A Two-Way Street: Why Public Relations Is So Important

Cleopatra knew the importance of developing relationships with publics because historians report she had a fluent command of Egyptian languages and math, all of this for the purpose of relating to the public (primarily Egyptian hierarchy of priests and ruling elite).

Egyptian official and author Ptahhotep believed that leaders must target a specific interests of the publics.

And both were correct.

But why is the public so important in public relations?

The public sets the tone and tempo of the conversation between business and consumer. Whether it’s just an advertising campaign targeted toward a particular population or an actual conversation between business and the public, the population that is being served can make or break the most well put together marketing strategy.

What exactly is a public?

Public is a term used to describe the population being served. This term encompasses more than just a group of people living in a geographic location. A public makes up a demographic that includes information related to race, gender, age, marital status and a number of other categorizations.

More significantly, a public is comprised of attitudes, beliefs and value systems that belong to a certain group. When looking at publics (or populations), everything that directly and indirectly influences the people that belong to these publics makes up these systems.

Finally, “the public” in public relations makes up one part of the two-way relationship needed to successfully engender support for any cause.

How does the two-way relationship differ from other types of public relationships?

Grunig and Hunt pretty much set up a model that describes the various relationships one might encounter in public relations.

  • One-way relationships, press agentry and public information, simply give information to the consumer, and while they are both one-way relationships, press agentry often uses propaganda as a tool of persuasion and public information just disseminates information.
  • Two-way relationships are asymmetrical and symmetrical onesAsymmetrical relationships often are ones where the business interest seeks out information related to the public (research) and public opinion and then makes a plan of action to change the public’s attitude. Symmetrical relationships do all of the above, in addition to engaging the public in an open dialogue.

Why are two-way relationships of so import?

Two-way relationships are integral in forming the foundation of a good campaign because businesses have to know the needs of the public before they can engage their publics with any type of conversation, whether that be advertising or an actual conversation regarding a given subject.

Businesses also need to know their publics, so they can inform the people who comprise the population all for the purpose of giving the public the chance of making informed, wise choices.

How do these two-way relationships workout in the real world arena?

Probably one of the best examples of the way in which these two-way relationships play out in the real world is given to us by Jeff Bezos, premier E-commerce pioneer and entrepreneur.

Among his accomplishments, he is primarily known for:

  • Launching Amazon.com, one of the most popular sites for purchasing books and more,
  • Purchasing and increasing readership for The Washington Post,
  • Developing a platform for filmmakers through Amazon Studios
  • Launching Amazon AWS (Amazon Web Services) and creating an industry out of something that did not exist before in the cloud computing / (IaaS) Infrastructure-as-a-Service space.
  • Creating Amazon Prime and Blue Origin (aerospace exploration company).

Bezos initially connected with the public primarily by focusing how to get media, specifically books, to consumers. Starting his operation in 1995 and going public in 1997, Bezos has seen success as the result of building the size of his digital audience (large-scale and elite audiences) and focusing on digital media, or by focusing on particular publics.

However, while always having somewhat of a public persona, his purchase of the Post has given him a platform on which to connect with the public. He purchased the struggling paper with the intent of investing in journalism and technology. As a part of attracting readership, he focused on formatting the paper in a way that was attractive to readers, and thus, developed a readership for the paper.

Of all his feats, the newspaper is a channel by which this dialogue between business and publics can take place. Not widely known for his philanthropic efforts, Bezos has the audience and now a platform for engaging in public discourse, in essence, further developing that two-way relationship.

…And for public relations?

While primarily a behind-the-scenes businessman, Bezos is an example of the way two-way relationships, the core of public relations, can be established in the digital age.


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