A Public Relations Throwback: A Ploy to Reel in the Public

While the LA Times is an established paper, it is widely known for hosting one of Southern California’s most popular events since 1996, The Festival of Books. At this festival, LA residents experience and are exposed to a rich diversity of authors from around the world. The event, typically held in April at one of SoCal’s colleges or universities, is an extravaganza of workshops, open readings and lectures. Almost like a bazaar for books, patrons can also stroll through the promenade of booths that hold works from published authors and other vendors selling their wares.

The purpose of this weekend long festival?

To promote literacy and make it accessible to the public.

Waste Management and its “Think Green” program places global sustainability as one of its primary goals. Before other garbage collection programs initiated recycling, Waste Management established a system of recycling, collecting waste and finding environmentally responsible ways of disposing of our garbage. More importantly, though, this company through its “Think Green” program and Waste Management McDonough Sustainable Innovation Collaborative helps retailers, manufacturers and other producers to responsibly dispose of waste.

…And the purpose?

To promote environmentally friendly practices that encourage sustainability.

On the weekends mostly, Home Depot offers those wanting to try their hand at DIY projects around their home the opportunity to learn from the experts. Whether it is learning to install flooring or help children build a bird feeder, the team at Home Depot can help you complete home projects if you attend one of their workshops.

…And the consumer gets?

In exchange for the free expertise, customers get hands-on home improvement knowledge and ultimately save loads of cash on home improvement projects.

What do all of these organizations have in common?

All of these organizations have very different missions and functions, but they all share one thing in common—they are examples of when private interests correspond with public interests creating the perfect example of public relations at work.

A little bit of history….

Bernays, considered the father of public relations, established the need for organizations to build two-way relationships with their publics. As a part of these relationships, he also mentioned that one way to establish these relationships was to create opportunities for private business interests to coincide with public interests.

What does that mean exactly?

Think back on the times when a company offered you a freebie in exchange for your time spent with the organization. Whether it was a simple two-second food sampling at the grocery store or the opportunity to participate in a workshop, you were being wooed by business interests in hopes they would not only get your business but would also be publicized as well.

The phrase “private interests that coincides with public interests” occurs when an organization attracts consumer interests by tapping into a public concern. At its best, these two factors create a relationship where both parties benefit. Conversely, at its worst, this occurs when an organization capitalizes on the interest of the public at the public’s detriment.

At its best….

Probably one of the better examples of the way in which private interests serve public interests is the converging of the K-12 educational system with private organizations. All children deserve to have a quality education, but in some school systems sometimes the quality of education takes a backseat to other more pressing social issues. The infusion of private funding into public education in some ways re-establishes some of the standards that have gone by the wayside.

Edison Learning is one example of the way in which public interests have improved as a result of private interests. The program pretty much has found innovative ways to educate students around the world and in the United States by either providing solutions to K-12 school systems or actually taking over academic programs. In this way, students benefit from a quality education that re-establishes standards for both its teachers and students while making a profit.

...And at its worst

One of the worst examples of private interests coinciding with public interests is when private businesses interfere with providing energy to the public. In many cases, you see the business organization benefiting from an increased profit margin while the consumer pays more. Then, there is also instances where companies misrepresent information by projecting profits. Finally, the public might find themselves dealing with corruption when city and private interests enter into a partnership.

Enron has to be the best example of the worst-case scenario, and probably exemplifies an instance when a company misrepresented information which inflated their profit margin and affected the public greatly.

Ultimately, when private interests converge with public interests….

Every time an organization enters into a relationship with the public the organization is building trust between itself and the public. Also, these interests conflict when private interests stand to gain at the expense of the public at-large. For these reasons, organizations walk a fine line between making a dollar and remaining ethical.

For you and me, these interests are of great import in influencing our consumer choices and behaviors.


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