Relations I: The Crucible
One of two introductory
fact sheets on Public Relations
When I was a young working journalist my perspective on the
public relations profession was probably fairly typical at the
time: I was convinced they existed to create a snowstorm of slippery
phrases and diversions to promote unlikely superlatives or hide
unpalatable truths. These fellows (and they were almost always
males) were the great optimists of the corporate world.
Today PR, as we still hear it called, has left that unfortunate
image behind and executives who still think of it that way are
sadly misled! Successful public relations people, whether employed
in industry and government or working as consultants, operate
in a tough competitive corporate environment and have to deliver
both value for money and tangible results.
I still believe journalism is the crucible in which really
effective public relations people are created. It tests young
talent in an unforgiving way and hones its skills with words
and images on the whetstone of mass consumption. If you don't
have a "nose for news" -- an instinct for consumer
interest -- and an overwhelming desire to score the front page
or top the news bulletin, you quickly fall by the wayside.
It is this close connection with journalism that distinguishes
the practical public relations professional from their colleagues
in advertising, marketing or entertainment. Sometimes the boundaries
seem blurred, but look for a background in print, radio or television
journalism (or all three!) and you have the distinction you need.
This is not to say that PR people who have never worked in the
daily media are invariably ineffective, but I always look for
the journalism connection.
There used to be a myth in the newsrooms where I got my stripes
that if you couldn't make it in journalism you could always go
into PR. I wonder how many ex journalists came to grief on that
rock. I regard journalism as having been my incubation into public
relations, taking whatever innate instinct for communication
I had and shaping it into a range of skills that have been tested
to the fullest extent in the mass media furnace.
Then I made the natural progression to PR. In journalism my
ability to perceive the outcome of my toil virtually stopped
with publication. The print on the page or the script being read
on television was the end of the process, and apart from ad hoc
feedback (sometimes in the form of abusive phone calls from politicians)
you could not really look into the impact of your work in any
detailed way. But now I can test results right down to the end
of the line -- the person or group I want to influence, through
research, benchmarking and scientifically devised feedback.
Contemporary public relations is all about influencing people
with transparent integrity through skilled communication. It
takes the talent and skill that has always distinguished the
effective professional and combines them with technology and
research to deliver tangible results.
Jim Payne <email> firstname.lastname@example.org