Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Of publics, messages and objectives...

Is it better to set objectives before choosing publics or to choose publics before setting objectives?

This is a difficult question to answer. I can see how both ways could be beneficial, but I agree with the authors of the text; they feel it is best to set our objectives first and then chose our key publics.

If we are using the 10-Step Strategic Communications Planning Matrix, during the Background portion of our Research section we will identify and profile all potential publics that may be affected by the current problem or opportunity. First, we must sit down and identify all of the potential publics. Notice that right now we are referring to them as "potential" publics. Later on we will identify our "key" publics. This should be done in a brainstorming session "to ensure that no potential publics are left behind and everyone has a chance to participate" (Wilson & Ogden, 68). Even though this list is comprehensive, we still have work to do. Once we have our list of potential publics we then must create in-depth profiles for each public. These profiles should contain demographic and psychographic information. We must also state the organization's current relationship with the public, the public’s influentials and the public's self-interests. Remember, these are only our potential publics. We have not yet decided if these are the publics we are going to focus our public relations strategies and tactics on.

Now we are ready to set our objectives. If we try to choose key publics before we set objectives we run the risk of having public-specific objectives. Some may argue that this is exactly what we want. However, we must "recognize that any given communications effort may need to encompass publics other than those identified as organizationally key" (W&O, 112). Our objectives need to be flexible enough to be able to apply to more than one public. Furthermore, by choosing key publics before setting objectives we are focused on who we want to reach rather than what we want to accomplish.

What's the point of meticulously of taking time to research and segment our publics if we only use mass media to reach them?

This idea has become somewhat of a hot button with me. Research is not easy. It takes time; it takes work; it takes money. Furthermore, it takes considerable time and effort to select and segment our key publics and respective messages. When we do all this, yet choose to simply "shotgun" the message through the mass media, all of our previous efforts have been in vain. It doesn't matter how good your research is, how well defined the core problem is or how amazing your publics are if they never hear the message. Wilson and Ogden have stated, “We would do well to remember that just because a medium is designated mass does not mean that the publics consuming the information are mass (W&O, 114).

I believe there is a perception both within PR and without that if your organization is mentioned on the local news station or featured in the paper that everyone will see it want to change their behavior. How false this idea is! We must remember that people "choose to perceive a message only when we design it specifically to appeal to them" (W&O, 114). I am not saying that we never use mass media to reach our publics, we just need to make sure we use mass media outlets to appeal to the self-interests of our publics.

It's this kind of stuff that give PR a bad name!

Want to see an example of how NOT to pitch the media? Check this out:

Monday, February 26, 2007

Stakeholders and Planning

This entry is a combination of discussion questions from Strategic Communications Planning and "Priortizing Stakeholders for Public Relations," Brad L. Rawlins, March 2006.

Can the terms stakeholder and public be used interchangeably?

According to Rawlins (2004), the answer to this question is simply no. Rawlins states that often the terms are used interchangeably, "but they shouldn't be." I originally had a hard time understanding the difference between the two. It seems that I have always been taught, or at least been under the assumption, that stakeholders are publics and publics are stakeholders.

Rawlins points out that stakeholders are identified by "their relationships to organizations," but publics are identified based on "their relationship to messages." But aren't stakeholders always recipients of an organization’s messages? Don't all publics have some sort of relationship with the organization? If they don't have a relationship why are they publics?

We must remember what Freeman's (1984) definition of a stakeholder is. In the broadest sense of the term, Freeman defines a stakeholder as "any group or individual who is affected by or can affect the achievement of an organization's objectives." In the narrower definition, however, Freeman states that a stakeholder is "any identifiable group on which the organization is dependent for its continued survival (see Free, R.E. 1984. Strategic Management: A Stakeholder Approach. Boston: Pitman Publishing).

On the other hand, Wilson and Ogden (2004) define publics as "segmented groups of people whose support and cooperation are essential to the long-term survival of an organization or the short-term accomplishment of its objectives" (Wilson, L.J. & Ogden, J.D. 2004. Strategic Communications Planning for Effective Public Relations and Marketing. Dubuque, Iowa: Kendall/Hunt Publishing)

From what I have read it seems that sometimes the two terms can be used interchangeably, but it's not always this way. I believe a public is always a stakeholder, but a stakeholder is not always a public.

Why are employees "critical to the effectiveness and efficiency of [an] organization?"

Employees will generally be grouped into the functional linkage of Grunig and Hunt's model. Functional linkages "are those that are essential to the function of the organization" (Rawlins, 4). Without employees it is impossible to operate a business. Center and Jackson (2003) wrote, "The first public of any organization is its employees -- the people who make it what it is" (Center, A.H. & Jackson, P. Public Relations Practices: Managerial Case Studies and Problems. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall).

I truly believe that an organization can only be as successful as its employees are happy/satisfied with their jobs. Take Google for example. In January 2007, Fortune Magazine named Google as the No. 1 company to work for in America. I don't think it is a coincidence that Google is doing so well and its employees are so happy. I remember an internship I did last summer. Many of the employees were not happy working for this company and the company suffered as a result. Consequently, the company's second-in-charge left the company and two of us followed thereafter. If a company's employees are not happy, the business suffers.

Employees are also the ambassadors of an organization. If they have a good relationship with their employer they are more apt to promote the organization to their friends and associates. Conversely, if they are unhappy at work it seems that they will tell everyone possible about how bad the company is.

What are the benefits of planning before implementing?

The beginning of this chapter gives an interesting quote from an anonymous source: "If you fail to plan, plan to fail." How true this statement is! Planning is so critical to implementing an effective campaign. Some may say we can't afford to spend time planning, we must start implementing. I say we can't afford not to plan. Planning ensures that we will only employ the most effective of techniques to achieve our goals and objectives. Like Wilson and Ogden have stated, "unless we know where we are going and have some idea of an appropriate course to get there, our arrival at the destination will be left to chance" (96).

Our planning is must be based on intense, good research. If it is will we greatly increase the chances of achieving success in our goals and objectives. I'm sure that no executive ever plans to fail, but we he/she may not realize is that by failing to plan effectively they are doing just that.

Friday, February 23, 2007

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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Good Resource

I was just informed about a really interesting site for public relations people. The site, Public Relations Chat,provides a great forum to ask and get answers to a variety of public relations questions. Check it out!

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

An Opening Discussion on the Practice of Public Relations

Why are we just now realizing that trust among publics “is the single most important factor in organizational survival”?

The authors point out that it has taken crises such as 9/11 and the Enron scandal to teach us that trust is so important. They define trust as being “an emotional judgment of a person’s credibility and performance on issues of importance” (2). Don’t we always talk about being able to trust each other? How did this get lost in the relationship between the corporate world and its publics?

It seems that we put a lot of trust in various organizations. We trust that the organizations that employ us will pay us for the work we do. We trust that when we deposit our paycheck in the bank we will be able to have access to that money. We trust that when we purchase a product we will truly get what we paid for. My argument is that we no longer view these various transactions as matters of trust, but rather, take them for granted. We just assume that everything is going to work out the way it is supposed to work out.

Maybe this is more of a good thing than a bad thing. If we don’t have to constantly worry about trust, then, hypothetically, everything is working as it should. In an ideal world we would not have to worry about the trustworthiness of others. This, unfortunately, is an unrealistic scenario. No matter where we go there is going to be someone or some organization that is less than trustworthy. Our job as communicators is to facilitate trust between the organization and the publics. As discussed in class, we may want to turn to the strategy of giving our publics the tools they need to have in order to trust and build a relationship with our organization.

How is the text’s definition of public relations different from that of what the majority of people believe public relations to be?

The textbook defines public relations as “an organization’s efforts to establish and maintain mutually beneficial relationships in order to communicate and cooperate with the publics upon whom long-term success depends” (3). This definition, however, seems to differ greatly from what many, including current public relations “professionals” view public relations to be.

When I first started studying public relations I thought it was the practice of making your organization look good. Sadly, it seems that many others also view public relations in this way, hence the reason that many public relations practitioners have been termed “spin doctors.” Celebrity publicists have hurt the industry with their defense of celebrities’ careless, rambunctious and immoral activities.

Within our own industry people have forgotten that the term is public relations, not media relations. In the different internships I have done it seems public relations in has reverted back to the days of press agentry. Two of my internships have been with public relations firms. Both of these firms focused solely on getting their clients placed in the media. I hope we have not forgotten that we are to be building relationships with our publics. An organization’s communications leaders need to learn that the organization has many more publics than just the media. In failing to recognize these publics, they fail to help their organization “thrive over the long run” (3).

How do you identify those “escalating social problems” that affect the workforce?
This portion of the chapter was particularly interesting to me. I never made the connection between social problems and workforce productivity. The text states that “the productivity of the workforce of corporate America is seriously jeopardized by problems affecting families such as drug abuse, physical abuse, gangs, teen pregnancy and the declining quality of education” (8). The text goes on to say that when these problems affect the workforce “they threaten the profit potential of the organization and must be addressed” (8).

The text does a great job of pointing out these problems, but does not tell us how we can know if these are problems facing our organization. It seems like many of these things are very personal and people may be reluctant to voice their problems. For example, how do you know if teen pregnancy among the offspring of your workers is a problem? You can’t put out a company-wide memo asking all of these people to identify themselves so you can address the problem.

A few ideas come to mind, but I don’t how viable they would be in the real world.

First, frequently set up interviews with employees not only for performance review, but as an opportunity for these employees to communicate with their supervisors. To be effective, however, supervisors must have a very good relationship with the employees whom they supervise.

Second, set up some sort of online message board where people can post problems they are facing and solicit help from others in the organization. The message board would be completely anonymous, thus allowing more openness among employees. The problem here is getting people to actually use the message board.

Third, stay up on current social problems and periodically hold on-the-clock training meetings to discuss and deal with these issues. All would be required to come and participate in these meetings. These meetings would have to be uplifting and informative to truly be worthwhile. It takes a very good meeting to be better than no meeting at all.

What is the difference between being research-based and research-oriented?
The text defines someone as being research-based “when [their] decision making in the planning and implementing process is based on the acquisition, interpretation and application of relevant facts” (11). What, then, is the difference in being research-oriented? According to the text, “we have struggled…to become research-based… [but] we have succeeded somewhat in becoming research-oriented” (11).

The difference seems to be that one who is research-oriented understands the value of research and readily does a great deal of research. Research-oriented people, however, may not actually apply the research they’ve done to currently solve the problem. I can see myself as being research-oriented, but not research-based. Perhaps I do research in order to satisfy the necessity of doing research, but fail to use the research I’ve done to help me in my campaign. It all goes back to getting out of being tactic-driven. I need to be flexible (and humble) enough to change my plans when the research tells me I should. I must learn to “interpret [the attitudes, values and beliefs of publics] in terms of the issue or problem at hand and predict behavior” (11, emphasis added).

Why do people still feel that blasting the mass media is the best way to reach a target public?
I had an interesting experience last week at Bradley PR (BYU's student-run firm). We had a guest speaker come in to talk to us about a book she’s written on how to get a million dollars worth of free publicity. This individual wrote a wonderful book and has been very effective at publicizing it through the media. She’s been on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and on other major media programs. However, this individual has no professional public relations training. This individual doesn’t even have a journalism background. Somehow this individual is qualified to come to a meeting of public relations students and teach them how to get publicity (please note the sarcasm). At one point this individual told the audience that getting publicity is like throwing mud against a wall. Eventually something is going to stick. At this point in the presentation I almost fell out of my chair. This runs counter to everything I have ever been taught by professors and public relations professionals. What made it worse was when I looked around the room and saw all these pre-public relations students in rapt attention and taking furious notes as this individual “taught” us how to get free publicity.

I obviously have some very passionate feelings about this matter. As I discussed earlier in this summary, public relations is not just media relations. I wholeheartedly agree with the book with it says, “Identifying certain targeted media and the best channels to deliver the messages to a segmented public does us no good if we then shotgun the message through the mass media anyway” (14). We have got to start thinking outside of the news release and really target our key publics through the appropriate channels.

Why are people still doing this? Because they don’t understand the value of research. Research before and after tactics must be done to verify the effectiveness of the tactics. There’s a lot of wasted time when we don’t do research.

Friday, February 16, 2007


This is my first foray into the world of blogging. I hope to make some sort of valuable contribution to fellow public relations students/young professionals out there. I am in my last semester of school at Brigham Young University, and will be moving to Detroit,to work as an intern at General Motorsin May .

In one of my PR classes right now we are required to read and summarize a chapter each week from Strategic Communications Planning for Effective Public Relations and Marketing (Wilson & Ogden, 2004). Our summaries are comprised of five key questions we come up with from our reading of the text. Strangely enough, I have found this assignment to not only be very valuable to me, but also enjoyable. For that reason I plan to include my summaries on this blog and hope to get feedback from others on the questions I set forth. Enjoy!