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Public Relations and Politics

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Politics as a field for public relations has opened up broadly. Public relations practitioners are attached to many political activities, including the headquarters of both national parties. They play a vital role in the year-round operation of the political machinery of the country and in elections.

Foreign governments in the U.S. employ public relations firms. The law requires that these register with the Attorney General's office. Many such bureaus are maintained by the foreign government itself, assisted by American staffs. In certain cases an independent American public relations counseling firm acts in an advisory capacity. Sometimes the entire activity is carried on by the American firm.

Independent Counseling Firms

Independent counseling firms serve organizations, profit and nonprofit, which often have public relations departments of their own. Outside advice offers many advantages to those who retain such services.

Outside experts usually have broader experience in public relations problems than the inside practitioner. The client profits from the experience the outside counseling firm has had in other areas. The inside man or woman is usually so busy with daily routine that his or her experience is less diversified. The outside counsel usually views a situation with greater objectivity than the insider, because of the absence of personal involvement with the internal bureaucracy. The insider, like a prophet in his own country, is often less appreciated. Outside advice usually impresses the client more because the inside person has a set place in the bureaucratic structure. The outside firm often brings stimulating new ideas and contacts to the client, and it often has a closer relationship with the top echelon of the corporate client than do insiders in the organization.

Outside counsel also may have certain disadvantages. They are unfamiliar with internal patterns of bureaucracy. They may be called on for advice before time has enabled them to gain thorough understanding of the problems involved. The program recommended by an outside practitioner may fail because of the inadequacy of the internal public relations organization, over which the outsider has little or no control.

The number of independent public relations counseling organizations has increased rapidly. The first request for a Counsel on Public Relations listing in the New York Telephone Classified Directory was made in 1923. In 1935 ten names were listed under Public Relations; in 1945, 120; and in 1950, 394. In 1960 there were eight full columns listing 575 public relations counsel, and in 1977-78 there were eight columns listing 658 public relations counsel.

In 1945 Public Relations Directory and Year Book listed 455 independent public relations practitioners in 65 cities and 24 states. In 1949 Fortune estimated that there were 500 such firms, some taking in $500,000 in fees annually, mostly from business. In 1953 an estimated 600 counseling firms were primarily concerned with clients' communications problems. Smaller firms additionally specialized in industrial relations, lobbying, Washington liaison, and opinion research. In 1959 Fortune estimated that there were 1,250 independent public relations counseling firms. A year later such firms numbered 1,350 and were increasing by 50 or more annually.

Advertising Agencies and Public Relations

Advertising agencies are in the field of public relations. Stanley Walker in City Editor (1934) wrote, "Bernays must receive credit, or blame, for an important shift in the methods used by the large advertising agencies." He tells of the organization of a public relations department in the J. Walter Thompson organization.

Such departments multiplied rapidly. In some cases they were used as a free premium to ensure continuity of an advertising account. Later, agencies charged for their services. When clients objected to paying two fees, the usual 15 percent and a charge for public relations services, or when the agencies feared that the media might think they were looking for free reading notices in the media, the public relations activity of the agency was often made an independent function. Separate corporate entities were established by the agencies, often with names that did not dis-close their association with the parent body. Often they were headed by men who did not have the stature of independent practitioners, nor, as a rule, their earning power. These satellite agencies made much headway, because the client was already in hand from the advertising agency. Occasionally top people in these organizations left to form their own independent organizations.

A New Force in Leadership

We live in an era of public relations. Before the profession emerged, leadership was based on hunch and insight. If the leader understood his public intuitively, he might lead them to social or antisocial ends. Public relations introduced a new idea and a new element into leadership. Daniel Boorstin, historian and Librarian of Congress, calls the idea the "feedback." The leader uses public relations strategies and tactics. He no longer depends on intuition. Studies and surveys of the public are made before action. The leader practices engineering of consent.

Study makes possible an understanding of individual and group behavior and action on this understanding. The practitioner thinks of the public in terms of groups. Action is planned to intensify favorable attitudes, convert those on the fence, and negate the negative. This new instrument of leadership helps bring about desirable change. It provides sound minority ideas with powerful leverage.

The Many Publics in Public Relations

The public relations practitioner does not think of the public as a single public. Publics are made up of people of different group interests and interest groups. Individuals are often members of more than one group. There are multiple approaches to the individual through these group alignments. An individual may be a member of the consumer public, the stockholder public, the employee public, and so on.

In determining the policy of an organization, all the publics upon which it is dependent are taken into consideration in planning public relations policy and program. The public relations adviser plans to achieve the highest possible adjustment between a unit and its publics.

This is done through recommending changes in behavior of the principal as indicated by public opinion surveys. Information is supplied to the public's concerned so that what they think and do may be based on fact. Persuasion of the public may be required to affect the attitudes and actions of the public to the products, ideas, or services of the principal.
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