There is a major strategic role of Public Relations in an organization. Public Relations professionals may play a key role by gathering and interpreting information from inside and outside the organization and by presenting them as a strategy. On its basis the organization may adapt, change or initiate a dialogue so that it assures the continuity of maintaining the key stakeholders.
It was also demonstrated that the role of the experts in Public Relations varies according to the credit they are given within an organization. If they get a restriction to the role of tacticians, they will never come with the benefits that an organization may get from Public Relations – that is a deep knowledge of the key stakeholders’ attitude and behaviour, the management of problems and a proactive attitude towards a change environment. The variety of communication channels was very little discussed and the activity of Public Relations was considered in the context of the type of organization where it is placed.
It is generally accepted the opinion that good policies and external relations should have a solid basis on a good internal communication and those well-informed employees are more motivated. This reinforces the license of that organization that allows it to operate within the community – where a substantial number of employees are supposed to be living.
Working in the public sector is a challenge for Public Relations. As all the considerations that have to do with legality, ethics and technique, Public Relations in the public sector imply more stakeholders than in the private sector. They probably have some common features. A local council is often the greater employer in the community so the residents may be employed, may pay taxes and may be the addressees of a great variety of services starting with educating the children and ending with collecting the garbage. With public services such as the fire brigade, ambulance or police, the emotional level of their work is even more complicated because of the problems related to financing, national governing policies on which they have a limited control.
The supplementary complications in local administration also include the fact that the policy is established by the elected representatives, who operate on a basis set up by the political parties, while the clerks who carry out these policies cannot get involved, by law, in any political activity. Consultants, who may have been felt once that they were elected to act according to their conscience, are now required by the central administration to be more responsible with their stakeholders. Local administration had to move from the mentality of delivering services – telling the services’ addressees that what is offered is the only alternative – to an orientation towards the public customer, looking for the opinions of the users of services on what needed services and in which way.
Public institutions also changed the manner of delivering services and they re-organized, some of them deciding to deliver them locally, in order to improve the access, rather than force the users to come to a central office. The changes of provisions also needed changes in the staff’s abilities, from specialists to generalists – who should work in an office, facing more problems.
The objectives of Public Relations in Local Public Administration could be:
- To establish, maintain and project the character and identity of the authority / institution / organization;
- To create the understanding of an authority’s policies, procedures and activities, by keeping the customers as informed as possible;
- To answer, when necessary, to the critics;
- To establish and maintain effective channels of public communication and develop adequate techniques;
- To create and maintain within the authority the acknowledgement of the need of communication with various groups of customers and assure a sustained level of answering to the citizens-customers’ needs and opinions.
- To generally manage the authority’s function of Public Relations and to give advice on the implications of the authority’s policies and activities in Public Relations and on the formulation of Public Relations policies.
More and more local authorities use research to get the understanding of their customers. Research is a clear basis for the duties and the projects of future policies, as well as for measuring the level of satisfaction towards the already existent services.
Patrick Jackson identified six types of Public Relations campaign, being able to adapt (very well) to Public Administration:
- Public awareness;
- Public information and awareness;
- Public education;
- Reinforcement of attitudes and behaviour;
- Change of attitudes;
- Change of behaviour.
A Public Relations department that is well managed will gain respect in the internal environment and allies who will help it attain its objects. A department that is well seen from the outside will be consulted and treated with confidence, and it will be a gain for the organization.
Local authorities have the tendency of being passive and reactive in what Public Relations are concerned and this is the reason why they are often confronted with negative reports. Researches show that if the public knows more about local authorities and their activities, its opinion tends to be in their favour.
In the country people don’t know details about how Local Public Administration is organized – there is a cognitive deficit, thus. Institutions of Local Public Administration should suppose the public knows little about their structure and activity and they shouldn’t avoid giving basic information. The first priority in Local Public Administration communication should be keeping simplicity.
The basic public attitude towards many local authorities is a negative one. Local authorities can and should change public attitudes. Citizens, even the most sophisticated ones, define themselves as customers and consumers. This raises the pressure on the Public Relations departments, as they have to look and answer like commercial organizations.
For some local authorities information is still seen as a prize or a privilege to be guarded and kept at any cost instead of being spread and shared for everybody’s benefit. The strategic approach to communication requires the elected members and clerks a new attitude towards information.
By Raluca Filip