Public Relations considered as a specialized area within communication sector. But, Public Relations deal with people and their interactive relationships and this is the reason why hardly can be an exact science. Its practice remains an art. It continues to have rules, techniques, values and standards of excellence, but as a unique communications division will never be fully codified.
Public Relations has been defined in many different ways. The Public Relations Society of America (1982) stated that Public Relations is a management function that serves a wide variety of social institutions such as: businesses, government agencies, hospitals, schools, media and religious institutions. In order to achieve their goals, these institutions must develop mutual relationships with different audiences of the society they act.
As many PR practitioners stated Public Relations is more than social scientific constructs and theory building. Indeed, modern researchers focus on the processes of communication and relationships buildings. So, taking for granted that Public Relations is a combination of science and art, we will focus on the nature and processes of Public Relations taking into account various sectors that lies on. It is also interesting the social character of Public Relations via Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) which has a crucial role in shaping the public opinion and making the businesses or organizations popular and alluring to the public.
Examining the Public Relations from both theoretical and social perspectives we may say that publicity is a cost effective way to getting material into the media, since the journalists pick up and publish specific news releases or stories because they consider they are remarkable. Public relations as established into the businesses structure have radically changed the media agenda-settings.
Finally, the convergence of technology, the explosion of social media and the development of communications know-how gave new dimensions in Public Relations’ practice. New media technologies and global ramifications for organizational actions change the strategy of Public Relations by enriching the traditional tactics with ethical communication principles, interpersonal procedures and social activities. All the above give the opportunity to the Communication and PR Managers to succeed the goals of the company or organization they represent by getting into the media even more material for publicity.
Public Relations: multifarious in their nature and wide in their influence.
The general theory of excellence of communication as defined by Grunig (1992) relates the Public Relations with the companies’ management and strategies. Communication is important for an organization or company, because it helps to build effective long term relationships with strategic publics. Making a “flashback” at the Public relations’ research, it seems that all research activities were mostly applied in the field of mass communications and media corporations, because of the democratic nature of this field and its direct relationship with various audiences. This reflects the “two - way street” representation of Public Relations, through which organizations and the public “carry on a democratic dialogue”.
In the above interaction between institutions and public within a democratic context, the term “public opinion” plays a key role. Public opinion is subject to a variety of influences that develop and change its views. It represents the beliefs of any group of society and the public relations practitioners who aim to introduce new ideas, ethics, habits or even products, should develop a new technique of public persuasion. The manipulation of the public mind,, serves to gain acceptance for new ideas. This manipulation is an essential characteristic of Public Relation’s nature and embodies the removal of social prejudices, taboos or “national habits”.
The media of free speech and influence is a consequence of the above mentioned need for a technique of public persuasion. Any person or company depends on public approval, so the integration of “public consent” into the corpus of published material in the media, is used as precondition for the implementation of such a strategic tactic. This tactic is mostly used by the public relations offices of political parties in order to demagogue the voting public. But, this approach is not as “principle – free” as it looks. The public relations professionals have responsibility to promote only those ideas they can respect and not those that can be proved antisocial.
But, how Public Relations can deliver the message, while staying truthful and why this is so important for the PR managers and practitioners? There are some differences between propaganda and persuasion. Propaganda is a planned effort to manipulate the public using mass media, censorship, and half-truths or lies. On the other hand, persuasion via public relations advocates the truth, because the ethical code of PR communication is to serve the common good being understood to the public.This “win-win” approach provides an ethical framework for Public Relations because it provides a coherent basis for socially responsible practices. The ethical balance is succeeding in the context of mutual evaluation of organizations’ interests and its publics. So, Public Relations as a communication section is used as a tool to manage conflicts producing long-term relationships.
The social role – Corporate Social Responsibility
As shown from the above description of the various aspects that Public Relations lies on, PR as a profession is underpinned by ethics, principles and social practices. Neither individuals, nor organizations are independent and each part depends on the willingness or assets of others. Closely to this theory are also the concepts of “co-orientation” and “social exchange” which advocate that organizational decisions are based on the level of public support. For example, if a company requires the approval of a specific public/group in order to proceed with its plans (e.g. the construction of a hotel complex in a coastal forest of a provincial potentially tourist area), and the PR professionals understand that the opposition from the locals are substantial, possibly the executives will not proceed with the project. Otherwise, in this case the corporation may diminish the income and maximize the rewards for the locals making a good deal with them, as conceptualized by the social exchange theory.
But, in establishing trustful relationships between the corporations and the public, PR practitioners should identify common values. These common values between the organizations, the PR professionals and the public are focused on the general good rather being mainly self-centered. Public Relations as a profession should have altruistic and universal directions which they shape the ethical frame of this communication area.
Some PR experts describe the organizations’ responsible actions which have simultaneously social, ethical and global nature as “corporate citizenship”. This means that corporations aim to act for others, rather than just for stakeholders or employees. This social corporate value results an ethical commitment “to living truth as well as telling truth”. The concept of “corporate citizenship” is directly embodied in the concept of “good corporate citizenship” which has communicative dimensions and consists part of ethical and good public relations. This “corporate citizenship” has been officially defined as “Corporate Social Responsibility” (CSR) and should be integrated into the companies’ business strategic plans due to long term benefits for the organizations.
The scope of CSR is much broader than benevolences or altruistic events such as: charities, philanthropy and public participation. CSR activities also include environmental management systems and human resource plans. Additionally, CSR is linked with important issues such as education, resource protection, community services, upgrading of industry and the sharing of nonproprietary quality-related information. The organizations/ companies via CSR may also support the arts by helping local schools or colleges, funding to local festivals, contributing in poverty issues by providing food and supplies or giving job positions to unemployed people and economically weaker social groups.
These ethical ramifications, which communication actions stand, (within the context of PR practice) justify the reason why Public Relations’ undertaking of CSR projects should be ethically evaluated in combination with the motives. On practical basis, motivation is insignificant, and CSR is evaluated by its contribution to society. In other words, apart from the “raison d'être” behind the implementation of a CSR project by PR practitioners, such an act is considered ethical a priori, because it benefits both the organization and its publics.
These ethical dimensions of Public Relations via CSR activities suggest that a company is responsible for its wider impact on society. But, taking into account the business management principles according to which the governance of companies primarily serves the interests of stakeholders and not of any other social groups, the question arises is: how can businesses be socially ethical?
Companies are driven by market forces and competitive pressures. They are arbitrated by markets mainly according to financial indicators and earnings. So, CSR can only be implemented when it is welcome and rewarded by the financial markets. A secure way for organizations to safe that the markets reward ethical companies, is the adoption of the “Triple Bottom Line” (TBL) system (Elkington, 1997), in their strategic plan which requires financial, environmental and social profits for the company’s management future plans .
As it is outlined from the above, CSR could be considered both an invention and a tool of Public Relations, since it has real substance, when encloses all the stakeholders of a company, when it is rewarded by financial markets and when it is open to public for criticism and evaluation. Having a broader insight into the parameters that characterize the Social Corporate Responsibility, it is concluded that CSR has a direct and valuable impact on companies. CSR increases organizations’ value via the economic performance, the reputation and publicity which results and also through the parenting advantage (the horizontal and vertical interconnections that exist in the company).