OPINION: Need for more practical skills

The debate on whether public relations is an art or a science is rumbling ever louder.

Is the natural gift of the gab all that is needed, or do today’s practitioners need to have a firm grounding in planning and comms theory?

I have just completed a project as part of the CIPR’s Diploma in Public Relations, where we had to put together a public relations campaign for an imaginary council to tackle concerns over racism in the community. This is a weighty issue currently troubling many local authority PROs. 

To ensure our campaigns were anchored firmly in reality, we had to research population, employ­ment and other social trends of actual towns, then use this information to base our campaigns on. 

We then had to demonstrate how we had used a combination of strategic planning and commu­ni­cations theory to put together our campaign – aimed at improving community relations.

This involved a detailed analysis of the problem, identifying clear objectives and the audiences to be reached, and ensuring that we had the necessary evaluation processes in place to monitor progress and see if any tactical changes were needed.

In any campaign where the aim is to deliver long-term attitudinal change, whether its towards racism or simply encouraging people to recycle their waste, it is critical to have a detailed plan based on firm analysis.

After you have that framework in place – in terms of knowing exactly what you want to achieve and how – then you can let your creativity loose to come up with the punchy campaign messages and imaginative events.  

But there is still a tendency in public relations to do too much of the latter and not enough of the former.  And, by then,using vague evaluation, not really be clear about whether the original goal has been achieved.

There is rightly increasing pressure on PROs to demonstrate how their proposals deliver real change and value for money. That’s something that talk cannot deliver – only hard facts can.

This particular assignment is now complete, to the relief of everyone. But I hope that, like me, Diploma students will be actively applying their planning and communications tools to address the practical issues they are tackling in their daily lives.

Duncan Stroud is group manager, marketing and comms, London Borough of Barking & Dagenham

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