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Development of the Public Relations Industry

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Summary: Public relations originated to help companies stay out of trouble with the media by handling using their communication expertise to create a positive image.

Development of the Public Relations Industry

A firm may hire a public relations specialist to help it avoid problems. Often, the public relations firm will put management through a host of questions and answers, discussing subjects the public and the media may ask about. When a corporation hires a public relations firm, it wants the communications expert to make sure that the firm stays out of trouble with the television stations and newspapers. Candid feedback to the client, early in the game, can be bitter medicine, but it goes a long way toward avoiding eventual pitfalls.

As public relations specialists, we must constantly bear in mind that we communicate our messages to multiple and diverse publics. However, nothing today is carried out in an information vacuum, and we must assume that at any given time, the world is watching us and listening to what we say.

The messages we communicate must have the good of a society in mind, and that includes promoting products and causes. Public relations can be a force for good - a persuasive force. As such it has to be employed in the open, with public scrutiny.

Public relations industry requires a degree of acceptance. One phase of its job is to communicate well -the other phase is to influence the audience to accept the messages and respond according to your design.

Through growth in both clientele and sophistication, public relations companies are able to anticipate and deal with any press-related contingency that may arise. When public relations began as a profession, specialists dealt essentially with publicity, which was used as a device for marketing, whether it was for them, or for a product. They scattered their message like buckshot without worrying a great deal about how they were perceived.

Then, as a number of companies went to the public for funds, public relations firms went into the disclosure and corporate image phase. Suddenly, for example, as in Washington law firms, one had to know how to deal with the government agencies, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), financial analysts, and stockholders. It was a process of looking to see how the corporation was perceived by the public.

The third phase was the age of corporate responsibility. It came in the 1960s and 1970s when consumer advocate Ralph Nader touched off an outcry from individual consumers.

In public relations today, many of the outstanding practitioners of the art are "generalists." They range from discipline to discipline in a day's work. However, in recent years two specialties have emerged that have earned big rewards for practitioners: (1) proxy rights and takeover battles, and (2) technical public relations.
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