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CHAPTER FOUR



Public Relations & The Media



[25]It is not unusual to talk with child
welfare professionals who are quick to acknowledge the value and importance of
public relations only to hear them go on to say something like, “We are
very proud of our letterhead, brochures, advertising, and speakers’ bureau. Our
public relations are important and we believe in doing it right.” They may
go on to talk about using mailing lists and personal visits to market their
services or special advertising campaigns to get the story out to potential
foster families. These are, of course, all very important activities but fall
far short of a well-considered public relations program.


     This
serious misunderstanding of public relations and its critical role in achieving
agency excellence is based on a confusion of terms. First, public relations is
not advertising, although advertising is usually an element in a successful
public relations program. Advertising is intended to call public attention to a
product, service, event, or opportunity. The public or a segment of the public
is made aware of whatever is being advertised with the goal of their buying the
product, using the service, attending the event, or taking advantage of the
opportunity. Most brochures, newspaper ads, TV and radio spots, many signs, and
some presentations to groups and organizations are advertising.


     Public
relations is not “public information” either, although effective
public information activities are critical to successful public relations. Many
agencies have a Public Information Officer (PIO) who is responsible for
informing the public. This function may include, for example, the development
of an informative brochure on an agency-related topic such as child abuse or
teenage sexuality. The goal is to inform the public or a segment of the public
about something of potential interest or importance to them. If successful,
they will be better informed. Most speakers’ bureau activities, radio and TV
interviews, calls from reporters, and contacts by community groups and
organizations are public information opportunities. Handling them well is
essential.


     Finally,
public relations is not marketing, although no agency, public or private, can
achieve excellence in today’s service environment without well-developed
marketing expertise. It helps to think of marketing taking place within a market.
In this sense, a market consists of those people (and organizations) who will
potentially do business with the agency, to the agency’s benefit. It also
consists of those people who may influence market participants to refrain from
doing business with the agency.


     For
example, one market might be potential customers and other providers of the
services the agency provides or wants to provide. Another market might be
potential foster parents and other agencies who are recruiting foster parents.
Potential employees and other employers are a significant market for most
agencies as is the resource market that includes government and private fund
sources and everyone else they may choose to fund with limited dollars.


     Even though the focus here is on public relations
and not specifically on marketing, it is nonetheless worthwhile to at least
remind you of the first law of marketing: Marketing Begins At Home. Be sure
that your agency’s marketing plan starts with keeping the staff you have, the
foster parents you have, the customers you have, and the resources you have.
Just remember that the marketing plans of other agencies have, as at least
their second strategy, taking them away from you. As you will see, successful
public relations likewise starts at home.





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