Thursday, February 9, 2012

When Publicity is NOT Public Relations: Eight Related Principles

In a recent blog post I argued that publicity is NOT public relations. Here I'll take that argument a few steps further, offering eight related principles of public relations for your avid consideration and (I hope) comment.

1. Public relations can and should support marketing efforts. But, based on my two decades of professional experience and observation, I maintain public relations loses its value as a truly objective force if it uncritically adopts marketing’s orientation and language.

2. As suggested in recently offered definitions of the function (see here, here, and here), public relations succeeds when it fills three key roles: (a) organizational conscience; (b) overseer of the corporate brand/reputation; and (c) manager of relationships with internal and external audiences. As such, I believe public relations can and should serve as the ultimate bulwark against the excesses and miscalculations of marketing, sales, and other organizational functions.

3. Education and ongoing professional development in public relations therefore must be based on an understanding of areas such as organizational behavior, leadership, negotiation, and finance, among others, not narrowly on publicity (and media relations-related) activities. For more on this point, see Gini Dietrich's related Five Skills You Need You Won't Learn in PR Class blog post.

4. I believe, moreover, the opportunity to refer to one’s professional practice as “public relations” should be reserved for those whose responsibilities cover some portion of the three roles identified in (2) above. Everyone else thus wouldn't be permitted to refer to what they do as public relations. I recognize that such a distinction demands further clarification, not to mention the licensing of public relations professionals. I'll consider this latter topic more thoroughly in a subsequent blog post.

5. The expression, “get good PR," which I've encountered frequently in press/social media coverage, is consistent with a view of public relations as a publicity function.

6. “Creating buzz," yet another term frequently used to identify an outcome of the public relations function, also is consistent with a publicity orientation. More importantly, a focus on “creating buzz” risks diverting attention from the indispensable role public relations practitioners can and should fill, along the lines of what is outlined in (2) above.

7. Success in public relations demands strict intellectual honesty and integrity in all aspects of one’s professional demeanor. The very nature of the profession as described here can accept nothing less, and ethical transgressions should be penalized.

8. A public relations professional must have access to every aspect of an organization’s operations if he or she is to be effective. To support that orientation, a skilled professional should possess an insatiable appetite for information about the organization or cause being represented and, in general, the broader environment in which it operates.

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