Importance of Attitude
The most vital attribute in PR work is the practitioner's attitude, especially when he is a newcomer. He serves as a spokesman to the public. Elected PR chairmen usually have a good built in attitude that is why they are elected. If they are successful and like the work they may wish to make PR a career. Campus recruits often have majored in PR related subjects, preparatory to a career. Most of those who come from the editorial field were sought out by companies or agencies. They may have a vocational interest in the job, or they may be attracted by the prospect of monetary rewards.
Skills and Techniques
Regardless of what outsiders see, the professional PR man is a compound of detailed skills and techniques of the craft. These include awareness of the employers' goals and of their marketing requirements.
For example: suppose the PR man is assigned to marketing in a manufacturing company that wants to introduce a new product a steam iron to be sold to consumers through dealers. In meetings with marketing specialists he would identify the "news values," or centers of interest among those on the outside who will be affected. He would divide his subject into three (or more) interests: consumers, trade or dealers, and general business.
As the plan developed, PR would supply different versions of the product/service story to: 1) women's pages in newspapers, women's magazines and radio commentators; 2) trade publications for dealers and distributors; and 3) general information about home laundry and its equipment industry to more general business publications. Radio stations also use business items.
The PR approach requires writing from the reader's viewpoint: women's stories stress use value; dealers' stories place emphasis on profits and store traffic values; general business information reflects a technological aspect, or the effect of "wash and wear" fabrics on homemakers. PR also helps with related materials, such as letters to dealers or tie ins with fabrics suppliers.
Company Knowledge Vital
Even when a newcomer is assigned exclusively to a departmental function such as marketing or personnel, he will be expected to know the history and organizational facts about the company or division. If his direct responsibility is to the general managers or corporate end of the business, he must become familiar with the products or services.
In practice, when he shows a willingness to take on details, the broader knowledge will come in the course of the day's work.
The PR Department
When a PR chairman or student thinks of an exciting PR career in business or public service fields, he may envision a cluster of offices or a large room with typewriters clattering in every corner. The fact is that the majority of all PR departments have fewer than five members. A two man department with a secretary and perhaps a clerk is typical of many good sized companies. In smaller companies one practitioner often wears two hats: advertising and PR, or personnel and PR. Do not let the size of the operation concern you. P. T. Barnum became the world's most publicized figure without even a two hat PR man.
In recent years, as PR has gained acceptance as being essential for larger companies and institutions, it usually has been slotted as a staff function, with its director reporting to the president. Ambitious newcomers may be assigned to head a division's PR within a year. They retain PR central staff identity, but function under a division operations manager. Very often such multiple level responsibility means that a number of approvals is required on such matters as publicity, or even letters sent to dealers or customers. The PR man may have to submit his copy to a dozen executives operations, legal, financial, engineering, several higher echelons of marketing and to headquarters staff. That maze of approvals is one of PR's least enchanting requirements.
The seeming hypersensitivity triggering such requirements stems from governmental regulations, and it reflects a high degree of career consciousness among career executives: they keep careful watch that their department is not down graded.
Retail industry PR, as exemplified by chains well endowed with career executives, has retained a higher degree of local (departmental or branch unit) autonomy in PR matters. Typically, a candidate in a big store chain is hired locally. Checking 22 big store units in the New York area disclosed that 14 were responsible to the store manager. Seven of those had entered retailing in advertising, promotion or other merchandising functions. Five had become acquainted with store management while engaged in a volunteer public service function. Six were "PR advertising" majors who gravitated to PR. Two (women) had been trade/ fashion writers. Of the 22, eight were women and only one of these had no experience in advertising. Two of the 14 men were assigned to personnel, but the others had had merchandising experience.
Retailing PR Has Wide Discretion
The most conspicuous aspect in the above sample was that almost everyone questioned said that the store manager was his superior, and that only his approval was needed for store wide activities or publicity. By asking several more detailed questions it was learned that department heads also gave their approval when their functions were involved. The fact that there is no definite pattern indicates that PR has a comparatively free hand, even in chains with strong central management.
A generation ago big stores sheltered their PR function in the advertising office. Its candidates were told to learn the promotional business first. In recent years local situations show competition between old line big stores vs. new type discount stores. PR is a management function; but the two hat practitioner is still alive. In corporate structures his relationship to the chief officer is not unlike that in other corporations. Possibly the greatest difference is that in retail industry corporations PR has greater leeway, level for level, than in manufacturing or basic industries. Not so many "approvals" are required.
A New PR Opportunity: Branch Stores
Although chains have not taken over all big stores in larger cities, most of those still under local ownership have grown into county or state wide branch systems. That type of branching is new: all branches are under the main store name, but the unit managers usually are in total command, including staff PR. A generation ago there were no PR jobs in retail outside of the half dozen or so counties where chains were headquartered.
All multiple unit department stores (new type or old line) have a similar PR setup. Its head is at the main office as a staff or operating executive. In that office the duties tend to be financial, organizational and developmental. The top PR title may be vice president, or assistant to the president. If he came from merchandising he will usually have direct control of the PR organization, consisting of local PR heads, hired locally.
Candidates wishing to enter retail PR normally should apply at the store closest to where they live. More and more, the manager there has the prerogatives of a store owner. He hires local people for all positions as long as he can find them. The new self service (discount) stores have been slower than the old line big stores in recognizing local PR needs, but today all of them do. A slight difference is that some have a district practitioner serving several store localities. But the direct control of all PR for chains comes from headquarters.
Retailing is essentially a local operation regardless of ownership, and location is one of the basic considerations in choosing an enterprise for a PR career. Obviously, few local retailers support PR practitioners, even on a part time basis. But when stores are units of chain operations they either have PR or are serviced by a state wide or district practitioner. Officially he may work directly for the central PR office, but functionally for the district manager. To apply, a candidate should write to the corporately identified PR director at headquarters, telling him his preferred territory.
Importance of Planning
Partly because PR is a link between a principal and a channel (of communications, etc.) there always will be the question which is more important for the practitioner in his career. The answer is somewhat anticlimactic: he will never impress outsiders those professionals with whom he deals until he shows by his techniques that he is in charge of PR.
Editors, commentators, reporters, association pros and public officials can tell the flunky from the pro at a glance. Newcomers ask for help both inside and out. Within the company his established colleagues will offer their help in "learning the ropes." Some newcomers (like everybody else), may object to meetings, but these represent the basic planning vehicle in almost every company. All types of enterprise profit or non profit, industrial or retail, product or service make plans to formalize all vital functions. Its departmentalized units plan their moves and coordinate with other departments. For this they need certain techniques. The incoming PR practitioner must learn these.
Planning as a function is the real growing element in all organizations. PR is extremely important when it is required in all planning meetings. It shows from the outside. A practitioner who helps to plan has the viewpoint for external uses. Each mode of communications has its techniques that must become familiar to practitioners. For example: local practices determine the precedence of news breaks. When they should go to an evening paper they are made available early in the day. If a news story breaks at 5:00 P.M. it would be on the radio long before an evening paper could use it.
Start of a PR Operation
A newcomer to PR is also the first practitioner to be employed by an enterprise most of the techniques will be unknown to all parties. The first need for the practitioner as well as for those executives who stand to gain by a good company PR activity is to ask questions. Almost all techniques related to PR, internal and external, are local, but they are parts of a national pattern with many similarities.
In almost every line of work learning the way things are done brings many headaches. In no line does accomplished technique pay off more handsomely than in PR. Once the techniques are familiar, they can be forgotten and attention given to other needs, such as, for instance, personal acceptance.
In PR Personal Acceptance Is Crucial
When a new boy shows up as a member of the PR staff, or to head the operation, his presence creates some curiosity in most offices. There is no great antagonism. It is merely that PR is generally considered a preferred position: people wonder how he got the job. That holds true also for reporters and others on the outside who will be dealing with him. They wonder how he was picked.
The process of winning acceptance has started. He is becoming one of the people. A fellow of whom the manager might later say: "He's our kind of guy." How is this accomplished? To be accepted, you have to be aware that acceptance is not automatic. First of all, you have to want acceptance. It might require pausing occasionally in your own work to lend a hand.
The Dynamics of PR
When the question of making a career of PR is being considered, it should be realized that all relationships that bring pleasure and pride include some features that may be highly distasteful but unavoidable. In the business world few things are more pleasurable than arranging the press coverage for a major acquisition announcement. But what about the practitioner whose career was launched in the acquired company? If he thinks nothing has happened to him it is because he believes the press releases. No corporate acquisition was ever made to get the PR director. In fact, most key staffers leave the acquired company within a year regardless of the announcement that it will "continue without change in management."
Another type of two way flow is the information common in company announcements vs. the information sought in questions from reporters and writers. Newcomers should be aware at the outset that their responsibility is two way. Principals, owners and managers, can see the merits of their news releases, but they seldom see any good in news they wish to hide. Practitioners do not take the Boy Scout oath, but they usually must deal with the same outsider on questions that they deal with on releases. It is not wise to attempt to outwit the boss, but it is the practitioner's responsibility to steer a straight course in company reputation building.
What Is Good Taste?
No one really attempts to define good taste, but when personal evaluations show reservations about a practitioner, it often means that his good taste quotient is low. When he does something that requires lots of guts, he calls it aggressiveness. When a subject is best omitted or forgotten, he never fails to mention it. Even in more subtle ways he tends to out reach. He may be the guy who brings his wife when others do not.
Bad taste is deadly, but not necessarily inherited. Most of it results from over eagerness. In career PR, the surest way to display good taste is to be fully aware of it. PR does lend itself to over reaching, but it seldom pays: it may leave the impression that you lack good taste. Those who never relax their wariness create the impression that they inherited good taste.
Good PR professionals come from many backgrounds to all types of enterprises where their personalities, fortified by specialized knowledge, are applied to communications for better understanding.
PR practitioners bring a good attitude that motivates them to develop the detailed skills and techniques as channels to the public, aimed at building and sustaining their employer's reputations.
Why is it necessary to do several different versions of the same PR story?
What are the advantages of a PR job in a retail store or branch?