More than 100 years of Public Relations

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"Public relations is an exciting and dynamic profession – misunderstood by many, but understood by a great deal more who appreciate individuals who can engage with audiences to deliver results. Public relations requires hard work, long hours, exceptional people skills, years of training and hands-on experience, and sometimes a bit of pure luck to get the job done!"

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More than 100 years of PR

Public relations (PR) as a profession had its beginnings in the early 1900s in USA when the press release was first invented by public relations legend Ivy Lee. From its origins that focused on press agentry and propaganda – with a priority on getting ‘a story’ out to the public – the profession has evolved into a strategic management discipline that operates around the world.

Here in the Middle East, the public relations profession thrives across the region, but often faces confusion about how and for what it operates. This confusion arises because in some Middle Eastern countries, individuals whose job is to obtain government permits, visas and immigration for organizations are often called ‘public relations officers’ or PROs. Public relations for MEPRA’s purposes has nothing to do with working with organizations in this respect.

At MEPRA we believe that public relations is a strategic discipline that focuses on reaching and influencing an organization’s stakeholders. Because an organization’s reputation is based on strong relationships with its stakeholders – employees, investors, the media, bloggers, government officials, to name a few – it is the responsibility of public relations to help build an organization’s relationships in order to influence stakeholders’ attitude, opinion and ultimately their behavior.

Attitude, Opinion, Behavior

Public relations is all about influencing how stakeholders think and act. Through two-way communication we try to reach stakeholders via traditional and social media or via intermediaries such as journalists and bloggers, in order to get our stakeholders to be aware of, interested in or advocates of something, buy a product, join a cause, and recommend something to family or friends.

A strategic discipline

Like any other organizational function such as finance, operations, legal and R&D, best-practice public relations takes a strategic approach. This approach involves research such as analysis to understand the business environment where the communication will take place or asses stakeholder support, providing counsel to senior leadership on decisions that will affect the organization’s reputation among stakeholders, a focus on messages and content, and employing any number of public relations tools and techniques (newsletters, press releases, blogs, speeches, employee events, presentations, interviews, to name a few).

Measurement

It is important to mention the measurement aspect of public relations – the approach to which has been debated around the world for decades, and for many countries a consensus has been reached. The activities of public relations, or communication, can and should be measured, and techniques and tools to measure vary widely in terms of usefulness and cost/ return. At MEPRA we don’t support the use of advertising value equivalents (AVEs) as a measurement standard for public relations, and instead supports best-practice measurement and evaluation techniques. To learn more about measurement and evaluation, visit amecorg.com.

How would you define public relations? 

Ross Bethell

Ross Bethell is the Director of Strategy at Cicero & Bernay Public Relations – With more than 16 years of career experience from Canada, Europe and the Middle East, Ross specializes in helping organizations with communication strategy and measurement.