It’s a waste of time and resources to engage in any form of PR work without understanding what it entails. Whether you are launching a PR program or setting up a PR department, your success depends on it. I find it worrisome when I see organizations commit scarce resources into PR without a clear idea of what they are doing. It’s even more worrisome when they set up a PR department without knowing what the job descriptions of its personnel should be, and how they are supposed to do their work.
This article looks at the seven key elements of PR work which distinguishes it from other phony engagements organizations undertake in its name. It’s what guarantees positive outcomes from the work. Let’s look at them one by one.
Research is at the heart of every PR work. You just can’t do without it.
At the beginning of every PR program, it helps you to flesh out the PR problem you intend to address, determine the effectiveness of the current approach and channels of communication with stakeholders and understand what the publics/stakeholders know and feel about you or your organization. It’s needed to track progress as you implement the program and to evaluate its effectiveness at the end by measuring output and outcomes against the predetermined objectives.
Launching a PR program without a clear plan is like venturing into the ocean with a rudderless ship. That’s an invitation to disaster. A clear PR plan identifies the PR problem to be addressed in the light of the prevailing circumstances of the individual or the organization and the specific audience whose attention you need. It spells out the communication objectives to be achieved and how to do that, including the cost implications. It also details how the programme will be implemented and evaluated in terms of its impact on the behaviors and attitudes of targeted stakeholders and the programme’s overall contribution to the success of the individual or the organization.
PR is not a hap-hazard affair; it is a deliberate, thought-out communication and relationship management process. It must be planned.
- SUSTAINED COMMUNICATION AND RELATIONSHIP BUILDING ACTIVITIES
Public Relations uses communication tools to build and maintain relationship with stakeholders of an individual or an organization. Communication in this context is not all about messaging or dialogue with them; it includes the way you behave toward them. If communication is the grease that oils the wheels of every good relationship; then, Public Relations is what you must continue to do until your predetermined objectives are achieved. You can’t achieve the desired results by doing it in fits and starts. Sustained effort is the name of the game.
- BOUNDARY SPANNING WORK
PR must operate as an interface between the individual or the organization it serves and the external environment at all times. It must continuously scan the political, economic, social, technological, legal and even the physical environments for issues that may negatively affect them. It must feel the pulse of stakeholders within and outside the individual or the organization and feed them with their expectations, attitudes and sentiments for informed decisions that help to enhance long-term and supportive relationships. This is a crucial element of PR work known as the boundary spanning function.
It’s a terrible mistake to think PR is all about writing and distributing press releases, producing videos and organizing events. Public Relations is a management function. It must be treated as such if it is to achieve its full potential. Its work is guided by the management techniques of research and analysis, planning, execution and control. PR involves:
- Communication management
- Crisis management
- Relationship management
- Issues management
- Reputation management
- Resource management
- Reputation risk management, and
- Strategic management
Its environmental scanning and trend analysis function is what positions firmly as a strategic management function because of the business and environmental intelligence it feeds into strategic decisions. This is what gives PR practitioners seats in the strategic management roundtable of any organization they happen to find themselves either as consultants or as employees. But when PR falls from grace in an organization, when it is not accepted as a management function, it ends up as a craft function at the same level with janitors and other craftsmen and women who operate at the grass level. This happens either because qualified personnel are not employed or PR is not understood; therefore, it is not given its rightful place in the organization.
Most PR programs involve getting the targeted group to shift grounds in their beliefs and perceptions. This is when Public Relations effects what Frank Jefkins termed The Transfer Process, changing hostility to sympathy, apathy to interest, prejudice to acceptance and ignorance to knowledge, using the instrumentality of strong and favorable identity formation/management, education and socially responsible behavior.
For Public Relations, truthful and ethical communication is the only way to achieve its ends. The use of force, deception or blackmail will only harm relationships in the long run. Therefore, it seeks understanding with stakeholders through dialogue and helps to inject ethical ideas and thoughts into strategic decisions of the individual or organization it serves. It is the conscience of those it serves. Ethics is what helps PR balance the interests of its sponsors with public interest. PR cannot exist without it. Therefore, any communication and relationship management effort that discounts ethics is not PR; it only looks like it.
When you think of Public Relations, remember these seven elements are the essence of its work. If you are one of those who believe that PR is a random, one-off set of communication activities by a group of artisans, if you think it’s all about putting up favorable messages about an organization as a smokescreen to cover its harmful behaviors against its stakeholders and society at large, and if you belief it’s a job without a moral compass, it’s time to come off those silly beliefs. You don’t deceive your way into supportive and enduring relationships; you behave your way into them. PR is about relationships founded on trust.