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Functions of Public Relations

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Essay title: Functions of Public Relations

Introduction

Economic developments of the last several decades have changed economic and social structures, leading to new business opportunities but also to social dangers and concerns. Companies and organizations are increasingly expected by their stakeholders to find strategies and ways to play a more active role in addressing social issues, and to take responsibility for their actions.

It is the task of public relations practitioners to balance these societal demands and stakeholders’ expectations with the goals of their company and to communicate in an effective manner by developing socially responsible strategies.

This is summarized in the following statement by Baskin and Aronoff:

"Public relations is a management function that helps achieve organizational objectives, define philosophy and facilitate organizational change. Public relations practitioners communicate with all relevant internal and external publics to create consistency between organizational goals and societal expectations. Public relations practitioners develop, execute, and evaluate organizational programs that promote the exchange of influence and understanding among an organization’s constituent parts and publics." (Baskin and Aronoff, 1992)

This paper examines some of the similarities and differences that exist between two organizational functions, publicity and marketing communications and two societal functions of public relations, community relations and social responsibility.

Societal Functions

Social Responsibility

The effectiveness of strategies and communication programs depends on how public relations practitioners communicate with their stakeholders and on how much effort they make to build and maintain good relationships. To guarantee good relations and effective campaigns, the public relations function must be involved in the overall strategic management process where public relations strategies can be managed by objectives. Furthermore, public relations practitioners have to employ two-way symmetrical communication, to facilitate mutual understanding and relationship-building between their corporation and its stakeholders.

Corporations can react to societal demands by using corporate social responsibility (CSR) as a public relations strategy. CSR can be considered either as an opportunity to improve a corporation’s image and financial success or as a response to conflicts and crises. (Wikipedia, 2006)

Today, many corporations use CSR proactively, as they are aware of its various positive outcomes and valuable contributions for both society and its business success. Corporations can act with unselfish or self-interested motives, but, whichever motivation establishes the basis for CSR, both require the employment of issues management, a strategic planning process that analyses the impact of societal issues and gives corporations the chance to invest effectively and proactively.

Besides proactive strategies and tactics, CSR can also be used reactively, employed as an effective response to conflicts and crises. These crises can either attack corporations suddenly or slowly, and depending upon their nature and extent, corporations have to react with crisis communication strategies. These can be either defensive or accommodative. An accommodative strategy includes ingratiation, corrective action, or a full apology. However, a defensive strategy of attack, denial, or excuse is often not very effective in solving the crisis and repairing the corporate image.

Community Relations

Corporations can contribute to societal demands with an active community relations program. This can be accomplished in three ways: first, by making cash and in-kind donations to public charities; secondly they can support corporate volunteerism, inviting employees to volunteer at a non-profit organization, which creates partnerships between employees, non-profit organizations and the corporation; and thirdly, they can establish a corporate foundation, an independent entity that operates its own charitable programs. The decision to use one of these public relations tactics depends on organizational goals, available resources and the extent of corporate willingness to cooperate with non-profit organizations and build long-term relationships.

At whatever stage public relations reacts with communication programs, all programs should aim at building and maintaining good relationships, which influence the positive reputation of an organization and the achievement of its organizational goals. However, the most effective and professional way is to interact and communicate

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