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The Scope of Public Relations Today

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Any attempt to list the number of people engaged in public relations in the United States should be qualified by the use of the word "estimated." Dr. Frank H. Teahan, Vice-President of the Public Relations Society of America, estimates the figure at 100,000 to 150,000. This number includes support people. If one is speaking of professional-level practitioners, therefore, using qualification for membership in the Public Relations Society of America as a criterion for professionalism, an estimate of 40,000 might be more accurate.

The Occupational Outlook Handbook, 1976-77 Edition, published by the Department of Labor, estimated that more than 100,000 persons were public relations workers in 1974, and that 30 percent of them were women.

The majority of public relations practitioners are on the staffs of corporations. In 1936 Business Week magazine stated that about 1 out of 50 of the top 300 companies in the U.S. had public relations departments. In 1961 the figure was 3 out of 4. In 1978 it was reported that 2,400 companies had public relations departments, 80 percent of which were formal public relations or communications departments.

It is estimated that 100 new corporate public relations depart-ments are established each year. In addition, thousands of small companies either have a public relations professional on their staff or engage outside advisers. Therefore beyond the 9,000 members and 5,000 corporate members of the Public Relations Society of America that we can count on as representing the profession, there are a myriad men and women practicing public relations.

Diversity of Activities

According to the 1970 Census, 73,744 public relations practitioners and publicity writers were working for industries of all types. Of this total, 19,376 were women and 54,368 were men. The total included:
  • 15,404 in professional and related services 14,110 in manufacturing

  • 9,971 in business and repair services

  • 7,344 in finance, insurance, and real estate

  • 6,829 in wholesale and retail trade

  • 5,818 in public administration

  • 3,617 in communications

  • 2,771 in public utilities

  • 2,491 in transportation

  • 2,324 in entertainment and recreation services

  • 1,215 in personal services

  • 468 in mining

  • 324 in agriculture, forestry, and fisheries
The United States government has many full-time public relations employees on its payrolls, not including employees who function in a public relations capacity by some other name.

The United States Information Agency is in a sense the pub-lic relations arm of the government in its foreign relations. It was established in 1953 as part of the Executive branch. Its mission is to support national interests by (1) conveying an understanding of what the U.S. stands for as a nation and as a people, presenting a true picture of its society, institutions, and culture; (2) explaining U.S. policies and their reasons; and (3) advising the U.S. government on implications of foreign public opinion for the formulation and execution of foreign policy. The last named is the true public relations mission. The agency's 188 posts, known as the U.S. Information Service, are in 114 countries around the world. Its budget for fiscal year 1977 was more than $260,000,000, and its personnel in 1977 numbered more than 8,000.

Future Prospects

As to the future of public relations, any movement toward extremes of left or right tends to limit public relations functioning and effectiveness. Extremes are bound to be authoritarian. They do not want competition of ideas in the marketplace. To be effective, public relations depends on free competition of ideas. A drying up of public relations results under authoritarianism.

But if, as we hope and expect, our system continues, public relations should move ahead at an accelerated pace. Competition for the minds of people should increase. The increasing complexity of society and its interest groups and group interests brings with it a need for a societal technician who can aid in bringing about better adjustment and understanding between all who make up the society. Speeded-up transportation and communication intensify this need for making ideas and things more intelligible to all.

Increased literacy and sophistication of the public will also give impetus to public relations. As social sciences probe more deeply into the nature of man's behavior, both individual and group, the public relations practitioner will be better able to work toward adjustment, the desideratum of a democratic society.

Public relations cannot be superimposed on an organization. Consciousness of good public relations must permeate the entire organization. Experience has taught me, for instance, that at every bargaining table in a strike situation three groups are represented, but only two of them are visible. Representatives of management and workers negotiate, but the invisible public, not present at the bargaining table, helps determine the outcome of negotiations. Whether consciously or not, negotiations take their orientation from public attitude. If the negotiators misinterpret or misjudge public opinion, the public catches up with the wrong decision by imposing legislation on one side or the other.

This invisible public participation in profit and nonprofit enterprises will accelerate. The public can always act through law or voluntary action.
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