Early Development
Emerging Possibilities
Return Home

Research becomes important

During World War II, the concept of public relations evolved to include two-way communication. Effective measurement and assessment of public opinion was made possible because of the Roper and Gallup polls. These polls were popular with public relations practitioners during the presidential election. The polls were used by practitioners to develop programs and messages based on what the public liked or wanted.
This evolution had a very important influence on the practice today. Instead of public relations writers sending out the exact message that executives want to convey, they first do research to find out which ways to formulate the message and the best way to get the message out.
Research in public relations pushed the practice up to executive status. Focus groups, customer service surveys, polling, interviews, field experiments, and questionaires are tools now familiar to the public relations practitioner. Each of these tools provide top executives with important information used to raise awareness and shape opinion.
Keeping long-term customers is important to gain new customers. Long-term customers spread opinions by word of mouth faster than public relations can reach some publics. Having a relationship with every customer, old or new, is important to public relations. In this way, two-way communication revoluntionized the practice of public relations.
Marketing also conducts research useful to public relations and visa-versa. Although the differences between marketing and public relations are severe, marketing and public relations do work together.
Marketing differs from public relations
This part is more difficult to understand so I have provided more definitions for you. First, let's define marketing.
"Marketing is the management function that identifies human needs and wants,
offers products and services to satisfy those demands, and causes transactions that
deliver products and services in exchange for something of value to the provider"2
Now let's look at the textbook definition of public relations.
"Public relations is the management function that establishes and maintains mutually beneficial
relationships between an organization and the publics whom its success or failure depends."2
While marketing is concerned with basic human needs and wants, public relations practitioners are interested in the best way to communicate with specific groups called priority publics.
"Priority publics or target publics are groups that are most important for the communications effort"1
Marketing and public relations do relate to each other and support each other. Structure-wise, marketing is a "line management function" while public relations operates as a "staff management function" to support other line management functions. Public relations and marketing should support each other. Marketing brings in customers while public relations maintains a mutually beneficial relationship between the company and the customer.
Public relations is the element that builds a company's reputation by creating a clear and concise message to the public. Marketing brings in the customer by appealing to his basic human needs and wants. Public relations then acts as the liason between the customer and the company to ensure satisfaction.
Public relations is more than customer service
Public relations is a liason between a company and its many publics. The media is an important public for the practice. Sometimes public relations lobbies for an issue when it effects a company or its customers. Public relations even targets opposing groups. Public relations also is the department to turn to when a company has a crisis.
Issue Tracking and Crisis Management
Most publc relations departments track or clip newspaper articles to keep one step ahead of crises. Since the news has a huge influence on public opinion and agenda setting, it is important to know what the public is reading.
For example, I am sure that someone at Burger King and McDonalds has been tracking the foot and mouth disease. McDonalds has been trying to encourage sales of McPizza and other new products. Burger King has not invented a new staple product, but it has been giving away free food when you buy a Whopper. Since when can you buy a Whopper and get free food? I can't remember this ever happening before. See, someone in public relations has been tracking the foot and mouth disease and probably collecting data on public opinion. That practitioner found out that the public was going to be leery of buying meat and informed top management including the marketing department. The two popular burger joints offered different solutions. The numbers aren't in, but it has been said that the public did not like McPizza. I think Burger King reinforced their product with other products and proactively dealt with the publics concern.
Sometimes a crisis is not foreseen
There are times when a crisis is not foreseen. For this reason, the public relation practitioner should have a policy for communication ready. This plan addresses every communication aspect of a crisis. This next example is what happens when there is no crisis plan or policy for communication in place.
Sometimes a product has been contaminated in production or postproduction, sometimes a product is just wrong for the market. Companies have a history of stonewalling the media and consumers when something has gone wrong. Usually the wrong was caused by a lack of research.
There is more than one company that has faced this same issue, but let's take Nestle for example.3
Nestle marketed powdered formula to third world countries. What is wrong with this picture? Well, babies were dying. It was not Nestle's product that was killing babies. Powdered formula has to be mixed with water before fed to the baby. Third world countries do not have an abundant supply of clean water.
Nestle lost the trust of its publics because of boycotts promoted by interest groups. Nestle did not address the issue until years later. Nestle worked with the National Association of Infant Food Manufactures to end all supplies of infant formula in developing countries and to be continuously committed to ending free baby food supplies to hospitals of third world countries.
This controversy began in the 1980's and the policy for marketing in third world countries was not changed until the 1990's. This company stonewalled activists and lost the publics trust.
"Once a company behaves irresponsibly, it takes more than words to regain trust."1
The least that public relations can do in the event of a crisis is be a channel for clear communication. It also should convey the company's mission statement and values. In some cases personal ethics and business ethics do not mesh. For this reason a code of ethics has been developed by professional societies.
A public relations practitioner has a social responsibility along with the applied ethics of the company. In the fight to keep public relations practitioners ethical, some organizations were formed like the Public Relations Society of America and the International Association of Business Communicators. Members of these societies must take a code of ethics pledge. Ethics in public relations is a subject all its own. A whole web site could be dedicated to it. Let's move on to talk about the tools public relations practitioners use.
Public relations practitioners should use many tools for effective communication.
Public relations tool belt
Public relations practitioners use many tools to communicate with many publics. These tools would not be effective without persuasive, creative, and factual writing.
Public relations writers have historically written for news releases, reports and proposals, media kits, fact sheets, letters, memos, and advertising copy. Most recently the practice has changed to include writing for company web sites, email, public service announcements, video news releases, brochures, magazines, and other visual communications. Some of them you may be familiar with, but others need a little more explaination. Click on the butterfly to learn about public relations' "new wings."

1 Newsom, Doug, Bob Carrell. Public Relations Writing. 6th ed; California, 2001; Wadsworth.
2 Cutlip, Erna, Nancy Center, and Betty Broom. Effective Public Relations. 7th ed; New Jersey, 1994; Prentice-Hall.
3 Center, Allen, Patrick Jackson. Public Relations Practices. 5th ed; New Jersey, 1995; Prentice-Hall. pp 493 - 504.


Early Development Emerging Possibilities Return Home