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Many Roles, Many Markets

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The functions of a public relations person are infinite. The specialist may be asked to promote an idea or sell almost any type of product. He or she must be ready, often on a moment's notice, to come up with a saleable plan which will get results for the firm.

Betsy Plank, Illinois Bell Telephone's assistant vice president for public relations, who has been in the field more than 30 years, has offered a clear summary of the different roles played by the public relations expert. According to Ms. Plank, the field has a wide range of practice. It includes counsel to management, community relations, research and identification of issues, employee communications, consumer relations, public affairs, investor and financial relations and marketing public relations.

The skills of public relations specialists can be utilized by nearly every segment of society. Holders of public office, for example, as well as local, ad hoc community organizations, emphasize up-to-date techniques in communication and persuasion. And improving community relations is of primary importance to all of them. Businesses, small and large, avail themselves most of the skills of public relations specialists to show potential consumers that they will benefit from purchasing and using the product.

A product must be good or in the long run, large numbers of people will not repeatedly purchase it. But, no matter how good the product, if it is not sold properly-if the message regarding its high quality is not carefully presented-even the best product will not approach its potential sales volume. Ultimate profit is a two-way street on which these two equally important factors must travel side by side.

Communicating to the consumer, to create and continue a favorable impression, is crucial for all types of products. This includes breakfast cereals and cola, which have frequent resales, and for expensive, infrequently replaced products like automobiles.

Communication and advocacy are crucial and interrelated functions of the public relations specialist. He or she must not only communicate a message to the potential consumer in a clear, concise and gripping fashion but also convince the consumer to purchase or use the product or service which his client is selling. The message is not intended to be neutral. It is advocating a specific point of view. What the client is trying to sell is better or preferable to those of competing companies who are also trying to sell their products or services to the same publics.

Being successful is not easy. There is a great deal of competition. Makers and sellers of competing products, too, utilize the skills of public relations practitioners.

Prior to putting out a marketing campaign for a particular product, a public relations person must do a great deal of study, research and hard thinking. As we've stated before, today's world is very, very complicated and it gets more complex daily.

Consequently, ascertaining how to reach the separate publics is more difficult than it was a decade or so ago when modern society was not so diverse and complicated. The public relations specialist must first identify, and accurately define, the public or publics which he or she intends to reach and then select the tools and techniques with which to reach them.

Keep in mind that no matter what product one wishes to sell, there is an abundance of good competition out there trying just as hard to attract the consumer's dollar. Therefore, in order to make an appreciable impact, one must pinpoint exactly where and how to act. In ascertaining how to be effective, one must wear many hats. Having sophisticated knowledge and expertise in public relations is essential, but that alone does not suffice. What about psychology, sociology and motivational research? In fact, thorough knowledge of all the social and behavioral sciences is advisable, at times even essential.

Producers of products have begun concentrating efforts in these regions on the impact of these groups as consumers. The so-called "browning of America" has already begun. Efforts to reach these new consumers have also started and will be positively expanded throughout the 2000s.

As is the case with other races and ethnic groups, Hispanics cannot be categorized simply. They do not fit neatly into one socio-economic group. Some, unfortunately, are not well-educated and work at relatively menial jobs. Others have partaken of the American dream and must be appealed to in the same fashion as other middle and upper class, economically successful and educated Americans.

To remain ignorant of these key demographic changes would be tantamount to missing the essence of public relations, as it performs an invaluable role to marketing in America in the future.
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