PUBLIC RELATIONS AND MASS COMMUNICATION - II
PUBLIC RELATIONS AND MASS COMMUNICATION - II
In this chapter we will continue our discussion on various other
areas of public relations and mass
communication. As is the case with most areas of studies and
practices PR has also been categorized into
different sections with each section having its own
characteristics and business value.
The specialization in PR is the case in view here.
• Property development &
real estate PR
• Retail sector PR
• Agricultural PR
• Food service PR
• Health care PR
• Technology/IT PR
• Public affairs PR
• On-line PR
• Not-for-profit PR
• Crisis communication PR
All these categories are managed by experts who specialize in
their relative fields.
A number of specialties exist within the field of public
• Crisis management
• Reputation management
• Issue management
• Investor relations and
• Grassroots PR (sometimes
referred to as Astroturf PR)
Methods, tools and tactics
Public relations and publicity are not synonyms. Publicity is
the spreading of information to gain
public awareness in a product, service, candidate, etc. It is
just one technique of public relations as listed
A fundamental technique used in public relations is to identify
the target audience, and to tailor
every message to appeal to that audience. It can be a general,
nationwide or worldwide audience, but it is
more often a segment of a population. Marketers often refer to
economy-driven "demographics," such as
"white males 18-49," but in public relations an audience is more
fluid, being whoever someone wants to
In addition to audiences, there are usually stakeholders,
literally people who have a "stake" in a given issue.
All audiences are stakeholders, but not all stakeholders are
audiences. For example, a charity commissions a
PR agency to create an advertising campaign to raise money to
find a cure for a disease. The charity and the
people with the disease are stakeholders, but the audience is
anyone who is likely to donate money.
Sometimes the interests of differing audiences and stakeholders
common to a PR effort necessitate the
creation of several distinct but still complementary messages.
This is not always easy to do, and sometimes –
especially in politics – a spokesperson or client says something
to one audience that angers another audience
or group of stakeholders.
A press conference consists of someone speaking to the media at
a predetermined time and place.
Press conferences provide an opportunity for speakers to control
information and who gets it; depending
on the circumstances, speakers may hand-pick the journalists
they invite to the conference instead of
making themselves available to any journalist who wishes to
It is also assumed that the speaker will answer journalists'
questions at a press conference, although they are
not obliged to. However, someone who holds several press
conferences on a topic will be asked questions
by the press, regardless of whether they indicate they will
entertain them, and the more conferences the
person holds, the more aggressive the questioning may become.
Therefore, it is in a speaker's interest to
answer journalists' questions at a press conference to avoid
appearing as if they have something to hide.
But questions from reporters – especially hostile reporters –
detracts from the control a speaker has over
the information they give out. For even more control, but less
interactivity, a person may choose to issue a
The typical press release announces that the statement is "FOR
IMMEDIATE RELEASE" across
the top (some may instead be embargoed until a certain date),
and lists the issuing organization's media
contacts directly below. The media contacts are the people that
the release's issuer wants to make available
to the media:
Five "Ws and an "H"
There are 6 vital facts to convey in the first paragraph of a release to ensure
doesn't end up in the bin.
A press release is a written statement distributed to the media.
It is a fundamental tool of public relations.
Very often the information in a press release finds its way
verbatim or minimally altered, to print and
The text of a release is usually (but not always) written in the
style of a news story, with an eye-catching
headline and text written standard journalistic inverted pyramid
style. This style of news writing makes it
easier for reporters to quickly grasp the message. Journalists
are free to use the information verbatim, or
alter it as they see fit. PR practitioners research and write
releases that encourage as much "lifting" as
Since press releases reflect their issuer's preferred
interpretation or positive packaging of a story, journalists
are often skeptical of their contents. The level of skepticism
depends on what the story is and who's telling
it. Newsrooms receive so many press releases that, unless it is
a story that the media are already paying
attention to, a press release alone often isn't enough to catch
a journalist's attention.
With the advent of modern electronic media and new technology,
press releases now have equivalents in
these media, video news releases and audio news releases.
A new kind of press release—"optimized" for the Internet
The advent of the Internet has ushered in a new kind of press
release known as an optimized
conventional press releases of yore, written for journalists' eyes only, in
hopes the editor or
reporter would find the content compelling enough to turn it
into print or electronic news coverage, the
optimized press release is posted on an online news portal. Here
the writer carefully selects keywords or
keyword phrases relevant to the press release contents. If
written skillfully, the press release can rank highly
in searches on Google News, Yahoo or MSN News (or the many other
minor news portals) for the chosen
Readers of optimized press releases constitute far more than
journalists. In the days before news search
engines, a press release would have landed only in the hands of
a news reporter or an editor who would
make the decision about whether the content warranted news
coverage. Although the news media is always
privy to online press releases in the search engines, most
readers are end-users. Optimized press releases
circumvent the mainstream media which is formerly—but no
longer—the gatekeeper of the news.
Lobby groups are established to influence government policy,
corporate policy, or public opinion.
These groups purport to represent a particular interest. When a
lobby group hides its true purpose and
support base it is known as a front group.
Creating an artificial "grassroots" movement is known as
astroturfing. A typical example would be
the writing of letters to multiple newspaper editors under
different names to express an opinion on an issue,
creating the impression of widespread public feeling but being
controlled by one central entity.
In public relations,
spin is a, sometimes critical term
signifying a heavily biased portrayal in one's
own favor of an event or situation. While traditional public
relations may also rely on creative presentation
of the facts, "spin" often, though not always, implies,
deceptive and/or highly manipulative tactics.
Politicians are often accused of spin by commentators and
political opponents, when they produce a
counter argument or position.
The term is borrowed from ball sports such as cricket, where a
spin bowler may impart spin on the ball
during a delivery so that it will curve through the air or
bounce in an advantageous manner.
State-run media in many countries also engage in spin by
selectively allowing news stories that are favorable
to the government while censoring anything that could be
considered critical. They may also use
propaganda to indoctrinate or actively influence citizens'
• Publicity events or
• The talk show circuit. A
PR spokesperson (or his/her client) "does the circuit" by being
interviewed on television and radio talk shows with audiences
that the client wishes to reach.
• Books and other writings
• After a PR practitioner
has been working in the field for a while, he or she accumulates a list of
contacts in the media and elsewhere in the public affairs
sphere. This "Rolodex" becomes a prized
asset, and job announcements sometimes even ask for candidates
with an existing Rolodex,
especially those in the media relations area of PR.
• Direct communication
(carrying messages directly to constituents, rather than through the mass
media) with, e.g., newsletters – in print and e-letters.
• Speeches to constituent
groups and professional organizations; receptions; seminars, and other
events; personal appearances.
The process of public relations
Experts Scott Cutlip, Allen Center and Glen Broom describe the
public relations process in four
The first step is "Defining Public Relations Problems," usually
in terms of a "situational analysis," or what
public relations professionals call a SWOT analysis (strengths,
weaknesses, opportunities, threats).
According to them this should answer the question, "What's
The next step in the public relations process is "Planning and
Programming," where the main focus is
"strategy," Cutlip, Center and Broom argue that this step should
answer the question "What should we do
and say, and why?" The third step in the public relations
process is "Taking action and Communicating,"
also known as "Implementation;" this step should answer the
question "How and when do we do and say
it?" The final step in Cutlip, Center and Broom's Four-Step
Public Relations Process is "Evaluating The
Program," making a final "assessment," which should answer the
question "How did we do," this is where
public relations professionals make a final analysis of the
success of their campaign or communication.
People who are professionals in public relations use different
methods for analyzing the results of their
work such as focus groups, surveys, and one-on-one interviews.
These same methods are used in defining
what medium of communication will be used in the process of
strategy and what tools will be used in
relaying the message, such as press releases, brochures, Web
sites, media packs, video news releases, news
conferences and in-house publications.
Politics and civil society
A tactic used in political campaigns is known as "defining one's
opponent". Opponents can be
candidates, organizations and other groups of people.
If a politician or organization can use an apt phrase in
relation to an issue, such as in interviews or
news releases, the news media will often repeat it verbatim,
thus furthering the message. Recent examples
include: "death tax" for estate tax, "racial preferences" for
affirmative action, "faith-based" instead of
religious, "climate change" for global warming, and
"partial-birth abortion" for pro-choice.
Entertainment and celebrity
Celebrities tend to be fans of the dictum "any publicity is good
publicity". If a celebrity says or does
something embarrassing, he or she will often turn it into a
strength and make it part of his or her "image."
This tactic is used just as much with favorable situations as
much as with unfavorable ones.
Branching out – to live through PR
As Oscar Wilde is supposed to have said, the only thing worse
than being talked about is not to be
talked about at all. Many celebrities seem to take this truism
to heart, because when their popularity (and
income) wanes, they take on new projects that attract media
attention. Considering that a celebrity's
celebrity is a brand unto itself, many celebrities are under
constant pressure to "reinvent" themselves, as a
prophylactic against obscurity.
A current trend among American celebrities is the transformation
of musicians, comedians, and almost
every other sort of performer into children's book authors.
Madonna, Jay Leno, Billy Crystal, Ricky Gervais
and several other celebrities have recently written children's
books, accompanied by much media coverage.
A more traditional way of branching out is the celebrity
restaurant. This is especially common among
professional athletes, whose time in the spotlight is often
limited by the physical demands of their jobs.
Basketball player Michael Jordan opened a restaurant in Chicago,
and singer Britney Spears opened an illfated
eatery in New York which closed a few months later.
Male celebrities like Tim Robbins, Sean Penn and Charlton Heston
seem to gravitate toward politics,
although some female celebrities, such as Susan Sarandon and
Barbra Streisand, also become strong political
Younger female celebrities on the other hand are often drawn
into the fashion world. Hotel heiress Paris
Hilton recently announced that she was starting her own line of
jewelry, and Jennifer Lopez has started a
line of clothing. And fading star Elizabeth Taylor launched a
fragrance called "White Diamonds" several
years ago, bringing renewed interest from the media. Britney
Spears also kept herself in the public eye when
she had her secretive marriage to Kevin Federline Although
neither topic has to do with her career,
audiences seemed to be just as intrigued to know about her
Ethical and social issues
Many of the techniques used by PR firms are drawn from the
institutions and practices of
democracy itself. Persuasion, advocacy, and education are
instruments through which individuals and
organizations are entitled to express themselves in a free
society, and many public relations practitioners are
engaged in practices that are widely considered as beneficial,
such as publicizing scientific research,
promoting charities, raising awareness of public health concerns
and other issues in civil society.
One of the most controversial practices in public relations is
the use of front groups—organizations that
purport to serve a public cause while actually serving the
interests of a client whose sponsorship may be
obscured or concealed. The creation of front groups is an
example of what PR practitioners sometimes
term the third party technique—the art of "putting your words in
someone else's mouth." PR Watch, a nonprofit
organization that monitors PR activities it considers to be
deceptive, has published numerous
examples of this technique in practice. Critics of the public
relations industry, such as PR Watch, have
contended that Public Relations involves a "multi-billion dollar
propaganda-for-hire industry" that
"concocts and spins the news, organizes phony 'grassroots' front
groups, , and conspires with lobbyists and
politicians to thwart democracy."
Current issues in ethical and social arenas have been brought to
the attention of people from all strata of the population when it
was found that more than one journalist with a platform had
received money from a Public Relations firm for espousing a
certain point of view.
Public relations in fiction
Fabulous (1992 - 2004) is a British
sitcom written by and starring Jennifer Saunders with
• Absolute Power
(2000 - ) is a British comedy series,
set in the offices of Prentiss McCabe, a fictional
public relations company in London.
• Wag the dog
(1997), an American movie about a
PR-consultant (Robert De Niro) that teams up with
a movie-producer (Dustin Hoffman) to cover up a presidential sex
scandal by creating a fictional
war to divert the media.
• Thank You For
Smoking (1994), an American satirical
novel by Christopher Buckley, about a shyster
PR-Consultant/tobacco-lobbyist (Nick Naylor) during the 1990s.
It was later adapted into a movie
of the same title in 2006.