Public relations is a staff function within s company which is concerned with the purposeful and ongoing attempt to establish a mutual understanding with all the stakeholders (both internal and external) of the organization.
Staff functions are differentiated from line functions. Staff functions are supportive functions. Examples of staff functions are public relations and human resources. Such functions directly support line functions.
Line functions are the main functions of the organization and are concerned with directly achieving the objectives of organization. Examples of line functions are marketing and production. Line functions directly affect the operating profit and the bottom line. Whereas, staff functions are support which is necessary for line functions to function satisfactorily.
What we need to understand now is where does public relations fit within an organization. Public relations is one of the elements of the promotional mix. Other elements are advertising, sponsorships, direct marketing, sales promotion and personal selling. Promotional mix is used to ensure success of the integrated communication of the organization (read about integrated communication as a strategic management process within the organization).
Public relations practitioners usually undertake public relations campaigns. Public relations campaigns are a set of deliberate and planned activities directed at targeting various stakeholders within a specified period with the purpose of achieving certain objectives.
Objectives of public relations can be to create awareness, to educate, to attempt to alter attitude or behavior, to persuade or just to inform.
Public relations can use various tools to achieve its objective, which is to establish mutual understanding with all stakeholders. Such tools include sponsorships, publicity, special events, media relations and promotions.
There are various types of public relations campaigns that organizations can use. They can be categorized broadly into: issue oriented, politically oriented or product/service oriented. They can alternatively can be categorized into campaigns which have as its goals to create awareness, campaigns which attempt to inform public (public and stakeholders are synonymous), campaigns that have as its goals to be a reminder of something that the public already believes in, campaigns that attempt to alter attitude and, lastly, campaigns which attempt to modify behavior.
Public relations uses different media to achieve its objectives. Such media includes internal media (targeting internal stakeholders), mass media (targeting external stakeholders), private media and folk media (both targeting external stakeholders).
Integrated communication is a strategic management system which is concerned with overseeing all messages sent by the organization and which have a purpose to develop a long-term and profitable relationship with all the organizations stakeholders (internal and external). Therefore, integrated communication is a broader concept and public relations is just one of the elements which is required for the success of integrated communication as a strategic management process of the organization.
Integrated communication evolved over time and developed into a full-blown strategic management process which focuses on two-way communication (dialogue with stakeholders) as apposed to one way communication (monologue). Contemporary integrated communication processes within an organization focuses on all stakeholders. This is in comparison to earlier efforts when focus was only on customers. Further, whereas before focus was on transactions, now the focus is on the relationship with stakeholders. A successful integrated communication process requires integration and collaboration of all functions. It is across-functions rather than a functional process. Contemporary integrated communication process is also very data driven since data enhances the performance of the process.
Stakeholders (internal and external)
Organizations have various stakeholders which must be taken into account to ensure the success and sustainability of the business. Internal stakeholders are stakeholders who are within the organization such as employees, management and shareholders.
External stakeholders are stakeholders who are affected by organization or affect organization but are not part of the organizations. Examples of external stakeholders are customers, labor unions, suppliers, the community, media, potential customers and the federal, state/provincial or local government.
Stakeholders can also be primary, secondary and marginal. Primary stakeholders significantly affect the organization or are severely affected by organization. Examples of primary stakeholders are employees and customers. Secondary stakeholders are generally less affected or have a smaller affect on the organization. Examples of secondary stakeholders can be media and government. Marginal stakeholders have the least affect or are least affected by the organization. Examples of marginal stakeholders can be the community which is almost not affected by organization at all. Categorization of primary, secondary and marginal stakeholders can alter based on a specific situation. For example, if environmentally irresponsible actions of organizations lead to significant pollution of the environment and nearby communities experience negative externalities as a result health than we can say that the community is no longer a marginal stakeholder but a primary stakeholder. This is especially true should the community choose to react.
Stakeholders can also be categorized into current (traditional) and future. Current stakeholders include all stakeholders which currently affect or are affected by the organization. Examples are employees and customers. Future stakeholders are stakeholders whom are likely to be affected or affect the organization in the future. Examples of future stakeholders are students and potential customers.
Further, the attitudes of stakeholders can be the basis for further categorization. Some stakeholders agree with actions of the organization and can be labeled proponents. Some stakeholders disagree with actions of the organization and can be labeled opponents. And some stakeholders are unconcerned with actions of the organization and can be labeled indifferent.
Media and Public Relations
A public relations practitioner uses various media to achieve its goals. Such media includes the following:
Internal media is used to enhance communication with internal stakeholders. Internal media includes online media, printed periodicals, interpersonal media and audiovisual media.
Online media (digital media) is further discussed below. In the context of internal communication, online media is putting a lot of pressure on more traditional media such as printed periodicals. Online media includes such tools as emails, intranets, websites, electronic bulletin boards, internet chats, sms (cellular short messaging services), e-newsletters, social network sites and discussion forums. Online media is attractive due to its significantly lower cost (compared to printed materials, for example), flexibility (changes can be done in minutes) and speed (e.g. messages via email can be received almost instantly). With the increasing role that online media plays in internal communication, there is no reason to doubt that this media will be increasingly used by organizations.
Despite the availability and advantages of online media, many organizations still use printed periodicals to communicate with internal stakeholders. Many large organizations such as Deloitte and Toyota use magazines to communicate with employees. Bulletin boards with motivational messages, special announcements and pictures are common news boards in organizations. Some trade unions have their own printed publications. Printed newsletters are still common and convey information about current and future happenings associated with the organization and its employees. Annual reports, although often available in electronic format, are still available in print. Some employees have their own “underground periodicals” which are unauthorized publications prepared by employees themselves. In a sense, it is a grapevine in the printed format.
Interpersonal media refers to face to face communication. It is still the most important type of media that organizations can utilize to enhance communication with internal stakeholders. Any face to face interactions such as meetings, interviews and conversations are examples of interpersonal media. The grapevine is also an example of interpersonal informal communication media. It refers to interpersonal communication between employees through which news, information and rumors are spread throughout organization. Because employees usually believe information which is spread via grapevine and because information via the grapevine is spread extraordinarily fast – public relations practitioners should take grapevine communication into account during internal communication planning and should take advantage of this type of communication.
Audiovisual media refers to media which uses audio and visual elements such as videos, power point presentations and flip charts. With the advance of technology, organizations should utilize this type of media to enhance its’ internal communication.
Mass media can be used by public relations practitioners for communication with external stakeholders. Mass media is further divided into press, broadcast and digital media.
Press includes magazines and newspapers. The advantages of press is that it allows to publish a more in-depth message as apposed to more limited messages that can be used in television or radio advertising. People often keep the articles from newspapers and magazines and pass it to their friends and family. Magazines and newspapers allow more time for the reader to comprehend the message as well as the added advantage that it can be read anywhere. Comparatively, messages provided via television or radios have to be comprehended instantaneously or it will be lost. Disadvantages of using the press include often less than objective reporting, the fact that people do not read every section of the newspaper or the magazine and the fact that total readership claimed by publishers is often overestimated as many copies will be discarded after a brief view over coffee or during a train ride to work.
Broadcast media includes radio and television. Television is usually a costly media. It is also more time consuming than many other alternatives due to the time it takes to negotiate and than produce the message. Messages that can be communicated via television are usually very limited due to the high cost and other factors. Moreover, the viewer cannot refer back to the message at their convenience, as is available with press options. However, television provides for visual and audio elements which enhance the strength and comprehension of the message, along with other advantages.
Radio is less costly than television but does not provide visual elements and is limited to audio elements to enhance the strength of the message. Radio, as well as TV, can be used by illiterate people, which is an advantage if compared to press options discussed above. Radio also provides companionship and can be taken anywhere. It can be listened to while doing other things and many people listen to radio more in terms of time per week when compared to the viewing of television. Radio has similar disadvantages as television. Listeners do not have ability to refer to a message at their convenience or to have more time to comprehend the message, if necessary. Moreover, messages are usually limited due to cost and other factors.
Digital media can also be used by the public relations practitioner. It includes new media (not available previously) that the public relations practitioner can utilize. Digital media includes podcasts (audio messages distributed to interested individuals), online forums, blogs, video blogs, social networking sites and others. Digital media can be used for communication with internal and external stakeholders.
Private media is another media that the public relations practitioner can utilize when communicating with external stakeholders. Private media is media over which an organization has complete control and includes videos, seminars and presentations conducted by the organization, printed publications to be used with external stakeholders such as educational publications for selected external stakeholders.
Lastly, organizations can also utilize folk media for public relations purposes. Folk media refers to traditional media. It is very culturally oriented and includes gossip, puppet shows, festivals and theatre productions in villages and rural areas. Folk media are associated with communication with few individuals at a time, usually with the use of symbols and in their own language. It can be very effective in communicating with rural areas of countries.