The value of public relations lies in reaching the public with the right message. Public relations firms are often engaged to counteract bad or undesirable publicity. For example, one manufacture was polluting the waters of a nearby stream with industrial waste. The company began an effort to stop this. Meanwhile, to offset the town people's resentment, on the advice of a PR consultant, the company financed a program of entertainment and instruction for underprivileged children and their parents.
Millions of dollars are spent through PR firms to insure good publicity. A classic example of the hand of the PR man at work counteracting bad publicity is to be found in the following headlines. These headlines from French newspapers reported the progress of Napoleon following his escape from his first exile on Elba:
THE CORSICAN MONSTER HAS LANDED IN THE GULF OF JUAN
THE CANNIBAL IS MARCHING TOWARD GRASSE
THE USURPER HAS ENTERED GRENOBLE
BONAPARTE HAS ENTERED LYONS
NAPOLEON IS MARCHING TOWARD FONTAINEBLEAU
HIS IMPERIAL MAJESTY IS EXPECTED TOMORROW IN PARIS
Parallels to this softening and molding of public opinion by professionals can be seen daily in our own press reporting the comings and goings of politicians, movie stars, artists and millionaires.
Advertising can say whatever it wants to, subject to the laws of libel and obscenity. Publicity can't. This is because advertising makes use of space and time that are paid for. "Time" refers to radio and television. "Space" refers to newspapers, magazines, billboards, etc. The cost of space and time is determined by many factors size of the audience reached, quality of that audience, and on certain intangibles.
Publicity is free. The services of the PR consultant or director are paid for, but the space and time obtained for their clients by PR men is given free by newspapers or magazines, the TV or radio station. This is because publicity masquerades as public service, entertainment, education or news. The PR man, seeking to place a story, must be prepared to answer the following questions from the news media:
- What is the story?
- How is it different from any story about a similar product or idea?
- Anything outstanding or superior about the product or idea?
- What's the news peg?
- What's new or revolutionary about this?
The advantage of publicity over advertising to the client is that the reader or listener is frequently unaware he is reading or hearing sales material. He is therefore not on his guard against it. The PR message in it, like the raisin in the pudding, is consumed whole. Advertising must overcome the reader's or listener's natural caution before the selling message can get across.
What sort of a person is best fitted for public relations? A University of Wisconsin survey says that since PR is supposed to communicate ideas, developments and future changes to various groups of people, the public relations counsel has to know how to talk and write in a way that will get his message across. The actual purpose of the survey was to see whether there is a change in the personality of students studying public relations as time passes. This would apply to the person out of school as well. The results of the study show that the personalities of students do change as they begin to understand what is expected of the PR man. They become friendlier, more reasonable and more thoughtful. Also, there is a weeding out of students who find they can't adjust.
The characteristics of a PR man were listed in another article as follows:
- He must have integrity.
- He must rely on service rather than personality.
- He must take the initiative.
- He must understand his product.
- He must be creative, full of new ideas.
- He must be persistence personified.
One example of this is in the music business. Lately "underground promotion" by young people has competed with the promotion methods of manufacturers and distributors to create best sellers among records. Manufacturers and distributors spend large sums of money to promote records; young people spend nothing. Yet in many cases underground promotion, the groundswell of youthful enthusiasm and taste has won out. Organized industry sees in it the emergence of a trend, the shadow of a pattern. Reaching customers, not people in general, is something the underground promotion does. The establishment reaches all kinds of people by spending heavily, some of whom are customers.
Trends are not necessarily PR inspired. The genius of public relations is not in creating a trend, but in recognizing its beginning and taking advantage of it. Whatever the trend of the moment, or the stage of the cycle, there are certain non variables in the world of promotion. For instance, people of all times and all ages respond to a story about animals. Any form of animal life from a parakeet to a boa constrictor crowds out other news. Another constant in the affections of man is the appeal of adventure. Not always, even now, is it to the moon and beyond. The possibility of adventure on earth has grown since space was conquered; we are looking at our own planet with a fresh eye. We are just beginning to realize that the true wonders of this world are not man made, and we want to explore and know them more fully. Also, it is becoming clear that man has done much to ruin this planet by killing off species of wild life the passenger pigeon here in America, for instance depleting resources, fouling the atmosphere and waters, and destroying natural beauty that was here long before we were.
Far sighted public relations men are taking advantage of this way of thinking about business and the community. Spokesmen for many large companies are talking and sounding like conservationists. The public relations man of the future may be able to say: "You think I am working for wages. For pay. For a glass more of beer. For better cigars. For costlier clothes. To get rid of rags. Well, so I am. But only incidentally. I am really fighting for life."