The most acceptable definitions of public relations have always remained those made by the Institute of Public Relations (UK) and Mexican Statement. According to IPR, PR practice is “the deliberate, planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain mutual understanding between an organisation and its publics.” The other globally accepted definition is the popular Mexican statement issued at an international conference of PR held in Mexico city in August 1978. It defined PR as “the art or science of analyzing trends, predicting their consequences, counseling organisation leaders and implementing planned program of actions which will serve both the organization and the public interest.” From the above, it can be seen that PR has theoretical and practical approaches to issues. Its art and science stand for planning, execution and appraisal of programmes. From a good perspective, public relations could easily foresee crises, which could be averted. It is the management function where the practitioner relates freely with the leaders in the organization in giving fruitful advice, which are beneficial to the organisation’s existence. As a subject in Mass Communication, it has channels and techniques in reaching the target public or audience at any given time.
It is more than just a communication process. It is a scientific and acceptable norm of relating favourably between an organization and its public on whom its success or failure depends. The importance of public relations can be noticed from its various users: from profit and non-profit organisations, public and private institutions and to politicians and rulers who desire to have maximum supports and understanding from their publics.
The public relations officer goes with many names to suit his disposition, environment and for clear and distinct perception of his role. Since names go in different forms, the practitioner goes with different designations such as Corporate Affairs, Public affairs, Media Relations, Public Relations, Press Relations and even Information Officer. In fact, in any given situation, public relations is represented in any organization that believes in the power of the public where, to some extent, it derives its strength.
There are other professions that, to some extent, have one or two similar activities which public relations performs. Some of the professions include marketing, advertising, sales and even journalism. There is a recurring argument that PR is under Marketing in functions and vice-versa. Marketing concentrates more on the identification of the consumers’ need and wants and satisfying them by providing the product and services required.
Marketing is centrally the transaction and interaction between the seller and the buyer for profitable relationship. It can succinctly be put that marketing relies more on its 4Ps which are interrelated, i.e., product, price, promotion and place. It takes place around the four popular marketing mix. Basically, there is no much difference between marketing and sales; in fact, the latter is an aspect of the former. What distinguishes the two is the marketing environment as it is designed to get buyers through wholesale and retails. It may adopt the town-crier strategy to draw the attention of prospective buyers to its proximity to buy the products.
Over the years, there is a misconception that advertising is the same as public relations practice and this is far from the truth. While public relations employs all rightful channels to keep the public adequately informed truthfully and maintain goodwill and beneficial relationship between the organisation and the public, advertising is the process of buying space and airtime of media services and persuading the public to accept its products and services.
In advertising, an identified praise-singer blows his trumpet and credits himself as the best. It does not matter how the public perceives the message. Advertising tries to assert its relevance among the gullible public. Take the example of all those ads on cigarette smoking, alcoholic drinks and nude fashion which are not only immoral, but also dangerous to health, as well as naked abuse of morality and righteousness.
As the advertiser uses the instrument of financial power to say and get his message across, so also does the propagandist employ the instrument of state and political might to hoodwink the target audience into believing and accepting whatever is dished out. Propaganda is the propagation of indefensible action through falsehoods and tricks to dissuade the target from any challenge. Bad governments use this type of communication and exploitative organisations who, for selfish reasons, fail to address the real issue at stake.
To a larger extent, even in Nigeria, public relations practice, like journalism, strongly believes in objectivity and style. Even though many journalists have found a place in the public relations environment, their experience cannot be an automatic licence to hop on the image-making field, if they fail to understand those basic principles underlying the practice. The best a journalist can do in a PR set-up with his background knowledge in journalism, is in the aspect of media relations and issuance of press releases which are just very few of the many functions of PR.
Since the public is becoming knowledgeable, wise and sometimes aggressive on available products and services, public relations supports the activities of other related professions. It creates goodwill among the public by creating awareness, maintaining credibility, minimizing competition and correcting wrong impressions about products. In general, PR comes in different stages of product tests, the launch, and trade fair, among others. The claim that products speak for themselves cannot be tenable in the modern society.
Public relations provides effective communication to create an enlightened environment for sales to take place. Enquiries and information boxes are provided by serious PR Units to respond promptly and adequately to public complaints on sales activities. As it supports marketing and sales, so also does it assist greatly in scripting adverts which may be inevitable in special project adverts like supplements, corporate profile, public announcement, annual statements of accounts and rejoinders.
From the foregoing, therefore, public relations involves many awareness campaigns and promotional activities which include events sponsorship, social responsibility, facility visits, community relations, spokesperson, publication of in-house journal and presentation of corporate gifts and lobbying with reason (government relations), placing institutional and corporate advertisements, for some obvious reasons in the media.
In a nutshell, PR is the protector of the entire organization and what it stands for. It plans all its activities, aimed at promoting, protecting and projecting the good image of the organization, its personality and services through the establishment, continuous maintenance of and beneficial relationship with its various publics.
This article by Yushau A. Shuaib was originally published in Nigerian Tribune March 1 and New Nigerian March 27, 2001