How the World of Public Relations Functions

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H. L. Mencken, in The American Language: Supplement I, quotes a memorandum from the Bernays office describing how this took place. The Bernayses "were dissatisfied with the term publicity director and searched for terminology that would come to mean the functions they were performing and no others . . . the two hit upon an expression that seemed to them to fit the need. They took the word counsel from legal nomenclature and added it to on public relations . . ."

Crystallizing Public Opinion, published in 1923, was the first book on the scope and function of the professional public relations practitioner. It might be well to dwell at some length on the profession as then described. It was based on two new concepts-that good public relationships depend on socially sound behavior by all activities, profit and nonprofit, and that there is a cooperative relationship between principal and publics.

Public relations functions on a two-way street of adjustment, on a coincidence of the public and private interests. It depends on principals' actions deserving public support and on informing and persuading of the public. It differs from publicity, propaganda, promotion, and similar activities.

The public relations adviser is a societal technician, either employee or outside adviser, who gives advice to the principal on relationships with these publics and then aids in providing information for and persuasion of the public concerned.

Obviously, this activity of counseling requires knowledge and understanding of present-day social sciences, of all aspects of human behavior-motivations, attitudes-of adjusting to groups and individuals. The activity applies art to science, in this case social science. The professional public relations practitioner is an applied social scientist.

Today, public relations is in every sense a profession, except one. It has its professional codes of ethics, voluntary associations, literature, and educational curricula. It still lacks registration and licensing of practitioners by the state, a protection to the public and profession alike. And this should come in time.

The rise of the public relations profession can be ascribed to a number of factors. Society has become increasingly complex as a result of revolutions in technology, communications, and transportation. All of us have been brought closer together as a result. The interdependence of people with people, of group with group has been emphasized. A professional trained in the fundamentals of individual and group behavior aids in adjusting group to group and person to person.

We need mutual understanding. Sound public relations is vital in all areas of life. As an instance, business is dependent on many publics, including stockholders, bankers, the community in which it functions, purveyors, customers, and government at local, state, and national levels. A university, as another instance, has as its publics its professors and teachers, prospective teaching staff, present and prospective students, alumni, donors, the community in which it functions, and city, state, and national government.

Every public of every activity demands study and action to assure the highest attainable level of adjustment and understanding.

Good public relations activities help the organization or individual on whose behalf they are used to achieve goals with the public. It is important that everything the entity does is consistent with good public relations.

In 1973 a famous writer tried to compress into ten points just what public relations is, and Variety printed the result:

  1. The practice of public relations is a profession, an art applied to a science. The public interest, not pecuniary motivation, is the primary consideration in its practice. The profession has its literature, voluntary associations, and educational curricula criteria of a profession.

  2. Public relations concerns itself with the relations of a unit, an organization or individual with the publics on which it depends for its viability. Public relations advice covers adjustment to the public, information to the public, and persuasion of the public to accept the service or product.

  3. The communication and transportation revolution, more widespread literacy, and an increasingly complex network of communications brought about greater participation by the public in the shaping of all institutions. It brought with it a need for this societal technician.

  4. Effective public relations establishes a coincidence between the principal and the public on which the principal depends, to the highest degree of adjustment.

  5. Effective public relations is based on reality, not images, true or false. Deeds, action that serve the public interest are the basis of sound public relations.

  6. The principal seeks public approval and support on the basis of the public interest. The public interest is the criterion by which a public relations professional accepts a client. He rejects the client who does not serve the public interest.

  7. The public relations man first evaluates the adjustments and maladjustments between his client and his publics by a scientific public opinion research. He advises his client on the modifications of indicated attitudes and actions. He advises on information to the public to provide a basis for its understanding and support. He advises on methods of persuasion to gain public support.

  8. Professional practice of public relations rests on the application of the social sciences to the problem at hand (psychology, sociology, social psychology, public opinion, communications study, and semantics).

  9. The public relations professional plays an important role in adjusting the various segments of the society to the future, to prevent "future shock."

  10. The professional public relations man is remunerated on the principal of quantum merit, which sets the pattern in other professions.

Our specialized and complex society needs specialists to aid in its smooth functioning. Fifty years ago, all public relations practitioners were generalists. Today there are also specialists in public relations in many fields, such as human services, education, government, finance, and home economics. Both groups have their associations in the United States. Public relations has become worldwide in the free world, with the International Public Relations Association and public relations associations i:i over 40 countries.

It should be noted that within limits specialists must be generalists too; and generalists, specialists. This is true because the profession deals with so many different areas of activity.

Although both generalist and specialist must have basic knowledge of the social sciences underlying human conduct, they can also draw on the special expertise of economists, cultural anthropologists, sociologists, social psychologists, and psychologists when need arises. Knowledge is so complicated today that both specialists and generalists sometimes need the precise knowledge of people who have devoted their lives to study of one field.
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