The opinions of the public are sought for many reasons. American businesses constantly ask questions, through telephone polls or written questionnaires, to find out the tastes and preferences of American consumers. They also poll employees to check the level of support for their policies. Car manufacturers, cosmetic makers and cereal producers spend millions of dollars each year trying to find out what Americans prefer.
There are many full-time, large companies who conduct these polls under contract to corporations, politicians, government agencies and trade associations who are extremely interested in specific answers to scientifically-developed questions. In addition to Harris, Gallup and Roper organizations, which are well-known because of their long-time, extensive political polls, there are many other polling organizations, employing thousands of people.
One such firm is Ruder Finn & Rotman's Research & Forecasts subsidiary, which pioneered the National Issue Study as a public relations technique. In these studies, which include the Figgie Report on The Fear of Crime in America, The Connecticut Mutual Life Report on American Values in the 80's: The Impact of Belief, and the brand new study, The Whirlpool Corporation Report on The Consumer Comes of Age, the public is surveyed on important topics of public interest.
Research & Forecasts assignments range from extensive communications audits to national public issues studies that become the centerpieces of major public relations campaigns. Research & Forecasts professionals combine a sophisticated background in scientific methodology with sensitivity to public relations considerations. The firm's studies have generated impressive recognition and visibility for sponsoring clients through national and international news coverage, speeches, articles and other communications techniques. Major assignments in recent years have been widely quoted as groundbreaking explorations of American attitudes and perceptions about critical national issues.
Limited-scope projects conducted by the firm's search service help clients as well as agency staff locate information quickly, efficiently and economically. Assignments include library and document research, mail surveys, topical searches utilizing computerized data-bank retrieval systems and in-depth telephone interviews with target audiences. The roles played by people in such research organizations are crucial in asking the right questions in order to elicit information which their clients and management must know.
Opinion surveys help public relations people educate a wide segment of the American people about the benefits of any given product. Providing surveys to America's major corporations is a large part of the function of the nation's foremost public relations firms and their counterparts in corporate public relations departments.
Educating the public involves projecting a positive, wholesome image of the represented company to the different publics it is trying to reach. Public relations is image-building: it is making sure that a company is seen in the best possible light by those who see its advertisements on television or read them in magazines and newspapers. This cannot be over-emphasized.
Now more than ever, people in all segments of the general public have a great deal of power.
Relating to Hostile Publics
It is one thing to report generally the existence of "value conflicts" between businesses and other groups in our society. It is another to report that a company's stockholders are accusing it of economic sin or that its employees are at the point of staging anti-exploitation walkouts. It is even more difficult to report that consumers have filed petitions with several federal and state agencies, and that the general public erroneously believes that corporations are "ripping off' the consumer to the tune of 28 percent net profit each year. It takes a tough skin to insist that these problems also be added to management's worries.
Even the middle class is getting restless! And that means the bulk of all of us, America's primary consumers. For this reason, the public relations expert in the years to come and beyond will have to keep up and stay ahead of rapidly changing business and societal conditions. Public relations will still have to react to difficult situations, but above all, the new public relations will depend on skilled practitioners who anticipate trends. The public relations professional must be able to teach the client to comprehend that the world is in a drastic state of change and to cope with those changes.
At times, the public relations person must exhibit the fervor of an evangelist when competing for a client's attention. But the well-grounded client will have respect for the professional in the field who continues to point out that many of the client's problems are related to public relations and who proposes creative and successful techniques to solve the problems.
Never forget that the hallmarks of the public relations craft are communications and persuasion. Specialists must hone their understanding of the forces that change public attitudes, which change a group of cooperative employees into a surly bunch, that change loyal customers to dissidents and that change placid stockholders into irritated strangers.