Conversations on public relations; Why and what is public relations?
This is my only criticism really it's too easy to try to force conversations on public relation with mines from Riverside Radio in New York. We present the first of four conversations on public relationship was with Philip Leslie paper president of the fellow plastic company and editor of the public relations handbook but doubt it almost in this series Mr. Leslie and his I guess you want to discuss the scolding the problem by saying the public relations industry I don't think can be programmed so nicely as guests on this first program you force William Howlett president of the Consolidated foods corporation and Scott M. Cutler distinct professor of public relations at the school of journalism of the University of Wisconsin and co-author of with effective public relations which is a topic of discussion there forgive your why and how is public relation to him. Here is Mr. Leslie. You need them both. Professor Cutler could you give us some background to start the conversation today. I think it's helpful to understand that public relations started as
a identifiable vocation in the United States shortly after the turn of the century and this was no happenstance that it came in response to the changing environment changing society of our nation. As we became and dust realized urbanized society public relations us really is about 66 years old in the United States the first public relations firm was organized in Boston in 1900. I think there's there are still people who question whether or not public relations is an essential staff function in the administration organizations today. I think it's helpful to and I so tell my students to focus on the ecology of public relations. Now I call this sounds like an academic word is simply a word that describes a relationship or an organism or organization to its
environment. And when we focus on the cardi of public relations that is the forces and in our society which have compelled in fact coerced the development of this staff function. Once we fully understand the world I don't think there's any doubt about the essentiality of a public relations staff function in the management ministration of any organization of sides today. Well Mr Howlett is president of an organization of Psis consolidated foods as one of our larger corporations and a large industry. From the position of your side of the desk today and with background in public relations how do you see the sensuality as Scott refers to public relations today. Well I think that public relations first has grown up a great deal in the last 20 years I would say. I think that it is it was first conceived as being
more aligned with publicity then you know it's a larger concept of the communication. The worthwhile functions of an institution to the community and I know that in the evolution of my own experience in public relations I've come to feel rather strongly that the primary function of public relations is to convey the truth about any institution as carefully as possible and not to allow yourself to be lured into exaggeration or any distortion of a fact in order to create nudes. We were divided basically into two areas of public relations where a kind of Thomas company in that we have 20 separate businesses
operating with a policy guiding executive office and our corporate headquarters is primarily concerned with carrying our message to the financial press and community whereas our individual units are primarily are often more concerned with product news and with personnel news and with things which help the marketing process. So there's a distinction in our business there between those two. An operating standpoint of course you're describing the tangible function of communications which of course is the visible top of the iceberg of public relations as we all recognize and I'm sure both Scott and I would feel and we all of it would recognize that all of this takes place communications takes place after a great deal of feeling and understanding the relationship of the
organization and its publics and adjustment of the policies of the organization to its publics and so what this isn't done in other words as a as a separate function from what the cooperation is all about in relation to the people it deals with. Scott you want to I think on it I think Mr. Howitt brings up a fundamental point that we might explore for just a moment. He says quite properly he sees the public relations function that is to convey the truth to the public about consolidated food. I think we need to understand that the public relations practitioner is an advocate. And he makes the best possible case for his idea. His institution or his industry in the arena of public opinion. His job is not to report the whole truth and nothing but truth. His job is to make the most persuasive presentation possible. The facts of the situation well or even
there I would argue a bit on that because I think there are times when just for credibility and for acceptance of the credence of the organization that some of the unpleasant truth must also be incorporated. Certainly what I'm saying is you tell the truth but you don't necessarily tell the whole truth. You are an advocate. You're not a reporter. And this is this is a very important function in our society and I think the rationale justification for the public relations profession is simply this fact that today important decisions are made in the arena of public opinion. Some prefer to call it court and every idea every institution ever industry deserves a hearing in this court and today you cannot get that hearing unless you have the expertise of the Public Relations Council. And this is adequate
to me adequate social justification for the public relations function in society and I wouldnt care I agree completely. Let me give you a hypothetical question and put this ad ad advocacy approach to a test. Let's say a business was actually engaged in price fixing. The principles of the business were actually engaged in illegal price fixing and this leaked out with the responsibility of the public relations man B to cover that up. Or would it be to be factual in the presentation of what was involved. I think his is job is to tell the story as simply and as candid lazy can. This is a practical answer pragmatic answer he had. You can't cover up what I'm saying is that most of our public relations problems come from different interpretation
and different interests. Looking at the same situation same facts each advocate or each institution or each idea puts forth its interpretation. You have a strike situation. Management has its view of the strike situation. Labor has its view. Each deserves to be represented in the court of public opinion by their case because this is where the decision is made. Well you know another example would be the recent battle on the right to work law for instance in which both sides were very vocal and very well organized and the public relations sense of the communication. I think we're on the track of an important aspect here and there's no question this goes all the way back to John Milton and his airy apathetic about let truth be open and free and let and who will ever know truth to be vested in them and public opinion. Simplify and modernize this statement. But I'd like to go back I think we're overlooking a very important aspect of this
that's subtle but that's very important. Today's society is so complex. Things are so big the individual is almost never able to deal directly with the forces that affect his life he's dealing with organizations he's doing what governments he's doing with the labor unions he's dealing with massive religious organizations and saw anything that organizations not with people per se the organization on the other hand is big and massive and it has great difficulty in dealing with that individual out there and has masses of people and it deals with it now without a leavening force a catalyst to the neighborhood these large organizations and these individuals to understand and find a reporter with each other we would have more chaos than we have today and it seems that we all are apprehensive about how rapidly we're going down the road to disorganization in many aspects of our society. Now a lot of that comes up the necessity it seems to me. For anybody running an organization to not only know what he wants to say
to the public but also to know on what that public thinking is what his frame of mind is how it's going to accept anything and tries to say. And a very important holiday organization much must develop in the future in order to be onstream with that public. Now most of the corporations in this country didn't decide on merit employment because it was their own idea. They had to get on stream with trends going on in this country. Now this isn't public relations in the sense that I sat in my office and thought it up and advise my clients about this but the conditions developed. And every corporation in the country has a public relations question of how do we deal with the minority group question today and how do we deal with government controls on things like price fixing in quotation marks because you you raised the question about price fixing I'm sure that 98 percent of the people who are fixing prices in quotes feel completely justified both from a business standpoint and a legal standpoint and the approach they're taking.
But it happens that the people who interpret the laws in Washington don't agree with them and that's where the difference of opinion must be arrogantly in the marketplace of public opinion. Now Bill I have your reaction I kind of feel that there's one significant thing there before you concern yourself with the public's. And tuning yourselves to the public's. I feel the fundamental thing is for a business to first recognize what its primary reason for being is and that's to make a profit in our society. Now once it's established that is its primary reason for being. If it's going to make a profit it's going to have to produce products that are useful for consumers. That is if it's going to profit over a long pole and it's going to have to develop a true past year which is performing a function I know in our company our company is just rich with things to talk about because we're
doing things we don't consciously set out however in the say that we're going to win over this public or that public. I'm just addressing myself to our own business. We're more concerned with accomplishing things and then letting those caught complements be projected through intelligent communication so that. My feeling about corporate public relations is that and I'm not dealing with specific problems such as a right to work or even in the labor area if a business is living the golden rule so to speak in the conduct of its affairs that's the most persuasive press agent it can have. Coming back to the ecology the fundamental change is the big change in our society in the 20th century as consequence of industrialization and urbanization and population
growth etc. has resulted in two things we have developed a highly interdependent massive nationwide assembly line society in which each component is invested with responsibilities to every other component. I mean the idea that any enterprise say General Motors is a private business today is absurd. Is every enterprise I know is a public enterprise because of its actions its successes its failures has consequences for the public. So this as required that every institution accept its social responsibilities. And this is what we call the management concept of public life. The second thing is a curtain which you referred is the fact our lines of communication have been greatly lengthened lengthened by physical distance lengthened by psychological difference and impeded by intervening barriers or levels of
administration. So it's a very difficult thing for the president Motors to communicate with the car dealer in Seattle Washington. He does this through a host of intermediaries and to do it effectively he requires the expertise of the public relations practitioner. So the social responsibility which is invested in every organization today by the nature of A or dependence is enforced by an increasingly articulate public opinion. So it has to be accepted or else face the consequences. As the Automobile Industry's recently known sometimes even face the consequences even more sucky than that and this question of the social role of cooperation we're still talking business entirely here so far but there's been a lot of attention given to the mood of the college students that business is for the birds which is the most graphic way of expressing the sense that if the purpose of business is only to make a profit.
If it isn't a part of the way our way of life is moving and moving more rapidly and may change more rapidly than ever has before then it's not for me. Now somewhere the gap between businesses roll and this very real role Bill has a very vital role in the lives of everybody whether its will and individual corporations such as consolidated foods or General Motors or business as a whole and the feeling that the the coming intelligent people the students of the country have about what business is that the great gap now is certainly one of the things we're talking about is that the role of public relations is to try to help management of business in this case all the universities in the case of the University of California all of the labor unions in the case are right to work or have the federal government in the case of the Vietnam issue and so forth. Do I understand why people think and don't think the way they do and the know how to adjust to them and then get them to understand what they're doing after they have found a base of common ground on which they think agreement can be reached not say
this is opposition by God. I understand it and accept it. But where here is where we can get together let's understand each other and accept it. And it's a subtle point but it's a very vital point. And I'm going to continue to have these gaps between business and college students and the negroes and the establishment and all of these other shocking separations we have if we all fail if we continue to feel that each organization each individual each body belongs to goes its own way and makes everybody else adjust to it which is the old way of looking at it. And now you take up a problem such as the college students not having an understanding of business. I don't think this is a new with us as it says it is as it is thought to be I think perhaps the college student is a better communicator today than he was 20 years ago he's vocal and he's heard. But I know when I was in college there were a lot of fellas that didn't think much about business much of business. I do feel that there has perhaps been a
failure on the part of businessmen in being willing to devote some time to going on the campuses and talking about business and the philosophy of business and what it means to the country got you. I think it might be useful to spell out the public relations staff function and the function is the same whether it's performed by an inside staff or an independent counsel such as your firm fell and that is to implement management's policies which taking into account its social responsibilities by maintaining a two way communication between the various publics and management. You see these trends that I discussed earlier have resulted in more and more separation from management from people with who are affected by its decision. And therefore I think my own personal view is the most important contribution to public relations practitioners can make is to keep
management you have Mr. Howitt sensitive to the changing public opinion. If you are sensitive to it then you can better cope with it and you will cope with it. But too many managers by their very nature of moving to the top become so Haris by personnel problems by problems of finance or production and live a fairly insulated life so shade with only your own kind that you lose touch with public opinion and a changing environment and this I think is the most important contribution the practitioner can make to ride management with a sensitive accurate interpretation of the changing social political economic trends. I don't know whether you think but yes I think that's a good point I. I had a letter the other day from our retiring chairman of the board of a client of ours we worked with for 10 years and we carried on a very extensive communications programme for them for the last 10 years with their own staff people. We've added a number of things that have never been done before by them or by anybody else in many ways a
very creative programme but was very interesting what he said in his letter. He said I appreciate your comments and their retirement and so on I'm glad I've had the chance to work with you. You were very good for us in getting us to think beyond our own horizons now in the face of any substantial fees we've been getting for all of this communication service. This is the point that stood out in this man's mind after 10 years and I feel very proud of that because it's the most difficult thing to get established with a client particularly one who isn't into it in the first place. Just as Scott says now it's subtle and very often they can go on every day between a public relations man and his boss. And unless somebody gets him to articulate it don't they don't realize it's going on all the time and yet this can be as Scott says the most important single function. Communication is very important but communication carried on in a vacuum or in blindness can do a lot of harm as well as a lot of good in many cases. LR beware of General Electric once told me that the public relations man should spend his time pondering the problems 15 years from now. He said
all our headaches that we wrestle with today were born at least 15 years ago and I think this is true that the. A public relations practitioner can serve a great service by seeing the coming problems before they arise. I feel that in my own particular case that a public relations consultants primary function is to really understand the business. I think there is a place where it often falls down. It's true they don't have a grasp of what's trying to be accomplished and what are the elements in the business that are contributing to that and therefore the reasons why the head of the business reacts as he does to certain situations. Sometimes it's advisable for an the head of a business to take a course that might not be good public relations. That's right that's right. And so that I think the closer a public relations
consultant can get. To the policy makers of a business the more effective it is going to be the result. That's why this is this is right as an educator I might say that the first and foremost requirement for a practitioner is that he be a broadly educated person and one who keeps on edge in himself. The public relations practitioner to be effective has to be a keen student of public opinion and the forces which make public opinion. He has to be an expert in communication in the art and science of communication. Third and most important he has to know the business or the field in which he is engaged. Because one he does not. His judgments will not be accepted as competent inside the organization unless he knows it. And secondly you cannot interpret effectively that which you yourself do not understand. I might add one other important point which I think Bill that agree with you has to have both the
courage to express what he feels and the humility to accept the turndowns when his advice Arias attempts at staring of course are turned down for the very good reasons management has for doing it other ways Aurukun are ignoring it as you say the public relations course may even clearly be in a given direction but the proper management course may not and the management makes a decision that's perfectly proper and the way it should be. But when you the only thing I'm asking is that the public relations man not be so frightened or discouraged from expressing what the proper public relations viewpoint is that he won't come up with it even to give management an opportunity to turn it down. My own view is yes man as a public relations counsellor is worse than none at all. Yes I'm sure that we've all seen them. Let me ask this. What role do you feel the publicity has in public relations. I think it varies with the institution and its needs. I think the role of publicity has been greatly overvalued.
Publicist is useful in promoting products but we as we come to know through research come to know more about the communication opinion changing process in our society we come to realise it. Published the move through US whole nexus or bond of mediating factors. It's just one small influence in the total in the formulation of public attitudes which manifest themselves in what we talk call public opinion. By and large I think there's too much emphasis on public and too little on performance and planning in public relations. Would you differentiate between news and publicity about an institution. I don't think you can too. They've the dictionary debt. Difference is this that news is that which the news media is. Go out and get and describe definers News published is
that which just disseminated for the purpose of promoting some cause idea or product. What too is publicity more effective when a closer it gets to being news. It has to be new due to past the gatekeepers of our news media. And this is where you get most of your published maybe defining Felicity a little narrowly there. I will take a broader position first of all publicity represents a very large portion of almost every public relations program and or even the better ones. And in many cases a predominant portion because it goes beyond issuing information even news you get involved in all forms of communication. Films and meetings and literature and every everything where an organisation and commune tries to communicate with a group in the broad sense and nothing much happens except for steering a course and less publicity as well done at the end. Yes but I still maintain a feller's there's an over emphasis on Bob
and there's too much faith put in the value of public health in order to say about that it started with focus of the 100 percent that's right it's now moving towards some other percentage but it's still the only point I'm making as a cell of our own lives and therefore basic aspects of the going public relations function. Research planning communication and evaluation. I say it's my position as a public relations tour you will come to place equal emphasis on all four aspects of the going public relations program. We're a long way from that today in current practice but I'd like to sum up before asking Bill to comment on this that it's going to be very substantially different proportion in every program for all time because every program is going to be different in terms of what the organization must be tailored for the specific institution. That's right. And I've always felt the true public relations embrace is the entire area of communications of a business. Advertising
really is a tool of public relations whether you're selling goods or you are institutionally carrying a message in my judgment. So that is that everything comes under the public relations attempt that is communicated. The way I look at it and they say why is business in terms of communicating itself is looking at the thing in total and way and the relationship of a total message to the multifarious ways that you can get it across. This is what I was saying that everything an institution does says or fails to do communicates to its publics publicist is only one small part of the great communication going to the various publics So what we're saying is and we're agreeing that you can't think of published in the very narrow sense but you have to think of the total communication on the total public and its total impact.
There are aspects of this that can be measured and predicted. When you have been listening to the first in a series of conversations on public relations with Philip Leslie president of the Philip Leslie company and editor of the public relations Handbook was joining Mr. Leslie William holiday president of the Consolidated foods corporation and former Public Relations Council. And Scott am Cutler also a professor of public relations at the School of Journalism at the University of Wisconsin and co-author of effective public relations this we're talking we wish to thank WFM t the fine arts station of Chicago for their help in reporting this program. And next week Mr. Leslie's guest will be Glenn Parry director of public relations for the DuPont company and L.L. golden Public Relations Council. And right here on public relations all the Saturday reviews as for the topic at that time will be the functions of public relations. The transcript of this program are available. Send 50 cents for each copy
- Producing Organization
- WRVR (Radio station : New York, N.Y.)
- Contributing Organization
- University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
- AAPB ID
- Episode Description
- This program features William Howlett, president of Consolidated Foods; and Professor Scott Cutlip of University of Wisconsin.
- 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: Howlett, William
Interviewee: Cutlip, Scott M.
Producing Organization: WRVR (Radio station : New York, N.Y.)
- AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 67-35-1 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
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- Chicago: “Conversations on public relations; Why and what is public relations?,” 1967-05-16, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed February 4, 2023, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-fj29dt8z.
- MLA: “Conversations on public relations; Why and what is public relations?.” 1967-05-16. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. February 4, 2023. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-fj29dt8z>.
- APA: Conversations on public relations; Why and what is public relations?. 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-fj29dt8z