Technology has expanded the practice
Today public relations is everywhere you look. When you watch the news, the footage you see while the newscaster speaks is sent from the public relations department of the company. It is called "B-roll." When you get an employee newsletter you can bet public relations wrote it. Public relations magazines like the ones distributed to AAA members have become popular tools. Public service announcements are usually written by public relations practitioners to raise awareness for a particular issue. The latest development in the practice is writing for company web sites.
The internet has rapidly become the most-used resource for information. Now companies can save money in printing costs and distribution by getting messages out via the internet. A company can display employment, products, services, its mission, and values. Many computer experts have the knowledge and knack for design, but they can not write to reach the company's publics like a public relations writer can.
As public relations course offerings are evolving to include web design and HTML writing for students, the practice is evolving to include public relations practitioners that can design and write an entire company web site.
Many company sites do not have an email link. When sites have an email link, it is likely that the response is from an automated response or a generic pre-written response. A company site should be used to maximize lines of communication. It should not be another place to stonewall the public.
Technology means more to public relations than websites and email."Public relations has shifted from a traditional, print-oriented emphasis to that of a multi-faceted marketing discipline. P.R. used to mean writing, media relations and special events.Now there are no limits; it may be direct mail or a presentation to Congress. There isn't anything under the marketing umbrella we aren't capable of doing. We never say 'that's not our job'. If it's part of the marketing mix, it's our job." 2
The future of public relations is limitless. This is the very reason most people do not understand exactly what it is now. The hardest thing about public relations sometimes, is getting a company's executive board to recognize exactly what it is and why it is needed. The new president of Public Relations Society of America commented on the biggest issues facing public relations practitioners today."First is the need to continue to precisely define the role of PR in terms of providing counsel, building relationships with constituents, and helping to shape strategy, rather than being seen only as communicators or publicists. Yes, media relations and shaping/delivering information are part of what we do -- but they're only one part, they're the tactical part, and they're the last stage of a PR program." 3
Being proactive saves money and face
Many public relations students do not find a career easily. Most companies have public relations in some form, but have labeled it marketing, human resources, or customer service. Yes, each of those functions may have a part in internal or external communications. People with human resources or marketing degrees are not disciplined in writing for mass media or writing for specific publics. Any large company that does not have an internal public relations department might have to hire a firm that knows little about the issue in a time of crisis. Although these external firms are seasoned in handling crisis, an internal public relations practitioner would be more cost-efficient.
Public relations will continue to evolve as technology evolves. The secret to being successful in public relations is to rely on two-way communication, be proactive - do your research and issue tracking, and have a clear consistent message.
1 Loat, Beverlee. Putting Out the Electronic Welcome Mat. Pr Tips. Internetprguide.com April 13, 2001. http://www.internetprguide.com/pr_tips/article/0,3029,10193_742451,00.html
2 Bennett, Laura. Meet Us. bennettandco.com. http://www.bennettandco.com/meetus.php3?Main=AboutUs&firstSub=MeetUs
3Lewton, Kathleen. Talk from the Top. February 2001. http://www.prsa.org/Tactics/tac0101.html