What is Public Relations?- Definition, Functions, Types and Facts

What is Public Relations?- Definition,  Functions, Types and Facts

Public Relations is all the communication between a business organization or individual and the public or more explicitly, between a business and its customers and potential customers.


What is Public Relations?

Public Relation (PR) is the deliberate, planned and sustained efforts to establish and maintain beneficial relationships between an organization and public.

It comes from recognition that without the active support from the public, the organization will have difficulty to carry on and grow. Shareholders, suppliers, customers, agents, employees all have stakes in an organization.

In the case of tourism, the trade and commerce within the vicinity of the destination and the local people also have a stake. The local residents at the destination probably have the biggest stake. Their life styles and the environment are affected by the influx of tourists.

Tourists being visitors from a different culture and society (even if within Nigeria) may be accustomed to behaviors different from the locals. There could be a fear that the younger generation may be 'spoil' by mixing with the tourists. The increased activity accompanying tourists’ growth may bring in undesirable persons, thus affecting the sense of security. If the local people start reacting to these 'encroachments' into their ways, their behaviors may significantly affect the pleasure of the tourists.

Public relation is essential to ensure that the relationships are conducive to the growth of tourism. Better understanding between tourists and the hosts/residents at and around the destination can make them feel favorably inclined to each other. This can be possible through contacts and interaction. It is part of PR activity to make such contacts contribution towards a better understanding. The contract becomes more useful if expectation of both is known and each is aware of the do's and don'ts.

Public relations efforts are aimed at key personnel and seek to shift the people toward:

1)    Sympathy from Hostility

2)    Acceptance from prejudice

3)    Interest from apathy.

4)    Knowledge from ignorance.

Public Relations effort has to be credible but they are difficult to evaluate for effectiveness. Public Relations is the business of everybody in the organization. The top management may lay down the policy. But what others in the organization do also conveys message to the public. This affects their relationship with the organization. The training and education of staff at all levels on how to deal with customers/people with courtesy and consideration has to be a part of the PR effort. As tourists professional you have to be extremely caution of this aspect. Leading organization have PR department and many others have at least a Public Relations Officer. But many tend to ignore this. This may have adverse effects in the long term or may be in the short term itself.

Personal Selling

Personal selling is a part of promotion. Advertisements and other non-personal communications are not adequate to persuade customers to make choices. The information required to make choices are more than those available at awareness levels. The gap can be reduced via personal interaction. Even then the quality of service and integrity producers is difficult to know.


Salesperson's Duties

Salespersons (boy or girl) have to call on people to sell. Ideally salesperson has to:

1.   Find prospects, that is, get names of people who are likely to buy.

2.   Qualify the prospects, finding enough data on the prospect to decide whether there is need and capacity to buy.

3.   Approach the qualified prospect by fixing up appointments for presentation.

4. Make the presentation during which the salesman will explain what the product can do to the prospect and get him sufficiently interested to try the product.

5.   Close the sale, that is, make the customer buy.

6. Provide after sale service that is to ensure that the experience with the product is the same or better than what was promised during sale and the customer has no complaints.

A service, being intangible, presents a lot of uncertainties to the prospect. The salesman / girl of a service, if perceived as non-professional, or not credible, increases those uncertainties. They should be seen as reliable, friendly and meaning well. They should emphasis conveniences but not ignore to mentions pre-cautions necessary in usage.

Effective salespersons understand and emphasis with the customers and are more acceptable to the customers. They also demand services from the organization on behalf of their customers.


Purposes of Salesperson

In practice, all sale calls are not for affecting sales. The other purposes served through such call are:

1) Data collection and updating prospects list.

2) As a PR effort, to tell about new products and achievements of the organization.

3) As a service to check on customer's experience and satisfaction level with what they have bought, leading to feedback for product development.

4) Intensive sale campaigns in specific areas from time to time.

A salesperson must be sensitive to the reality of the situation they are in at any particular time and adjust their normal styles and presentations accordingly. Or else, they might be embarrassed.

For example, if the salesman of a vacuum cleaner, who, to demonstrate the effectiveness of his product, scattered a lot of rubbish on the costly carpet in the prospect's living room, later found that there would be no electricity for the next four hours.

Generally (subject to exceptions always) people like to: Think for themselves and understand the product at their pace. They do not like to be hustled.

1. Have second opinions and look at options before buying, particularly if the commitment is heavy. In services the commitment is usually irreversible.

2.  Be respected for their views. Experienced sales person do not contradict or deny directly the prospect's statements. They avoid an argument. They agree with a 'Yes' and then express an alternative view with a 'but'.

While buying goods, the buyer takes home what he has bought and uses it there. A post sales call is necessary to know the experience. In the services business, the production and consumption occur simultaneously as an interaction between the consumer and the representative of the producer. This representative is usually not the salesperson. In the case of many service, the feedback can be heard during the service transaction itself, example being, cinema, entertainment, beauty clinic, laundry etc. in many other services the feedback is delayed. Example of this is medical treatment or repair services. In the case of insurance the service is delivered (at the time of claims) long after the purchase is made. During the intervening period, nothing should happen to nullify the arrangement made. Ensuring all this is post sales service.

Tourists destinations are sold personally to intending travelers by travel agents, hoteliers cruise operators and other intermediaries. Post sales calls help to check whether experience was consistent with expectations and promises. Such feedback obtained during post sales calls helps improve the tourism product and eliminate dissatisfying elements.


Activities that take place within the unit are called Merchandising. The objectives of merchandising are to make customers within the premises:

1)   Aware of facilities or offers available,

2)   Want to avail of those facilities or offer on impulse, and

3)   Have a memorable experience.

Merchandising relies on displays of materials and skills. Utilization of facilities within hotels by resident guests can be improved through merchandising.

A provider of tourism services has considerable opportunity for merchandising i.e. to make the customer who is in contact, buy additional services which he may not have original planned to buy. May be he did not know of the availability of the services or did not know enough to evaluate its true worth. If the additional service on offer is unique and exclusive to that location, the additional costs would seem to be negligible compared to the opportunity he may not visit the place, at least for quite some time. "If Merchandising is done before the tour commences, the tourists will be ready for it. Otherwise, depending on the availability of money and time resources, there could be disappointment."


Functions of Public Relations

1. Community Relations: A business should be seen as a responsible citizen of the community it operates in. A comprehensive community relation programme should focus on building a respectable image for the company in the community in the long run. Many organizations implement educational and health related programmes for improving quality of life of the community members. Such activities help to build their reputation along with benefiting the society.

2. Employee Relations: Employees are the most valuable assets of the company and the organization had to create employee goodwill for maintaining a loyal workforce. Loyal employees are more productive and interested in the well-being of the company.

3. Customer Relations: The most important component of external public is the customer. The customer is the reason behind the existence of the organization. Public relations inform the customer about introduction of new products or changes in existing ones. Public relations play a crucial role in attracting the attention of the buyer towards the company’s offerings and help to differentiate the product from those of its competitors.

4. Financial Relations: A segment of the company’s public consists of those individuals and institutions the company has financial dealings with. These include the shareholders, creditors, potential investors, banks, financial analysts, etc.

These parties have to be informed about the company’s finances, plans for expansions, plans to raise share capital, etc. A well planned financial relations programme is necessary to improve the organization’s image and increase the value of its stock.

5. Political and Government Relations: The Company has to function under the control of government rules and regulations. It has to forge proper relations with various government officials and political parties to ensure smooth functioning of the enterprise.

6. Crisis Communication: The role of public relations takes on vital significance during crisis situations like an accident, financial scams, bankruptcies, etc. It is the responsibility of the public relations to give the honest and accurate information to the concerned publics and assure them of remedial measures taken to control the crisis.

Objectives of Public Relations

1. It facilitates smooth functioning of business and achievement of organizational objectives.

2. It builds corporate image and creates a favorable impression and creditability of company’s products.

3.   It helps in launch of new products and maintains interest and confidence in the existing products.

4.  It acts as a supplement to advertising in promoting existing and new products. 

Thus, it helps business and its associates to sell products easily.

5.   It lowers the promotional cost as it has to simply maintain staff to develop and circulate information with media or manage events.


Characteristics  of Public Relations

1. Target: To small specialized audience public relations activities can be targeted assuming if the right media vehicle is used.

2. Saturation of effort: Organizations competing for a finite amount of media attention puts pressure on the public relations effort to be better than that of competitors. There can be no guarantee that PR activity will have any impact on the targets at whom it is aimed.

3. Relatively low cost: It is much cheaper, in terms of cost per person reached, than any other type of promotion. Apart from nominal production costs, much PR activity can be carried out at almost no cost, in marked contrast to the high cost of buying space or time in the main media.

4. Relatively Uncontrollable: A company has only a little direct control over the proceedings of public relations activity. If successful, a press release may be printed in full, although there can be no control over where or when it is printed. A press release can be misinterpreted and result may be unfavorable news coverage. This is in contrast to advertising, where an advertiser can exercise considerable control over the content placing, and timing of an advert.


Types of Public Relation

Public relations cover a broad range of activities. The major areas are discussed below:

1. Counseling: Public relations managers in the most successful communication programs serve a very important advisory role to senior management. They make recommendations on policy issues as well as decisions related specifically to communication.

2. Research: Companies practicing either of the two-way models of public relations make extensive use of research to better understand and influence public.

3. Media Relations: Press coverage is a critically important public relations output. Public relations specialists use publicity efforts to try to get coverage in the print and broadcast media. They also respond to requests for information or comment from, journalists working on stories that concern their company or the company’s products and services. Media relations activities might also include arranging press tours of manufacturing facilities, press conferences to announce new product introductions, and coverage of the corporation’s annual stockholders meeting.

4. Publicity: Publicity is defined by David Yale as “supplying information that is factual, interesting, and newsworthy to media not controlled by you”. A critical aspect of marketing public relations, publicity is described as - the process of planning, executing and evaluating programs that encourage purchase and consumer satisfaction through credible communication of information and impressions that identify companies and their products with the needs, wants, concerns and interests of consumers.

Marketing public relations involves activities related to persuading customer and prospects to buy (or continue to buy) the firm’s products and services.

Below are the important tools of publicity:

a) Press Releases: The press release is the basic building block of a publicity program concerned with story placement. This is where the important information about the product or service is summarized in a way that will catch the media’s attention. Just as the marketer would customize the advertising message for each target, he needs to customize press releases for the various media he contacts.

b) Fact Sheets: A press release should be written so it can be used without any editing. That means all the relevant information must be included. In addition, there may be additional important information that doesn’t really fit into the press release. That’s where the fact sheet comes in. Fact sheets include more detailed information on the product; its origins, and its particular features. By providing fact sheets, it is easier for the media to write a story about the product because the fact sheet can help to clear up misperceptions and answer reporters’ questions, saving them a phone call or e-mail query.

c) Press Kits: The press kit pulls together all the press releases, fact sheets, and accompanying photographs about the product into one neat package. A comprehensive folder can serve as an attention-getter and keep the provided materials organized.

d) Video News Releases: The video news release (VNR) is the video equivalent of a press release. Prepared for use by television stations, the typical VNR runs about ninety seconds and can be used to highlight some important features of the product.

e) Employee/Member Relation: An organization’s employees are an extremely important internal public. Corporate public relations people often spend a great deal of time developing employee communication programs, including regular newsletters, informational bulletin boards, and internet postings. In service organizations in particular, these kinds of activities can be used to help support brand communication efforts, for example, using the company newsletter to remind employees about the importance of prompt and polite customer service.

f) Community Relations: It is critical that companies maintain the role of good community citizen within the markets where they have offices and manufacturing facilities. Many companies actively encourage their employees to take part in community organizations, and local corporations are often major sponsors of community events and activities such as arts presentations, blood donation drives, and educational activities.

g)Financial Relations: Because so many major brand marketing organizations are publicly held companies, financial relations has become a key aspect of public relations activity Downturns in company earnings quickly lead to declines in stock prices, and, frequently, to top executives losing their jobs. Financial relations people are responsible for establishing and maintaining relationships with the investment community, including industry analysts, stockbrokers, and journalists specializing in financial reporting.

The financial relations specialist has the job of getting maximum press coverage for a company’s financial successes and putting the best face possible on any financial losses. Financial relations personnel write the company’s annual report as well as any other communications directed to stockholders.

h) Industry Relations: The primary public that industry relations specialists deal with its other businesses operating within the same industry, as well as trade associations. The recent travails of the tobacco companies of the U.S. help to underscore the importance of industry relations – while the various companies are not in agreement on all issues, they have banded together in many instances to try to influence policy and legislation, with the thinking that there should be strength in numbers.

i) Development/Fund-Raising: This is particularly important area for not-for-profit organizations such as arts organizations, educational institutions, and community service programs. These types of companies often rely on donations from the public, government, and other organizations to make up all or part of their operating budgets. Development specialists identify likely prospects for giving; prepare proposals to present to those prospects, and work to nurture ongoing relationships.

j) Special Events: Event marketing is rapidly gaining popularity. The International Events Group estimates that more than 5,200 companies spent $6-8 billion on event sponsorships in 1998. Of that, about 65 percent goes to sporting event sponsorships, followed by 11 percent to entertainment tours (such as concerts and theater performances), and 9 percent to fairs and festivals. Besides linking their brands to existing events, marketers are also creating events of their own designed to reach specialized targets.

The event itself can serve as a compelling news angle for related publicity efforts, can be promoted through advertising, and can serve as a distribution point for sales promotion incentives. With a little creativity, events can serve as an important point of differentiation from competitors.


Role of Public Relations

The public relations department performs following functions: 

1. Press Relations: The public relations department works with the media to present true facts about the company to ensure that information about the company is presented in a positive manner.

2. Product Publicity: The public relations department sponsors events and programmes to publicize new or existing products. For example, many companies adopt a park, a school, an orphanage or sponsor sports and cultural events likes seminars, exhibitions, news conferences etc.

3. Corporate communication: The Company issues newsletters, annual reports, brochures, audio-visual materials to influence the public and the employees. For example, company’s top leaders may give a speech or message or give an interview to media.

4. Lobbying: The Company has to maintain healthy relations with government officials, ministry in charge of corporate affairs, industry, finance association of commerce and industry etc. The company also has to take the opinion of shareholders while formulating industrial, taxation policies etc. to keep them satisfied.

5. Counseling: The public relations department also advises the management on issues that affect the image of the company and guide them to involve in various social welfare activities to increase presence in the public domain and gain confidence of society at large.


Tools Adopted to Aids public relations 

These tools are:

1. News: News is the main tool of public relations. Public Relations Department spreads the news about the products of the company. Consumers are in a better position to form an opinion about the company with the help of the news they listen to or read in any publication.

2. Speech: Speech is also an important tool to propagate about the product and the company. The vital views concerning the company and its products being expressed by top authorities and the personnel of the company are published in important newspapers.

The copies of their speeches are distributed among people. All these steps are necessary to project a better image of the company.

3. Printed Materials: Printed materials also form important tools of public relations. Usually, all the eminent companies have their own newsletters, annual reports and regularly published magazines which are distributed on regular basis among the members of the public.

Companies make available all the vital information pertaining to the functioning of their business, their turnovers, profits and future plans of development. These publications are usually sent by post or couriered to clients.

4. Special Events: Public Relations Department makes publicity about the company. If anything relating to company transpires, the same is made public to consumers. For example, if a company is being awarded by the government for its best performance in the field of production or export-earnings, Public Relations Department takes special pains to publicize this event among people. Such information creates a better image of the company among people and its goodwill gets a big boost.

5. Audio-Visual Materials: Public relations work is also undertaken through the medium of audio-visual materials. Audio- video cassettes help in this connection. These cassettes are shown to public in cinema-houses or at public places where a larger audience is reached. No doubt, these audio-video cassettes have become an important tool of advertising in modern times.

6. Public Services: Companies resort to public welfare activities so as to have better public relations. These public welfare activities also boost the image of companies. Some of the examples of such activities are organizing health-camps, free coolie service for aged people, women passengers at railway stations, etc.

7. Institution Identity: Some companies get their “Logos” printed to have their clear “Identity” among the masses of the country. One immediately identifies a company after seeing “Logo” of the company. This is also an important tool of public relations.

8. Website: This is the most modern tool of public relations. Companies use their websites to advertise their products. General public can seek all the vital information about the company after looking at the particular website of the company.


Merits of Public Relations

The most important advantages to be gained are:

1.   Credibility: If the public are made aware of the benefits to be gained from a company’s products from an independent source, and that source is not being paid by the com­pany in question, then the credibility factor is that much greater.

2.   Greater readership: When glancing through a newspaper it is seldom that a great deal of attention is primarily paid to advertisements. Much more attention is given to editorial or news sections. Similarly, people are more likely to divert attention from the televi­sion to do other things while the advertisements are being shown.

3.   Contain more information: Public relation is able to impart more information to the public than advertisements can. A glance is all that is usually given to an advertisement, whereas public relation, when presented as news, is given more attention and is therefore able to contain much more detailed information.

4.   Cost benefits: No direct payments are made to the media for public relation. There are obvi­ously costs involved, but PR budgets are far less than those for advertising.

5. Speed: Public relation has an advantage of speed. Information on a major development can often be issued and reported in a short space of time. Public relation can also be flexible and reactive.


Demerits of Public Relations

1.   Message distortion: A company has no control over what the media report about them. A press release, which a company hopes is reported in full, may in fact not be used at all, or may have only a small portion of it reported.

2.   Repetition: With advertisements a company can ensure that there is frequency of the message. Public Relation does not have this advantage and the message may only be given once, if at all.


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