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Association Public Relations – Introduction

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The Public Relations Society of America defines an association as "an organization with a membership consisting of individual persons, corporate entities, or other associations or organizations having a common interest, whose purpose it is to further this mutual interest and the public welfare." It is true that in some cases public welfare is considered, but this is far from being the main objective of most associations. If the public welfare is furthered, it is generally so the association will shine from the reflected glory. Good public relations today demand at least a show of interest in the public welfare. As will be seen later in one case, there is occasionally some double talk involved. This is not to take a cynical view of associations, which disseminate a great deal of interesting and valuable information, and which cover a wide range of services and trades.

What does an association do? The PRSA lists the following activities as most frequently reported:
  1. Prepare and distribute technical and educational publications, motion pictures and audio visual materials.

  2. Sponsor conventions and meetings, instructional seminars and exhibitions.

  3. Handle government relations, and interpret government agency actions in terms of member interests.

  4. Compilation and publication of business and industry statistics.

  5. Preparation and distribution of a wide range of news and informational material to the press, radio and television.

  6. Public service activities.

  7. Declaration of codes of ethics.

  8. Dissemination of governmental and other standards to members.

  9. Cooperative research: scientific, social and economic.

  10. Institutional advertising.

  11. Furtherance of good employer employee relations.

  12. Promotion of accident prevention.
Not all these activities are suited to each association. But those that are, provide a means of experience-sharing by individuals having a common interest, and the benefits of this shared experience help all members, large and small. Second, they make possible programs that in most cases could not be handled by individual companies or persons.

The association is a communications medium. Its functions are public relations oriented. The association director is primarily a public relations man. His job is to maintain good public relations among the members, and to assist them equally by promoting the trade or sender as a whole.

One hundred and thirty seven years ago Alexis de Tocqueville on a government mission to study the United States penal system observed that business and professional associations were part of the American scene. Today there are about 20,000 of them. An association is a power. Within some of them are industrial giants. But even those without a Hercules speak with a plural voice which can be heard far and wide. More and more frequently, whatever their motivation self gain or purely altruistic associations are taking over where government leaves off in solving some of today's problems.

The double talk referred to earlier has occurred. A few years ago a major public relations agency announced they were trying to counter efforts to ban the use of the one way beverages because it was a potential source of litter by embarking on an anti litter campaign designed to stop littering before it became a target of legislation. In this way, the agency felt the association it worked for was publicly doing something constructive about a problem it had helped to create and wanted to continue creating. Obviously, the agency strategy was effective. The one way bottle is still with us, littering our forests and fields and highways.

In other words, the association takes care of its own first. Thus it is often a major factor in starting new processes and new products. The job of the public relations director is not only to disseminate information to the press and public; it is also to stimulate cooperative research within the association. More and more companies, prodded by association public relations policy, are engaged in two way communication with their employees. By using the brains of their employees they are giving notice that they believe in people as well as machines.

Association PR people are often responsible for sound private relations within the member companies, as well as for an industry or a service that listens to employee ideas. The image of an industry is often determined by the quality of its association public relations.

To understand association public relations, it is necessary to consider at least three different types: a service organization; one representing a glamour product; and an industrial division of an association.

The American Bar Association is a service organization. This is the communications arm of the legal profession. Competing for the annual Silver Anvil Awards offered by the Public Relations Society of America, this association outlined its public service program to "increase citizen understanding and appreciation of the vital role of law in our lives and the need for every American to fulfill the responsibilities of good citizenship." The implementation of this program focused on one day, Law Day U.S.A. First established in 1958 by Presidential Proclamation; and seconded by Congress in 1961 both resolutions public relations effected Law Day U.S.A. is from beginning to end a public relations effort which, if it achieves any part of its goal, is an important contribution to democracy.

The mechanics of this program are listed as:

Preparation of different educational informational materials ranging from outdoor billboard posters to one inch mail stickers, handling correspondence with 2,462 Law Day Chairmen and committeemen and overseeing the mailing of promotional material.

The results:

The building of Law Day U.S.A. in scope and prestige has continued; today its roots are down in every community of the fifty states. On or near May 1 (designated Law Day U.S.A.) an estimated 100,000 programs and observances are held throughout the country, including addresses, sermons, school assemblies, mock trials, courthouse tours, essay contests, television and radio shows, special naturalization hearings, films, dramatic slats, special library exhibits and window displays by banks and other business institutions. 1,500 state and local bar associations have presented programs; and more than a dozen national patriotic and educational organizations have endorsed the annual observance of Law Day.

Law Day has been brought to the attention of 150 million persons in the United States and abroad through planned programs, radio and television coverage. The Armed Forces Radio and Television Service broadcasts special Law Day messages to overseas audiences; and programs are conducted at more than 124 military bases throughout the world.

Law and its observance is obviously in the public interest. The efforts of the American Bar Association are therefore helped by cooperation from the press, radio, television and government that is not readily available to commercial associations.
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