Conversations on public relations; Public relations and the public interest
He's putting the emphasis on almost the wrong and of the job that what you're talking about. Great conversations on public relations from Riverside radio and we present a third of four conversations on public relations with Philip Leslie president of the Philip Leslie company and editor of the public relations handbook and shall we start on the series Mr. Leslie and his guests will discuss the schools and the problems facing the public relations industry. Really Mr. Leslie's guests on this third program are Raymond Simon associate professor of public relations at Utica College of Syracuse University and Eugene Miller vice president for public affairs at McGraw Hill incorporated and I don't know the topic of discussion in public relations and public interest. Here is Mr. Leslie on a subject of the scope and importance we have here today. We might have to start with some definition of what we mean by public interest. Professor Simon would you like to start on there. You know so I would film this a very difficult term to identify. It's intrigue a lot of public relations people because we take it so much for granted that
we are representing our clients in the public interest. It intrigued John Hill so much some years ago when he wrote his book his second book. He interviewed 50 leaders in industry government labor and he asked them their definition of the public interest. And half of them said that there exists no precise definition of the term. The majority of them who try to define the term cited the public interest as being the the greatest good for the greatest number which is a very loose generalization of course but I think it's one way we can approach this. Incidentally they made one exception to this one qualification and said the greatest good for the greatest number the essential qualification is that the interests of the minority must be protected. So I think we might start out by saying a public interest as that which that has the greatest good for the greatest number of people provided the interests of the minority
are protected. All right o Now do you view this. Go along with that except I think it's remarkably hard to define because unless you're constantly doing surveys almost of an election nature I don't know how you find out whether the greatest number is in favor of it. And of course who's to decide what is the greatest good. That already is controversial and it's interesting of course in public relations for example if one were doing something publicizing the efforts say of the Fidel Castro government at one time in history this would seem like doing work that would be for the greatest good for the greatest number of people in the United States because our government was sympathetic. Six months later doing the same job. Perhaps maybe you weren't doing the greatest good but it's very hard to tell. Well I might say it. We might look at this almost by negative definition
in a free society. Or we want everyone to have as much freedom to be an individual to express themselves to create. To contribute to the growth of our society is possible. Shouldn't we say that the public interest is really anything that doesn't interfere with the rights and the privileges of other people unfairly. Now if you take a positive approach and say it's the greatest good for the greatest number This implies you don't do anything unless it makes a direct contribution to this majority and protects the minorities. But there are many things that must be done or that should be done or that ought to be encouraged. That in effect you don't know for a long time whether they will make a direct contribution but they should be permitted. If they don't take unfair advantage of the freedom given to the detriment of some segment of the population how would you. Well I would agree with you on that Mr nicely but I still would agree with Mr Miller I
think one of the problems here is is there is no tangible way of measuring this what happens to be the public interest this general term we're talking about. That's right that's why the negative approach might be necessary. But what bothers me is that two people can be taking opposite points of view on an issue both believing they're acting in the public interest and I are not and they probably Well let's look at the. For example right to work was where I went to public relations business and might very well be possible in fact it probably is actuality that at this very moment there was some public relations Council counseling unions on how they should proceed to abrogate and have right to work was taken off the books and at the same time there was probably another public relations Council counseling industry on how to secure a more right to work was both believing very firmly in their own mind that they were acting in the public interest well isn't this really the
essence of democracy and free speech the right to get a hearing and to have a position on any spectrum any aspect of the spectrum of opinion and so forth so long as you don't take unfair advantage or mislead and distort the circumstances. Your reference to the opposition on both sides of the right to work law is just one of thousands of examples where there are legitimate. Public relations activities going on to get a hearing in the form of public opinion for various viewpoints it's when one or the other distorts manipulates suborn media people or legislators or things of that sort that we really get over into this area. What is contrary to the public interest doesn't and I think this probably is the starting point of what is and what isn't contrary to the public interest and public relations work. Shouldn't we agree that using misrepresentation and false
techniques and lies and so forth for any cause no matter how good it might be is not in the public interest how would you write about it I go along with that but again I think it's hard to judge and it's hard to ascertain I certainly think an advocate of the right to work law is certainly going to speak his piece in that go out of his way to find out all the arguments against his position. I mean he will state his case without distortion. Normally but there is a distortion of course in stating your case when you're prejudiced in favor of it because you're not going to put in all of the other side. I mean be nice in this world if people would present both the pros and cons but people have an interest in things. But I think you're talking really about distortion in a very. Specific way in which they propagandize through lies or other trying method rather than simply leaving out certain from really couldn't we come down to the things that that fairly specifically
people outside the field especially either accuse public relations of or uneasy about the so-called cover up activities of public relations for instance. The things that make the newspapers are that they get around when you have an isolated case such as insider stock transactions price fixing as it's widely called The question of a company learning that a competitor has set a new price and deciding to match that price and whether or not this is price fixing or in the public interest particularly the accusation of hiding facts. Accidents for instance and trying to make it difficult for the press to find out what has happened. Oh it was Astor so I filled it. Before we get into each one of these or any one of them I'd like to express a point about about public relations in general in
terms of these types of activities I I think between 90 and 95 percent of the work public relations people really are in the non controversal areas the normal ordinary things it's the five or 10 percent that seems to hit people between the eyes. And another thing is I think many people blame public relations as such for the activities of the organizations they represent. And my feeling is that any good public relations man who's worth his salt is a person who serves to acquaint and guide and counsel his management by management I mean a college university or government or what have you to acquaint and guide them on matters which deal with the public and to try to adjust the activities which are definitely contrary to public interest now. Mr. Millet was talking about some of these activities such as announcements and what have you. And I think
it's the job of the public relations man to know all distinctly what can and what can't be done in terms of for example the Securities and Exchange Commission there are definite rules there. Intriguingly enough. The ICC rules are probably the only. Rules that that say to a company or an organization that you must do thus and thus in terms of information that you actually must do it. In other words if you have bad those you have to give it out if you don't give it out in time. You are acting contrary to the disclosure rules and a public relations man who is worth his salt would be one who knows these regulations thoroughly and would guide his his firm and handling and many situations in many companies. The public relations man is not given this this job and this duty and otherwise to many companies he is looked upon not as a public relations man but as someone who gets out information to the press and he's probably the last one in the
world to be privy to policies and activities to which he should be privy to. Right. What are these things cause and effect. Of the. Low regard or lack of regard with which public relations people are held even by their own employers and clients due to the isolated but very dramatic publicity given to the ethical questions that will be contrary to public interest questions about certain public relations practices. I'm sure that as far as I know a survey like this has never been made but I'm sure that if a survey were made of intelligent people generally who are not in public relations asking them what they know about the work of public relations people and particularly what they might be concerned about that some certain things would be mentioned that they have seen or heard a lot about isolated cases and therefore have been suspicion or at
least concern about what public relations people do and whether they should be taken into respected confidence and judgement. We have an occasional case where there's a lot of publicity about suborning of a government official for instance the Senator Dodd case has had. Tremendous amount of publicity this is one case which at this point has not been determined but the board Public Relations Council the term Public License Council is thrown around on the question of what the role of a public relations man is is given publicity where the sound 95 percent things you're talking about are invisible. The feeling that the public relations man job is to make use of the media people in the derogatory sense rather than to serve the media people. You're on both sides of the fence on this Jean. McGraw-Hill being both a major publishing organization and you
being a corporate executive in this area I'm sure you have thoughts in this particular area where I think you're right in the fact that there are a lot of people people that's well educated in good jobs who think poorly of public relations men in their activities mainly from these special examples they get in the press. But I think public relations people do themselves a tremendous disservice aside from that. I'm talking about the man who does 85 or 90 percent of the things that don't get in any kind of headlines because he does a more or less general routine job. He doesn't involve himself. Often on the corporate activity he doesn't intrude upon them now. Let's take this price determination by agreements which is something that's that discuss that companies do or insider stock transfix transaction. If a public relations director has a suspicion that there is something going on in the company that if the
public would know about it would put the public in this favor how actively does he go to his management say look I understand you're doing something. We can get in this serious trouble much more trouble you never dream of if this continues. Now he wasn't asked for his opinion. He wasn't given the information but he found it out because he has good reporting sources. How many public relations directors will go in and intrude upon this situation. Take the bull by the horns and I volunteer this kind of information that really is unwonted in unrequested. Well very few. Yet this is exactly what the companies need they need somebody there who say look I can't tell you why or why I should not do it for a business rating but I can tell you that this is the kind of thing that if if they became public with any of the groups were interested it would be disastrous to this company where we create tremendous Elwell. Now how many public relations directors speak out on pricing policies
packaging policies on a whole raft of other policies they don't they're not asked and they don't make it their business to volunteer. I think this is a thing that's not to their interest. Aren't we saying that probably there are many more areas or many more many more instances when the public relations man herders by not pursuing the public interest of his client by manipulating the public interest or to starting it by the active things he does do. Isn't that interesting what you're saying there. The other thing that this hearing that we've got to recognise we're dealing with a relatively new profession in times of American professions and we argue even whether it is a profession. It's only since the war are really that the public relations field has come into its own I mean World War 2. The public relations people now have a national organization a Public Relations Society of America. Unknown to many people this organization is growing actively and it's
taking a very active interest and concern with mad ethical matters moral matters. I think it will be another generation or two before public relations people are accepted thought only on the terms that Mr. Miller hopes they should be accepted now. In other words it will be it will take time for them to be accepted let's say as a legal counsel is accepted. I don't disagree with you I agree with you in that that it is the public relations man's duty to point out where the public interest is and to and to do something about it. But whether he is consulted at the moment depends entirely on on his stature within the organization he's working like I guess what I'm saying is it's true he does not have the same kind of credentials as a lawyer. He can cite legal evidence he might never be able to do that and he can't threaten them with the fact that they can go to jail that's right if they don't follow it as advice.
I think it's his role. Whether he's asked to do this or not to continue to bring up these sensitive areas to the company's attention I'm not saying that the company will say well you're our public relations man and what you said is great and we'll take you where they probably won't. But he has thrown it in the hopper. It is now before the table of the top management of the board of directors and they can't ignore it. Now they might choose to override his opinion which they can do at any time. But often once presented in a good manner and with as much evidence as possible. A lot of managements once they're faced up with the problem it's not hiding who will come to a very good decision and I guess I suggest it's a public relations main function in a in a corporation they just throw up all these nasty questions whether they take his advice or not. But but just to put them on the table. I don't like to raise a question what does the public relations man do who has been with the firm what
say 10 years either and signed and signed on as a councillor. And on two very major issues he's counseling them to do one thing their way and they decide they'd much rather do be. How long does he keep this up Gene I mean is this prodding without losing his job what say. Well here we are right there is a practical matter. If his opinions are continually turned down then eventually there will be a parting of the ways. But it would seem to me that this would happen and it means that he is not in tune or with the management the management is not in tune with him and doesn't want to be and he will never be very effective and this is a very clear realisation for one reason or another. He's either giving him advice that they don't want to follow. Now it might be that he is sized up his management and their needs completely wrong he might be in error. I would say I mean if this were true in the marketing department or anything else you say was somebody is wrong and the tendency
would be that the public relations man. If he continually does this over a period of time it is out of phase with his management. It doesn't know how to sell them or even convince them over a long period. They should change their ways and there probably will be a parting of ways if they don't fire him he'll probably quit anyway. I think that the problem is as much managements as it is public relations people I think it's a problem of trying to get managements to be what I call more sophisticated about this aspect of bringing about goodwill and understanding. For example some years ago. Are all new Some suggested to the Standard Oil Company that they pick up the tab in terms of a series that was going off the air I think was called Play of the week. They stepped in at just that moment and picked it up. Now what did they get out of that. About all they got out of it was goodwill and understanding on the part of a very small segment of the population but very influential. Another instance is one of the bigger companies here in New
York whose name I won't mention for fear of giving them a free publish that I have picked up the tab on sponsoring these free concerts in Central Park that you are 75000 people. Now I don't think there's going to be a direct connection between those people going to a concert and drinking more beer of a company at this particular moment. But certainly they're bringing about a tremendous amount of goodwill and understanding that will pay off in the years to come. Now you can't measure this and you need a management who is sophisticated enough to see that this step is definitely in the public interest and that it will bring about goodwill and understanding that will bring about more sales of b.s.. Let's go one step further. I believe strongly that these things that are in the public interest are important for companies business in general. But I also believe that there it's too simple sometimes to say a few very important people will think
well of you if you do this. Let's do it because I think they're in almost all cases you can also perform something that is of direct benefit to the company while you're doing it. If you'll forgive my using the example of the Maytag company which is a client of ours for several years Maytag has been doing A and a conscious job of educating the women of America. All they need to know about clothes and textiles and washing and so forth. Now this is a public service very very much of what they do either doesn't mention Maytag or does it most incidentally. But the point is that here is a company that is the only independent in an industry made up of giants. And it needs because it's constant the way it exists is to produce a top quality product for very discriminating for people who know the difference and are discriminating to have a discriminating audience that all women
think it doesn't make any difference how you wash your clothes or what machine you put them into. They're not going to have any competitive advantage. But if that women of America do know and are discriminating there then in a position to know more about how to do it and what the differences are in the techniques and the equipment they can use and this then will lead to a benefit for Maytag now they're the public and the company benefit. And I'm willing to say that for every one who is willing to pick up a tab for concerts in the park or for an expensive television series which of course in that case they did get their commercials on air. You will find 20 who will recognize the value of something that serves the public interest answerers the company too. I think you'll find a high maybe 100 to what I was sure and this is where the difference comes in many cases between the simple capable job and the really imaginative really constructive job and that by having these hundred twenty do things that are in the public interest and help the company we make more and more progress toward the point where management
understand. That public relations can accomplish things for them for business in general for America for consumers and whatever other publics they may have in the eyes of the general public. I have a feeling that most people look on public relations people as not pursuing the public interest so much as private interests which may have a connection with the public interests. And this is one of the reasons I say that the more companies that do as the beer company did that the more likely people will begin to lose their suspicion of the motives of public relations people when they see that a company does something simply because it is a good thing to do. And it's the right thing to do. The more inclined people will be to view public relations with less suspicion than they do right now the fact that more and more as we get a multidimensional society where government and industry and nonprofit organizations and so on are all and are reacting with each other and
the pressures and the countervailing powers and so forth. Are. Are pulling toward each other and away from each other and keeping any of them from getting strongly out of line so far. It's going to make almost everything that's done not only very conspicuous to a great many other people but it's going to put a premium on the ability to justify the existence of what the organization is set up to do. It used to be the top manager of a business would say. We're in business to make a profit. You know what Kasia only here on man say that period. That's only the only purpose. More and more of the management people I think are recognizing the fact that they're in business to make a profit by performing a service or providing a product or whatever other purpose they have that some phase of the public needs or wants. And in saying that they're saying the public interest is really determining
what we do in our short sightedness comes in when they try to make their big profit this year in the process. And wanted to keep those extra few cents a share rather than do some of the things that as a major corporate citizen the company needs to do to have a better society to live in. I think all organizations sooner or later just like all people get norm for what they really are. And if you really are a sound progressive organization that demonstrates positively that you do things in the public interest people will begin to sense this after a while. In the nature of the American society with our fast communication and so on the shoddy is turned up pretty quickly about you. But it's like learning how to dance management doesn't start off knowing how to do the merengue day. There has to be someone who sort of leads a law and cultivates these interests and lets mix press these ideas. It has to be both the climate has to be some way providing a little leadership.
You've also got the bootstrap theory of public relations if I may call it that. There are a good many organizations that have set out to create an image as you call it and it ended up becoming a kind of a company that that image was because. If you have enough said within a company and about a company and if you attract people who want to work for that kind of a company pretty soon those people are going to live that way and they're going to operate that way and not I'm not being a Pollyanna about this believe me it's not a 100 percent a factor but there are many organizations that have said we want people to think that we're this kind of an organization let's set down our guide on our goals and this is now our creed or credo as they call it and they frame it and put it on the wall. And strangely enough the decisions that come up are filtered through the question well is this consistent with what we have set our create is. And when I go out on the college campuses to recruit young men they say this is what this company stands for. And the young men who want to
work for that kind of a company come with them and the ones who don't don't and gradually they by their bootstraps they change the nature of themselves I'm not advocating the image creation right believe me. But these things are not as isolated as all of that and it is gradual as Jean says it's and evolutionary process. And many of the companies who are today highly respected for the outstanding public service of their public relations activity started out in many cases by taking a project. Or deciding to do a given thing because it would make them. I've been looked upon favorably by a given group or something of that sort. Well I think we can sum up by saying that while we all would recognize or continue to be occasional instances nobody knows what percentage of cases where public relations attempts to do things that are not in the public interest as we define it that more and more of the trend is toward the generation of things that stimulation and the recommendation
of things to our clients that are consciously in the public interest for mutual benefit. I feel that public relations people. You have been listening to the third in a series of conversations on public relations. But Philip Leslie president of the public lost a company and editor of the public relations handbook. I don't see how you joining Mr Leslie Raymond Simon using associate professor of public relations at Utica College of Syracuse University and Eugene Miller vice president for public affairs of McGraw Hill incorporated. Next week Mr. dicey guest who will be the Milton Fareham and ice president of the board and company. And Howard had been editor of the quarterly review of public relations and public relations Council a transcript of this program are available. Send 50 cents for each copy to our New York New York and London Buffalo 217. That address again is New York New York 1 Double 0 2 7 0. The conversations on public
relations is produced by Matthew Bieber feld and Walter Schaeffer for WRI the noncommercial FM station know that over time Church in New York City are doing it.
- Producing Organization
- WRVR (Radio station : New York, N.Y.)
- Contributing Organization
- University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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- Episode Description
- This program features Eugene Miller, vice president, McGraw-Hill Publishing; and Professor Raymond Simon, Syracuse University.
- Series Description
- A series of informal half-hour discussions on the nature and ethics of public relations. Series is hosted by Philip Lesly, editor of the Public Relations Handbook.
- Media type
Host: Lesly, Philip, 1918-
Interviewee: Miller, Eugene
Interviewee: Simon, Raymond
Producing Organization: WRVR (Radio station : New York, N.Y.)
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University of Maryland
Identifier: 67-35-3 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
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- MLA: “Conversations on public relations; Public relations and the public interest.” 1967-08-25. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. June 9, 2023. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-599z438t>.
- APA: Conversations on public relations; Public relations and the public interest. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-599z438t