A Few Misconceptions About Public Relations
Over the years, I have heard numerous misconceptions about what public relations is and is not.
Some people with whom I have talked view public relations as merely “free publicity;” others characterize PR as “spin.” One person said PR was “just public speaking,” while others believe the public relations profession centers exclusively on dealing with the media.
Each of these statements represent a narrow — and inaccurate — view of a much broader profession. These statements focus on tactics — press releases, press conferences, public speaking and the like.
True public relations begins with strategy. A solid strategy flows from research, and the selection of tactics flows from that strategy.
Consider the following definition, as taken from the Public Relations Society of America’s website: Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.
If you analyze this definition, the central role of strategy comes into clearer focus. With this definition in mind, a public relations professional must have the ability to:
– Understand the organization’s culture, vision and goals;
– Study and interpret the environment in which the organization operates;
– Analyze public opinion and its impact on the organization;
– Work with the personalities who lead the organization;
– Identify the organization’s publics and understand how they relate to the organization (“publics” are stakeholders, such as board members, investors, target markets and other key groups whose opinions impact the organization’s ability to achieve its goals);
– Counsel the organization’s leadership on the impact of its decisions, actions and statements; and
– Develop and oversee/execute programs to help the organization establish and maintain credible, favorable relationships with its publics.
Effective public relations does not begin with tactics like writing a press release or a speech; it is a strategic function that begins in the boardroom, where organizational strategies are developed and leadership decisions are made.