Public Relations in the Year 2000

By Dowling, James H. | Public Relations Journal, January 1990 | Go to article overview

Public Relations in the Year 2000

Dowling, James H., Public Relations Journal

Public Relations in the Year 2000

Pity the poor public relations practitioners. By the year 2000, we will have nothing to complain about--except the heavy burden of work. And we will be exhausted by the challenges of the decade that led up to this milestone millenium.

The "PRF"--Public Relations Factor--will be a basic element in all important strategic and tactical decision-making among leading institutions, especially in the United States. Management will be as comfortable with the PRF as the practitioners who supply it.

The challenge for public relations professionals will not be to get management's attention. We generally have it now, and we will gain even more recognition in the '90s. The real challenge will be to keep up with the demands made on us in an increasingly complex and global world--a world in which the PRF may well spell the difference between success and failure.

It is a common axiom that the world's knowledge doubles every 10 years. I suggest that the demands on the public relations practitioner will more than double in the next decade--but only if we are up to the challenge. Otherwise, we risk losing our charter to other disciplines. Along the way, we need to strengthen our skills and expand our charter. Both have come a long way in a short period of time, but there's still much to be done.

Responding to evolving demands

Public relations as a defined discipline was born in the United States in this century, and has gained its greatest acceptance here and in the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia--countries whose legal and cultural traditions are based in English Common Law. In these countries, where the press acts as a "guardian of public interest" and exercises free speech and fair comment, the media's views (well-informed or not) and the goals and objectives of government, business and other institutions will always be somewhat in conflict.

From this battle has emerged the true public relations professional, whose role is to bring rationality, reason and integrity to the process. Public relations helps to keep both sides--the media and institutions--aware that each serves a higher master: the public.

In commerce and industry, public relations has emerged as a true business discipline. Somewhat reluctantly, business has come to recognize the need to gain understanding by communicating with an expanding variety of audiences. In the beginning, management established the messages, and public relations executed the programs. But as the audiences became more unfamiliar and more hostile to management--as well as more organized and more powerful--the public relations function has been increasingly called upon to counsel management on audiences and how to deal with them.

Activism reactivated

In the 1960s and '70s, for example, we saw the rise of activist organizations that placed specific demands directly on business. As it became evident that these external pressures could change the course of business activity, the public relations function became counseling management on corporate policy, as well. Management went from asking, "How do I say it?" to "Who are these people and what do I say?" to "What do I do?"

Under the Reagan administration during the 1980s, there was a slight pause in the action. Deregulation, lower taxes and less government interference were the policy bywords. Activism took a back seat to meeting the Soviet challenge in defense and the foreign competitive challenge in business. But the very success of many of these policies--and corresponding political events around the world--have sowed the seeds for a revival of activism and increased demands on business to solve a much broader array of social problems.

The public relations practitioner on top of his or her game in the year 2000 will have learned to work effectively in an entirely new environment, characterized by the following trends:

* Major shifts in macroeconomic and political factors: The wealth of the world has shifted decidedly from the West to the Pacific Rim, especially to Japan and the Asian Tigers--Taiwan, Singapore and Korea. …

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