Politics in America is a ‘contact sport’, where the press applies intense pressure on presidents, senators and congressmen, placing them under a magnifying glass.
The Gillette Amendment in 1913 barred the practice of public relations in government as a reaction to President Roosevelt’s use of publicity experts to win support from his programs.
The Gillette Amendment was followed by a gag law prohibiting the use of any service, message or publication to influence any member of the Congress.
Politicians and government agencies employ hundreds of practitioners of ‘public affairs’ as a workaround to the stipulations of the Gillette Amendment and subsequent gag law.
The State Department and the Department of Defense have the largest numbers of public affairs practitioners, using multiple media channels including radio, film and television, Internet and educational programs.
US Presidents wield considerable public relations, with the President’s Press Secretary acting as the chief public relations spokesman for the government and providing press briefings and announcements to the White House Press Corps.
Lobbyists have emerged as a niche category that informs and persuades congressmen through fact-finding, interpretation of government and company actions, advocating a given position, supporting company sales and acting as a publicity springboard.
Political Action Committees, private groups organized to elect political candidates groups, have recently morphed into Super Political Action Committees, largely engaged in raising funds for political campaigns.
At the local level, the main role of public relations personnel is to keep constituents apprised of legislative and regulatory changes, and of government procedures and notices.
The continued economic challenges faced by the US government and the ongoing war on terror will necessitate continued public relations outreach by the government.
Community relations are an important aspect of public relations, as seen from the abrupt fall from grace of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, a nonprofit organization, over its decision to stop longstanding contributions to Planned Parenthood’s breast screenings.
Public relations personnel need to be sensitive to American society’s new multicultural realities, with increasing numbers of Hispanics, Asians, multiracial Americans, minorities and immigrants.
Corporate giving is becoming more focused, has introduced matching gifts to encourage positive behavior of employees, and has increased on an international scale.
Organizations aiming to exist peacefully within communities need to know what the community thinks so as to be able to communicate their own viewpoint and negotiate with the community in cases of discrepancies.
Communities, on their part, expect organizations to contribute positively to their area, participate responsibly to community affairs, have a stable growth pattern to avoid disruptions in wages and employment, and to be proud residents in their midst.
Organizations expect to be provided with adequate municipal services, fair taxation, good living conditions for employees, a good labor supply and reasonable support for business.
Community-relations’ objectives may include providing information about the company, correct misunderstandings, to gain favorable opinion, to inform employees about company activities, to inform the local government about the firm’s contributions to community welfare, assess residents’ opinions, establish relationships with community leaders and to provide jobs to advance the community’s economic well being.
Corporations have increasingly begun to exploit the Internet as a means to advance educational and commercial opportunities for the communities, besides providing a philanthropic forum.
Nonprofit and not-for-profit organizations, champions of multiculturalism in their communities, would be well served by public relations personnel.
The digital speed of the Internet and the pervasiveness of social media in the second decade of the 21st century have ensured that individuals and organizations can be rapidly beset by crises, and would therefore need suitable mechanisms to deal with crises.
The practice of public relations has emerged as a suitable mechanism to assist individuals and organizations beset by crises, be it government scandals, financial ineptitude, bogus accusations or scandals.
Risk communication is an outgrowth of issues management, taking into account behavioral scientific research, accounting for the human inability to miss 80% of message content in times of high stress and perceiving all remaining messages to be negative, and composing communication to adjust for these effects.
Risk communicators have devised message-mapping techniques, which identify stakeholders, determine concerns, analyze the concerns, carry out brainstorming, assemble facts and proof for messages, get the messages tested, and finally deliver the messages to the environment.
Crises enveloping organizations are invariably a surprise, are generated in a milieu of insufficient information and escalating events that give an impression of a loss of control while outside scrutiny rises, resulting in a siege mentality and mounting panic.
The key communication principle while dealing with a crisis is not to clam up when disaster strikes, as public perception ascribes guilt to organizations hiding behind ‘no comments’.
Public relations firms need to exploit social media to deal with crises, and should consider creating a dark Website that could come ‘live’ in the event of a crisis.
Public relations jobs are increasingly unencumbered by economic downturns, as firms have realized the importance of public relations in the digital age.
The standards for a public relations job have increased over the years, and proper planning while at school is required to obtain a job in the public relations arena.
Public relations aspirants need to improve their communication skills, begin networking, focus on the aspects they like within the field, maintain a running roster of companies they wish to work with and gain valuable experience by interning.
A job search at the entry level in public relations requires a candidate to consider his interests, obtain the name of the public relations director of the firm in which he is interested, dispatch a personal letter requesting an interview, follow up by making a call, while simultaneously being prepared to deliver an impromptu ‘elevator speech’ should the opportunity present itself.
A Public relations candidate’s resume should consist of an intro, should convey three impressions he wants the firm to notice immediately, should mention achievements in an engaging fashion, provide personal information in a time sequence stressing upon how the candidate added value to each slot occupied in the past and end with a list of achievements – all of which should be covered in two pages.
A resume should not contain inappropriate email addresses, should avoid objective statements of requirements from the firm, should not forget mentioning skill sets, should place awards and top achievements after the top third of the resume and should not lump multiple jobs at one employer in one position.
The candidate should also be careful not to stretch employment dates or to provide incorrect job titles in the resume, while simultaneously striving to remain up to date in professional knowhow.
Once a candidate lands a chance for an interview with a public relations firm, he should set the pace of the interview by leading the course of discussions based on his knowledge and strengths, while being wary of innocuous questions designed to trap the candidate.
Every interview should elicit more names and contacts to be followed up later for networking and job search.
A good career in public relations is built on the strengths of diversity of experience, performance on the job, communication skills, strong relationships, proactivity, team spirit and intangibles like cultural fit and personality.