Public Relations as a Profession Has Many Unique Services That Help an Aggregates Operation Manage Its External Relationships.
By Thomas J. Roach
The Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University used to offer a public relations class specifically for MBA students. They weren’t trained to perform public relations, but to know what public relations could do for them and their organizations. Corporate executives with no formal exposure to public relations might know that they need public relations help if they have a problem with the news media, and some may realize it overlaps in some ways with marketing, but few have a comprehensive understanding of what they should expect from this important piece of the corporate puzzle.
Public relations as a profession has many unique services that help an aggregates operation manage its relationships with external publics, that is, with shareholders, customers, legislators and the community.
The highest-level concern of public relations is the reputation of the company. This issue crosses public groups. Reputation is addressed in a number of ways. News stories that show the company in a positive light contribute to its positive reputation. Corporate donations and sponsorships and other demonstrations of good will support reputation as well. And on another level, reputation is established by the degree of professionalism of executives and lobbyists when they interact with other business and political leaders.
While public relations counsel works to create a good reputation, it also contributes to the positive reputation of the organization by anticipating and preventing actions that might harm its reputation. Wise public relations professionals will never lie to or even mislead the news media or the public. Honesty is the first principle of a good reputation. This means that when a reporter contacts the public relations department about a negative story, the public relations practitioner may argue the company’s position, but in the case of a company problem, will admit guilt rather than tarnish the reputation for honest, timely communication.
Another contribution is creating a general public awareness of the organization. This is done through events, press and video news releases, and by sending representatives into the community to participate in civic events. While issues of reputation and name recognition will always have to focus mainly on news outlets, they are also the subject of official company forays into social media. In addition to the press release, the radio interview, and the speech to the Rotary Club, the public relations department also may sponsor a Twitter account, a blog and an interactive corporate website.
Every crisis has a public relations component. In the event of a physical crisis, it is the public relations professional who is best able to develop and implement the communication processes required to orchestrate evacuations and relocations and to anticipate a time, location and an agenda for addressing the news media about the crisis.
In the case of a crisis, almost everything falls under the domain of public relations. They can assess a problem, project possible outcomes, and plan and implement processes to address and mitigate the issue through the news media and ultimately for all of the company’s publics. This includes developing message strategy, holding media conferences, prepping executives to address the media, and monitoring and adjusting to public feedback.
Other tasks are performed for a specific public. Quarterly and annual reports are produced mainly for the shareholder public. Lobbyists develop message strategies aimed specifically at legislators. Mergers, sales and acquisitions, and layoffs require coordinated, targeted processes for making announcements.
It sounds like a great deal of responsibility, but public relations is often performed by a staff of one to five people. This is possible because most public relations tasks are cyclical, and because one practitioner with the proper education and experience knows how to handle them all.
On the short term, public relations may seem like a luxury, but in the long run, it is the most cost effective investment a company can make.