Public Relations by Geoff Lancaster ©
Public Relations is an important and versatile marketing communications tool. It can be employed both within and
outside the organisation. Many feel that public relations is an external marketing tool, with the firm attempting to
communicate with a wide range of external ‘Publics’ in order to cast the organisation in a favourable light in peoples’
minds. This way of thinking is very limited, and fails to appreciate the great value of public relations as an internal
marketing communications tool. Good internal marketing i.e. achieving the right internal organisational culture and
getting everyone ‘pulling’ in the same direction in terms of marketing effort, is a vital prerequisite to effective external
marketing, particularly those based on the concepts of long term ‘relationship’ marketing. Public relations has a vital
role to play in the creation of an effective internal marketing culture within an organisation. In this sense it has seen a
realisation of its importance as a strategic internal communication tool.
Public relations Is a very versatile communications tool and is today used by just about every type of organisation
whether it be a charity, a political party or a commercial organisation. It is concerned with strategic management of
information in such a way that certain publicity objectives are achieved. It is not always the case that positive
publicity is the outcome of a managed public relations campaign, because it is often impossible to achieve a net
positive outcome. For example public relations has a particularly important role to play in ‘crisis management’
scenarios. Where a catastrophe has occurred, especially where people have been injured or lost their lives, it is often a
case of containing the situation, putting a fair and balanced account of events forward to the general public and
mitigating the adverse effects of the disaster to the organisation concerned.
A Brief History Of Public Relations
Public relations (PR) is not new. Its modern day origins in the United States can be traced as far back as 1807 with
President Jefferson’s address to congress, although evidence suggests that the ancient Greeks and Romans gave much
attention to influencing public opinion. PR in the UK began as a Government information and propaganda machine
during World war One and was then used more extensively in World war Two. Industry showed little interest in PR as
a commercial communications tool until after 1945, but thereafter its use increased rapidly over the next 30 years in a
sort of PR explosion. PR’s relatively poor image over these 30 years has been a result amateurish practitioners. In the
1970s the PR profession was referred to by derogatory terms such as the ‘gin and tonic brigade’. People who made up
this ‘brigade’ often carried considerable social influence and were able to ‘open doors’ because they had the right
connections. Their main function seemed to be the ‘wining and dining’ of important clients. The situation has changed
a great deal in the late 1990s and now PR professionals are trained in the art of communications management.
Unfortunately the profession still operates under its earlier shadow.
Public relations has now spread throughout industry and commerce. At first, full time PR appointments were less
common than the use of the services of a PR consultant. Because of this slow internal adoption of professional PR
practitioners by industry and commerce, external public relations firms quickly developed, many of them lacking
skilled staff of sufficient expertise, but merely taking advantage of and exploiting the ‘boom’ in the PR profession.
This phenomenon is common; it happened at the end of the 1980’s when ‘total quality management’ was the latest
‘fad’ and many became experts in the art of TQM virtually ‘overnight’. Consequently, because of the hasty expansion
of PR firms, the poor reputation of PR among journalists, businessmen, politicians and the general public that persists
today, can be traced back to this period of uncontrolled growth. In the last 20 years, however, many PR agencies have
built reputations for highly marketing orientated practices. Many of these firms tend to specialise in consumer PR,
trade relations, corporate PR, financial, industrial, service and technical PR. A number of firms are now offering PR
services for ‘not for profit’ organisations such as charities and politics.
From the mid 1970’s onwards a change has developed in the role and perceived value of PR, leading to a growth in
this form of communication which has continued right up to the present day. Explanations for the upsurge in public
relations activity are many and varied. Many in the industry identify the late 1970’s recession as a major turning point.