Public opinion polls are used for measuring public attitudes, motivations, and hopes. The public relations practitioner has a wide range of able pollsters to choose from. The conscientious practitioner studies and evaluates how to carry out research among the numerous methods of accomplishing the purpose sought. There are mail polls, telephone polls, and personal interviews, sometimes in depth. These techniques vary in time, and money required and in results achieved.
When funds are available, a professional nationally known organization may be selected. Burns Roper, George Gallup, Jr., Louis Harris, and Daniel Yankelovich head such organizations. If the budget is limited, less formal research may be carried out. Leaders of those groups whose opinion is sought may be surveyed. For instance, an idea of the eating habits of a town may be obtained by talking to butchers, grocers, and supermarket managers in various socioeconomic groups and to the heads of inexpensive, medium-priced, and high-priced restaurants. An estimate of political patterns of a community may be gained by talking or writing to leaders of the many groups making up the community.
Public opinion research is also valuable at stated intervals after the first research has been completed to ascertain changes in public attitude or action that have taken place.
Public opinion research today is a diverse, complicated field. Its ramifications are numerous. Development of computers and other instrumentation brings continuing changes. When I first started in 1919 personal assumptions about public opinion governed public relations planning.
Interpretation of Research
After the pollsters have interpreted their findings, the practical application of the findings as a basis for change of attitude or action is left to the public relations practitioner. The polls identify for the practitioner adjustments or maladjustments between principal and publics. They point up what modifications of policy or program are necessary to win public approval and support, and they also expose the areas of ignorance, apathy, or bias of the public that need correction.
The study, if properly analyzed, discloses (1) those in favor; (2) those on the fence; and (3) those against the subject of the study. This enables the public relations practitioner to deter-mine policies and programs to intensify favorable attitudes, win over those on the fence, and negate unfavorable attitudes. The study may also indicate modifications of behavior and action by the principal and a program of information and persuasion of the public. The more depth the study has, the more useful it is in planning. Surveys reveal the influences that potentially shape opinions of specific publics by authority, reason, persuasion, factual evidence, emotion, or a combination of these. Some may indicate that certain publics resent the principal's actions because they do not conform to certain standards of conduct. Surveys also may reveal the specific media to reach certain publics.
Surveys enable the public relations practitioner to meet problems in a logical way. Instead of functioning on assumption or dealing with vague, ephemeral forces, the practitioner is able to plan strategy and tactics to develop a program of action toward socially responsible goals.
Carrying Out Tactics
After planning comes execution. The public relations practitioner works with management to see that actions recommended are carried out on a planned basis. These actions may be in a wide range of concerns, depending on the principal. In the case of an industrial enterprise, factors such as water, air, and waste pollution; equal employment policies; education of workers; support of the arts; governmental relationships, and a host of others may demand action.
The public relations executive assures that all contacts with the public that demand change are plotted for action. In a hotel, for instance, this would embrace the attitudes and behavior of the porter who brings in the baggage, the attitude of the front-office clerk, the carefulness of the telephone operator in transmitting messages, the speed of a bellboy in answering a call, the courtesy of waiters, and so on.
The public relations practitioner plans to ensure that all written and spoken action is executed with an awareness of possible reactions and in accordance with the recommendations based on the survey and the goals to be reached.
The public relations practitioner is aware that, contrary to 18th-century belief, man is not always a reasoning being who arrives at reasonable conclusions. Response to communications is not exclusively the result of reasoning processes. Very often people believe only what they want to believe. They absorb only what they want and avoid or discard anything counter to their a priori concepts.
Persuading a person to accept facts cannot always be achieved by appealing only to reason. Emotions, loyalties, and belief in relevant or irrelevant authority play roles in belief. Firsthand experience does not automatically create correct perception.
False perceptions are not necessarily rectified by correct facts. Factual knowledge is essential and useful but limited in its power to gain approval. Truth alone cannot win acceptance. The astrology columns in newspapers would not exist if it did.
A combination of methods needs to be employed to gain acceptance for ideas and things-factual evidence, authorities, reason, persuasion.
In carrying out tactics, the public relations practitioner needs to guard against attributing to others thoughts and actions of his own. For instance, a man who counsels a department store to advertise women's girdles by illustrations of scantily clad women is an example of unsound psychological thinking: Such appeals interest men, not women.
Planning tactics effectively is an ultimate test of the public relations practitioner's competence as a societal theoretician and technician.
Every well-planned activity must have a budget carefully thought out and planned in advance. This budget should attempt to allocate the money available for varied purposes-part for creative expression and part for administrative expression. Such budgeting is most desirable in safeguarding the economics of every situation.