1.0 INTRODUCTION

The practice of public relations is organized along two main structures the internal department and the external consultancy. The choice of which mode to use is determined by the resources and size of the firm and the special needs it may have from time to time. In this unit, we shall examine the advantages and disadvantages of each type. Whatever the type chosen, the functions largely remain the same.

2.0 OBJECTIVES

At the end of this you should be able to 

  1. Explain the functions of a public relations department. 
  2. Distinguish the advantages and disadvantages of choosing an internal PR department as against an outside consultancy 

3.0 MAIN CONTENT

3.1 Setting up a Public Relation Department.

The practice of public relations has developed along two main lines. Many industrial companies, trade and professional associations, governments at both federal, state and local level have set up public relations departments within their organisations. Others however prefer to use the services of public relations consultants. Some, use a combination of the two.

The key functional areas of responsibility of a Public Relations department includes:

External relations – This involves communicating with people outside the organisation including customers, dealers, suppliers and community leaders. It includes arranging promotional activities like exhibitions, trade shows, conferences and tours lobbying government agencies and legislators as well as keeping organisation abreast of government regulations and legislation. In hospitals and non-profit organisations, the PR function may include recruiting and scheduling volunteer workers.

Internal relations – This involves developing optimal relations with employees, managers, unions, shareholders and other interest groups.

Media relations – It is only through the mass media that communication with large groups of people outside the organisation is possible. The press officer of an organisation responds to enquires and queries from the news media, arranges news conferences and also issues news releases. The press officer also coaches executives for news interviews, and sometimes serve as the spokesperson of the organisation.

3.1.1 Functions of a Public Relations Department

Six principle functions of a public relation department identified by Idemili (1990) are: 

1. Research 
An important function is the conducting of opinion surveys of the organisation’s various publics such as employees, shareholders, consumers, dealers, clients, distributors, suppliers and the community.
Opinion research enables an organisation to find out what the public really wants to know about it. The public relations department also undertakes studies and political trends in the country and on the international scene as well as the effects of such trends on the organisation. (This is known as issue management).
2. Advising Management (Counselling)
It is the responsibility of the organisation’s public relations department to interpret public opinion to the management and board of directors by gathering information about the attitude and opinions of the company’s various publics concerning its policies and practices. It is the duty of the head of the public relations department to advise the management and board of directors on public relations aspects of the policies and practices of the organisation.

3. Planning
It is the function of the public relations department to determine basic public relations policies, establish objectives and determine methods of communications, timing of programmes and budgets for all public relations programme. All these activities fall under the planning function of the PR department.

4. Providing Comprehensive Information Services
The public relations department should be an information center for the organisation. It should provide the public information about the organisation, its history, its achievements and its problems. It should keep for reference, all official company publications, biographies and photographs of members of the board of directors, general managers, heads of departments and other principal functionaries of the organization.

5. Production

  1. Publicity: The public relations person ahs responsibility for planning, creating and placing publicity material, holding press functions, arranging press conferences for the chief executive, answering press acquires, distributing press releases contracting editors, and serving all departments with corporate publicity for newspapers, magazines and trade papers. 
  2.  Pictures and slide films: The public relations department undertakes the production and distribution of public relations firms to further relations with employees, consumers, educators, shareholders, dealers and distributors. 
  3.  Publication: It is the duty of the public relations department to produce and distribute all company publications such as house journals (internal and external, 

3.1.2 Advantages of Internal PR Department

As we noted earlier, the internal department is the most common structure for serving the public relations needs of organizations. This arrangement has many advantages as identified by Cutlip, Centre & Broom which include:
Team membership: It is the greatest advantage of the internal PR. There is frequent contact between the public relations department and top management. Confidence trust and support of management can result from this frequent contact and facilitate team, work with other departments

Knowledge of the organisation: As a member of the organisation, the internal practitioner has intimate current knowledge of his organisation he/she know the relationships among individuals and departments and can call on key people to make decisions. The inside practitioner can offer needed advice and provide full range of services.

Economy: There is lower overhead costs and efficient integration in an organisation. A full-time permanent staff is usually more cost effective than outside consultants.

Availability of staff practitioners: In emergencies or crisis situations, the staff is easily available for face to face meeting with other staff of the organisation. The inside practitioners know the background and have credibility with the news media. He understands the dangers of mishandling news, especially in crisis situation.

3.1.3 Disadvantages of Internal PR Department

While the internal PR department has many advantages as enumerated above, it also has some disadvantages which includes:-

Loss of Objectivity – Loyalty to the organisation can lead to loss of objectivity. This is because the practitioner may unwittingly become part of the team and tend to be compromised in his views while trying to support the other members if staff.

Subservience – The inside practitioner may become a yes man or woman and may be diverted from goals, planning and strategy to run errands for others. An inside practitioner may constantly walk the thin line of rendering professional service and rendering low-level support that is easily replaced.

Confused roles and mission – Being readily available can result in confused roles as practitioners who may be forced to stand in for the Chief Executive Officer or other senior management may find themselves playing roles not made for them with attendant public embarrassments

Boredom – Involvement of routine activities with little or no change over time may result in boredom for the practitioner, which is not good for morale.

Self Assessment Exercise

  1. Briefly identity and discuss the advantages and disadvantages of the internal public relations practitioner.

3.2 Organizations of Public Relations Consultancy

Organizations that do not have in-house PR units usually engage the outside PR consultants. External PR units can consists of the following:

  1. Freelance writers/consultants 
  2. PR departments of advertising agents 
  3. PR subsidiaries of advertising agents 
  4. Independent PR consultants 
  5. PR counselors. 

The outside PR consultant not only fills the gap when an organisation does not have its own PR unit, the consultant can still be engaged for ad hoc work or for special services which would not justify expansion of the internal department. These services might be the ones in which certain consultants specialized such as events organizing, financial PR, or advance PR for exhibitors. In certain cases, pure consultancy or counseling may be required to advise an organisation from an unbiased standpoint.

Chester Burger has listed six reasons why organizations retain outside consultant, even though some have internal departments.

  1. Management has not previously conducted a formal public relations programme and lacks experience in organizing one. 
  2. Headquarters may be located away from the communications and financial centers 
  3. A firm maintains a wide range of up-to-date contacts. 
  4.  An outside firm can provides services of experienced executives who would be unwilling to move to other cities or whose salaries could not be afforded by a single organisation. 
  5. An organisation with its own public relations department may be in need of highly specialized services that it cannot afford on a permanent basis. 
  6.  Crucial matters of overall outside policy dictate a need for the independent judgement of an outsider. 

It may be useful to examine in some detail, the public relations services provided or available from outside PR consultant.

 Freelance Writers/Consultants

This may consist of individuals or group of individuals who are skilled in producing PR features articles, skilled professionals who prefer to operate on their own and prematurely retired well-known who want to continue practicing and can therefore offer the benefit of years of experiences. They may operate from their own homes or do not possess the usual PR office equipment and facilities.

2. PR Departments of Advertising Agencies

This outside services can range from a small press office handling only product publicity to augment advertising campaigns to a large comprehensive PR departments like the agency set-up itself. These departments enable the advertising agency to pass on the cost of PR services to the client instead of having to provide free PR services as part of the advertising.

3. PR Departments of Advertising Agencies

This outside services can range from a small press office handling only product publicity to augment advertising campaigns to a large comprehensive PR departments like the agency set-up itself. These departments enable the advertising agency to pass on the cost of PR services to the client instead of having to provide free PR services as part of the advertising.

4. PR Subsidiary of an Advertising Agency

A PR subsidiary can operate like an independent consultancy except that the advertising agency provide it a source of useful business. It ca and should service client’s independent of the Ad agency, although the very fact that it is owned by an advertising agency may limit the consultancy’s opportunities to gain independent business.

A big advantage of a PR subsidiary is that it can be departmentalized and staffed to undertake full range of PR activities.

A subsidiary’s association with an advertising agency can have benefits through shared services such as accounts, art studio, and production provided the agency is prepared to sell its services at a reasonable rate to the sister PR Company.

5. Independents PR Consultants’

With few exceptions, the majority of independent consultants is small and operate little teams rather like solicitors and consulting engineers. Independent consultants have some distinct advantages. Which includes:
i. Freedom from advertising bias: The independent consultant owes no allegiances to an advertising agency or to an advertising campaign. His advice is therefore impartial. However small, its sheer impartiality could be its major selling point.

ii. Able to work with advertising agents: Not all advertising agents can offer associated PR services and it is possible for a client to appoint an advertising agency, and PR consultancy, which are independent of each other. This has the merit of providing three part discussions, while the consultants can devote himself to a PR programme unlimited by the dictates of the advertising agency. The client can therefore expect the best possible services from both, knowing that each is anxious to retain the account on its own behalf. Also, if the consultant feels strongly about some point of policy, relinquishment of the account will not be disastrous to the agency to suffer loss of the account.

iii. Choice of specialist, consultancy possible: Independent consultants are the ones, which are most likely to specialize in a particular class of business, and clients can take advantage of this for ad hoc, short-term or full annual contract services. There are consultants specializing in almost everything.

iv. Financial PR consultants: Financial PR is a service offered by some general consultants but others specialize in this activity alone. Financial PR is concerned with relaying information and viewpoints on a company’s industrial and commercials activities to the wider financial and investment communities financial PR builds bridges and carries the good and bad company news alike from Boardroom to the outside bustling world. Provided the company is soundly run, has reasonable prospects and has sensibly and widely communicated itself to the financial and investment communities it will find that it is able to raise funds without difficulty and at the keenest rates. It is the experienced financial public relation’s man who will ensure that the merits of the company are brought to the attention of the investment public at large.

v. PR counselors: A public relations practitioner who undertakes creative and productive work is more nearly on a par with an advertising agent. A consultant should therefore ideally advise only, and leave the execution to the PR practitioners. The true consultant is the PR counselor. He is the
practitioner who investigates reports, advises and recommends but does not execute the agreed proposals. This kind of PR counselor normally works quite independently of other PR units and have no interest in a consultancy or

PR agency.

The PR counselor is more usually a senior practitioner, who is sought for because of the wealth of experience he possesses.

Advantages of Outside PR Consultant

The outside PR consultant has many advantages over the internal practitioner. Daramola (2003) has identified such advantages to includes:

Objectivity

The outside consultant is not directly involved with the internal politics of the client. He is therefore in a good position to render objective and impartial advice. In addition, the client’s problems or needs may be analysed from a different perspective.

Pool of Expertise and Skill

The outside consultant’s agency may have a wide variety of skills and experts on a part-time bases this will be useful when working on special projects or specialized field. 

Extensive Experience and Reputation

The experience and reputation of an external consultant with former or old clients can be useful and advantageous to a new employer. This is because as the consultant has worked on my accounts and related problems in the past, he will be better equipped to tackle the current problem.

Self Employment

External consultancy provides opportunity for self-employment as many of them are essentially one man business. Because they are not tied down to one organisation they may provide flexible services which may be needed by an organisation. The cost has direct relationship to the work commissioned, and the budget can be varied early year by year.

If the results are not satisfactory, the PR contract can easily be terminated by giving due notice.

Disadvantages of External PR Consultancy

While the external counsellor has several advantages, it has disadvantages as well. The disadvantages include:
Resentment by Internal Staff Most outside consultancies run the risk of internal opposition. These can range from non-acceptance to antagonism. The internal staffs see an external consultant as a threat and an indication that they are incompetent. The resentment may at times result in sabotage as his recommendations may be downplayed.
Lack of Information and Confidence The employees of a client are usually unwilling to share information, especially negative information with an outside PR consultant. This may reduce the effectiveness of the consultant. The outside consultant may only have a superficial understanding of the client’s problems or needs. This is in contrast to a deep, intimate and thorough grasp of the problems of the organisation which an insider possesses. The outsider may require detailed briefings at the outset and at every

development as he has no practical knowledge of the organisation’s policy or day to day activities. There may be lack of continuity in operations due to the high staff turnover typical of many PR consultancies. Queries from the press of any complexity have to be usually referred to the organisation. This hinders provision of speedy service to the press, and this can constitute a serious problem especially in crisis situations.

3.3 Budgeting in PR

Four basic elements constitute the PR budget, both from the points of view of the staff PRO and the outside consultant. They are labor, office overheads, materials and expenses.  Labour: This consists of salaries of other supporting staffs (secretarial, clerical and accountancy staff), fees to freelance, constancy and other outside staff.

Office overheads: These include rent, rates, light, telephone, office services, and client liaison.
Materials: All stationary, photograph, postage, print, visual aids, exhibition stands, films and other items. 

Expenses: All out-of-pocket expenses incurred by staff such as fares, hotel bills and entertainment of guests, including catering costs for functions and events.

The budget needs of PR will normally vary from one organisation to another depending on their need.
In the case of a consultant, he charges retainer fees in addition to meeting the above listed costs to meet up his profits.

4.0 CONCLUSION

Any organisation has choice of organizing its public relations activities, it may set up an internal public relations department or it may contract the activity to an independent outside consultancy. It may also combine the services of an internal department with an external consultant with an external consultant depending on need.

5.0 SUMMARY

In this unit, we have taken a close look at the functions of a public relations department, we also compared the advantage and advantages setting up an internal public relations department and hiring an external consultant.

6.0 TUTOR-MARKED ASSIGNMENT

A commercial organisation that does not have a public relations department has approached you for advice on running their public relations activities. Prepare a recommendation to them, highlighting the benefits and demerits of setting up an internal department to engaging an outside Consulting Agency. Give a brief rationale for the recommendations you have proposed.

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