The section of the Social Institutions chapter that gives an overview of public relations struck a bit of a chord with me. While it does a fairly adequate job of describing the industry, I felt like it oversimplified the role of public relations professionals. I agreed with the assertions that a major role of public relations professionals is to disseminate information to the media strategically in an effort to gain positive media coverage, which only sometimes gets covered by journalists. However, I feel an increasing role of public relations professionals is to educate stakeholders, develop relationships (not just with the media), and increase dialogue through public involvement.
This may be my spin on the industry from working in local government for the past eight years, but my role as a communicator very often moved from spokesperson to teacher. This different approach helped resolve community issues and concerns, increase transparency and garner more favorable opinions towards the organization.
An example from my own job was the creation of a video that described a complex drilling process under the Willamette River. Many residents had concerns about what this process would do to the river and its local wildlife. This educational video did far more good than any news release or subsequent news article.
Another organization I worked for was the Oregon Zoo. An issue that frequently needed attention was the assertion from the public that we were taking animals out of their natural families in the wild and forcing them to live in the zoo for the sole purpose of the public’s entertainment. In actuality, the vast majority of animals come to the zoo because they’ve been injured or abandoned, and would have died had zoo or forestry staff not intervened. Here’s one such example of a river otter: Orphaned river otter finds home and health at Oregon Zoo. While at the zoo, a large portion of my work was also dedicated to conservation and sustainability in an effort to educate zoo visitors about what they can do to help protect the animals they love.
The social institution of public relations is clearly changing, just as advertising, marketing and journalism, in order to sustain success and relevance within an organization.