About ‘Public Relations’

November 5, 2009

Public Relations is, literally, about relationships.  To often, it’s misunderstood, and criticized as being manipulative,  brash,  or lacking integrity.  It doesn’t have to be any of these things.  Relationships with the press are essential, if we are to see our stories in print.

I wrote this note — really, a summary of how public relations works —  years ago, in response to the following comment posted on a Quaker list serve.

PR smacks of the kind of approach that relies on manipulation of people in ways older Friends spoke of as “the world’s ways.” It is my observation that too many Friends have too easily embraced, all too casually, techniques that undercut and erode the distinctions that led earlier Friends to challenge public assumptions, rather than embrace them.

It doesn’t have to be so.

Public relations is, quite literally, having a relationship with the public.  While it certainly can be manipulative, it does not need to be that at all.

If I wanted more press coverage about our local meeting:

  • I’d arrange for two or three Friends to speak with the Religion reporter at the local paper (if there is one), for a “backgrounder”.
  • I’d appoint a few Friends who could be available for commentary about local issues that Friends care about (lotteries and gambling, State run liquor stores, etc.)
  • I’d send press releases when we are having public events.
  • I’d invite the Religion reporter to a Quaker wedding (if the couple felt comfortable with this).
  • With all of this, I’d trust that the Truth will shine, and be visible to an earnest reporter looking and listening carefully.

Now — is this manipulative?

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One Response to “About ‘Public Relations’”

  1. Krystal Harwick said

    Arthur,

    As a graduating senior, I hear the question, “So what are you doing after graduation?” every time I meet someone new and reply that I hope to go into public relations or corporate communications. This response typically earns judgmental looks or knowing nods from people who view the field as puppetry for evil corporations. I go on to say that I hope to enter the nonprofit field, but it rarely changes people’s impression. I agree that the most basic definition of public relations is the relationship between an organization and the public, but I feel like good public relations is forming and supporting a strong, considerate, open relationship with the public. What most people think of as “good PR” really seems like well-played press opportunities, not a relationship with the public. I am still relatively new to this field, so I was wondering what you thought of my interpretation.

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