Effective public relations skills are essential to so much of the success in private and public spheres. Public relations efforts address how we wish to present ourselves to others and how to deal with the perceptions of who others believe we are. Public relations tactics are useful for large international corporate projects, or something as personal as networking for your own career advancement.
If you are taking this course as part of a communications major, you may well find most every other course in the program is based on addressing how we relate to others. The field of public relations takes the theories of human interaction and applies these theories for real-life results.
This course will help prepare you to conduct public relations suitable for small start-up businesses, international companies, political campaigns, social programs, personal development, and other outreach projects. There are many tools useful to effective public relations. As we review the components of a public relations campaign, you will learn how to prepare the key materials that will help you get the job done. You will examine what has worked for others, as you craft your own form and style. You may develop your own public relations portfolio including news releases, pitch letters, biographies, position papers, crisis communications, and other tools of a strategic public relations kit. You will accomplish this by referring to diverse resources and examining extensive materials from successful practitioners in the field.
To understand where the field of public relations is heading, it helps to know its history. The past of public relations is still relatively young, so thankfully we do not need to dig too deep to find its roots. Public relations campaigns can involve media relations, employee and member relations, community affairs, government regulation, financial reporting, issues management, marketing communications, fund raising, and most any aspect of an organization's interaction with people inside or outside of its doors. Public relations professionals frequently advise the higher rungs of management, helping top decision-makers formulate a company message. Once that message is developed, it is disseminated to stakeholders within an organization and to the general public, using appropriate tools for effective outreach and media relations.
Most major undertakings start with the essential process of planning. This is especially true in public relations efforts, where a complex mix of tools and coordinated timing is crucial to the successful outcome of a campaign. The process begins with identifying the many intricate parts of a specified project and then assembling them into a working mechanism guided by a detailed blueprint called the Public Relations Plan.
Certainly the most important aspect of any outreach campaign is to first know your target audience. Once you have clearly identified the target, all other aspects of your communications plan may readily fall into place. Some of the demographic identifiers most critical to a communicator are age, gender, and income level. Other useful demographic information includes education level, marital status, geographical location, culture, and psychographic information such as a person's hopes and fears. As we come to better understand our target audience, we are much better prepared to develop a public relations message and strategize how to disseminate this message. Publics and stakeholders are those who share some sort of interest in the issues and outcome of an endeavor; they could be stockholders, employees, customers, members of the community, government regulators, vendors, suppliers, distributors, or even competitors. Being a stakeholder does necessarily mean having a financial stake or even awareness that one may be connected to a company or program's work. Quite often, an organization's stakeholders have conflicting interests - such as a company's managers looking to reduce costs, while its workers demand higher pay and better benefits. As you consider the materials in this unit, try to imagine all of the people who may have an interest in a particular message or position and the different approaches you might take to communicate with them.
One sure need of all organizations that produce newspapers, magazines, television programs, radio broadcasts, and websites is material to fill up their pages and their broadcast time. In Public Relations, you need only supply media outlets with the material they crave in a way they can use it. Media releases are going to be your primary and most important means of contact with editors and reporters. The Wall Street Journal estimates that 90 percent of its coverage originates from companies making their own announcements. The best way to develop your skills in media relations is to work as a reporter in different media, but it also serves to learn to think like a reporter: what does a reporter look for? How could you present your message in a way that appeals to the media? This is such a critical topic; you will have a large number of related readings assigned in this unit as well as the next unit on Writing for Public Relations.
Public relations communications may take many forms from media releases to public speaking, counseling, training seminars, and hosting public events. Public relations writing will embrace a range of styles from straight-laced, corporate-speak to artsy, entertaining, and spellbinding. Sloppy disregard for fundamental rules will alienate the editors who control the gates of information flow and will undermine authority with your audience. One key resource for public relations writers is the AP Stylebook, which covers the standard writing style expected by most print editors. Writing primers can help with the basis of crafting effective communication. Examples of successful public relations materials are readily available: media releases, company reports, promotional materials, executive speeches, feature articles, and more.
Public relations skills, tools, and tactics are not only for achieving business ends, but also serve to advance social programs and outreach projects in public education, health, political campaigns, human rights, and many other ends that promote a public cause rather than a private interest. Many of the same tactics and tools apply to social promotions as to commercial, though quite often more must be undertaken on smaller budgets in the attempt to change hearts and minds, rather than simple behaviors.
Success is a long haul, but disasters happen in an instant. A little advanced preparation can help save the day when a crisis strikes, and a crisis communication strategy can calm the flames before the home burns down. For most organizations, a crisis is a barrage of urgent, unexpected, unpleasant events that allows no time to think, organize, or plan appropriate actions. Unfortunately, most organizations begin to plan for crises after the crisis hits. This is a big mistake. The goal of a crisis management plan should be containment and positive counteraction. The three best approaches to a crisis are to 1) avoid it in the first place, 2) quickly address and resolve issues before they escalate, and 3) seek possible ways to turn your crisis into an opportunity.
The public relations professional is frequently the conscience of a company, not only by representing the organization's interests to the public, but also by conveying the public's interests back to the company. PR people are often put on the spot - if not to determine the morality of a course, at least to help envision the fallout. Fortunately, there are valuable touchstone tools for finding our way. We might also remember that public relations is a two way street: not only do we represent our organization to the public, but we must also present the opinions of the public back to our organization. We should help our colleagues understand how the public perceives our actions.
Well-honed public relations skills have a place in just about every human enterprise from international commerce to campaigns for public office to solving social ills. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that the employment opportunities for public relations practitioners will grow in the years ahead. Among the issues to consider for those contemplating a job in public relations are the skillsets required, the working conditions, the potential for advancement, and salary levels. This unit will introduce you to employment resources available that aid public relations aspirants in finding their first job and advancing through a professional career.
The public relations office can be a lonely spot, hovering between the realms of internal and external interests. Fortunately, there are many professional organizations and support systems in place for PR practitioners, including social networking that provides a means to share tips, job leads, case studies, and mutual support for colleagues facing common problems. Successful professionals will make use of these resources, as well as make their own contribution to the expanding field of knowledge and best practices.
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