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Government and Political Public Relations

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The noticeable differences are in terminology and promotional techniques used.First, our government doesn't use the word public relations. If you're employed by one of the many governmental agencies, you'd be a public information officer,official representative or spokesperson. Since our government is a large and often unwieldy bureaucracy, public information policies and strategies are formulated slowly and it often takes months for a big public relations program to be approved. In any government agency you'll find many tiers of command. Obtaining approval for a major program can be a frustrating, not to mention time-consuming, process.

Governmental heads are very sensitive about their public information campaigns. Whether it's the Armed Forces, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Department of Agriculture or the Food and Drug Administration, information is released to the public in a conservative and careful manner. More often than not, speeches, press releases and reports are reworded a number of times in order to satisfy the many levels of command.

To make matters more confusing, each governmental agency maintains its own public information staff and has its own way of doing things. The public information strategies employed by NASA, for instance, are quite different from those employed by the Department of the Interior or the Department of Defense. Each department has its own goals and security requirements. Public information officers employed by NASA, especially, have to be very careful about the information they release to the media. Before information is released to the press on a scheduled shuttle flight into space, for ex ample, it's approved by a number of high-ranking officials.

Not everyone is cut out to work for a large bureaucracy like our government. You have to enjoy working for a big corporation and not mind being a small cog in a monstrous machine. In time, you can rise through the ranks, but it's also important to keep in mind that independent decision making is at a premium, since the chain of command is complicated.

Political Public Relations

A related yet very different field is political public relations. While government public relations tends to move at a snail's pace, political public relations is fast and furious, requiring snap decisions and experienced practitioners.

Simply, political public relations can be defined as the process of getting a political candidate elected, or gaining approval or support for a special issue, amendment or law.

Depending upon the size of a political campaign and the office involved, candidates invest vast sums of money in public relations. If it accomplishes its goal and captures a political office, it's money well spent. An assemblyman might spend $50,000 on a political campaign, whereas a senator running for office might spend as much as a couple of million dollars on his political campaign. Political public relations requires a unique blend of talents.

Beyond being a highly competent public relations worker, you have to be well-versed in politics. You have to understand how the political process works and the special problems involved in getting someone elected to public office. Since a background in politics is so important, many candidates seek out newspaper reporters who specialized in political reporting, either on a local or national level.

Political reporters understand politics and they have a proven track record to back it up. And equally important, they have the contacts in the field.

The political public relations worker is in a class by himself because, beyond being a crackerjack writer who understands the ins and outs of politics, he or she also must be a "take charge" per son who can make decisions instantly. A logical mind that can think clearly and anticipate events before they happen will be rigorously exercised by the demands of political maneuvering. The top person running a political campaign for a senator who hopes to recapture his seat, or a president who hopes to be elected for a second term, has to have his eyes and ears open 24 hours a day. Since you're fighting to gain public support, you have to keep an eye on your opponents at all times, and you have to be prepared to change strategies and policies overnight if they are not accomplishing their goals.

During a heated political campaign, an office seeker's campaign manager is with him day and night. The hours are long and the tension can be hard to cope with. But the talented practitioners in the field love every minute of it. They relish the challenge and don't mind putting in long hours. After all, there's nothing more rewarding than designing, executing and ultimately winning a political campaign.

Not everyone in political public relations starts out as a political reporter. Many young people get some experience by doing volunteer work for a candidate. All it takes is a few political campaigns to get an idea how things work and how strategies are formulated. But it takes many more years before you're able to function on your own.

By working as a volunteer for a couple of years you can work your way into political public relations. It could take as long as ten years before you're competent enough and have sufficient contacts to actually help coordinate and run a political campaign. But the long-term rewards are well worth the hard work. Top campaign managers are well paid for their talents.

Public Relations Firms

You'll find public relations agencies (or firms) in most cities, but most of the large ones are located in large metropolitan centers such as New York and Chicago. Within these two cities alone you'll find close to 4,000 public relations firms.

Public relations firms range in size from one-person operations handling a few accounts to large firms employing several hundred people handling many different types of accounts. Essentially, there are two broad categories of public relations firms: those that specialize in a particular type of account and the general agency that handles all kinds of accounts. A specialized agency, for example, might gear itself to only financial, industrial, government or educational accounts; the generalized agency could handle accounts in all these areas.

General PR agencies are constantly changing and shifting their staffs to accommodate and service their accounts. It's quite common for an agency to drop a couple of its staff members when it loses an account, or to add a couple of people to its staff when it acquires a new account. If a general agency, for example, takes on a major chemical company and has no one on staff to administer the account, the agency will hire someone with impressive chemical credentials to handle it. In fact, many people with expertise, for example, in engineering, teaching, chemistry or mathematics, change career directions and take jobs in public relations agencies working with accounts that capitalize on their knowledge. Once they learn how a PR agency works and some of the fundamentals of the job, they find the change compatible.

But for the inexperienced person just out of school who wants to break into the field, a large public relations agency is an excellent place to start. Since large PR firms are departmentalized and employ people with different skill levels, you have the opportunity of starting at the bottom and working your way up the corporate lad der.

A large general public relations agency is carved up into a number of departments, consisting of administrative, editorial, publicity, research and production.

At the very top you have the executive, or administrative, corps who run the agency, formulate policy, and hire and fire employees.

The editorial department prepares releases and stories, gathers material, interviews clients, writes picture captions and oversees the production of booklets and leaflets.

The publicity department confines itself to making arrangements such as setting up and planning interviews, contacting the media and scheduling events. If an agency's client is about to go on a speaking tour covering major universities throughout the country, the publicity department makes all the necessary arrangements.

The research department gathers material, compiles statistics and researches subjects for other staff members. If the editorial department is preparing a large booklet on the chemical industry, for instance, members of the research department gather the material from various sources so the editorial department can put the booklet together. Typically, research and editorial departments work together closely. One feeds information to the other so the work can be processed quickly and accurately.

The production department, which consists of an art director and assistants, prepares all the printed and visual material. This can mean anything from creating an entire newspaper or magazine to designing layouts for special projects such as posters, leaflets or bulletin boards.

As you can see, all the departments work closely with each other and each depends upon the others.

There are many advantages to working for a large PR agency. An inexperienced worker has the opportunity to learn how an agency works by working for different departments. With no experience, you can start out in the research department, and eventually branch out into editorial and publicity work. Or you can start out as a junior writer in the editorial department and work your way into the publicity section. Your particular skill level will determine your career direction.

In time, you can work your way up to the position of account executive (AE). The AE is an experienced PR representative who is responsible for supervising an account, or several accounts. He or she is the liaison between client and agency. If the client has a problem, wants a release rewritten or his company's PR strategy altered, the client negotiates with the AE. The AE functions very much like a high-powered salesperson, whose role is part diplomatic and part sales-oriented.

Clearly, public relations has many applications. You can work for many different types of companies and perform wide-ranging functions. When you think about all the different public relations applications, it's not hard to understand why the business depends upon people with different backgrounds, aptitudes, skill levels and talents. If you have what it takes, you can start as a "gofer" and work your way right to the very top.
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