articles and sites, and provide lists of activities and events.

Other Internet tools, including e-mails and e-mail newsletters, have also been used effectively. It is observed that while PR activities are increasing on the Internet, and it is also continuing to do so, PR personnel have been some of the slowest to adopt the new technology. However, as more and more media people and PR personnel people are gaining confidence, the Internet is becoming a major source of PR activities.

Other methods of distributing information include photo kits, by lined articles (signed by the organization), speeches, and trade shows. Of course, the specific mode of distribution is determined by the nature of the story and the interest of the media and its publics.

PR personnel present the face of an organization normally to articulate its objectives and official views on issues of relevance, primarily to the media. PR activity contributes to the way the organization is perceived by influencing the media and maintaining relationships with stakeholders.

The possibilities of success of PR efforts improves if PR personnel work with and answer to the top management and deal directly with the critical external and internal publics on which the organization depends.

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