The functions of a public relations person are infinite. The public relations specialist may be asked to promote an idea or sell almost any type of product. He or she must be ready, often on a moment's notice, to come up with a saleable plan that will get results for the firm.
Betsy Plank, formerly Illinois Bell Telephone's assistant vice president for public relations, has been in the field more than thirty years and has offered a clear summary of the different roles played by the public relations expert. According to Ms. Plank:
“The field has a wide range of practice. It includes counsel to management, community relations, research and identification of issues, employee communications, consumer relations, public affairs, investor and financial relations, and marketing public relations.”
The skills of public relations specialists can be utilized by nearly every segment of society. Holders of public office, for example, as well as local, ad hoc community organizations, emphasize up-to-date techniques in communication and persuasion. And improving community relations is of primary importance to all of them. Businesses, small and large, avail themselves of most of the skills of public relations specialists to show potential consumers that they will benefit from purchasing and using the product.
A product must be good, or in the long run large numbers of people will not repeatedly purchase it. But no matter how good the product, if it is not sold properly — if the message regarding its high quality is not carefully presented — even the best product will not approach its potential sales volume. Ultimate profit is a two-way street on which these two equally important factors must travel side by side.
Consequently, ascertaining how to reach the separate publics is more difficult than it was a decade or so ago when modern society was not so diverse and complicated. The public relations specialist must first identify and accurately define the public or publics that he or she intends to reach and then select the tools and techniques with which to reach them.
Keep in mind that no matter what product one wishes to sell, there is an abundance of good competition out there trying just as hard to attract the consumer's dollar. Therefore, in order to make an appreciable impact, one must pinpoint exactly where and how to act. In ascertaining how to be effective, one must wear many hats. Having sophisticated knowledge and expertise in public relations is essential, but that alone does not suffice. What about psychology, sociology, and motivational research? In fact, thorough knowledge of all the social and behavioral sciences is advisable, and at times, even essential.