Public relations is an often-misunderstood term in modern business.
While most business people are generally quite familiar with advertising
(the granddaddy of marketing communications) public relations remains
Therefore, many of those responsible for initiating or procuring
public relations services, do not fully understand the power of
public relations and what it can accomplish for them.
Public relations is the communication that takes place between
an organization and its numerous publics or audiences,
both internal and external. Hence, it is far more than just publicity
as in generating ink or airtime for a celebrity or, in the political
arena, the spin doctoring thats done to convert
bad press into good.
PR is proactive and positive, always trying to avoid a problem
before it occurs. Those who do not understand PR, think it is only
there to clean up problems.
Public relations uses relationship building as one of its essential
tactics. It builds strong teams, often driving those teams to consensus.
There are several disciplines within public relations; including
media relations, investor relations, government relations, community
relations and employee (internal) relations to name just a few.
As PR has matured (its roughly about 75 years old), it has
become more integrated with the traditional marketing communications
disciplines of advertising and sales promotions. Some profess that
it is now becoming the strategic engine for all three disciplines,
especially as marketing communications budgets have become more
equalized in the past decade.
Although some argue that advertising is dead and PR is rising in
its ashes, PR is most effective when its integrated with many
other marketing communications disciplines. Frankly, a PR-friendly
organization will apply its strong PR thinking to every level of
the organization, from front door reception to back door shipping
Media relations is one of PRs main disciplines, and arguably
is the most difficult. It is the only marketing communications discipline
that has to go through a gatekeeper to reach the end audience. The
media relations strategy that enables key messaging to pass through
the gatekeeper intact is easily applied to other marketing communications
disciplines. Finding the newsworthiness in a message
necessarily removes non-essential information. It focuses organizations
intellectually to get down to their brass tacks.
Media relations can be very effective when key messaging is also
adopted by advertising and sales promotions (like point-of-purchase)
and rolled-out in an integrated manner. Key messaging can also be
adopted by other divisions of a company, from sales to human resources,
and once again, from the reception desk to shipping and receiving.
PR should be the guardian of an organizations brand, and
that concept of brand is not just reserved for a private sector,
product-oriented company. The concept of brand, what an organization
is, what is it about, what it wants to say, is the organizations
being, and PR is often its protector.
PR is also about truth. Journalists, like police officers, develop
an instinct for truth. Non-truthful messaging certainly wont
get through the journalistic gatekeeper very often, and if it does
and is found out, an organization is in deep trouble. Truth is an
essential tool in the PRs arsenal. This is why Canadas
PR professional organizations have adopted strict codes of ethics
to ensure practitioners continue to guard their organizational brands
As the PR profession matures, it increasingly requires a more prominent
seat in the organizational engine room. It is emerging as a fundamental
profession to help steer organizations through troubled modern waters
and is as deserving in respect and placement in that engine room
as legal, financial, technology and HR concerns.
PR professional organizations have also doggedly pursued accreditation
programs to teach, test and recognize senior practitioners. As the
profession matures, so does that process.
PR as a profession is multifaceted, vibrant, and filled with dedicated
professionals who are directly involved in many, many facets of
our modern society.
Mark LaVigne, APR, is President of the Canadian Public Relations
Society (Toronto) and runs a media relations and media coaching
firm based in Aurora, Ontario. He can be reached at (905) 841-2017
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