Setting Clear and Measurable PR Objectives
The ultimate objective of PR is to develop and build a sustainable corporate image and reputation for the business. A further objective must be to build a positive working environment with subcontractors and suppliers, who will have either a positive or negative impact on the overall image of the firm with its many audiences. Issues concerning quality and performance expectations need to be communicated with all those involved in providing the service to the client.
Public relations should have a separate and defined role within the construction organization. It should, however, be complimentary to the marketing function. Construction organizations need to adopt both a pro-active strategy to create a favorable business climate for the firm or practice and a reactive strategy to be able to deal efficiently with crisis situations.
Establishing PR Strategies and Processes
Comprehensive public relations strategies educate, inform, explain, and persuade. Strategies need to be developed both at a corporate and project level, and need to be focused externally and internally. External strategies and processes will include client, investor, media, and community relations. Internal strategies will include management and employee relations. Each of these strategies will include a wide range of powerful tools that need to be developed within well-planned and researched programs rather than just an occasional exercise in image building. In addition, these strategies must support the organization overall corporate and marketing objectives. A multidimensional strategy should be seen as necessary in supporting corporate advertising, literature, and more direct marketing and sales activities such as pre-qualification interviews or presentations.
Analyzing PR Environments
It is important for public relations practitioners to have an early focus on issues as a means of shaping the opinions of their many publics. Research plays an important role in the early identification of possible public relations issues and problems. One US organization that has used this method successfully is Arkla Incorporated, a major petrochemical organization. By employing one of the most fundamental of research methods – face-to-face meetings and interviews – the company worked with environmental groups to build an interstate pipeline system (Hart, 1993).
Contracting organizations need to develop a constant dialogue between themselves, their clients and their advisors, that is architects, quality surveyors and engineers, employees, suppliers and sub-contractors, shareholders, local, central and international government bodies, such as the European Union, plus local communities in which firms operate, professional bodies and the media. The type of research and information necessary will obviously depend on specific organisational circumstances but the information on current and future needs, expectations and issues, should enable firms to make more reliable public relations decision making at all levels.
Making Choices of Strategy, Tools and Techniques
One of the key choices in the provision of an overall commitment to public relations is whether to develop an in-house public relations function, or to contract out PR work to agencies or consultants. Important issues concerning conflict which may arise between a firm and an agent or consultant have been identified in terms of concerns over knowing each other’s businesses, contributing to a consistent communication flow, finances, and ‘chemistry’ . Organisations may decide to contract out specialized work such as investor relations or political lobbying where particular skills and experience are necessary.
Implementing PR Strategies
Implementation of PR strategies will include active promotion of the need for a professional approach to the top management of the firm. Senior management, possibly across functional or geographical boundaries, will need to be engaged in the strategies for them to be effective. The decision will need to be taken as to whether to develop an in-house PR team or to select outside PR consultants or agencies to undertake the work. There would appear to be an attitude within the construction industry that PR is free advertising. This would indicate a need for more formal training of those charged with the implementation of public relations within construction organization. Firms need to employ those with both experience and formal education and to actively encourage the formal training of existing personnel.
Organizations need to actively seek feedback on the effects of PR on improved client, investor, employee and community relationships and commercial success. Using research, practitioners can meet the growing need to justify the cost of public relations programs, and prove results. The key is to make research part of planning a campaign strategy. During the late 1980’s a number of medium-to-large UK construction organizations were found to be in the process of conducting corporate image research to identify how they were being perceived by their target clients and others . Public relations researchers provide quantitative and qualitative measures of what the media is saying about a client’s products and issues. Research can be applied to assess what influence, if any, the PR techniques and media applied have on attitudes, perceptions and actions towards the organization.
It would seem to be most important to feed back results to the senior management of the organization who may not be convinced of the need for investment in the communication function.