Functions Of Public Relations Practice In Government
Public Relations (PR) refers to the planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain goodwill and mutual understanding between an organisation and its publics. It entails building sustainable relationships between an organisation and all its publics in order to create a positive brand image. Public Relations practice has become an essential part of today’s life, and has settled down to making an important contribution to government ministries and departments, industries, communities, and many other fields. According to Cutlip (2006) Governments are supposed to provide services that are impractical for individuals to provide, such as law enforcement and fire protection, wildlife preservation, national defence, public transportation systems, justice systems, social programs, and national museums. The problems of society increasingly strain the machinery of government. Public relations in both local and national governments should not be political. This is because a government public relations is to promote democracy through full information and not to advance the policy of any political party. The purpose of Public Relations practice in government is to establish a two-way communication method used to resolve conflicts of interests. This can be done through seeking areas of mutual interest, and to establish understanding based on truth, knowledge and full information. The amount of activity to promote good Public Relations may differ considerably depending on the size and nature of the interested parties. The strategy and the methods will however be very similar whether the Public Relations strategies influences international understanding or to improve relations between a company and its customers, agents and employees.
The most basic function of government Public Relations is to contribute to the definition and achievement of government strategic goals, enhance government responsiveness and service, and to provide the public with enough information concerning the government’s activities. According to Cutlip (2006) the government becomes more complex and ubiquitous, the challenge of maintaining citizen participation and ensuring that government is responsive to the needs of the society becomes more difficult. Elected officials often claim credit for their election on their ability to maintain a strong relationship with their subjects. However, because of the complexity of the job, most of that responsibility falls on government Public Relations officials. The belief by most people that government communication is 'propaganda' is a great challenge to government public relations. Rumors about Public Relations in government is greatest when associated with politicians. Within an environment of skepticism, many view communication from elected officials as mere propaganda. Since the main aim of propaganda is influencing people by spreading information which may be false or exaggerated, it gives no regard to public opinion and seeks to serve personal interests. Public Relations, however, recognizes a long-term responsibility and aims at persuading and achieving mutual understanding by safeguarding the will of acceptance of ideas. It can succeed only when the basic policy is ethical and the means used are truthful. In Public Relations the deontological theory of ethical communication, is most preferred as the end can never justify the use of false means. Key roles of public relations in the government
According to Mordecai and Grant (The practice of Government public relations) the key roles of PR are divided into the following categories;
1. Media relations Government managers are public servants. They are accountable to the public, not quite like elected officials, but accountable nonetheless. One way that this accountability is operationalized is by the obligation of public administrators to work transparently, including the duty to respond to media questions, inquiries, and requests. “No comment” is not an acceptable answer from a civil servant whose salary is being paid by the taxpayers. Government–media relations tend to be stormy. Besides a built-in skepticism about “official sources” that is part of journalistic culture, there are several factors that specifically contribute to the difficulty of a public administrator having consistently good relations with the media.
These factors include the following:
- The negative image of the bureaucrat in pop culture and public opinion
- The profit-making motives of the media
- The entertainment motives of the media
- The increasing competitiveness of old media versus new
- The fact that government agencies tend to generate inherently nonvisual and not dramatic news that is often unattractive to the news media.
2. Public reporting By cooperating with the news media, a public servant is being held accountable to the citizenry indirectly through news coverage. However, the democratic obligation of public accountability should also be operationalized by directly informing the public at large. This is called public reporting. The purpose of public reporting is a generalized duty of the public administrator to convey information to the public on the agency’s stewardship of its mission and its use of taxpayer funds.
4. Responsiveness to the public (as customers and clients) Responsiveness also belongs in the category of a public relations tool that can improve the pursuit of the agency’s policy mission, the doing of public administration. For example, some governmental units have an ombudsman. This office is usually tasked with the duty to investigate complaints from clients and customers and then to correct authentic mistakes. This has the purpose of improving service delivery to enhance the central work of the agency, in contradistinction to the preceding purpose when responsiveness to public opinion was one way that public relations improves democracy in government.
5. Increasing the utilization of services and products While the term public relations is usually viewed negatively by politicians, outreach has, been warmly embraced for public awareness. Elected officials expect government agencies to engage in outreach with their stakeholders and to make the public aware of important information. Not doing so reduces the essence of government in a democracy. The acceptability of outreach as a politically safe nomenclature for public administrators engaging in public relations can unintentionally obscure the important tangible meaning of the term. Government agencies can do a better job by reaching out to the people who need to be communicated with. This is not only a good thing, but central to the success of the agency. Doing outreach is doing public administration. Part of public administration is to engage in outreach that informs potential customers and clients of services that they may be able to use. One must engage in multiple communication activities that are likely to reach the demographic you are seeking. People must know about your program if you want them to use it.
6. Public education and public service campaigns By using paid and free media coverage, an agency can accomplish its mission and reduce its expenditures by encouraging behavior that has broad social approval and reflects widely held values. These are sometimes called public service campaigns. E. g using seat belts to save lives government agencies are reaching out to the public as a way of accomplishing their public policy goals. In these instances, there are more service-intensive and expensive ways to pursue those objectives, such as more law enforcement officers focusing on seat belt violations.
7. Seeking voluntary public compliance with laws and regulations Agencies can reduce their regulatory costs by engaging in public relations to encourage voluntary compliance with the new laws, regulations, and programs they have been assigned to enforce. This is a cost-effective approach to the implementation phase of the policy process.
8. Using the public as the eyes and ears of an agency Government agencies can encourage citizens to serve as their eyes and ears, thus reducing the need for staffing. The key to the success of this function is that citizens are familiar with their potential role as an extension of the agency, an awareness accomplished through public relations.
Major challenges Facing PR in Government
According to a research done by Milton Omondi on public relations practice in Kenya, The challenges facing PR practice in government are varied. These include low staffing levels, financial constraints, and late release of funds for various activities, inadequate equipment like cameras, computers, and standby vehicles. PR practice in government ministries is also challenged by the lack of a national communication policy framework, and lukewarm support of and poor understanding of the role of PR by top management/departmental heads. The belittling and usurping of PR functions by officers from other departments especially administration and finance in coordinating of printing of newsletters and other materials for financial gain, is another challenge PR practice is faced with in government ministries and departments. Inadequate office space, demoralization of PROs due to their lowly job groups compared to officers from other departments, lack of properly defined roles of PROs, lowly placement of PR in the management hierarchy, and too much bureaucracy that delay service delivery are other constraints faced by PR practitioners in government ministries and departments. Other challenges include heavy workload without commensurate remuneration, unsuitable location of PR offices and scattering of relevant offices a situation that compromises communication efficiency.
Public Relations Techniques
The most commonly used PR techniques by PR practitioners in government ministries and departments include exhibitions, interviews, speeches, fliers, brochures, newsletters, press releases, posters, website, radio and TV.
Ways of Improving PR Practice in Government
According to the research done by Milton Omondi, PR practice in government ministries and department to improve, several measures should be undertaken. Among these measures include the provision of adequate office space and conducive work environment for PROs. Making PROs spokesmen of their respective ministries would raise their profile, boost their morale and hence improve their performance. The officers should be upgraded to higher job groups, services outsourced where necessary (events management, design, advertising), and senior managers sensitized on the importance of PR. providing enough funding/budgetary support and equipment. continuous training of staff, incorporating them into key decision making organs. Also formulation of a National Communication Policy to standardize and professionalize PR practice as key in the improvement of PR practice in their ministries and departments.
In conclusion, public relations practice is essential in all government agencies as they play a critical role in ensuring the success of any government programme or policy. Top government officials should therefore give more attention to government Pr practioners and reward them for the difficult task.
- Cutlip, S. M. , Center, A. H. , & Broom, GM. (2000). Effective Public Relations (8th ed. ) Prentice Hall: New Jersey communication. go. ke kenyanewsagency. go. ke Ombara, M. (2001)
- Public Relations in Government: A guide book. Nairobi: Department of Information Makali, D. (2004).
- Media Law and Practice: The Kenya Jurisprudence. Nairobi: Media Institute Mbeke, P. O. (2008).
- The Status of Public Relations in Kenya. In S. Krishnamurthy & V. Dejan (Eds), The Global Public Relations Handbook. Retrieved 28/10/2011 from http://www. akademika. no/global-public-relations-handbook Motdecai and Grant (2012).
- The practice of government public relations. 6000 Broken Sound Parkway NW, Suite 300 Boca Raton, FL 33487-2742