Week 3:The Art of PR: Goals, Insight, Tactics, Evaluation

This week’s lecture dealt with the execution of PR though specific standing procedures. While it is very much the prerogative of the academic to discuss the theoretical inklings of Public Relations, these notions should be reinforced by actual application. Said application is both an actualised implementation of textbook lessons and a reinforcement of personal belief in the teachings of PR. The reasons why the administration of PR is taught accompanying the underlying theories are twofold: firstly, it acts as an experiential anchorage for students to, in the future, recall useful tips, secondly, it roots out any ill-conceived notions that students may hold. Bad ideas do not survive long in an practising  operational environment.  Either the person with the bad idea reaches an ideological compromise with the collective ideology, or the person himself is ejected(excluded) from the system.

But this correction is only tangential to the process of PR. The pedantic textbook and educator dictated that certain established procedures have become the standard of Public Relations in the Industry. These procedures are broken down into the steps gathering insight, of goal setting, formulating and implementing strategies and tactics, and finally evaluation(follow-through). This blog post examines and critiques each of the steps along the way.

Gathering Information

The first step of gathering insight is thought to be crucial in PR because meaning is constructed within a contested space of  symbols and icons. That is to say, the messages that a PR professional creates do not exist in a sphere separated from the rest to of the world. Certain things may or may not affect the way that audiences receive the messages that PR professionals make. One clear example of this is that PR firms do not mirror other competitors’ PR efforts. This is because this would be seen as copying or lacking creativity. Generally gathering information gives the PR team insight into how to reach audiences, allows a greater impact on audiences, and constructs a meaning which exists as part of a structure.

While I find it well-founded that PR literature recognises that meaning exists within a structure of language and signs, the devil is in the execution of the information gathering. Exactly how one is supposed to shape a PR message such as to account for the pre-existing structures is quite vague. A lag time is created in between gathering information, processing said information, formulating a strategy based on the information, and ultimately executing the message. This lag time could very well result in the ruin of marketing or PR strategies. The most recent example I can think of is the decision by Creative Technologies to let their lawsuit against Apple be settled out-of-court in exchange for the chance to produce iPod docks and other Apple-derived peripherals. The idea was that since they couldn’t possibly beat Apple at such a late stage of the game(in the portable music device market), they would try to sell themselves as a quality peripheral supplier, hopefully piggy-backing on Apple’s popularity in sales. Now look at Creative’s profits. They’ve been making losses for so long it’s a wonder they are still alive. The problem was that Sim Wong Hoo was late in his implementation of the strategy. Furthermore, he didn’t anticipate that there would be so many competitors in Apple-derived peripherals as compared to his own brand. The change in the situation between the time during which the strategy was planned and the execution totally threw off his planning and the device sales were mediocre.

Another issue I took is that, as Derrida has shown, deconstruction is a process that is provisional, not permanent. PR teams deconstructing the knowledge held by the audiences lend themselves to fallacious interpretations of the Truth(TM). This means whatever is constructed is transient. Even as PR professionals acknowledge this, they continue to act and make mistakes. Further complicating this is the fact that meaning itself is only constructed if there is a “centre” to the structure. This centre is the fundamental underpinning that allows meaning to be constructed. In the case of PR, this includes the language used to convey the message, the knowledge audiences have that allow them to interpret signs and symbols correctly, these mean that the message is only as relevant as the structures which hold them down. These centres itself is contained outside of the structure. The logical conclusion is that PR professionals cannot claim to have a formula for success, and that teachers of PR must acknowledge the shortcomings of their methods.

Goal Setting

Somewhat more palatable was the method of goal-setting. Based on the information gathered and other knowledge available, the PR practitioner plans goals, objectives, and audiences. These are all aspects of the same desired outcome. Goals refer an often intentionally vague aspect of reality actualised in the course of the execution of PR. Objectives are a measurable way of judging how well the goal has been reached. Lastly, audiences are the specific identifiable demographics which are included the goal. These three form the basis of the process of synthesis of knowledge.

Apart from the fact that goals for PR cannot be written as  objective truth, the need to set goals is part of the dialectic process of constructing new knowledge in the field of PR.

Formulating Strategies, Tactics, and Executing Them

The next step dictated by the pedants is that of formulating strategies based on the information gathered as well as past experiences. Strictly speaking, no new knowledge is constructed at this stage, although hypothesis of the nature of PR may be postulated. Tactics refer to the individual aspects of the agents, down to the minute movements made by agents. The word strategy here is used in a context that is quite different from the original military usage. It refers not to a comprehensive prediction of outcomes in clashes of wills, but rather a movement within a structure of unreadable meaning. While military strategy implies that one is able to predict or read an opponent, strategy in PR exists in a structure where meaning is only a result of a centre underpinning the entire body of discourse. Derrida showed that these centres are actually contained outside of the structure. Hence it is not so much of rationalised prediction as it is guessing.

Execution here too, lacks clear definition. While “evaluation” is postulated as a later step, I find that execution of the plan is often indistinguishable from evaluation. From the moment in which a step is executed, the mind is already calculating some kind of feedback from its actions. Furthermore, as different tactics continue to be rolled out, the chronological and theoretical boundaries between these two steps becomes extremely blurred. Thus, it is hard to argue that a border exists between these two steps. The fundamental reason for this is that sensory input cannot be turned off. To exist is to think, but for thought to exist, sensory input must be present. Thus there is no way to objectively define PR into such steps, although the purpose of such division is useful in explaining the dialectic of PR.

Evaluation(Follow Through)

While I maintain my criticisms of the PR process, as the myriads of thinkers before have done with their criticisms of the social sciences, I recognise the function and effect of PR in discourse. The evaluation step is a good example of how the Hegelian dialectic can be applied to modern thought processes. Evaluation obviously refers to how well the goals,  objectives, and audiences were affected or met such as to fulfil the outcomes planned in the goal-setting step.

Thesis(Existing PR Knowledge/Experiences+Information Gathered)

Antithesis(Execution and degree to which goals were met)

Synthesis(reconciling any differences between the two)

Thesis(the new knowledge  gained)

The new thesis then goes through the process again whenever the PR practitioners begin a new PR attempt.

In conclusion, I would say the PR process, while somewhat questionable in terms of accuracy, provides a solid example of how the dialectic may be used to create new knowledge. To that effect, I will continue to examine the processes that PR goes through, using a case study of an actual PR effort to derive insight into the mechanisms in greater detail. Stay tuned for next week.


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