A Century of Meditations on Public Relations

Following Are 100 Observations That Quarry Operations Can Consider and Utilize.

By Thomas J. Roach

The first public relations practitioners were rhetoricians in ancient Greece and Rome. Public relations became a profession with the advent of mass media in the early 20th century and changed dramatically after the creation of the World Wide Web. Following are 100 observations from the first 100 years of the profession that quarry operations can consider and utilize in community relations efforts.

An Overview of Public Relations

1. Communication is dangerous, constructive and salvific. Knowing how to interpret and use communication is as much a requirement for success in our careers as it is for happiness in our homes.

2. While every professional needs to be an expert communicator, those of us in public relations fields need to be more expert. We have to divorce ourselves from our cathartic impulses and choose words and arguments that produce the most desired result. The study of communication begins with classical rhetoric and its focus on effect.

3. In addition to knowing how to use language, business communicators also need to understand the processes that govern communication media. Print journalists, broadcasters, bloggers, social media providers, everyone who controls a channel of communication has a process that must be navigated to gain access. Professional communicators need to be as familiar with the processes of access as they are with the rhetorical arts they use to develop their messages.

4. If an issue is in public debate, it is because it is debatable. Since there are no absolute proofs for debatable topics, the reputation, mainly the trustworthiness, of the speaker is more important than the argument.

5. A reputation for trustworthiness is established over time and it can be lost in a minute.

6. Marketing, advertising and employee communication are subcategories under what we usually call public relations.

7. Public relations staffs may be smaller and may have less of a budget than other communication operations, but public relations maintains reputation and that requires oversight of communication to all publics.

8. Organizations need to manage their reputation with four categories of publics: employees, customers, the community in which they do business and shareholders or donors.

Legal and Social Constraints

9. Public relations has a paradoxical relationship with law. Professional communication is bounded by legal parameters, but law is established through communication. When laws restrict free speech, public relations necessarily operates outside the law.

10. The freedom to make issues public, publicity, is a prerequisite of democracy. If the public is not aware of issues, their right to deliberate and decide is worthless.

11. Political correctness is a bad term for a good cause. Words can do harm; anyone in a leadership position should understand that and communicate with care.

12. There are no secrets in the digital age. Secrets won’t remain under a hat, they don’t stay in Vegas and they go to the grave with no one. In the digital world, nothing can be kept behind closed doors because there are no doors. Professional communicators need to understand that every utterance is potentially a public utterance.

Professionalism and Public Relations Practice

13. Professional communicators have three areas of expertise: public opinion research, rhetoric and communication technology.

14. Public relations practitioners, like doctors and lawyers, have unique skills and a need for ethical standards, but the right of free speech prohibits them from policing their ranks. Professional communicators cannot establish group standards for skills and ethics and bar those who are not qualified.

15. Communicators distinguish themselves as professionals by establishing individual reputations based on years of high-quality service and unvarying ethical standards.

16. Ethics are determined by what people do, not by what they say they do.

17. All practitioners of public relations will claim to have ethical standards; the professionals are the ones who live by them.

18. All professional planning and communication reflect a cyclical process of feedback and adjustment. Just as adaptation facilitates biological survival, the feedback-adjustment process propels the activities of professional communicators.

19. The professional communicator is not an expert who knows what to say; rather, he or she is an expert in discovering what to say.

20. Communication practice falls into four categories: technician, facilitator, expert communicator and consultant. Technicians write news releases and speeches, facilitators arrange processes to help others communicate, expert communicators are company spokespersons and consultants advise business leaders on how to manage corporate culture.

Survival of the Fittest

21. Every organization is part of a system with three components: the organization, its publics and its goals.

22. The ultimate organizational goal is survival.

23. Customers, employees and neighbors constitute a social environment. Like the physical environment, this social environment changes continually.

24. Organizations that adjust to the social changes prosper and survive; organizations that do not lose money and fail.

25. When organizations adjust, they have to make only adjustments that are consistent with their identity and goals. To over adjust is as fatal as not adjusting at all.

26. The public is a reification. We deal with publics. Awareness of the mosaic of publics helps prevent over emphasizing one public at the expense of the others.

27. Every mission statement should do two things: define the organization and set the organization’s long-range goals. The longest-range goal is always unspoken; it is to survive.

28. An organization that steers wisely between change pressures from the environment of publics and the demands of its mission statement achieves consensus and avoids crisis.

Internal Communication

29. A hierarchy of business cultures is represented by how companies handle communication. Worst-case scenario cultures limit communication to giving orders and penalizing employees who talk back or ask questions. At the next level are companies that ask for feedback but don’t act on it. Then there are companies that encourage feedback and act on it with media. At the highest level are companies who manage culture through communication processes. Everything from the hiring process to employee review to the company picnic is infused with two-way communication. Their employees are kept informed and are empowered to speak up and take action.

30. Treat the employee the way you want the employee to treat the customer.

31. The most important communicator in every company is the manager. Managers have the responsibility of selecting, directing, supporting and rewarding employees who provide products and services that satisfy customers.

32. Successful companies have happy customers, happy customers receive quality products and services from motivated employees and motivated employees receive support and recognition from their managers.

33. Managers are leaders. A good leader deserves credit, but never seeks it. When leadership is performed well, we do not notice it. And when leadership is most successful, it is no longer needed.

34. Giving orders is not a skill, it is a bad habit. Managers need to identify the right person for the job, ask questions, set guidelines and provide reward and recognition.

35. Good employees work smarter and harder if they help create plans and are allowed to make choices to implement them. The key management skill is managing to get out of their way.

36. The best reward and recognition is a genuine, immediate response to a deserving effort. It is the thanks and the handshake you get for helping someone with a flat; it is the nod you get after you support someone’s argument at a meeting and it is the mention of your name when a successful project is reported.

37. Differences between business cultures are not dictated by employee handbooks. Culture is engendered through behaviors observed, evaluated and reproduced through informal interaction, often through gossip.

38. The grapevine preserves normal human communication in the twenty-first century workplace. It carries stories that teach us what is praiseworthy, foolish and profane. Without the grapevine our interaction with other employees would be limited to email, newsletters, training videos, PowerPoint presentations and small talk.

39. The phrase malicious gossip is not redundant. Malicious gossip that pries into personal, non-work-related issues is bad and should be avoided; talking about what we do on the job is normal and should be encouraged.

40. Goal setting, planning, evaluation, project coordination, even some reward and recognition are preferably communicated through formal channels. And formal communication is almost always preferable when specific information needs to be transmitted without error.

41. Communication is time sensitive. Major announcements should come through formal channels. The grapevine produces a necessary and inevitable reaction. When announcements are held back, speculation occurs in the grapevine and misinformation spreads.

42. Abundant, timely communication has an immediate, practical impact. Employees with up-to-date information about procedures, the market and corporate goals will make better decisions and provide better service than employees who lack these intellectual resources.

43. In a competitive market, the company that best services the information needs of its employees best services the needs of its customers.

44. It is better to communicate bad news promptly than to hold back or obfuscate it. The integrity of communication from management is more important than the impact of what is being communicated. Employees need to be able to trust management, particularly in times of change.

Internal Communication Processes

45. You cannot sit people around a table and expect enlightenment. Meetings are only productive if the right people are talking about a meaningful topic in an atmosphere that facilitates open discussion and consensus formation.

46. Managers lead best when they share their authority. When conducting meetings, they should ensure that issues are probed from different perspectives, that ideas are tested in debate and that decisions are supported by conviction.

47. Private discussions before a meeting are helpful for everyone. If a subordinate disagrees with a supervisor, it is possible to exercise the disagreement privately in a strenuous way that might seem disrespectful if it were done at a meeting.

48. Technology facilitates and economizes communication, but it rarely improves it.

49. The greater the p factor, the smaller the e factor; the more people (p) your message reaches, the less effective (e) it will be. In order for a message to be appealing to a large audience, it has to address only those characteristics and preferences that are shared by the entire audience. The broader the audience, the smaller the pool of salient information.

50. No management responsibility has a greater impact than hiring. The few hours spent preparing for and conducting job interviews will result in a new hire who may be with the organization 40 hours a week for 20 years. If it is a good hire, the return on investment is incalculable. If it is a bad hire, the damage may also be incalculable.

51. Hiring is a communication process and it should be participative. A coworker committee can screen candidates, conduct interviews and send the two best applicants to the supervisor. The supervisor can interview the two finalists and decide who to hire.

52. Managers should meet with employees for an informal monthly review. The agenda for the meeting can be four pages of bullet points generated by the employee. The first page is accomplishments from the previous month, the second, a list of tasks for the current month and the third and fourth are lists of tasks for the next two months. The first page insures that positive and negative feedback are exchanged and the last three allow the supervisor and subordinate to shuffle and eliminate tasks in light of changes in the organization.

53. Communication behavior is learned from the top down. The senior executive is the role model for everyone.

54. A true open-door policy allows any employee to communicate with any other employee about any business issue at any time.

55. The result of a good open-door policy is management at all levels becoming more accountable as their decisions become open to scrutiny.

56. Most open-door policies actually inhibit communication. They insist on meetings and notifications linked to the chain of command and make it difficult and perilous for an employee to communicate outside the parameters of the workgroup.

External Communication

57. Never lie to or try to mislead the news media and the public. Honesty is the first principle of a good reputation.

58. The public relations practitioner may argue the company’s position but, in the case of a company problem, should admit guilt rather than tarnish its reputation with deception.

59. In a physical crisis, the public relations professional develops and implements the communication processes required to orchestrate evacuations and relocations and to anticipate a time, location and an agenda for addressing news media.

60. In a crisis of reputation, almost everything falls under the domain of public relations professionals. They assess the problem, project possible outcomes and plan and implement processes to address and mitigate the issue. This includes developing a message strategy, holding media conferences, prepping executives to address the media and monitoring and adjusting to public feedback.

61. In the power relationship between the reporter and the company spokesperson, it is the spokesperson who has the advantage.

62. Reporters have little choice over what they write about, how they research it, or how it is organized. They are as bound to procedure as any research scientist, financial auditor, or safety engineer.

63. A public relations professional familiar with the journalistic process can predict when the phone will ring, what questions will be asked and how the story will be written.

64. Professional communicators must consider the phenomenon of social media. Internet forums, social blogs, forwarded email, Facebook, Flicker, Twitter and LinkedIn are creating a nether-zone between formal and informal communication. Anyone with the job of getting information to the public has to know how to use all of them.

65. Dealing with bloggers is different than dealing with journalists. You will not get a call asking for the company’s side of the story. They are not likely to print retractions if they get their facts wrong. And they will ignore you if you tell them their information was colored by opinion.

66. Making any statement to a blogger is risky. Reporters have rules about on and off the record comments, verifying quotes and not taking things out of context. Bloggers have no rules. The only sure thing about talking to a blogger is that it will legitimize the blog and make it more likely to attract the attention of web surfers.

67. The significant difference between public relations and advertising is that advertising tells customer publics about products and services and public relations tells all publics about the organization. Additionally, the greater variety of sources and channels used by public relations have a much greater potential for establishing reputation.

Media Relations

68. The most important issue in the media conference is not the news story, it is the relationship the company has with the news media.

69. An argumentative atmosphere results in negative news slant and a negative visual image. The company spokesperson has to avoid hostile interactions regardless of how rude the questions are. Keep in mind, when the news footage is edited, the angry question may be cut out, leaving only the spokesperson’s angry answer.

70. Media conferences should begin with a planned statement. This gives the spokesperson an opportunity to set the agenda for the question and answer session. Do not try to shift focus without addressing the key issues first.

71. Denying a problem extends a crisis and embeds it more deeply into the public consciousness.

72. With an admission of guilt, a company acknowledges it made a mistake, but at the same time affirms its integrity.

Information, Communication and Culture

73. Information is a commodity; it can be bought, sold and stolen.

74. Information is more valuable than physical commodities, because it gives value to physical commodities and it can take it away.

75. The more information you give, the more you get. This is the opposite of the strategy for accumulating wealth. When you share information with others, it makes them want to share information with you.

76. Do not wait for a good time to share information. Unless you have a reason not to share what you know, pass it on.

77. Public relations professionals function as a guild controlling the exchange of information.

78. Mass communication is an illusion. Mass media make it possible to send messages to millions of people, but they do not allow for two-way discourse.

79. Communication is culture. Companies define their role in the external culture and their identity in their internal culture with the choices they make when they communicate.

80. Designing culture with communication practices is more impactful than the information being communicated or the speed and efficiency with which it is delivered.

81. The processes and patterns of communication establish rules of behavior that govern what we know, how we communicate and even how we define who we are.


82. Rhetorical spin is not the exception in human communication; it is the rule. Scientists and philosophers claim a relatively small pool of information as proven fact. The information and communication that stitches our daily lives together is rhetorical; it defies objectivity and requires interpretation.

83. Journalists, while they hold objectivity as a goal, can hardly claim to be objective. As human beings dealing with human activities and human motives, they have to interpret in order to report.

84. Rhetorical methodology compensates for subjectivity because it invites speakers on all sides of an issue to advance their subjective viewpoints. An audience dedicated to discovering the truth can listen to all arguments and identify the best ideas.

85. While the uninformed fear tricky public relations practitioners and politicians, those who appreciate the rhetorical nature of human communication see differences of opinion as opportunities to articulate and investigate new ideas.

86. Through rhetorical invention one discovers the most convincing arguments. The arguments are then arranged in an order that will be most persuasive. Using style choices, one phrases the arguments in ways that will make them believable, important, salient and memorable.

87. Arguments are invented in three categories called the three modes of proof: ethos, pathos and logos. Ethos generally means reputation and is most significant. Pathos is an argument that appeals to emotions already present in audiences, like sadness or joy. Logos, the appeal to reason, is expected from doctors, lawyers and university professors. 88. They have meaningful evidence to support their claims, so they do not need to resort to stirring the emotions of their audience to get attention or direct action.

88. A discourse can be deliberative, forensic or epideictic. Deliberative discourse is usually political; it is focused on the future. Forensic discourse is typically legalistic; it focuses on the past. Epideictic discourse is ceremonial and therefore is focused on the present.

89. You can’t get paid enough to lie. Your reputation is your greatest asset. There is no problem bad enough and no bribe great enough to make a lie profitable. If you cannot be trusted, your arguments become worthless.

90. What you think you know is more dangerous than what you do not know. This common problem is the Pandora’s Box of communication. All kinds of bad things can happen when you wrongly assume you understand others and that they understand you. Asking questions and monitoring feedback are essential counterpoints to communicating.

91. If you don’t want it repeated, don’t say it. Once you tell a secret, what happens next is out of your control. It doesn’t matter if it is your best friend or a reporter. People forget the promise, can be called before a judge, or can decide to do what you did and trust just one person with the information.

92. All forms of communication are not equal. Some things are best said face-to-face, some in small groups and some through mass media.

93. Communication is context dependent and the most important contextual elements have to do with the number of people present and the media used to reach them.

94. It is reasonable to speak of the impact of social media or the influence of conservative talk radio, but using terms as broad as “the media” or even “the press” is counterproductive. These terms make the complex relationships between types of media, political and professional allegiances and reporting processes more difficult to understand.

Feedback and Adjustment

95. Professional communicators have different styles and methods, but they all have one thing in common: they see communication as a process. They know that what they say will be decoded by listeners who may or may not come up with the intended meaning. So they watch and listen for feedback, which they use to modify the next message.

96. Communication is an exchange in which feedback is as important as the message itself.

97. Feedback is hard to come by. Employees often think no one cares, or worse, they are afraid that if they say the wrong thing they will be penalized.

98. Managers have to earn feedback. Every corporate tyrant claims that “my door is always open.” An effective manager puts the burden on himself or herself and goes to the employee.

99. Feedback is really a euphemism. When management and communication consultants say you need to get feedback, they do not mean any feedback. They mean negative feedback.

100. Getting feedback is mostly about finding out what you are doing wrong, a little about finding out what you could do better and less about finding out what you are doing right.

Thomas J. Roach is Rock Products’ Community Relations columnist.

Thomas J. Roach, Ph.D., has 30 years experience in communication as a journalist, media coordinator, communication director and consultant. He has taught at Purdue University Calumet since 1987, and is the author of “An Interviewing Rhetoric.” He can be reached at [email protected].

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