While we have accentuated the role of the public relations specialist as it relates to the corporate world, we have also made it clear that there are many other avenues for the public relations person to travel. These include public affairs, community relations, public information, media relations, public opinion surveying, government relations, financial or investor relations, political campaigns, consumer affairs and the ever-growing area of research and statistics.
In all these areas, the old adage concerning Public Relations holds true. P.R. means Performance and Recognition. Especially in the intangible areas of communications and persuasion it is necessary for those entering public relations to be able to decide upon a precise desired result and to develop strategies to obtain it. One must be able to ascertain whether or not he achieved what he wanted to achieve. After all, if the professional public relations person is unable to interpret what he or she did and why, how can a client support the program?
We need more professionals in the field of public relations who know, and can explain, why they're doing what they're doing, and they must have the knowledge and skills to interpret the "what" and "why" to their clients.
We need more professionals who know how to assess the winds of change and serve as a two-way conduit of under-standing between client and publics. There are still too many public relations people who act like the old time stunt pilots-flying by the seat of their pants-without a compass or a flight plan.
Public relations specialists encounter some obstacles even when they approach an assignment with excellent planning and foresight. For example, in most cases, your client is a non-believer: he is unsure about how much good your services can do for him. As always, you have to sell yourself as well as your services.
Unless you do your planning early and well in advance, you will begin with uncoordinated perceptions. It is to your advantage, and the client's, to plan ahead. A public relations effort must be launched with mutually agreed upon objectives-agree on what publics your client wants to reach, the tools of communication to be used and the yardsticks for measuring the results.
Another problem that lingers in the communications business is that too many so-called experts still measure only the tools of their trade, assuming that goals and results are identical twins. They are not.
Client and public relations advisor both must be measuring the same thing. They must agree before, during and after a communications program on targets and objectives.
A good public relations program must insist on setting up a reporting system that is consistent and on a face-to-face basis. Face-to-face meetings go a long way in the constant educational process. Written reports emphasize the "what"; face-to-face meetings add the dimension of the "why". More nuances of understanding are possible in an instant feedback situation.
Coupled with this, of course, is the need for the communicator to know exactly what he is doing and to know how to market his results. Without this, a perfunctory reading of your public relations reports is going to get even more perfunctory. Whatever his areas of lack of understanding about public relations, the efficient executive, above all, has a respect for clarity of communication. In our firm, we use detailed flow charts which are reviewed and updated constantly; the charts show objectives, publics to be reached and the tools of communication which are to be utilized.
Analyze your results in terms of the desired goal or reach of the specific campaign. Check your television, radio and print efforts early and often to make sure that they are on target with what you and the client set out to achieve.
The most important use of clippings and other tangible results-other than to indicate to the client that the public relations person is functioning properly-is to stimulate the organization to greater efforts. Such results have an emotional impact; they provide a successful consciousness that spurs people to greater efforts.
How do you measure results? You can hire a good research organization to do before-and-after studies, which ties in well with the involvement of management in setting objectives concept. You can also construct your own evaluation of your image and run surveys before, during and after specific efforts. And, of course, don't forget the press. Ask key editors covering your specific field what they see as your organization's key image and what they see as problem areas. See if their assessment agrees with yours; if it doesn't, you may have to come up with a new objective.
Ask yourself what you're doing correctly? What is going wrong? What more should we do? Sometimes, along with good, objective advice, you get personal bias. Take that into account. The end result will be a greater capacity to see yourself as others see you; a necessary gift for all public relations practitioners.
For newcomers into the field, this discussion about measuring performance may sound a bit like putting the horse before the cart. However, I believe that by sharing some of my observations you may avoid pitfalls and become better practitioners of your newly-found art than you would have been.