What do you mean by public relations (PR)? Many believe it means trying to create a favourable image or a fav-ourable climate of opinion, or trying to polish a tarnished image. We owe these false concepts of PR more to the misunderstandings of the advertising and marketing worlds than to public relations. Image is one of those overused and abused words like strategic, competitive, differentiated and value-add!
Let's be clear. Essentially, PR is about creating and understanding through knowledge - albeit controlled knowledge - which often involves effecting change. It is a form of communication which applies to any sort of organisation. This is why it is far bigger than advertising or promotional marketing, and existed long before they did.
While governmental PR began nearly 200 years ago in Britain (and certainly is one of the most powerfully used tools of military led governments today), it is true to say that PR consultancy had its birth in the USA. The biggest growth has been in the industry specialist PR agencies of which the most profitable are those focusing on IT - naturally!
Parallel with the development of public relations as a refined discipline has been the development of the means of communicating of which the press, radio and cinema have played a vital part before the advent of newer techniques such as television, videos and satellites. Associated with all these media have been the increasing levels of education and literacy.
Perhaps the reason why there is a mistaken idea that PR is something new is because in recent years we have enjoyed so many new ways of communicating and it has become both easier and more necessary to explain and create understanding about so many topics.
Let's really analyse the meaning of PR. "Public relations practice is the planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain goodwill and mutual understanding between an organisation and its public" (British Institute of Public Relations). Therefore, PR activity is an organised program and is a continuous rather than ad hoc exercise. The purpose is to ensure that the organisation is understood by the number of groups it interacts with - staff, customers, prospects, competitors, suppliers.
A major relationship between advertising and PR is that advertising is more likely to succeed when prior PR activity has created knowledge and understanding of the product or service being promoted. PR is not a form of advertising and is, in fact, a much bigger activity than advertising. This is because PR relates to all the communications of the total organisation, whereas advertising - although it may cost more than PR - is mainly limited to the marketing function.
PR is neither "free advertising" nor "unpaid-for advertising". There is nothing free about PR: it is time-consuming and time costs money. This money may be represented by either staff salaries or consultancy fees. If a story appears in a newspaper or magazine, its value cannot be reckoned by advertisement rates for space or time because editorial space and radio or television program time is priceless.
Advertising may not be used by an organisation, but every organisation is involved in public relations. For example, a fire brigade does not advertise for fires or even advertise its services, but it does have relations with many publics.
PR embraces everyone and everything, whereas advertising is generally limited to special selling and buying tasks such as promoting goods, buying supplies or making special offers.
In the last five years we have experienced an incredible growth in the number of "corporate" or "image" advertisements proliferating on our televisions and printed in media.
I dread watching telly just in case I have to sit through one more dizzying Microsoft ad with its patronising one-liner (Where do you want to go today?).
The image-making advertisements are cer- tainly integrally linked to the PR efforts of an organisation.
That they develop into nothing more than a fabulous creative exercise for a creative genius is clearly the case in a number of cases where the message is lost somewhere underneath the exotic layers of clever design and graphics.
I'm sure you all love watching the incredibly colourful and exciting corporate ad promoting New Zealand wool - except surveys have indicated that it is one of the least understood advertisements on TV. An outstanding example of a perfectly timed blend of PR and advertising was Compaq's full page colour advertisement in the Fin Review, the Age and the Australian, earlier this month, introducing the new Compaq Mouseur - Stress Relief at your Fingertips.
As the name suggests, this fabulous device is both a mouse and massager in one. "A simple triple-click of the button starts the Mouseur vibrating in soothing elliptical motion."
You want to know more? Simply make your way to Compaq's special web site: www.compaq. mouseur.com.au/aprilfoolsdayjoke/ha.ha.ha. (OK, it doesn't exist). An organisation with a sense of humour?
Now that's who I want to do business with.
Dolores Diez-Simson is business communications manager at Datacraft, and has held senior marketing and communications roles with UB Networks, Sun Microsystems and HP. Diez-Simson tutors at Monash University on marketing Planning and Implementation and Issues in Competitive AdvantageDatacraftTel (03) 9690 5300Fax (03) 9690 0779