Discussing Public Relations
Public Relations, like any other topic/subject/practice of humanistic origin, generates a lot of attention and misconceptions. Some see it as publicity or advertising while others see it as propaganda or the act of sugar-coating a bitter pill. Far from it; in understanding Public Relations one must first look at some basic definitions and analyze them accordingly. It is only by this that a correct understanding of public relations can be established in our minds. Thus, for the purpose of this paper, four basic definitions will be studied for analysis.
The International Public Relations Association (IPRA) established in the United Kingdom, defines Public Relations “as a deliberate, planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain goodwill and mutual understanding between an organization and its publics”.
Another Scholar, Sam Black, widely respected for his contributions to the field of Public Relations as a professional practice defined PR “as the art and science of achieving harmony with the environment through mutual understanding based on truth and full information”. Ebony Oketunmbi (B.sc, M.sc, M.Ed) is also of the view that “Public Relations is the never ending quest to attain & sustain the harmonious balance between an organization’s interest & that of the publics it relates with”.
Of all these definitions, one that enjoys the most universal appeal is the Mexican declaration. This declaration known as the Mexican Statement is a communiqué endorsed by representatives of more than 30 countries at a meeting in August 1938 and it reads
Public Relations practice is the art and social science of analyzing trends, predicting their consequences, counseling organization leaders & implementing planned programme of action which will serve both the organization and public interest.
Analysis of the Definitions Cited so far:
PR is service oriented. It serves both the organization and its publics
PR is a deliberate and systematic process
PR once initiated should never stop. Stopping any public relations activity is to the detriment of any organization
PR requires continuous research
PR seeks to establish mutual understanding through carefully planned and implemented programmes
The above analysis of the elements of Public Relations boils down to what may be described as the basic role of PR:
Taking positive steps to achieve goodwill
Taking appropriate actions to maintain achieved goodwill
Public Relations is about What You Do
What do you do and how does it affect others? If you run a business or represent an organization, you have to explain to people who you are and what you do. You hope that they understand what you are trying to achieve, why you are different and why you are better than others. Problems always arise through a lack of understanding and Public Relations will help you develop that understanding.
Public Relations is about what you Say
The best organizations have a strong identity, consistent and simple messages and they know who they are talking to. You must establish what you want to say and why. Any communication is designed to have an effect. What do you want people to do as a result of understanding your message- buy something? Lobby someone? Donate funds? Believe in your cause? Be sure about the effect you want to have then you can measure the results of your communications activities. When you have established who you want to talk to and why, then think about the best communication tool for the job. The mass media is an obvious channel but think it through! Could you achieve better results via a simple phone call or letter? Would direct mail or a postal campaign be more effective? Find out the best means to achieve what you want.
Public Relations is about what others Say about You
You cannot put too high a price on your reputation. What others say and think about you is vital to your survival as an individual organization or company. What others say about you can affect your organization. Your reputation is worth preserving as what you do and the way you do it will either damage or enhance the way you are perceived.
Community Service and the Public Relations Environment
Literally, an environment is the totality of elements and conditions which constitutes the surroundings in which a thing exists. The environment of public relations consists of people, opinions, attitudes and behavior, customs, traditions, culture, laws and norms, etc.
Of all these elements in the public relations environment, the human factor is of most importance. This is because the interactions between individuals determine the nature and extent of the other elements within the environment of PR.
It is however crucial to note that human beings in the environment of PR are organized into groups called “publics”. Simply put, a public consists of a homogenous group of people with similar interests and opinions about vital issues and whose attitudes may affect the fortunes of an organization either positively or negatively. The term “publics” here does not stand to mean the general public.
The environment of PR is divided into two categories along with its publics:
In this case however, we are going to dwell more on the external environment as the internal aspect is of lesser importance since Rotary is not a commercial organization with employees and internal industrial factors like strikes, salary issues, compensation and others.
The external PR environment is divided into three sub-groups namely:
- Task environment
- Industrial environment
- Local environment
Due to the nature of this discussion and with Rotary Club as the organization in focus, the local environment is what will be concentrated on. The local environment consists of publics such as residents, interest groups, community development associations, religious bodies, security agents, local government officials, traditional authority, etc. Therefore, it is safe to assume that the local environment/community in which an organization finds itself is the immediate area where most of the organization’s activities will be conducted and which will feel the most impact of an organization’s activity, successes and failures.
Why do we Need Public Relations in the Community Setting?
From what has been said so far, it is clear that the importance of public relations activity in relation to any organization cannot be understated. Some of the reasons why an organization needs public relations in its host community are:
To ensure that the publics have a positive and supportive opinion and perception of the organization
To create the right environment within which an organization can operate
To convert apathy to interest, hatred to acceptance, ignorance to understanding on the part of the community towards the organization
To co-ordinate and manage relationship between an organization and its publics (community)
To report and advice on any development likely to affect an organization’s relationship with its publics and thus with its operations
To prevent and manage crisis or issues likely to escalate into crisis
Levels of Public Relations in the Community
There are two basic levels of public relations in a community setting:
- Individual PR
- Corporate/organizational PR
Individual PR is limited to one person and is more about personal image. However, individual public relations can be closely linked to Organizational PR as any organization is made up of individuals. Therefore, having an individual image that educes positive perceptions/reactions from the public who are always watching our every action is important. As mentioned earlier, PR is about what you do, what you say and what others say or perceive about you. As a result, individuals who are linked or identified with organizations must always be careful with what they do as this can directly or indirectly have an impact on the image of the organization they are associated with.
Corporate PR is more group/ organization oriented and an organization is an abstract concept embodied in a group of individuals who come together to achieve a predetermined purpose. Corporate PR is therefore ‘Macro’ in nature. In the case of Rotary, their level of corporate PR should be community oriented. This is called community relations in PR terms. Rotary is centered on service and community service in particular, hence the need for community relations. Community relations can be done through a variety of programmes which include special projects, community welfare programmes, scholarship awards, donations, community welfare programmes, grassroots orientation, etc. this will enhance image, generate goodwill and acceptance, and facilitate understanding. It is however pertinent to note that information- full and factual- is key in achieving effective public relations.
Cost of PR within the Community
Analyzing PR in terms of cost is sometimes a tricky thing. While some may think it is quite expensive, others are of the opinion that it costs next to nothing. The flexible nature of Public Relations practice allows for this. It s true that individual PR sometimes costs next to nothing- all you need is a good name/image. Image is everything and a good name is worth more than gold. However in maintaining a good name, action is needed. For instance, individual Rotarians can set minimum development targets in their locality that will not cost much. They can be champions of change in every small circle they find themselves and they can mobilize people. The way they carry themselves, their speech, interpersonal relationships can also set them up for an improved image.
Corporate public relations is more cost intensive due to the nature of its execution. But it still depends on the objective the organization has in mind. The cost of a community building project will be considerably higher than the cost of a community sanitation programme. Also, the organization can mobilize community to do stuff themselves and provide the necessary logistics and support. This will facilitate more involvement and make the community see you as one with them.
To public relations practitioners however, costing PR activity is done on basis of time/hours spent, manpower, media used, etc.
Benefits of PR within the Community
Mutual understanding and acceptance
Positive image rating
Free flow of information based on public interest- nothing is hidden
Constraints to PR in the Community
Ignorance to your cause
Misunderstanding fuelled by misinformation
The Rotary I grew up to know stands for service, selflessness, ethics, fairness and other ideals- it still does. Employing the use of public relations tools and techniques will only strengthen it and take the organization to greater heights.