Posts tagged Public Relations

PR and Development: Let’s be friends

Thesis update: I just found out last week that I can’t publish any results of my thesis research on my blog if I want to be eligible for future publication in an academic journal. I was looking forward to sharing some of my insights but I guess I’ll have to hold off on that for a bit. What I can do is share some of my secondary research from my literature review and also talk about my process. This Friday I defend my thesis and find out whether or not my work is up to the Honors College standards. My fingers are crossed.


One thing I’ve drawn from my experiences writing my thesis and exploring career opportunities is the absolute inter-relatedness of public relations and development. Although scholars cite development as a function of public relations, it appears not to work out this way in many nonprofit organizations. Instead, public relations and development operations occur in separate departments. In fact, Kathleen Kelly, a highly-regarded researcher in the field, found that subordination of the public relations function by the development department occurred frequently in nonprofit organizations. In other words, development staff were controlling or influencing public relations activities, which could result in an unbalanced focus on donor relations at the expense of building relationships with other valuable stakeholder groups (i.e. clients/customers, legislators, community members, volunteer groups, etc.). Any way you look at it, public relations and development can’t exist exclusively of the other; they are bound to interact because both departments share (or should share) similar goals: building beneficial relationships with stakeholder groups through communication and behavior.

In my personal experience, my public relations education in the School of Journalism and Communication has been questioned or at least misunderstood by a few people in its applicability to development work. To me, it seems a perfect background to prepare me for development work, but others are confused: “Journalism? Don’t you want to work for a newspaper?” some people ask. But if journalism is essentially about communication, and communication is essential to successful relationship building, and relationship building is essential to successful public relations, and good public relations includes the function of development THEN it follows that a PR major is a great tool for going into development work.

Clearly, I’m starting to rant a bit but bear with.

In the end, what I mean to convey is that it’s all about relationships. Not just relationships between different operational tasks (like fund raising, donor relations, media outreach, etc.) but, perhaps more importantly, the relationships we cultivate between various communities. Successful development strategies MUST include relationship building in order to create long-term connections with people. Growing relationships between individuals – who have their own unique needs, desires, motivations, and interests – and organizations is incredibly valuable, nay, essential, to encouraging the sustainability and fruition of nonprofit (and for-profit, for that matter) organizations.

 Image courtesy of stock.xchng


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Brr! This PR blanket isn’t working

Using “PR” as a blanket term can be problematic for several reasons. Unfortunately, it seems like people either associate public relations with specific tactics such as press releases or they think of it as a means to attracting publicity (as in “publicity stunts”) and controlling reputation. Worst of all, public relations is sometimes vilified as “spinning” the news in order to protect client interests. 

Many leading thinkers in public relations research, however, define PR as “the management function that identifies, establishes, and maintains mutually beneficial relationships between an organization and the various publics on whom its success or failure depends” (Cutlip, Center, and Broom. Effective Public Relations. 1985). In other words, public relations is about managing relationships, not spitting out generic press releases or creatively explaining why a certain starlet was photographed sans undies.

With this definition of PR, it is easy to see how activities like fund-raising, maintaining a blog, hosting events, or publishing podcasts can all fit under the public relations blanket. Matthew Stibbe, editor in chief of Articulate Marketing, however, does not follow this definition of PR in his recent post “27 Proven Freelance Marketing Tips”on his blog, Bad Language. I was checking out this post in hopes of gaining some advice for marketing myself as a job candidate and potentially later if I start my own business. In his post, he argues that PR “doesn’t work,” along with fancy business cards, cold-calling, and mail shots. He lumps PR – a management function – in with specific tactics. I agree that business cards and brochures can not stand alone as a method of marketing your freelance business. But I found it interesting that Stibbe listed blogging and website maintenance as good techniques but clearly separate from PR. In my Advanced PR Writing class, blogging and social media was the focus of a significant assignment. Why? I think because they are great ways to manage relationships with stakeholders/publics (including potential clients).

In another post from his blog, Stibbe wrote that “PR stands for public relations but it could also stand for press relations.” I disagree, at least with the fact that press relations could explain the entirety of what public relations is. The press is a public and it also provides a vehicle through which messages to other publics can be disseminated. But I do not think that PR practitioners should limit themselves to media relations.

I did get some good advice from Stibbe – I think one of my favorites was number 14: “Your obvious is your talent.” Do what you’re best at and fill that niche rather than trying to wear 20 hats. Lately I’ve been looking at Preston Bailey – the It guy of fabulous wedding and event design (he blogs too!). He started in the event design industry as a floral couturier, but used his talents to build a reputation as one of the world’s leading event designers and a celebrity favorite. His work has inspired me to focus my interests and specific talents: style and design AND strategic, creative thinking and planning AND relationship building.

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Web 2.0 and Nonprofits


Jeff Brooks, creative director at Merkle, wrote in his Donor Power Blog recently about the “conversation” aspect of Web 2.0 as it relates to the world of nonprofits. He explained:

“It’s only a matter of time before nonprofits start getting the same treatment of being rated, commented on, and critiqued in public by donors…If you’re ready for this, it’ll be good. If not, ouch.”

Being relatively new to the concept of Web 2.0, I’m receptive to any good advice on how to realize the potential of the ever-evolving Internet in public relations and fundraising. At first, I was fairly reluctant to get into the world of blogging and social media. To be perfectly honest, I tend to be somewhat trend-averse when it comes to technology – I’m probably the only person left on the planet without an iPod. I shocked the AT&T salesman when I explained that I find texting less convenient than a real-time phone call. I own stationary – and I use it.

Needless to say, a year ago when my mother inquired as to what this “blogging” thing was and if I was doing it, I laughed. But, here I am. Why? Because despite my initial reluctance, I can no longer ignore the immense potential of online social media any more than I can pretend it’s a fleeting trend. If I can’t beat ’em, join ’em!

That said, back to Web 2.0 and nonprofits. Brooks is spot on in his observation about the inevitable conversation between donors and their recipients. Unfortunately, it seems that a lot of nonprofits, especially the smaller ones, suffer from lack of technical expertise, time, money, staff, or some combination of all of the above. In my personal experience, groups that I have worked with are often short-staffed, thinly-stretched, and struggling just to make ends meet and accomplish the mission. But this shouldn’t be an excuse to resist new technology. I would argue that making an effort to join the online conversation and interact on a more personal level with donors would benefit nonprofits and multiply their efforts many times over. Donors care about where their money goes; some also want a say (or the perception of say) about where their contribution goes. By engaging with donors, listening to their desires, and responding to their concerns, nonprofits can reap the rewards of Web 2.0. And for free! A fabulous opportunity for nonprofits, regardless of size, locale, budget, or net-saaviness. Hell, if I can do it, anyone can.  

Side note: I was happy to see that Amor Ministries, which organizes mission trips in Mexico to build homes for Mexican families, keeps up a blog on their website. The blog is written by organization founder Scott Congdon. This year marks my 8th annual trip to Mexico with Amor, so I’m happy to see this great nonprofit engaging in online social media.

“The Conversation” image courtesy of

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The Value of Planning in Public Relations

I wrote this as part of an assignment in my PR Planning and Problems course, taught by Tom Hagley at the University of Oregon. It was written partly in response to material from his book “Writing Winning Proposals: PR Cases.”

After I was exposed to the process and value of planning, it seemed completely obvious why planning is absolutely necessary in the practice of public relations. Without a plan, how would we know what to do? How would we know when to do it? And how, in the end, would we know that we did well? Without a plan wouldn’t we just be basing our entire operation on guesswork, hunches, assumptions, and improvisations? In retrospect I can say, without a doubt, “well duh!”
So why the stress on planning and the constant reiteration of the importance of creating a plan based on solid research, a firm understanding of the client and situation, and comprising necessary elements like budget, timeline, objectives, and goal? Let me ask this: How often do we do things in life without a plan? Probably very frequently. We don’t formally write up our career goals complete with timeline, analysis of our current situation, and measurable objectives. Nor do we do the same for vacations, shopping trips, or educational courses. Each of these activities might have some form of planning; we might bring a list to the store with measurable objectives like “get eggs,” or we might plan a budget for a vacation. But for many of us we fly by the seat of our pants, relying on our brain to keep us on track and our feelings to tell us whether or not we’re successful at the end. This is all well and good – I’m not advocating writing up a complex plan every time we dash out to the grocery store. But relying on our private, spontaneous brilliance alone does not prepare us to successfully complete a public relations campaign. The client needs to be assured that we fully comprehend the situation. We need to be assured that we understand the situation. We also need guidelines to stay on track and evaluate our progress along the way. Planning forms a foundation to any public relations work, just like it forms a foundation to nearly everything we do in life (we don’t simply find ourselves in Australia, wondering how we got there). The key difference is the necessity of formal, focused planning in public relations practice to ensure the goals of the client (and firm) are not only mutually understood but also achieved.

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