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The Power of Public Relations

By Carol Levine, APR

Why is it that PR practitioners have such a difficult time seeing their outstanding programs reach fruition? That budgets for public relations pale in comparison to those allocated for traditional advertising or transaction based marketing? Or that public relations expertise is excluded from the strategic planning process?

For the legions of public relations professionals who work as consultants or as in-house staff for small, medium and, surprisingly, many large size private and publicly held corporations, advancing the case for strategic PR often feels like pushing water uphill. I am continually amazed at the general lack of understanding regarding the definition, expectations and benchmarks for evaluation for the work that we do. Except for the most recognizable companies there remains a sea of businesses and not-for-profit organizations who have yet to come to grips with the power of public relations and then earmark the necessary human and financial resources to the task.

The tenacity of the public relations professional is such that we are exceedingly resourceful. I believe that in an effort to demonstrate the value of public relations in any number of areas: reputation management, crisis intervention, product introduction, the PR manager has developed strong skills in doing more for less. Producing results that outpace expectations allows us to build a greater appreciation for the power of public relations and to slowly gain acceptance from the highest levels of management.

We know the drill of arguments to advance our case. The credibility of third party endorsement and cost efficiency are two key selling features. Add to this more effective means of measuring the impact of our programs from a qualitative and quantitative point of view and outstanding cases that can be leveraged in order to state, "look what PR achieved for the Body Shop, Viagra and Tickle Me Elmo". As reported in a recent issue of Sales and Marketing, all of these brands were built with little or no advertising.

Still, our field remains misunderstood, often maligned and certainly challenging to define in a 30 second sound bite. To dispel the myths public relations professionals must take on an expanded role. In addition to our function as corporate counsel we must continually seek to inform and educate our employers, colleagues and clients about PR. This is clearly the only way to gain acceptance from where all of the management decisions are made. At the top!

Does this seemingly sad portrayal of the lot of public relations suggest bitterness, envy or negativity? Absolutely not! Public Relations is quickly surpassing advertising in terms of power and influence, according to the article in Sales Promotion magazine and the trend is likely to continue. Consumers, and here I mean consumers of products and services of all kinds, have become increasingly more sophisticated and adept in how and where they search for information. The credibility of third party endorsements adds a powerful dimension to their behavior and ultimately to their "buying" decisions.

Good PR work is produced with winning conditions starting with buy-in from the CEO. Make no mistake, public relations is a management function that must be seen as part of the overall strategic planning process. The impact of PR can and will be felt in building customer loyalty, in the success of a fundraising campaign, in attracting investors and in sensitizing patients to a new drug. The goal of PR is not to launch a product, create publicity for a plant opening or minimize the fallout from a crisis. The goal of PR is to help an organization realize its business objectives.

How can we effect change?

  • Clearly identify the role of the PR professional in your organization as a strategist and business advisor rather than as the implementer of tactics.
  • Insist that PR be part of the business planning process and be in the loop as to bottom-line objectives.
  • Establish performance benchmarks that are meaningful in terms of the business goals ( not just in generating clips!) and that will allow the decision makers to see and appreciate return on investment in terms that relate to the practice of PR.
  • Set parameters for what constitutes success that are mutually acceptable before you get into the tactics. Then work toward reaching these targets.
  • Remain objective when it comes to the budget you need to produce results. While we all have stories about pulling a rabbit out of a hat, limited staff and dollars do not give us the tools to succeed.
  • Do not promise what you can't deliver. Because so much of what we do is dependent on third parties over promising leads to disappointment.

Carol Levine, APR, with Communications MECA, can be reached Toll-free: 1-800-764-MECA, World Wide Web: and E-mail:
Communications MECA's listing can be found on page 234 of the Summer 1999 issue of

See also:
Public Relations Strategy as a Valuable Fundraising Tool
What is Public Relations?