The Field of Public Relations


Many people have difficulty in distinguishing publicity trom advertising and press agentry from public relations. This difficulty is hardly the public’s fault, for the practitioners .in these several fields have a way of using terms in referring to their work which tend to blur the lines of demarcation. Let us take each of these words and phrases in turn and attempt to clear up the general befuddlement.

Publicity we can define as the process of making something known. It is as old as the first gesture of announcement. It utilises all existing media of communication — oral, written, pictorial. It makes known what it wants through advertising, through press agentry, and by means of pamphlets and billboards. Publicity succeeds when it brings its information to the public.

Advertising is the commercial phase of publicity. Through paid announcements in the press, over the radio, on television, on painted signs, or on the lowly handbill, the advertiser endeavors to sell the articles or beliefs which he wants sold.

Press agentry as a phrase covers the diversified and sometimes frankly devious methods used by press agents to secure publicity for their clients in one or all of the mass media free, gratis, and for nothing. Press agents are most familiarly associated with a Broadway or Hollywood clientele, but their clients may be corporations, government departments, resorts, plays, books, theories, institutions, or individuals. Their resourcefulness and unorthodoxy, no doubt, led The New York

Times to make the editorial comment that “press agentry is a profession whose subtle methods of approach are viewed by newspaper editors with a coldeye.’’ When, however, the professional drumbeaters for Broadway organised themselves as “New York Theatrical Press Agents’’ the same Times congratulated the group for the “frank and disarming fashion’’ in which they announced themselves.

Public relations, the newest term of the four, describes an organised system devised for the influencing of opinion. It utilises when necessary all the skills and techniques of publicity, advertising, and press agentry toward this end, and it does this after careful investigation.

The advent of public relations as we construe that work today began after the turn of the twentieth century, when some of the railroads and other large corporations started to realise that unpopularity did not pay, and that something must be done to counteract the growing hostility of the public.

Writers, chiefly newspapermen, were found to put the aims and the methods of these corporations in a favourable light before the public.

Public relations is the management function which evaluates public attitudes, identifies the policies and procedures ol an individual or an organisation with the public interest, and creates a program of action to earn public, understanding and acceptanice.

This definition facilitates our understanding as it highlights the three main functions of the professional counselor:

1. To study, analyse and evaluate public opinion.

2. To advise his client on the best ways of dealing with this ascertained climate of opinion.

3. To utilise his skill in the use of the communications media to educate and influence the individuals who comprise the particular “public’’ he has studied and analysed.