PR: building relationships or politics?

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I had the privilege of talking to a seasoned public relations practitioner two days ago.  In our eye-opening conversation, we talked about the field.  

I found her perception of the world of PR as very interesting.  After all she has 15 years experience in the profession so she has seen a lot of things.  Furthermore, she has lived in five different countries where she worked as a communicator.  Of course, I was grateful to talk to her so candidly. 

Our conversation took a different turn when she asked me, “What is PR?”  Naturally, I thought in my head, ‘Are you kidding me?  That’s easy to answer!’  So I looked at her all starry eyed and said, “Building relationships.”  She looked at me and shook her head and said, “No, its politics.”  So then she explained, why she said what she did.  She said PR is politics because of these key things: 

  • Always know who you’re talking to
  • Understand how to talk to that person
  • Realize what that person could do for you
  • What is this person’s overall role in the organization?
  • What is the corporate culture of the organization?

 Well is she right?  Is PR more about politics than building relationships?  If you’re a junior or senior practitioner – I’d love to hear from you!

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~ by Natasha C. on March 13, 2008.

7 Responses to “PR: building relationships or politics?”

  1. I think it’s about building relationships AND politics.
    You can play the political game and exploit all of the information you get by answering those five questions. However, at some point we need to establish sincere relationships if we’re going to make the research and effort have a lasting impact.

  2. Although I see where PR and politics intertwine, I also see the value of building relationships. After all, PR is dead when there is no audience listening to the message. If you have friends and networks all over, I believe disseminating the message is a lot easier.

  3. I agree with her, it is politics. at the end of the day it all boils down to the tenants she outlined which are also basic foundations of politics, and be coming a successful politician. To be a successful PR practitioner while you indeed build relationships you in essence are making sure you address each of her points.

  4. As a former political consultant and former practicing PR professional, here is my response to the notion of PR aas polkitics. What is missing from the list is anything that has to do with what the recipient (voter, lawmaker, key stakeholder) of this attention gains from an interaction with a political operative, nything esembling mutual understanding and/or mutul benefit.

    Politics may be the process of a group making a decision, while relationship building requires dedication to a sustained program of trust, openness, involvement, investment, and commitment. The short-term goals of politics pale in comparison to the mutual benefit and mutual understanding derieved from a well-thought-out Pr program or campaign. In sum, public politics usually addresses short-term goals — winning a primary, winning a general election — while PR strives to build long-term relationships. How often have we seen a candidate employ propaqanda, mass media manipulation, misleading or outright false commercials, “potitioning by polling,” and rumor mongering to win, only to disappoint his/her supporters once in office? Due, of course, to a political agenda that considers nothing further than the short-term goal of winning. There are exceptioins, of course, but none immediately come to mind. PR, on the other hand, is a process for building long-term mjutually beneficial relationships through the ethical and efficient management of organization-stakeholder relationships, focused — over time — on common interests and shared goals in support of mjutual understanding and mutual benefit. I might emphasize that this paradigm supports long-term relationships. The role of lectoral politics, then, in the context of PR, is that of a strategic tool in intiating, maintaining and enhanmcing organization-stakeholder relationships. “Spinning” and the like are simply efforts to manipulate the media (although the influence of the mass mewdia is wanning at a dramatic rate) for political gain and have nothing top do with building long-term relationships between organizations and individuals and their key stakeholder groups. In general, many of those who practice electoral politics would do well to re-consider their efforts in the light of PR.

  5. As a former political consultant and former practicing PR professional, here is my response to the notion of PR aas politics. What is missing from the list is anything that has to do with what the recipient (voter, lawmaker, key stakeholder) of this attention gains from a political interaction; specificly, anything resembling mutual understanding and/or mutul benefit.

    Politics has been said to be the process of a group making a decision, while relationship building requires dedication to a sustained program of trust, openness, involvement, investment, and commitment. The short-term goals of politics pale in comparison to the mutual benefit and mutual understanding derieved from a well-thought-out PR program or campaign. In sum, public (electoral) politics usually addresses short-term goals — winning a primary, winning a general election — while PR strives to build long-term relationships. How often have we seen a candidate employ propaqanda, mass media manipulation, misleading or outright false commercials, “positioning by polling,” and rumor mongering to win, only to disappoint his/her supporters once in office? Due, of course, to a political agenda that considers nothing further than the short-term goal of winning. There are exceptioins, of course, but none immediately come to mind.

    PR, on the other hand, is a process for building long-term mutually beneficial relationships through the ethical and efficient management of organization-stakeholder relationships, focused — over time — on common interests and shared goals in support of mutual understanding and mutual benefit, and — I would add — long-term relationships.

    The role of electoral politics, then, is self-defining. Whereas, in the context of PR, politics could be a strategic tool in intiating, maintaining and enhanmcing organization-stakeholder relationships. Further, the antics often thought to be PR are at most simply press relations, but one of the seven major areas of practice application of PR. And, stunts such as “spinning” and the like are simply efforts to manipulate the mass media for political gain and have nothing to do with building long-term relationships between organizations or individuals and their key stakeholder groups. And, if such antics were not offensive enough on their own, they are especially not useful at a time when the power of the mass media is wanning at a dramatic rate.

    In general, many of those who practice electoral politics would do well to re-consider their efforts in the light of PR’s ability to initiate, maintain and enhance mutually-beneficial, long-tem relationships, and which that could go a long way toward freeing electoral politics from its sometimes dubious practices.

  6. I agree with you. You raised a good point. Politics focus more on short-term goals rather long-term goals (e.g. relationship building). It about winning the election and gaining the trust of the electorate but then quickly losing that trust once they’re in office. However PR is about building and maintaining relationships and NOT burning bridges in the long run. As those bridges will come back to haunt you.

  7. My firms philosophy is built on creating, building and sustaining long-term, mutually beneficial relationships. I’ve never considered the “politics” of public relations, but I do see how everything we do as PR professionals is based on “political correctness” for example, the phrase: “the customer is always right” must have been a PR move because at the end of the day, as a business, not only is our goal to make a profit, but to serve our clients and customers; I call it going beyond the bottom line.

    However, I do not see PR as politics, instead politics is all PR! The press conferences, the hand shaking, well thought-out and articulated statements and messages, city tours, neighborhood visits, cause and community support or Politician Social Responsibility (PSR) all with the aim of building “clout” with voters…sounds very PR to me.

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