Public Relations Serves Many Functions

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Depending upon the type of organization you're working for, public relations can mean many different things. If you're a public relations representative employed by a small, prestigious engineering school, you have your own special problems, frustrations and challenges. Or if you're the public relations worker employed by a large PR agency, and your job is to outline a multimillion-dollar public relations campaign for a large tire company, you're probably up to your ears in pressure from your employer and client to get the project done a certain way.

No matter what sector of the business you work in, there are basic functions that can be attributed to all public relations work. Let's take a look at some of them.

Programming and Policy Formation

Imagine a small, family-operated business that owns two medium-sized supermarkets. It's a well-established, growing business employing over 100 employees. As expected, the executive positions are filled by family members and the rest are outsiders, managers, clerks, stock and delivery people.

Next year, if profits are sizable, the family plans to open supermarket, further expanding its operating base. For the thing, however, the business is run smoothly with no major organizational problems. The communication lines are simple and direct.

Since top management is accessible, workers can go right to the top if they have any problems without having to contend with middle management. Missing is a complicated chain of command.

If an employee has a complaint, he doesn't have to go through a personnel or public relations department. All he has to do is knock on the boss's door and if he's not busy on the phone or negotiating with a salesperson, he'll resolve the employee's difficulty right then and there. Not so with a large sprawling corporation employing thousands of employees.

Employees of an electric utility company, for example, can't stroll into the president's office every time they have a problem. It's more complicated. If an employee has a complaint, the first thing he has to do is find out who to complain to. Typically, the chain of command is long and it could take weeks before something is done about the problem. You can appreciate why so many people fear getting lost within a large corporation.

Our fictional utility may have over 2,000 people working in one large facility, compared with 100 workers employed by the family-owned supermarket. The larger the organization, the more rules and regulations are needed to run it. If they didn't exist, you'd have chaos and disorganization.

The average worker employed by a large corporation rarely has anything to do with the president of the company. He might go through as many as ten different job promotions and salary changes and still never see the chief operating officer. The promotions are swiftly and efficiently administered by the company's executive corps. And rules concerning promotions, vacations, sick leave, pension plans and general corporate policy are planned, published and explained by the company's public relations department.

Don't forget, our giant utility is a far cry from the small family owned-and-operated supermarket. Since the business is small, promotion from clerk to assistant manager to manager is simple and direct. Yet within the utility, ascending the corporate ladder from maintenance person to first-line supervisor is complicated, involving a number of promotions and salary changes. The more jobs, skills and people you have in an organization, the more it takes to control and manage it.

Employee Relations

Within large corporations, public relations workers plan and coordinate programs concerning all matters that affect employees, ranging from grievance outlets and promotional policies to in-house educational and training facilities for workers who hope to be promoted to better jobs.

Let's take a look at what some of your job responsibilities would be if you worked for the public relations department of an international computer manufacturer. You're part of a 25-person public relations staff and, the most competent PR workers, your responsibilities vary from day to day.

On a typical day, you might be coordinating five different projects at the same time. Your first meeting is a breakfast budget meeting at 8:15 with the president and the top officers of the company. The purpose of the meeting is to decide how much of the yearly budget is going to be allocated for employee relations. Last year's budget calculations have to be revised in the light of new objectives, better programs, a more functional communication network between employees and management. Up until now, the relationship between management and workers has only been satisfactory. But as a result of union pressures and complaints from employees who have been with the firm a long time, management feels that more funds have to be set aside for employee relations.

For over three hours information is exchanged between the executives. The head of the public relations department makes a good argument in favor of a new lounge and gymnasium for employees. While it will cost over $30,000 to take an unused room and make it into a gym, he feels it will significantly boost employee morale. He argues that more and more companies are spending money on in-house recreational facilities for their employees, ranging from fully equipped gymnasiums to indoor tracks. He asks his fellow executives not to be shortsighted, to see beyond the initial investment to the long-range returns. A happy worker, he explains, will be more productive, and will be more likely to give 100 percent of himself to his work.

At the end of the lengthy session, the majority of executives, including the president, agree with their PR director, and plans are made to get firm estimates on the cost of building the gymnasium. The PR director is asked to get comparative costs for the building of the gym along with projections on how long the project will take from start to finish.
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