Public Relations Tactics

Study Preview Public relations can be dissected, or rather trisected, into three activities that figure into long-term campaigns. These are the tactics of promotion, of image management, and of crisis management.

Learning Objectives By the end of this module you will be able to:

  1. 8.5.1 Analyze media relations practices
  2. 8.5.2 Describe the role of image management in public relations
  3. 8.5.3 Determine the balance between image management and public dialogue

8.5.1 Promotion 1. Objective: Analyze media relations practices

Most organizations need promotion, including publicity. This means continuing contact, good rapport, and credibility with journalists who decide what is reported and how. These activities, called media relations, include being available to answer reporter queries and arranging access and interviews for organization leaders. Media relations also include organizing news conferences that can cover a broad range of subjects. It is at news conferences that new products are unveiled, that office-seekers announce their candidacies, and that corporate plans for expansions are detailed for the public.

Promotion reached a feverish and regrettable notoriety with 1840s entrepreneurial showman P. T. Barnum. Barnum’s publicity claims included outright hoaxes. It’s believed he coined the phrase “There’s a sucker born every minute.” Barnum’s freak-

show, which included Feejee the Mermaid with the head of a monkey and the tail of a fish, eventually rang hollow amid growing public skepticism. To this day, the seeds of public skepticism sown by Barnum have been a burden to the reputation of the public relations industry.

To be sure, stunts and hyperbole remain promotional tools, regrettable though these practices may be. But generally this kind of attention-grabbing has evolved into more genteel staged initiatives that are called media opportunities and photo-ops.

Media People Enlightened Self-Interest

At one of the most precarious times in U.S. history, the Great Depression, Paul Garrett led public relations in new directions to win public support. Amid worries that people —many hungry, all distressed—would see huge corporations as scapegoats and perhaps upend capitalism, Garrett had an unprecedented challenge as GM’s public relations chief. How precarious was the situation? Sit-down strikes were occurring at GM plants. Discontent was growing throughout the country.

Garrett, in the first generation of public relations people who had learned their craft from the government’s Creel Committee in World War I, immediately sought to minimize the image of GM as some sort of monolithic giant that was an especially easy target for hatred and scorn. To head off problems, Garrett introduced a public strategy: enlightened self-interest. It was in GM’s self-interest, he argued, to touch the lives of people in personal ways, such as with grants for local schools and scholarships for employees’ children. GM, of course, nurtured publicity about these corporate good deeds.

Garrett summed it up this way: “The challenge that faces us is to shake off our lethargy and through public relations make the American plan of industry stick. For unless the contributions of the system are explained to consumers in terms of their own interest, the system itself will not stand against the storm of fallacies that rides the air.” Garrett also worked on GM’s image at a macro level, aiming for consumers in general to think well of the company.

A GM caravan, called the Parade of Progress, traveled from coast to coast in 1936 with a message that new technologies would facilitate progress and social change. In the same spirit, prominent radio announcer Lowell Thomas narrated a feature film, Previews of Science, that cast business, big business in particular, in heroic terms. In

short, the genius of corporate science and initiative was creating a better tomorrow.

The National Association of Manufacturers caught Garrett’s spirit. Garrett worked with the association to tie the public impression of big corporations into warm, albeit ambiguous, notions about Americanism. At a 1939 meeting with Garrett on board, the association’s public relations division said that its job was to “link free enterprise in the public consciousness with free speech, free press and free religion as integral parts of democracy.”

Public relations had become widely embraced as a way to channel the thinking of the country.

Writing Prompt What Do You Think? – Enlightened Self-Interest

Paul Garrett’s term enlightened self-interest has been preserved in the PR lexicon. Why?

The response entered here will appear in the performance dashboard and can be viewed by your instructor.

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