A Guest Post By Kirk Hazlett, APR, Fellow, PRSA
Once in a while, I go off on a mental gadabout and wander through reasons and rationale for my…and my colleagues…existence as public relations professionals.
Fortunately, just as I get to the edge of the deep, dark forest of despair, something bubbles up in the news that provides the justification.
This past month (November) has been remarkable for its menu of choices: elections, Petraeus, BP…just to name a quick few. (And by the time this post is published, I am confident at least two or three others will have joined the parade.)
Public relations has, at its very core, a focus on building and nurturing a mutual understanding between an organization or individual or cause and those publics whose livelihood or even life is impacted by one or more of those three.
I say “one or more” because oftentimes there is a connection.
Organizations are not “human” in and of themselves. They are made up of individuals whose actions on behalf of the organization have an effect on others.
And those same individuals often identify and champion a “cause” that can be supported through their organization.
So there’s an interrelationship among the three. And helping make that connection is the challenge for those of us in public relations.
In a sense, it’s the basic “5 Ws”…who, what, when, where, and why.
I would argue that, overall, those charged with shepherding the communication process throughout the recent political “hunting season” pretty much failed, as indicated by the margins of victory in several cases. A true “understanding” of the value of a particular candidate’s existence failed to emerge.
In the Petraeus and BP fiascos, there has been (long-term for BP; growing for Petraeus) a failure to recognize…to accept…that there are publics who care and who have been or will be affected by one or the other’s actions.
As the saying goes, “With great power comes great responsibility,” and it falls on the shoulders of the public relations professional to remind those in power of this fact.
The reminder is often not welcomed, but it is necessary because, without it, the danger of creating even more unrest or unease grows. And this is where public relations steps in to clear up the confusion with sound counsel, strategic thinking, and decisive action.
Edward L. Bernays had this to say on the matter in the Fall 1976 issue of Public Relations Quarterly: “Advice on action is the important function of the professional, based on knowledge of the social sciences, individual and group behavior, appraisal of the public’s hopes and needs, on social responsibility and on experience in coping with these problems in a professional way.”
That’s why we are who we are.
Kirk Hazlett, APR, Fellow PRSA, is Associate Professor of Communication (Undergraduate) at Curry College in Milton, MA. He also is Visiting Lecturer, Organizational and Professional Communication (Graduate), at Regis College in Weston, MA. Prior to his move into academia, Kirk practiced nonprofit and government public relations and marketing for more than 35 years in the US as well as Asia. Accredited by the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), Kirk is a Member of PRSA’s national Board of Directors and has held leadership positions with PRSA Educators Academy and PRSA Northeast District as well as with the Boston and Hawaii PRSA chapters.