What Public Relations Practitioners Do at Various Organizations

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This article, based on almost six decades of activity in public relations, applies equally to all public relations practice, profit and nonprofit. The discussion is confined to the activities the practitioner carries on. The field includes independent practitioners functioning as separate entities, as law firms do, and staff members of organizations.

The independent outside public relations counseling firm is retained to advice clients on strategy and tactics to build public support. The internal public relations department often functions through a public relations committee of the organization, which acts with advice of outside counsel to set public relations policies and programs.

Public relations staffs are broken down into specialized functions. Often regional public relations offices of large organizations operate in key cities.



Within the large organization, the public relations department maintains contact with all departments that deal with publics. In a corporation, the counsel may work with the purchasing department on public relations with purveyors or develop a code covering conflict of interest between the loyalty to the company owed by officers and other executives and their other interests. The counsel may work with the treasurer on policies and programs for stockholders and employees, with the sales department on documentary movies for consumers and retailers, or with a polling organization on a public opinion survey to determine public attitudes toward the company as a basis for possible changes of practices and policies. The practitioner makes decisions on books, pamphlets, letters, skywriting, exhibits, speeches, house organs, films, and other materials directed toward publics on which the company is dependent. In lower echelons, staff members in the public relations department may work on mailing lists, maintain contacts by letter with group leaders and opinion molders, do research, and write.

The independent public relations counseling organization works in a comparable way. Sometimes it confines itself to advisory services; in other cases it implements the suggestions made through its own staff.

Regardless of where the public relations practitioner works, to be effective the procedure should follow a nine-point program: (1) preliminary decision on objectives; (2) research of relevant publics to determine attitudes and actions; (3) interpretation of research as a basis for a plan of action; (4) modification of objectives in the light of research; (5) strategy to be employed; (6) themes and appeals to be used; (7) organization to carry out the program; (8) planning and timing of tactics; and (9) budget. In The Engineering of Consent, which I edited and to which I contributed, this approach is outlined in detail.

Organization

This covers plans to carry on activity. Activity involves all elements of the principal in contact with publics. A well-thought-out organization plan embraces planning for the necessary complement of people and things to carry out the program. Organization provides for the expected and the unexpected. The plan of organization details the flow of authority, assignment of duties, and execution.

Planning of Timing and Tactics

Timing and planning of tactics are essential to carry on effective strategy and achieve goals.

Sound tactics demands interlocking of resources based on the findings of the research, and meeting of the goals set. The fore-sighted practitioner plans tactics to handle routine matters and to meet emergencies as they may arise. Tactics may involve changing policies and practices of the principal. It may also involve information and persuasion activities through the media, including newspapers, periodicals, radio, television, motion pictures, pamphlets, posters, and handbills. It may include contact (personal, by telephone, and by letter) with group leaders and opinion molders. It may also include the development of created circumstances, planned events such as symposia, conferences, luncheons, forums, and the like.

A chart that covers advance planning is useful. This schedules all activities according to the timing of the overall strategy. Like a general with a carefully drawn battle plan, the public relations practitioner uses a comparable blueprint to aid in the effective carrying out of action.

Sometimes tactics has for their aim penetration through the media to the public, in order that specific or general public be made aware of certain facts or points of view. Timing may well be an important factor in such an activity.

The orderly spacing of tactics naturally plays a role in effectiveness. As an example of such good timing, when glycerin was first used as an anti-freeze in the first airplane flight across the North Pole, the promotion campaign to sell the product was launched immediately afterward.

The public relations practitioner must realize that certain days are more logical than others from the standpoint of news coverage of a planned event or press conference. Sunday may well be the best day for events not related to business activity. Monday's media have little commerce and industry to report and therefore have more space and time for presentation.

Monday is poor for staging an event. The accumulation of events at the beginning of a busy week makes competition for attention on Tuesday too great a risk.

Tuesday is a good day. People have caught up with themselves on Monday. Wednesday is also a good day. People can come up for air, give time to something new.

Thursday is not quite so good, because the momentum of the week's activity means greater competition for attention all around.

Friday is poor for the same reason, as is Saturday.

Saturday is poor for two other good reasons. First, it is a day of release and escape from routine for most people; and second, Sunday newspapers go to press early. Special interest sections are run off before Saturday for the most part. Broadcast media news coverage is much less than on weekdays.

In scheduling for maximum public visibility, the public relations professional watches public trends closely. To avoid conflict of dates and also to find possible tie-ins with other interests, the public relations planner turns to such reference sources as World Convention Dates; The United States Chamber of Commerce Special Days, Weeks, and Months (which lists weeks given over to certain products, ideas, or services); Chase's Calendar of Annual Events; trade and professional publications that often list events in the fields they cover; and Variety, Publishers Weekly, Editor and Publisher, and Broadcasting, which run advance comment on trends in the mass media affecting the climate of public opinion.
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