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What Public Relations Practitioners Do

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This article, based on almost six decades of activity in public relations, applies equally to all public relations practice, profit and nonprofit. The discussion is confined to the activities the practitioner carries on. The field includes independent practitioners functioning as separate entities, as law firms do, and staff members of organizations.

The independent outside public relations counseling firm is retained to advice clients on strategy and tactics to build public support. The internal public relations department often functions through a public relations committee of the organization, which acts with advice of outside counsel to set public relations policies and programs.

Public relations staffs are broken down into specialized functions. Often regional public relations offices of large organizations operate in key cities.

Within the large organization, the public relations department maintains contact with all departments that deal with publics. In a corporation, the council may work with the purchasing department on public relations with purveyors or develop a code covering conflict of interest between the loyalty to the company owed by officers and other executives and their other interests. The council may work with the treasurer on policies and programs for stockholders and employees, with the sales department on documentary movies for consumers and retailers, or with a polling organization on a public opinion survey to determine public attitudes toward the company as a basis for possible changes of practices and policies. The practitioner makes decisions on books, pamphlets, letters, skywriting, exhibits, speeches, house organs, films, and other materials directed toward publics on which the company is dependent. In lower echelons, staff members in the public relations department may work on mailing lists, maintain contacts by letter with group leaders and opinion molders, do research, and write.

The independent public relations counseling organization works in a comparable way. Sometimes it confines itself to advisory services; in other cases it implements the suggestions made through its own staff.

Regardless of where the public relations practitioner works, to be effective the procedure should follow a nine-point program: (1) preliminary decision on objectives; (2) research of relevant publics to determine attitudes and actions; (3) interpretation of research as a basis for a plan of action; (4) modification of objectives in the light of research; (5) strategy to be employed; (6) themes and appeals to be used; (7) organization to carry out the program; (8) planning and timing of tactics; and (9) budget. In The Engineering of Consent, which I edited and to which I contributed, this approach is outlined in detail.

Determining Objectives

Every public relations program should contain a clear-cut statement of the goals of the organization with its' publics. What is the organization or principal aiming at? Goals should be clearly stated. Objectives should be stated in time periods- short-term, intermediate, long-range-as well as other determinants.

Handling Friction between Independent Counsel and Principal

Obstacles to complete cooperation between principal and independent outside counsel are not infrequent. The client may not understand the reasons for recommended changes in behavior and actions, or just how they will be achieved. The principal may go ahead on his own in certain phases of activity, then later blame poor results on the adviser. The principal may attempt to restrict the adviser's functions to narrower areas of activity, and the incompleteness may affect results. The principal may be oriented to material considerations without regard to intangibles. He may think of the activity in terms of public visibility in the media, without paying attention to broad policy goals. The principal may withhold important facts from the adviser, with adverse results.

Such maladjustments also arise in the case of other professionals and their clients or employers. The possibility is greater in public relations because the field is so new and patterns or relationships are less well established.

There is one sound way to achieve adjustment in such situations: Always base relationships on the principle of "open covenants openly arrived at." Public relations practitioners will find that they can overcome resistance by applying to themselves comparable strategies and actions to those they recommend to their clients. They can gain greater acceptance for their actions and establish greater authority for themselves and their profession by applying sound principles and practices of public relations to themselves.


The public relations practitioner does not depend only on what he has learned by experience. Outside reading of periodicals and books should be continual. To find books, the practitioner learns to consult bibliographies. There are even bibliographies of bibliographies, invaluable in getting facts and points of view on a multitude of subjects.
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