Politics is the interactions between the governed and the governing. There is, of course, more than just the politics of government. While “office politics” and “family politics” are examples of the unique dynamics that exist within business and familial social environments, the unfathomably complex interactions of people within countless subcultures all have their own unique “politics.” Whether a politician, businessman, or community leader of any sort, the ability to navigate the politics of a community is essential, especially when interacting with multiple subcultures. Due to the complexity of politics, no one can perfect their statecraft, but what public figures can do is effectively communicate their views and intentions to the public in order to avoid costly and harmful interpretations. As such, all public figures need to practice and foster good “public relations” with members of the communities they serve.
Public relations, PR, is an attempt by individuals or organizations to shape how others perceive them and receive any message they have to deliver. Things like advertising, branding, and marketing are forms of promotional PR, but effective public relations requires more than the careful sculpting of a public image. It requires outreach, the ability to effectively communicate a message to a diverse audience, and the capacity to respond constructively to negative perceptions. A failure to properly frame announcements and explanations for questionable decisions can lead to a negative public perceptions, which can result in a loss of community support and/or create costly liabilities. Bad PR can also help prevent avoidable conflicts and headaches by defusing potential flash points and cultivating the trust needed to overcome critical problems.
Press releases, for example, are a basic form of republic relations. Because professional media outlets speak to entire communities and on behalf of communities, the message delivered to journalists matters greatly. Although newspapers and television stations cannot be expected to fully agree with the statements of individuals or organizations, press releases are proactive opportunities to offer a preferential perspective on developments. If journalists adopt unflattering views on individuals, organization, or developments, press releases provide opportunities to refute and defend oneself in the court of public opinion. Well-crafted press releases can both help promote an entity and blunt public backlash when issues arise. Beyond press releases, public outreach, such as public statements and customer service, is an even more proactive means to build a working relationship with the people of a community, but public relations requires more than an attractive message.
In politics, there is a tendency for political figures to try to be “politically correct.” In fact, there is a counter-PC movement that thoroughly rejects the need for any degree of civility. Although it has allowed select political figures to advance their careers on the frustrations of people who feel disenfranchised by the PC movement, it is making people associated with controversial figures toxic while creating potential public relations costs for those who do business with them. Where attempts to be PC make public figures look dishonest and undermine trust, the lack of civil discourse is cultivating political strife and dysfunctional government. There is, however, a difference between being politically correct and being diplomatic. Politically correct means telling people what you thing they want to hear; whereas, being diplomatic means telling people what they need to hear in a way that they will actually listen.
Just as in the politics of government, all practitioners of public relations need to be diplomatic. Good public relations require honest and clear communication. Although it is easier to simply say whatever it takes to appease people, that approach tends to result in a great deal of blow back, especially in an era of mass social media. Unfortunately, effective communication alone requires a great deal of proficiency in a number of skills while diplomacy is far tricky, especially when contentious politics is thrown into the mix. Bluntly stating one’s opinion to the Press or informing people of the “facts” is a great way to create a public relations nightmare. Diplomatic public relations requires well-considered statements and attempts to build common ground with an audience. No one is going to deliver the perfect message every time, but proficient PR professionals are able to foster a long-term relationship that helps cultivate a constructive relationship with the public.
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