Academic journal article Public Relations Journal

What's the Role of Public Relations? Profession Searches for Its Identity

Academic journal article Public Relations Journal

What's the Role of Public Relations? Profession Searches for Its Identity

Article excerpt

As public relations practitioners look toward the future and the 21st century, there is a drive to redefine the profession as one that is indispensable to senior management. Therefore, it seems appropriate to pause and reflect on the role practitioners play in business and society.

Public Relations Journal gave our readers the chance to contribute to the debate in our second Opinion Poll. We asked the following question:

"Are practitioners advocates, consensus builders, both or other? Please explain your answer."

According to our results, the public relations profession is one very much in search of a definition. While most respondents feel their role fits into more than one category, many view the public relations function as one that incorporates many aspects of each classification.

The majority of respondents (57%) felt practitioners are both advocates and consensus builders. Many of those who felt both roles are important gave similar explanations. Some commented their role was to gain or strengthen support for ideas, programs or products, or work on behalf of some interest. Others wrote they establish mutuality, reconcile conflicting interests through better understanding, bring parties from opposing sides together, build understanding and support, mediate, and serve as a liaison.

Those respondents who defined practitioners as advocates outnumbered the respondents who chose consensus builders by 3-to-1. Of those who see practitioners as advocates (21%), the general theme of their comments was that they service and represent the views of others. Many said they garner support, and work on behalf of a client's interest and win acceptance for a client's products and services, or the issues or policies they favor. Of those who see practitioners as consensus builders (7%), several said they must represent others, gain mutual trust and understanding, and present the complete facts and views of everyone involved in an issue.

Many respondents who chose the category marked "other" thought practitioners are in fact advocates in addition to being something else. Some, however, felt practitioners were something else entirely. One respondent wrote that practitioners are "shrewd mercenaries when dealing with external publics and prudent in-house activists. We are the radar of management."

Some stated that such a diverse field can't be generalized. For example, one respondent commented: "This question, as posed, is a complete oversimplification--the answer depends on the client." Another wrote: "To limit or generalize with these terms is to downplay the greater role of the PR practitioner." These comments suggest that some find it hard to define their roles within one category or another.

A selection of the comments we received from respondents follows. Some responses were edited for grammar and clarity.


* Clients and employers expect their PR advisors to be dedicated to the realization of corporate goals through persuasive and constructive management of communications channels.

Ray Argyle President Argyle Communications, Inc. Toronto, Ontario Canada

* Practitioners mainly advocate a position or course of action; however, this advocacy may be directed toward management as well as toward other publics.

Glen T. Cameron, Ph.D. Assistant Professor University of Georgia Athens, GA

* I am an advocate: for my clients to their publics, for those publics to my clients, and for my agency to my clients and publics.

Frank S. Coots, APR Director Public Relations Elisco & Herrmann Pittsburgh, PA

* Just as a lawyer is an advocate for his client, the public relations practitioner is perceived as an advocate in the minds of both the media and the thinking public. In my opinion, any other role would lack credibility, perhaps even be a conflict of interest. The practitioner is a consensus builder only as he seeks to develop, guide, direct and fine-tune the substance and timing of the client's public activities so as to achieve optimum public understanding and acceptance. …

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