DVMG - Fact Sheet Number -3

Fact Sheets Index

Public Relations I: The Crucible

 One of two introductory fact sheets on Public Relations
Jim Payne

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> jrpayne@ozemail.com.au