Trade associations produce neither a product nor a service. Their function is to create a favorable climate for the industry they represent. There are also associations that have been established to pro mote or publicize a cause, such as those banning the use of nuclear power, prohibiting the killing of seals or whales, or for the purpose of dispensing information about solar energy.
In the process of promoting favorable public relations, associations have both an internal and an external function. Internally, they keep their members abreast of activities, meetings and current developments. A large association, for example, schedules regular meetings throughout the year, and during that period members might receive a quarterly newsletter or a four-to eight-page newspaper covering industry news, promotions or legislation that affects the members.
Externally, an association works to create a favorable image for its industry as a whole and for the companies that are part of it. The steel industry, for one, maintains the Washington-based American Iron and Steel Institute, whose job is to keep the media and general public informed about developments within this broad-based industry. It publishes a variety of pamphlets and annual publications explaining how steel is made, the evolution of the industry and exciting new developments looming on the horizon.
Let's say a reporter is assigned to write a round-up story on major breakthroughs in medicine over the past few decades. There are many ways to attack this story, but a logical first step is a quick call to the American Medical Association (AMA), the prestigious organization to which most American doctors belong. The AMA's full-time staff will be more than happy to steer the reporter in the right direction, providing leads and the names of doctors and researchers who'll be delighted to furnish the information needed.
Once a reporter understands how an industry or profession works and has a feeling for whom the major companies are, or where the important practitioners of a particular profession can be found, he can put together a well-researched, informative story.
Associations hire junior PR staff members. However, most trade associations prefer experienced PR workers who have a number of years of experience in the field, preferably within the industry the association services. If you've worked in the PR department of a major steel company for a number of years, for example, you might be considered an ideal candidate for the American Iron and Steel Institute.
Since their inception, American trade unions have suffered from poor public relations. The reasons for this can be traced all the way back to the early beginnings of trade unionism in the United States.
In those rough-and-ready days, many employers were violently op posed to unions and, as a result, brawls, broken bones and sometimes loss of human life were not uncommon due to bloody confrontations between management and union members.
Those blood-spilling days are long gone, yet union PR people still find that public opinion is mixed when it comes to controversial union issues. As one union PR staffer put it, ''It depends what the issue is. If it's one where we have public support, such as improving working conditions for mine workers, the union is the hero because we're trying to prevent serious accidents. But if subway transit workers go on strike for higher wages and transit conditions have never been too good, commuters think the union is the villain because they're inconvenienced and they have to pay higher fares." Depending upon the issue at hand, union public relations efforts will either have public opinion on its side or be fighting an uphill battle all the way in order to garner public sentiment.
But like other types of public relations, union PR workers have both internal and external responsibilities. As you can imagine, external PR efforts present an ongoing challenge for dedicated public relations workers. During a long and heated strike, a union's public relations staff works diligently to keep the public informed about the key issues, especially if it's a strike where public sentiment is anti-union. Along with preparing an ongoing battery of press releases explaining the union's positions, speeches have to be writ ten for union leaders in order to keep the public informed every step of the way.
During non-strike periods, union public relations efforts are centered around other important projects for its members. For ex ample, most of the large powerful unions maintain offices in Washington where they employ staffs who lobby for bills that will benefit their members. PR workers might work closely with union executives in planning and designing health or retirement packages for their members.
Internally, union PR representatives have it a lot easier. Since they have the support of their members, they don't have to contend with the frustrations of trying to win public acceptance. An employee joins a union because he wants to improve his job status, gain security, earn more money and have better job benefits. In other words, most union members are delighted to be part of a unified team that is working toward goals that will benefit all employees.
The AFL-CIO, for example, maintains national, state and local news bureaus, sponsors radio and television programs, offers films and educational programs to schools and civic groups and publishes a variety of newspapers and other materials. And since organized labor is a highly specialized field, public relations representatives who work for a union tend to remain within this field throughout their careers. It requires someone who is commit ted to the labor movement and believes in its principles. It's not likely that someone who has been doing this type of PR work for a number of years would take a job in industrial public relations, or any other branch of public relations for that matter.