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.

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