Personal Appraisal of Public Relations

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Len Weisberg, Former President of Placement Associates Inc. New York, supplies his personal appraisal of public relations:

"As our business world becomes exceedingly complex and government regulations even more so, the demands on the public relations executive are ever-increasing. The vice-president of public affairs, communications, and public relations, whatever title the corporation adopts, is getting more and more into corporate overall planning. This has been a slow process, but hang in there, it is happening.

"The standard tools of public relations are still most essential: writing ability, conceptual ability, and press relations. Public relations positions have increased in the business world; however, public relations in the nonprofit field has not kept the same growth pace.

"The rapidly growing areas of public relations seem to be emerging into two major markets and many, many specialized fields. The first, the generalist, has a working knowledge of print and electronic media as well as trade and industrial and financial markets, plus speechwriting, photography, layout and design, etc. The generalist, however, uses these skills not in the technical sense, but by providing clients or employer with counsel. This is not to say that the generalist will not place a story or write a news release, but the main job is the overall continuity of the public relations or project and the direction it takes. Generalists, especially those who understand business and hold an MBA degree, are rarely at a loss for a job in major markets today.

"Public relations also has made dramatic inroads into marketing, and as a result there currently is a demand for people having public relations expertise with a marketing background. This acceptance by marketers all over the country is the latest signal that the necessity of public relations promises to reach every corporate cranny.

"The corporate financial specialist should have an in-depth knowledge of business and economics. A few courses in accounting and economics along with a law degree can be vital in moving up the corporate financial public relations success ladder. This area of expertise can be vital in public affairs work as well.

"The technician is one who handles only one aspect of public relations such as print or electronic placements or financial or trade publication stories or even researching. This niche is especially rewarding for the former newspaper person or radio or television journalist because it requires day-to-day contact with the audience he or she is most familiar with, and using his or her ability to dig out or research a story.

"Add to this a range of specialties from audiovisual expertise, research, photography, and others, and public relations becomes sometimes as diverse as the medical or legal professions.

"Anyone wishing to pursue a public relations career, however, needs basic skills, which include an excellent working knowledge of the English language in all its forms.

"Even after a person has accumulated the necessary pre-requisites, he or she should look closely at an agency or corporate position as well as government and nonprofit areas before accepting a position. The current salary levels may seem high to the casual student of public relations, but they are high for a reason. Good, competent public relations people are hard to find, but the market is glutted with hacks and nonprofessionals and misplaced employees.

"Public relations is a subjective profession. After the basic skill levels are achieved and fine-tuned many times, the difference between a successful practitioner and a mediocre one depends on working environment. Probably in no other profession must the prospective employee and employer look more closely at whom they are climbing into the eight-to-five bed with. Simply, if you do not fit in, it doesn't matter how good your skill level is, you won't hold that position long. Public relations is a creative labor of love, demanding large-scale interaction with several diverse groups-all with different sensitivity levels.

"Whether the job is at an agency or a corporation, or in government, a smart job-hunter will look closely at employee interaction-both horizontal and vertical. Public relations professionals enjoy a great degree of respectability, and they should play a large part in the overall objectives and goals set down for the entire company. At an agency, one should look for heavy contact with a client-the agency should live with the client and be aware of everyday problems the client faces. There also should be a willingness to explore every facet of the client's operation including the industry competition. The agency should have pipelines to every department including marketing, legal, financial, and more importantly, the board room. There should be an easy working relationship between client and agency. If public relations is part of an advertising budget, there should be a clear delineation between the advertising and public relations functions, with the two working together only in principle to achieve corporate goals.

"The agency should not be timid about educating the client of the various media about the specific role of the public relations professional. As the third-party consultant, the agency has the potential to cross otherwise explosive political boundaries on both the corporate and media sides and cut through to the heart of a problem. A good agency should not be afraid to use its third-party power when it is needed.

"During interviews with corporations, the prospective employee should inquire about his future not with the company as a whole, but specifically in the public relations department. If the majority of the people are moved from public relations into another department rather than up the public relations ladder, you can be relatively sure that the public relations department is not considered by top management as a profession unto itself, but rather as a training ground for future operations vice-presidents or middle-management functionaries.

"Most good public relations people do not make good functionaries in other departments. The public relations practitioner must keep an adversary as well as a loyal eye toward the company, shareholders, employees, and the general public. He must at times propose programs and fight for policies that seem to go against the grain of company loyalty. He must be the barometer of opinion for different audiences and use his knowledge of different departments and their functions to effect a solution. It is easy to see that this tack may not work in other company departments that demand loyalty to the detriment of different ideas. The public relations man must be above popularity contests, and if a prospective employer totally understands this, the prospective employee can be assured of a high degree of professionalism.

"The employer should look for a candidate who displays the ability to effect changes both popular and unpopular in a manner that keeps high the standards of professionalism without incurring undue resistance from a presentation of ideas in an undiplomatic manner."
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