how much has changed in public relations?Guest post by Kirk Hazlett, APR, Fellow PRSA

I stumbled into the field of public relations some 40-plus years ago so …

The obvious … and first … response is “a lot.” After all, when I was a public affairs intern working for the US Army a million years ago, a remarkable piece of technology appeared that made it possible to transmit the written word via a telephone line to remote and exotic locales. Yes, I was alive and kicking when the fax machine altered the way in which we communicated!

But then I get serious with those who truly are interested and say that, in terms of objectives and strategies, nothing has changed.

Our objective for a client or employer remains the same.

Build awareness … foster mutual understanding … inspire behavioral change.

How we get there is what is different to a great degree. The “tactics” that we employ to accomplish any or all of this continue to evolve. The clay tablets and papyrus proclamations have morphed into tweets and podcasts.

Another change – closely tied to the tactics employed – is the longevity of the message.

Where, in the “good old days,” both good and bad news would sink in visibility as other, more current news and events would surface, today, thanks to the relative permanence of Internet-based communication, the old news lives on, in archives, as mentions in blog posts, and elsewhere. And, inevitably, it will bubble up … usually when you least expect it and really would prefer that it not do so.

What does this mean for those of us who, as communicators, counsel others on their words and their actions?

It means that we truly do have to take the long view.

“How will this ”˜play’ five years from now?”

“What message do we want those who see this bit of ”˜history’ to take away?”

“What good or harm can come from a reminder of something that occurred ”˜back then’?”

And, to me, a more important consideration should be, “What have we done as an organization to strengthen our stakeholders’ confidence in us at this point in time?”

Nothing is more damning, in my opinion, than for someone to be reminded of a misstep on the part of my organization years down the road and to discover, on closer inspection, that nothing has changed. That it’s “business as usual.”

Corporate social responsibility must become part of the organizational DNA, led by the public relations professional who inherently understands public awareness, public perception, and public opinion.

We as professional communicators must be willing to stand up and urge our clients or employers to hold themselves accountable for their actions and operate in the best interests of our stakeholders.

Because if we don’t, a year later … or five years … or longer … someone will read or hear something about us and be reminded.

What will the message be?

Image: busy.pochi via Flickr, CC 2.0

Kirk Hazlett

Kirk Hazlett

Professor at Curry College
Kirk Hazlett, APR, Fellow PRSA, holds the position of Associate Professor, Communication/ Public Relations, at Curry College. He also is a member of the Public Relations Society of America's Board of Ethics and Professional Standards. Kirk has 35+ years' federal government and nonprofit organization PR experience, followed by nearly 10 years' undergraduate- and graduate-level college teaching experience. Some of the organizations he has counseled include the Blood Bank of Hawaii, Medical Area Service Corporation and Boston Harborfest. He blogs at A Professor's Thoughts.
Kirk Hazlett