By: Er. Prabhat Kishore
In a democracy, such as ours, the existence and growth of any business eventually depends, not only on the public support in purchasing its products and services, but more importantly on the sanction of the general public.
Legislatures, who enact law governing and regulating business, are elected by, and represent, the public. The management of public companies derives their power from and owes their tenure to the shareholders, who are members of the general public. Its employees are recruited from the public and live amongst the public. Therefore, it is only good business policy to practice ’Public Relations’ to inform, to educate, to persuade, through effective communication, and create understanding and obtain the willing co-operation of various public of business.
The skills and techniques to create and develop mutual understanding are provided by public relations (PR) practitioners. But first, it is essential to define the objectives having been agreed, on which a PR programme can be drawn up. These may be both long term and short term but, as John Maynard Keynes once said, ‘in the long term all of us will be dead.’ So, it is necessary to define the perspective of the long-term.
Some form of research is necessary both before the PR programme is drawn up and when a PR campaign has gathered momentum. In most business enterprises top management consists of wise people but there is no fun in flying blind when one can use a reader.
Research is a word that seems to frighten many people. It conjures visions of long beard intellectuals working away in the backrooms on problems of no conceivable practical significance. Many people discount the value of research and say they prefer to rely on their own judgement. In this connection, there is much truth in the story of the man who, when gives the results of research, say ‘It is not true’. When it has been proved beyond doubt that it is true, he says, ‘It has no practical value’. When it has been shown to have distinct practical possibilities, he says, ‘The research has only proved what was already known.’
Public Relations is essentially an art of persuasion and in order to influence people, it is obviously helpful to know as much as possible about the way in which people think and the manner in which they react to particular circumstances.
There is also urgent need for research into the results of public relations actively. Too little is known about the effects of PR programmes on public attitudes and public action.
In discussing the place of PR in any organisations, one important point has to be noted it relates to the nature and functions of PR, as contrasted with those of other departments such as production, finance, marketing, personnel etc. While all the latter departments are largely concerned with the respective spheres responsibility PR tends to flow over the whole gamut of business and management. From this point of view PR has been called an extended arm of management. Each department or aspect of business and industry has its specific PR problems and tasks, and those have to be tackled by PR with the top man of each department and top management.
If, therefore, an organisation takes its PR responsibilities seriously, then the PR men must be given the status and position they deserve. Public relations must have full and continuing access to the top management if it has to succeed in its job. Not because PR men are anything special, but because PR is ultimately the responsibility of the top management. Too many organisations misuse or waste their PR men e.g. in employing PR men as organisers of VIP hospitality and travel. This is not the job of public relations, or perhaps only a small part of PR.
A good PR man represents the management and communicates the policies, problems and performances to the public on the one hand, and feeds back the socio-economic and political trends and public opinion to the top management and counsel them on possible lines of action, on the other. Therefore, fearlessness and objectivity are essential qualities in PR practitioners. And top management must create the necessary environment for such attitudes. A PR man that feeds the management with what if like to hear, viz., the glory and greatness of the organisation, is doing himself and his company little good.
All this underlines the importance of selection of PR man in regard to their abilities to counsel wisely; use effectively all the techniques of communication and their personnel and personality attributes. Good PR men can do the company a great deal. The defference is considerable, and top management must recognise this and pay more attention to the recruitment and training of PR men, and create the necessary environment for good PR men to practice their skills and techniques.
For its day-to-day existence and functioning, a business has to be reckoning with its public. Each firm has to plan its communications programme by carefully assess in the relative importance of its key public, the messages that it wishes to convey, the selection of the specific media through which its key groups could be reached most effectively and economically.
In the present Indian context one of the most important segments of any business public is government. In our country, government is at the driver’s seat of the economy, and any business is dependent for its existence functioning and growth on govt. policies and action, and therefore, must communicate effectively with government in the case of a large public or private undertaking. Communications with government assume even greater importance for a number of reasons. Firstly, because the company is accountable to govt. Secondly, because government is run not only ministers but by a large number of officials at various levels in the ministries and developments, many of whom may influence a decision. Lastly, government, in its turn, is answerable to Sansad and the public.
Communications with MPs is also very important since parliamentary proceedings receive such wide publicity. It is to the interest of any company to communicate with MPs and tell them about its performance and problems.
Large public and private undertakings are always in the news and are under the searchlight of public scrutiny and attention. In spite of the fact that the Doordarshan, private electronic channels and Cinema have a wider audience than the press, public opinion in Bharat is largely influenced and moulded by what is read in the press. There is, of course, no obligation on any organisation to have any dealings with the press, but since the activities of all large companies, both in the public and private sectors, affect the public interest, the press will publish reports and comments irrespective of whether they have received a company’s co-operation or not. Communicating with the press, or press relations is, therefore, of vital importance in the interests of any company’s PR department.
Press relations are essentially a two-way operation. It is the link between the organisation and the press and vice-versa. On one hand, the organisation supplies information and news for publication, and initiates comments, articles and features, on the other hand, reports in the press show that the public thinks about it.
The best policy for an organisation is to take the press into confidence as possible, including such matters which are not to be published. The press in India is by and large, responsible and will respect this confidence. Shareholders from one of the business public, whose good will and support are of vital importance to the existence and success of any concern.
As far as the shareholders are concerned, the most important means of communications with them is the annual report. Apart from conformity with the legal requirements, it is the duty of every firm to see that the Annual Report provides information to shareholders in a simple and attractive manner. As Shri D.L. Majumdar, a former secretary of the Company Law Administration Department, pointed out a few years ago ‘the requisite technical skill finds company balance-sheets crypt to grams which he is incapable of solving’.
Since, there is a limit to the popularising of the Annual Report because of legal as well as accounting constraints, business can, with profit adopt what many firms abroad and some firms in Bharat do, namely, issue information booklets to provide a picture of its operations in a manner that a non-technical adult can easily understand. A modern business firm is vast impersonal machinery in which a sense of belongings can be created by the adoption of some simple devices. For instance, a new investor can be welcomed into an organisation with a letter of welcome from the chairman and an informative booklet.
Apart from quality and the price of goods, customer relations has become a third important factor that influences, buying habits and creates a better image for the producers.
It should be remembered that, in our world of mass produces goods, in many cases, there is little intrinsic difference between branded product and another manufactured by modern firms employing modern machines and modern technologist. Therefore, a customer’s choice falls on a product whose personalities attracts him the more. While this is basically a field for motivation researches, it can be said that the total personality or corporate image of firm as revealed through not only its products, advertising packaging and look of the products, but also its institutional advertising and other PR activities, help to win customers.
It is not possible to communicate with customer’s end masses except through advertising campaigns and the use of other sales media; a more effective way of dealing with them is through dealer relations. Dealer relations are, indeed a key element in any organisation’s PR programme. The dealer represents the manufacturer to the public and the community of which he is a part.
In India, where periodicals shortages of many products occur unscrupulous dealers have been responsible for bringing disrepute to a company by selling its products at inflated price. Therefore, not only must the dealer be educated to be strictly above board in all his dealings, but also to render after sales service whenever necessary, and provide customers with the information they seek. The dealer should be educated and aware of his social responsibilities through systematic training and educate and be given all possible help and support to sell products as quickly and effectively as possible.
Industrial relation has been described as an area where a social conscience is particularly necessary today when the clamorous demands of workers have to be reconciled with the not too plentiful resources of industry. It should not, however, be forgotten that in this area, PR will have to play its role unobtrusively and guardedly as it falls within the purview of the personnel department with better ideas and aids to communication in its efforts to bring about improved working conditions, grievance procedures, recruitment and promotional policies, employee training, recognition of exceptional course, PR runs topics, in addition to an Annual Report and provides printed and visual material to promote employee consciousness on such subjects as safety, savings, planned families and so on.
Profitability is another area where business should be able to communicate effectively with the public to stress its importance to be public besides stressing its importance in the economic growth of the country. In many minds, profitability and profiteering, corporate profits and private profits, etc. are practically synonymous. But it is hardly necessary to point out that profitability and profits are legitimate indicators of the efficiency of a company, and corporate profits go not to fill the pockets of rich individuals but into government exchequers, to shareholders, the employees and are also ploughed back for expansion. It is a national need to get this concept accepted by the public for both the public and private sectors.
There are many examples like price maintenance, inflation capital formation, which need to be explained to the public in simple terms so that business policies and practices, corporately and individually are better understood by the public.
Business is the art of the possible at any given time, and business has to frame its thinking and attitudes within the parameters of national, social and economic objectives and goals. Therefore, there is an urgent need, at the highest level of management for sensitivity to political conditions, to socio-economic climate and to public opinion. When the public interest requires, business should not hesitate to communicate persuasively to influence the modification and change of public policy.
There are many areas where business can contribute to public policies through effective communication. In a democracy economic statesmanship for development and growth calls for collective contribution, and business must make a significant contribution by intelligent and imaginative communication.
In summing up, a number of tasks become clear. In the first place a business undertaking must conduct its operation in such a manner that it helps to serve itself and serve the society as well. Secondly, it must demonstrate its good faith and its sense so social responsibilities. Thirdly, it must not only do good but also use all means at its command to publicise that it is doing so which implies that the business undertakings will have to become for more vocal than they are at present, in a planned and sustained manner.
(Author is a technocrat and educationist. He studied Journalism and Mass Communication at Patna University)
Role of Public relations
By: Er. Prabhat Kishore