It was President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo who issued Proclamation No. 1357 declaring the month of September of every year as “Public Relations Month,” to draw special attention to the fact that the public relations industry had become a major contributor to national development. Arroyo’s proclamation also intended to generate awareness of the crucial role of public relations, and to highlight the stringent qualifications and responsibilities that the Public Relations Society of the Philippines demands of its practitioners.
Be that as it may, the proclamation is not enough. Many fellow professionals still cannot define public relations in its entirety. Otherwise, we would not be seeing blogs and online articles titled “Will social media replace public relations?” or “Will digital marketing make public relations obsolete?” Even the former CEO of a European PR agency wrote a book titled “Trust me, PR is Dead.” My gosh, what utter nonsense.
Public relations has been around for a long time and will be around forever. There is nothing in human behavior that will alter the basic purpose of PR, which is to earn the trust of people through compelling stories.
Public relations practice started when one person wanted to persuade another to change an opinion, or to take a specific course of action. Harold Burson of Burson-Marsteller said the definition that best captures its totality are probably these words: “If you’re gonna talk the talk, you gotta walk the walk.” Meaning, you should back up what you are saying with action.
Quite simply, public relations is doing good and getting credit for it. This definition recognizes two aspects: the first is doing things in a way that is consistent with the public interest; the second is telling your story so convincingly that it will motivate the target audience to take a desired action.
Public opinion and attitudes are the leverage of the PR professional. There are three ways in which such leverage can impact on how people think. First, PR can aim to change an existing opinion or attitude; second, PR can aim to strengthen a currently held opinion or attitude; and, third, PR can create an opinion or an attitude where none previously existed.
Public relations specialists seek to establish relationships with an organization’s publics through such actions as designing communication campaigns, writing news releases, working with the press, arranging media interviews, writing speeches, preparing clients for press conferences, writing website and social media content, managing the company reputation (crisis prevention and crisis control), and doing marketing activities like brand activation and event management.
The purpose of public relations has not changed, but the practice has evolved. PR tools, especially the internet, has changed the way we tell stories. But, despite its enormous impact, the intenet will not totally replace television, radio, newspapers, magazines or direct mail. While no other medium has the capability to reach such large and widespread audiences so quickly and so economically, digital and social media can cause tremendous mischief and reputation damage due to false, irresponsible information, or the leakage of private data.
If you rely on snippets of news on Facebook or blogs, then there is none of the third-party credibility that comes from newspapers, radio and television. “I saw it on Facebook” does not have the same credibility as “I read it in the Philippine Daily Inquirer (or The Wall Street Journal).”
The future of public relations is bright. There is a need for public relations services in almost every aspect of our daily lives. Public confidence in nearly all institutions, both in the public and private sectors, is at an all-time low. Protecting the good reputation of a company and improving public attitudes have become a primary objective of enlightened management.
In dealing with this problem, my concern is whether we have enough qualified public relations professionals to provide the advice and carry out the necessary programs to bring about the goodwill clients and employers are seeking.
Whether they are called corporate communication directors or public affairs managers, public relations continue to be the function that creates the equilibrium so necessary to social, political and economic stability.
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Charlie A. Agatep is chair and CEO of Grupo Agatep.