Public Relations (PR) has become more and more important and established a respectable status in the business world even in the whole society. As organizations seek ways to increase profits, many turn to the field of public relations as a way of achieving their goals. In designing public relations/communication programs, there are many factors that public relations practitioners must consider in order to be successful in these markets. Thus, having a clear knowledge of what is PR really about and how is PR put into practice making effect tends to be significant.
I. Definition of Public Relations
Many PR practitioners put blind ideas in doing PR activities without really understand the meaning of PR.
On one hand, the definition of Public Relations, according to Newsom & Kruckeberg (1996) is “about the reputation-the result of what you do, what you say and what others say about you.” Compared to what Chen & Lang (2000) said, Public Relations is a set of communication skills to establish and maintain the good relationship between the organization and its publics, Newsom & Kruckeberg thought PR more as the cognitive result rather than a kind of communication process.
On another hand, Macnamara (1996) and Canadian Public Relations Society (2002) defined PR in the more allround details than the former two ideas. As Canadian PR Society (2002) said, PR is “the management function which evaluates public attitudes, identifies the policies and procedures of an individual or organization with the public interest, and plans and executes a program of action to earn public understanding and acceptance.”
These two thoughts are one-sided and simple. Moreover, the thoughts of Macnamara basically include the former three thoughts to consider PR as a distinctive management function which helps establish and maintain mutual lines of communications, understanding, acceptance, and cooperation between an organization and its publics; involves the management of problems or issues’ helps orgnisations to keep informed on and responsive to public opinion; defines and emphasizes the responsibility of organizations to serve the public interest’ helps organizations keep abreast of and effectively utilize change, serving as an early warning system to help anticipate trends; and uses research and sound and ethical communication techniques as its principal tools.
Obviously, this kind of opinion is modern and persuasive that can help PR practitioners deal with PR in the right way. This advanced standpoint change PR from a static objective to a dynamic one, which means that PR is not only accepting the results but it can change the attitudes and thoughts before there forming a result. Just as Macnamara (1996) noted, PR evaluates and then changes the public attitudes and understandings to identify the policies, procedures and image of an organization.
II. Definition of Publics
After knowing about what is PR about, it is important to correctly identify and characterize the key word “publics” in PR definitions if you want to effectively deal with activism. The relevant publics in PR are treated differently in the past and at present.
A public, according to Dewey (1972) is ” a group whose members face a similar problem, recognize that the problem exists, and organize to do something about it.” But there existed an opposite idea that Grunig (1977) assert there are three stages in the evolution of publics. In the first, the latent stage, the public does not recognize the problem. A public moves to the aware stage when it recognizes a problem. The final stage is the active stage in which the public recognizes the problem and organizes to do something about the problem. Actually, the view of Dewey about the publics is unilateral because he only considers the publics as those who have similar thoughts with the orgnisations and can do some good to the orgnisations. However, Grunig (1977) thinks orgnisations not only treated those who accept the interests in the organizations but those who originally do not care for the orgnisations as well. Additionally, Chen & Lang (2000) agree the point of view of Grunig a lot. They point that the publics are any groups those who had both potential and actual interests and can help achieving goals for the orgnisations. They are not merely customers and stakeholders but the suppliers, distributors and even the opponents of the orgnisations. According to Grunig (1977) the idea is to communicate with an aware public before it actively opposes an organization, thus becoming an activist public.
III. Characteristics and Distinctions among the PR activities and tools
Put theories into practice is the most important also the final objectives for the PR practitioners. On the basis of the knowledge of PR definitions, PR practitioners begin to find out how they can take order with PR activities to make mutual understandings and strongly establish good images of the orgnisation in front of its publics. However, because Public Relations involves many kinds of activities such as Publicity, Promotion, Advertising and Marketing, PR practitioners always mix them up and misunderstanding their principles and ways with PR itself.
As Bell (2000) said, trying hard to deal with PR practice is making some creative solutions to the problem of doing advertisement to promote the products of the organisations. This kind of parlance equaling PR practice as advertising is lack of reality and objective. Certainly, there causes a lot of arguments for different thoughts. Firstly, what Newsom & Kruckeberg (1996) said advertising is a PR tool usually used to create desire to motivate demand for a product or to accept the organization but Public Relations is “the strategy of confidence to give credibility to a message.” Secondly, according to McNamara (2002), Advertising is bringing a product (or service) to the attention of potential and current customers. Advertising is typically done with signs, brochures, commercials, direct mailings or e-mail messages, personal contact, etc. but Public Relations activities include helping the public to understand the company and its products. Often, public relations are conducted through the media, that is, newspapers, television, magazines, etc. The later two notions separately discuss the difference and relationship between the advertising and Public Relations, which expressly let people be conscious of the truth of PR activities.
Furthermore, they also talk about other activities in PR activities. Newsom & Kruckeberg (1996) think that Publicity means placing information in a news medium and it is a tool used by PR practitioners to call attention to the special events or activities whereas Public Relations is often used as a synonym for publicity. Similarly, McNamara (2002) agreed with Newsom and Kruckeberg that there is confusion between Publicity and Public Relations, so he pointed out “Publicity is mention in the media. Organizations usually have little control over the message in the media, at least, not as they do in advertising. Regarding publicity, reporters and writers decide what will be said.”
These kinds of discussions above objectively and systemically tell the discrimination and relationship between one PR activity and the others.
IV. Specific PR models used in PR practice
After learning the concepts of PR, Publics in PR, and PR activities, should PR practitioners now begin to contribute themselves to do PR jobs? No, it is unadvised to do so without understanding what kind of models and how to organize these specific PR practice models into effect because PR practitioners cannot deal with PR activities favourably if they use irrelevant even wrong PR models.
James E. Grunig’s four models of PR practice development is a representative theory. He compared the traditional models to the modern ones so as to tell people the importance of two-way communication in PR practice. Grunig (1977) thought that one-way communication made the organisations target the consumers who were interested in them and emphasized that there was no need to change the attitude, valuation and performance of the organisations themselves. The tasks of PR practice was only gaining public acceptance.
Nevertheless, two-way communication models were quite different, which targeted persuasion and receiving feedback not only sending information. However, some managers think the symmetric model that both target the thoughts of the publics and organizations is a kind of idealistic model that cannot practice in the real life as Bell (2000) said. Anyhow, the establishment of the concept of two-way asymmetric and symmetric models is an outstanding contribution in PR practice world. What Grunig created is somewhat a new and particular idea that can help practice PR events successfully a lot.
Thanks to its breakthrough, Grunig (1992) also did the research, she found that two-way symmetrical is the least practiced. “In case studies of organizational response to activism, she found too few instances of two-way symmetrical public relations to prove that it was the most effective model,” Anderson (1992). L.A. Grunig considered that organizations need two-way communication to learn the consequences of what they are doing on all of their relevant publics as well as to tell the publics what they doing about the negative consequences. She regarded the two-way symmetrical as an on-going process.
In addition, Jon Higgins saw two-way communications in PR practice in another interesting way. “Clients and agencies can both benefit from the new age of transparency in PR,”says Higgins (2000). He thinks that in the wide-open ways of dealing with PR, ‘transparency’ appears to be a word for 1+1=1. Although the term may have its business origins in legal and financial circles, “transparency has come to stand for the seamless interface between client and agency, or between any company and its partners/customers.” (Higgins: 2000).
The prior advantage of Higgins’ theory is he realized using vivid and fresh events specifically to prove that organisations began to show what they do clearly and openly to their publics in order to make mutual understandings between the organization and its publics. Instead, the two Grunigs focused on the theoretic ways to think about two-way communications.
What is quite different from traditional ways, more organisations have become to realize the significance of treating their Public Relations affairs wonderfully. Additionally, they make their efforts to get the ideas of learning the ways to do it by carefully and thoroughly understand relevant theories and experiences.