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A Look At Public Relations

A Look At Public Relations

September 27, 2004
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" The key idea behind a proactive approach is the need to own the effect of the event. "

Many times when we think of public relations we imagine a suave, schooled sophistiqué addressing journalists. Indeed all of that goes with the territory, but has anyone ever asked what precisely is public relations?

As a concept, public relations is embedded in a number of job descriptions. Anyone who works as a spokesperson, customer service representative or any of other such dockets where people skills are paramount will no doubt be in the vein of public relations. From this, we can distill a working definition.

Public Relations can therefore be defined as the art and science of interfacing organizational roles, objectives and procedures with public expectations. Perhaps that might sound a little too bookish. What that means in simple terms is this: one, that organizations have to deal with various publics in the course of attaining their goals. How they do this is what is public relations.

The definition has also referred to it as a science. That it is, because one would have to understand something of the human psyche. Knowing what usually works for what audience and when. Some time back a National Security minister found himself in hot soup when he disclosed the presence of a terrorist in his country. Ideally, this was good PR but wrong application. He had not yet studied the psyche of his publics to identify what would work and what would not.

As has been so often seen in corporations, public relations is usually seen as more of a reactive office, that is when the big shots want to do some damage control. Same thing applies for government (Dr. Smith would definitely know a thing or two on this). Public Relations however should involve both an active and proactive component.

Well what is the difference, proactive and active? It’s more than potayto, potato. Active public relations should be the main buzzword. The reason is that it is ongoing. It is continuous and can be inducted into everyone within the organization. Everyone should become a good PR person for the firm. There are companies that everyone wants to work for. We all know them. What makes those companies unique? This is because employees at those firms exude a certain air of contentment and the radiance of happiness. It is all about nurturing environments. This effectively gives the equivalent of a swing vote to the company’s public image.

Shall we say that companies do not need a public relations man so long as they handle their PR policies well? Principally, no. the strand of active PR also comes into play when we look at the role of the PR department at any firm. See, one of their core functions is to get extra publicity at little or no cost. Bad publicity also counts. Active public relations will include regular press briefings, dispatches explaining up and coming events. An active PR scheme should as much as possible endeavor to prepare annual calendars showing the latest and what they are doing. It is when an event, especially a tragedy or some other misfortune occurs that a PR department needs proactive PR.

Usually when something of the kind happens there occurs a knee-jerk reaction. In some cases, senior management denies knowledge of whatever it is. Eventually facts backed up by solid evidence surfaces, witnesses crawl out of the woodwork and the whole thing blows out of proportion. Then when the heat gets so intense the PR guys are called in and it’s time for damage control. This is called a reactive PR. The trouble is that when companies behave in this predictable fashion they cede control over the event to the media, who with glee tear and destroy the company’s image.

The key idea behind a proactive approach is the need to own the effect of the event. A good PR department will seek to do this right from the initial stage. Many do this the wrong way: by lying (the devil with the blue dress, remember?). The best approach is to own up. No half-truths, no innuendo, no almost true stories. Trouble is egos, and sometimes very big ones are involved. It is up to every organization to decide what should be retained; whether it will be egos or the company’s image.

Owning the event requires guts because one must recognize that whichever way someone will get burnt. It is therefore my decided opinion that telling the truth no matter how ugly is always the best option.

An approach where the truth becomes the rule rather than the exception becomes the way to go because it does two things. Though the company’s reputation may get singed, from the ashes there arises a respect for the company. In addition, a collateral benefit is gained. The company is perceived as dependable and reliable. It also ensures that if there should be any other notable future events, good or bad, the organization will be credible as well. That is what a good effective PR department should keep in mind.


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