What is the first picture that comes to mind when you think of a public relations consultant? Is it the stammering spokesperson releasing a back-pedaling statement after the indiscretions of an elected official become public?
Or perhaps it’s the “hired guns” engaged by a politician proclaiming that the newly-introduced tax-raising, job-killing bill will save our planet, protect our children, and bring world peace. The very term “public relations” can, at times, carry a negative connotation – a spin to make something unpalatable appear innocent or misunderstood.
However, PR is considerably more far-reaching in function and purpose. As a PR Firm or freelance professional, you can make or break how a company is viewed by its target market and the public, and often dramatically affect (positively or negatively) profitability.
A Multi-Faceted Discipline
The primary goal of public relations is to bring an organization and its public into harmony, with the PR professional being the liaison between the two. Wikipedia defines PR as “the practice of managing the flow of information between an organization and its public.” Simply put, as a PR consulting professional it is your responsibility to make sure an organization and its public are on the same side. Depending on the situation, this can be done through the media, event planning, public speaking, promotions, etc.
There are several characteristics of a PR activity that are critical to your success as a trusted consultant:
Planned: An effective PR activity is deliberate, well-planned, and well-organized. It is designed to influence, inform, and gain acceptance.
Performance-Based: If the message proclaimed in the PR activity is not supported by the behavior of the organization, it is useless. A Northwest lumber company carried the slogan, “For us, every day is Earth Day.” Unfortunately, the company become widely hated for ravaging old-growth forests and bulldozing their access road through a prime elk habitat. Point made.
Public Interest: PR activities should be a win-win situation for both the organization and its public. When companies like Liberty Mutual sponsor quality programming on public television they are enhancing their image while their target market benefits from the programs. The key here is that the interests of the companies are aligned with the interests of the public.
Two-way Communication: A critical arm of any PR activity is the solicitation of feedback. It is not enough to simply disseminate information. Your client’s management team needs a clear understanding of public sentiment.
Management Function: I stated earlier that the public relations consultant is a liaison between an organization and its public. However, your client will gain the greatest benefit by involving you in the high level decision-making process rather than obtaining the information after decisions have been made, thus defeating their purpose.
The Public Relations process is an interactive one that, when used competently by a good PR consultant, can have a dramatic effect on an organization’s bottom line.