The Origins, Management,
and Outcomes of Programs
for Key Publics
In these early days of the 21st century, two themes seem to dominate discussions in the professional public relations literature, at meetings of professional societies, and in discussions between public relations professionals and their employers or clients. The first is the need to make communication programs more strategic—to connect them to organizational goals. The second is the need to demonstrate that communication programs are effective—to develop evaluation research methods to demonstrate that the programs have measurable outcomes.
In chapter 5, we discussed the difference in meaning of the term “strategic” when it is attached to “public relations. ” Most commonly, “strategic” means that public relations managers align messages with organizational goals. We call this the message-only approach. Communicators using this strategic approach have little involvement in decision making. After the dominant coalition makes a decision, they are called in to develop messages to persuade publics to accept and support the decision.
In place of this common understanding of strategic public relations, we advocated a full-participation approach in which communicators are involved before strategic decisions are made. When they participate fully in strategic management, communicators scan the environment to identify stakeholder publics likely to be affected by a potential decision or who can affect the implementation of the decision, communicate with publics to involve them in the decision process, and develop ongoing communication programs to develop relationships with the publics affected by the consequences of decisions. At each step of the strategic process depicted in Fig. 5.1 (the stakeholder, publics, issue, and crisis stages), we pointed out, organizations need to communicate with publics who affect or are affected by an organization's decisions and behaviors.