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Public relations as an industry involve communication, affiliation, strategy, messages and overlaps with the advertising field (Bergstrom, 2017). It is an art, a science and a business. PR is viewed as a management function where the specialist serves as a middleman between an organization and its constituents. PR functions involve gathering facts by systematically investigating all stakeholders through information got from them, advising the management regarding public attitudes and responses, formulating policies and programs that sufficiently address their needs, and thoroughly evaluating the efficiency of all PR programs (Bergstrom, 2017). Further, public relations practitioners perform the role of representation, negotiating, and peacemaking on behalf of their organizations, intelligence gathering, and environmental scanning in the set up where their organizations operate (Pėtersone, 2013). As a tool, PR can be exploited to change opinions, to affect patterns of behavior, and to market goods and services to consumers, etc.
This study aims to research the history of the public relations industry and to examine the effects of government regulations, the internet, and the international community on the industry. Further, the study looks at the job of a press secretary as a profession within the PR industry. The paper is divided into four sections. The first part gives a brief preamble of the topic under study and a concise outline of what is presented within. The second section delves into the history of PR and the influence of the government, the internet, and globalization on it. In the third section, a thorough analysis of a press secretary career is made while conclusions are drawn in the last part.
The PR Industry
Public relations was conceived the moment the first structured society saw the need to communicate with people and has been around from the beginning of civilization (Rittenhofer & Valentini, 2015). The development of modern public relations as an industry and management function occurred alongside the growth of the advertising industry. The contemporary practice originated in the U.S. The more the societies became further sophisticated and multifaceted, the more complicated the interplay of relationships became. The provision of information to elicit the desired change has been in evidence for many years and was further promoted by developments in print and mass media, which provided additional communication channels and routes to target audiences (Pėtersone, 2013). Currently, the industry comprises companies that design and enact PR campaigns; provide lobbying and political consulting services. Renowned companies include Interpublic, WPP, Omnicom, and independent firms such as Edelman (US) and Brunswick (UK) (Stateman, 2014). The global PR industry generates over $14 billion in yearly revenue. Comparatively, the U.S. PR industry with about 8300 units generates about $11 billion (Stateman, 2014).
The duration of political, social, and economic distress precipitated faster developments in PR practice and global adoption of its techniques (High, 2017). The dynamics in a political environment pressed governments to privatize publicly owned utilities and industries, encouraged entrepreneurship, and led to a decline in manufacturing, but a proliferation of the service industry (High, 2017). Concomitantly, there was a greater need for inter-business public relations to explain emerging events and give companies a competitive advantage. Company and financial public relations became an essential part of the communication strategy for most successful firms.
Governments have used PR to influence change in behavior by communicating new policies relating to health, education, and staff recruitment campaigns (High, 2017). Government regulations regarding PR practice are aimed at protecting individuals against violation of their right to privacy, intellectual property rights, deceptive advertising and, to shield people from defamation.
The invention of internet technology had a significant impact on PR. Now, the public relations practice is flexing its media muscles and encroaching into domains previously monopolized by broadcasters, advertising agencies, and publishers (Kaul, 2013). As such, PR has circumvented the traditional media it once relied upon to disseminate information to a mass audience (Kaul, 2013). The trend is that each business has a news portal of its own, conveying its message through websites, video, branded entertainment, iPad, and mobile applications (Kaul, 2013).
Technological advancement has enabled the rapid transfer of news from one place to another. With the internet, one can take a piece of information and e-mail it to another person, campaign headquarters, etc., in an instant. That was something unimaginable some decades ago. The significant change has been the speed at which information travels, and the anticipation that the relevant authorities are going to react to it rapidly (Stateman, 2014). Because of the internet, many organizations network and communicate with audiences internationally to build relationships. Commerce, foreign investment, global campaigns, political alignments, information flow, social networking have heightened the intricacy of these relationships (Stateman, 2014).
The internet offers new opportunities for PR experts to develop comprehensive approaches to monitoring and managing extensive communication milieu (Kaul, 2013). Similarly, the PR practitioners have become e-communicators, managers of online strategic relationships, and stewards of the content of the internet (Kaul, 2013). However, the communication revolution has also brought with it new challenges and the need for new skills for PR professionals. Occasionally, the improper use of the internet has resulted in crisis management. Advanced telecommunication that propagates news and information worldwide means that audiences today are global. This scenario calls upon the public relations specialists to be creative to keep abreast of the new media and utilize them for persuasive purposes. Internet and social media use the result in some loss of human or interpersonal connection. Therefore, some experts use it not as a framework for effectively engaging PR constituents, but as a substitute channel of communication.
Internationalization or globalization, alongside with its cultural diversity and complexity has impacted on public relations. Culture is a vital aspect to contemplate when examining PR in the domestic and international context and is the power that sways how firms initiate and manage relationships with the local and global publics (Rittenhofer & Valentini, 2015). It affects how the public responds to PR initiatives and excellence. PR firms have a complex task of understanding the cultural context of various target groups found in society. Also, the firms have to foretell the groups’ communicative behaviors. Consequently, before venturing into practice in different grounds, organizations may be forced to mimic a variety of their environment, or fully familiarize with all aspects of countries’ culture (Rittenhofer & Valentini, 2015).
Public relations agencies with international operations encounter a host of risks in foreign markets. Local regulations and foreign exchange fluctuations can adversely affect advertising operations (Rittenhofer & Valentini, 2015). Similarly, such agencies are forced to use several languages when designing campaigns as a strategy to address cultural differences. Other challenges faced, especially in emerging markets include poverty, corruption, and a volatile political environment. For large PR firms, where global operations generate a significant amount of revenue, shrewd management of global risk is essential (Rittenhofer & Valentini, 2015). The global PR market has segmented growth patterns with some regions experiencing a high development rate than others (Bergstrom, 2017). The European market has recently come from the doldrums. Likewise, Asia and Latin American firms are expanding due to an increase in local demand for these services. For instance, because of the widespread adoption of mobile devices in China, there is a rapid growth of demand for PR services related to mobile-accessed online content (Bergstrom, 2017).
The Press Secretary
Traditionally, few offices appointed an individual as responsible for relations with the press. However, not openly listing such staff does not imply that no one in the office performed that duty. Before the reform period, administrative secretaries used to handle matters of the press within the office (High, 2017). Officially recognizing the job of press secretary was beneficial as it was considered as an essential indicator of the institutionalization of the role, and helped to systematize administrators’ relationship with the media (High, 2017). In essence, it shifted the production of news from an asymmetrical, informal flow to a more stable, regulated process.
The press Secretary profession falls under a broader career group of public relations experts who engage in promoting or portraying an intended public image for persons, groups, or organizations (High, 2017). Usually, they write or choose the information for release to different communications media. Press secretaries liaise between the government, the public, and the media. Often, they are not part of a large team but work singly as a one-person shop. There is a press secretary for a town mayor, a county commissioner, a governor, a member of Congress, and for the president. In the U.S., presidential press secretary has been the most popular. The first role of the presidential press secretary was played by John G. Nicolay as President Abraham Lincoln’s secretary (High, 2017). Nicolay was a newspaper editor from Illinois (High, 2017). The job of a presidential press secretary has evolved with time. Currently, he is viewed as an individual whose role is to act as spokesperson for the president and his administration, holds daily briefings, and answers questions relating to the running of the government. The spokesperson is an appointee of the president and doesn’t have to win the approval of the Congress.
Several factors determine the success of a press secretary. First, how important is the press secretary for the administration. Usually, administration staff may be considered as “insiders” or “outsiders” depending on whether the top management seeks their opinion frequently or gives them duties on a wide variety of subjects (High, 2017). A good rapport between the administration and the press secretary is entirely necessary since reporters’ future dealings with the spokesperson depend on this relationship. A press secretary who can and is permitted to advise on both communication and policy matters is a vital instrument for the administration.
The second factor is how the firm permits the press secretary to disseminate information, i.e., does the management impose tight controls over what the press secretaries are allowed to say or does it allow the spokesperson to interpret, elaborate, and expound on the organization’s thoughts (High, 2017)? For the PR to be successful, they should act as representatives and not just mouthpieces of the top management. However, this comes with some risks since the added insights into the executive’s thoughts may be misrepresented by the media. Thirdly, for the press secretaries to dispense their roles successfully, they ought to be accorded due respect by the administration. The top officials should allow the PR the leeway to adequately fulfill the obligations of that post and not act in a way that portrays the administration’s lack of confidence in them (High, 2017). Lastly, for the press secretaries to succeed, they must gain the respect of the media. However, that is incumbent upon the press secretary’s knowledge, organization, and credibility. Reporters will value the information given by a PR that they trust.
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In the amateur days, PR was learned during practice. Most experts had to maneuver their way through the ranks. However, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, professional qualifications became available to boost the status of the specialists and the reputation of the industry (High, 2017). To work as a press secretary, one should have studied any of the courses related to communication. These include health communication, family, and consumer science communication, international and intercultural communication, political communication, Image management, public relations, advertising, and applied communication, sports dialogue, and speech communication, and rhetoric (Rittenhofer & Valentini, 2015).
The job requires one to have appropriate skills: eloquence, active listening, excellent written communication, social perceptiveness, coordination, and time management. Other are persuasiveness, critical thinking, complex problem solving, judgment and decision making, negotiation, active learning, service orientation, system analysis and evaluation, monitoring or performance assessment, etc., (Rittenhofer & Valentini, 2015). Also, one is required to have excellent knowledge of the English language, communication and media, sales and marketing, consumer and personal service, administration and management, human resources, sociology and anthropology, education and training, economics and accounting, clerical, and law and government (Rittenhofer & Valentini, 2015).
To ascend and work as a White House press secretary, one requires some political experience. Working as a PR for low cadre officials, and in the local, the state or the national political campaigns help. Two or more years of experience in print or broadcast journalism, communications office, and other experiences customized for specific positions are essential requirements (Bergstrom, 2017). For instance, for a press secretary destined to work at the Senate level, a legislative experience would be desirable. Such a person would be apt if he or she has knowledge of the government, public policy, and is up to date with current affairs. For a college student, an internship in a government agency, a newspaper, radio, television, or with an elected official would be beneficial.
According to the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of February 2018, the U.S. had over 226,940 citizens working as press secretaries (Bergstrom, 2017). Their median yearly wage was $67,979, while the average hourly wage was $31.99. The net salary ranged from $36,967 – $126,920, a bonus ranging from $15 – 25,037, profit sharing of $0.29 – $ 20729, a commission of $2000 (Bergstrom, 2017). The total salary range was $35,411 – $132794. These salaries and benefits span a wide margin and depend on whether one is working with the federal or local government or is in the private sector employed by large organizations such as Airbnb (Bergstrom, 2017). Obviously, the private sector offers the best remuneration.
The websites and trade publications that provide information on the field of the press secretary and on which they too rely on for vital statistics are similar to those of the general PR industry. Some industry websites include the American Marketing Association, Adweek, Canadian Council of Public relations Firms, PR week, Institute for Public Relations, Canadian Public Relations Society, Council of Public Relations Firms, O’Dwyer’s PR Market Place, Public Relations Society of America, and the Ragan Report (Bergstrom, 2017). The sites provide news, and information on mergers, campaign models, policy, accreditation, analyses, training, publications, and research.
The society -whether it is the government, voluntary organizations, the public, companies, or businesses – will continue to operate and to rely upon public relations for information. Technology and the way firms communicate with their prospective audience are factors that change. The ever-present changes in technology and information transfer channels produce a range of future opportunities and challenges for PR professionals. The number of people contesting for public attention has increased. Concomitantly, the number of PR experts has also increased. The marketplace is more crowded and has many products and ideas. The internet and social media have diversified ways through which people get their information, a situation that has created fierce competition for PR. However, the same technology has created new platforms for reaching the public. One cannot imagine what opportunities technology will avail to PR in the coming days.
Therefore, PR practitioners should not lag behind in embracing developments in the media world. For the PR experts to be successful in the future corporate and political world, they will not need any particular recipe but will have to rely on good interpersonal relations to connect, understand, and attract people. There is no substitute for that skill. That innate skill helps the PR to present information to the people in a manner which enables them to develop an emotional attachment. With it, PR can understand where the public is. The growing technology could result in a reduction in the number of those employed in PR. However, the ever-increasing global importance of PR could result in the opposite effect of increasing the number of PR professionals hired.
Bergstrom, G. (2017). Press secretary job profile: Salaries, job duties and how to get started. Web.
High, S. (2017). The role and history of the White House press secretary. Web.
Kaul, V. (2013). Plugging in: New PR technologies. SCMS Journal of Indian Management, 10(1), 33-53. Web.
Pėtersone, B. (2013). The role of public relations in foreign policy planning and execution. Journal of Communication Management, 17(4), 308-323. Web.
Rittenhofer, I., & Valentini, C. (2015). Euprera conference paper 2013 A “practice turn” for global public relations: an alternative approach. Journal of Communication Management, 19(1), 2-19. Web.
Stateman, A. (2014). Journey into the whirlwind: Dee Dee Myers on politics, PR and presidential elections. Public Relations Tactics, 11(7), 36-37. Web.