In 1948, Glenn and Denny Griswold, PR consultants and publisher/co-editors of Public Relations News, drew together thirty-four “outstanding experts” in the book Your Public Relations. These contributors shared their wide variety of experience and authority as “a working manual for management executives, public relations directors and counsel, career aspirants, teachers and students, and all those interested in fitting themselves into the modern pattern of human relationships”.
Looking back over 65 years, these contributions continue to provide “an invaluable clearing-house of information as to policies and procedures used in the solution of a wide variety of public relations problems”. Consequently, I am translating the thirty-three chapters into a series of monthly blog posts. Each will provide an informed synopsis, drawing on the advice given – and in the style of the original text, the chapters will conclude with an Editor’s Note providing a 21st century commentary.
The spirit of this book as “the promotion of the best interests of public relations” is echoed by our ethos at PR Conversations. We are indebted to the editors and contributing authors and it is a pleasure to bring their work to a modern audience, using a contemporary communications form, the blog post. We welcome your comments for discussion.
Public Relations – Its Responsibilities and Potentialities by Glenn Griswold and Denny Griswold, Co-Editors, Public Relations News
Public Relations is the newest function of management and rapidly coming to be the most important. This then would seem to be a fitting time to undertake a definition of public relations in the hope that it can be widely accepted and will contribute something to the dissipation of widespread confusion and disagreement as to what is public relations and what are its appropriate and profitable methods and procedures.
The extent of this confusion and perhaps even the danger of it, is illustrated by a recent survey in which 2,000 of the leading public relations executives and practitioners of the country submitted their definition of public relations. A wide variety of concepts was revealed by replies which characterised public relations as a science, a system, an art, a process, a function, a relationship, a humanising genius, a term, a business, a profession, a method, an activity, a program, a pattern of behaviour, a moral force, a combination of media, et cetera.
After discussion of three definitions selected by a committee of nationally known public relations experts, the following was proposed by the authors as a distilled definition:
Public Relations is the management function which evaluates public attitudes, identifies the policies and procedures of an individual or organisation with the public interest, and executes a program of action to earn public understanding and acceptance.
The chapter then discusses the historical background of public relations stating: In exploring this record, it is well for all of us to keep in mind that the economic and social implications of public relations are inextricably interwoven, and must always be so. There can be no sound public relations for any economic unit without constant and perhaps first attention to its social impact.
The modern pioneers of public relations at the end of the 1940s were said to have developed the function in the “hard days” of the US depression, with tools and techniques perfected or devised during World War II.
Lessons were indelibly implanted by the accomplishment of campaigns which the government either sponsored or encouraged. Out of that experience a majority of business leaders for the first time learned the investment value of public relations.
Much of this indoctrination was accidental. Having few goods to sell and wanting no more customers, business spent billions advertising its trade marks and telling its corporate stories to keep good-will alive. To their amazement business leaders discovered that this kind of public relations procedure created buying desires and attracted customers. Out of that experience they learned that the public is almost as much interested in the integrity of the company and the craftsmanship that goes into its wares, as in the quality and price of the products.
Recognition of the challenge and responsibility for this accomplishment and the awareness that public relations is good business were the two compelling factors which established public relations in its rightful place as the fourth pillar of support in management alongside production, distribution, and finance. While this recognition is by no means universal, acceptance of the principle by businessmen is spreading rapidly. Recent developments clearly indicate this trend.
Perhaps the most important of these developments is the new concept of business responsibility. Out of that concept in the next very few years will undoubtedly develop the ethics and principles that will gide public relations in the future. Business is coming to learn that it must operate in the public interest if it is to survive.
Business is developing a sincere and frequently apprehensive awareness of the importance of what the public thinks. Out of that concern has developed a broad expansion in the use of public opinion research and a general recognition of the fact that public attitudes can and must be measured accurately before specific policies are evolved and definite programs projected.
The most important change in management attitude towards public relations has been the widespread recognition that real public relations begins at the community level among the employees, customers and neighbours of business. There is an almost universal tendency to abandon the notion that any initiated consultant can solve the problems of a nationwide corporate or industry by playing tunes on the mass mind of all the people.
Out of this growing maturity of public relations has come general acceptance of the theory that there are four basic steps involved in any public relations plan. The first is the employment of scientific study to discover what are the public relations problems and what are their proportions. The second is the adoption of sincere policies of management on which a sound program can be based. The third is the drafting of a detailed program and the execution of it in a way best calculated to earn public approval and support. The fourth step, which meets with more management resistance and timidity than any of the others, is telling the public relations story in frank and convincing terms to all interested publics.
The curse of public relations from the beginning has been the assumption on the part of many managing executives that it is merely a tool for meeting crises and that its function is in the nature of a fumigating process. This management attitude is being abandoned. Almost every substantial program today puts emphasis on repetition and continuity. Management is learning that it is cheaper and more effective to prevent crises in public attitudes than to try to cure them after they have developed.
Another promising development is the increasing recognition by management that sound public relations programming requires technical skills. The modern executive is coming to be just as hesitant about trusting his public relations problems to an amateur as he would be to trust the management of his production, sales or finance to unskilled and immature hands.
A concomitant development is that business is learning that regardless of how skilled the public relations consultant or director may be, the managing executive must know the philosophy and techniques of public relations in order to fit the function into the organisation picture.
Every day more corporations establish a public relations department for the first time or employ outside public relations counsel. Public relations department personnel is being increased and budgets are expanding.
Perhaps the best measure of management’s attitude towards public relations is the salaries it pays to those in charge of the activity. For the first time salaries are beginning to be commensurate with the responsibility the function implies and the technical and executive skill required.
Discussion of increased specialisation, academic recognition and professional organisations followed – which will be covered in later posts focusing on these areas.
In July, 1944, Public Relations News was established as the first national weekly public relations publication for executives. For the first time, the field has an independent editorial voice.
Bibliography is still meagre but books serving the field are appearing more frequently and their editorial merit has improved substantially in the last few years.
All the factors catalogued here as indicating that public relations is coming of age are important. But the most convincing evidence is the movement of the public relations function to the policy-making level.
Public relations directors and consultants are being added to boards of directors and trustees, elevated to the presidency or chairmanship and given authority to represent their organisations when policy decisions need to be made. This is in recognition of the basic fact that in order to be effective as a management executive today, one needs to know how to meet the critical human problems on which most controlling decisions must be made.
Public relations is coming to be recognised almost universally as a powerful force. Its first concern is to serve the public interest. If skilfully used, it can do much to bring harmony, peace and prosperity not only to business but to the nation and the civilised world.
Addendum – Editor’s Note:
It is hard not to recognise the modern echoes of these thoughts – although the belief that there is management recognition of the importance of public relations seems to remain a future hope for practitioners in many organisations. Undoubtedly public relations has become accepted as of value to a large number of organisations if only tactically, and not just in the business sector. However, in some ways, despite the claims of evidence of growing maturity, much public relations practice remains based on habits and anecdote. There is today a huge body of literature, research and academic understanding to draw on – and of course, we would add objective setting and evaluation to the basic steps for PR planning. Calls for management to understand public relations continue and it is debatable whether salaries within the field, budgets or the size of departments are as healthy as the view from 1948 indicated. Finally, the hopes expressed for public relations appear to me to be somewhat idealistic and normative – although similar sentiments can be found in 21st century PR perspectives.