This past week I had the pleasure of talking to my Public Relations class about corporations, media relations, and customer relations. The information and statistics in the following paragraphs are taken from chapter 17 of the ninth edition of Public Relations Strategies and Tactics. Here the authors, Dennis Wilcox and Glen Cameron, discuss the struggles that corporations face in today’s world. They also present the need for public relations and the many challenges that people in PR encounter.
For mega corporations, such as Walmart and Exxon Mobil, (with annual sales in the $300 billion range), keeping the public on your side can be hard. So many things can potentially go wrong, and all it takes is one disgruntled, combative employee or unexpected disaster to rock the ship. Only 27% of Americans say they trust corporations, and any frauds like the Martha Stewart stock scandal further damage the reputation of conglomerates. The tendency is to stereotype and believe that because one corporation’s practices are shown to be unethical, illegal or hardhearted, they all are.
This lack of trust builds a strong argument for the need for public relations. PR comes to the rescue when corporations find themselves on a sinking ship. Sometimes it is a slow leak that gradually takes down the crew and everyone on board. Other times it is a sudden storm that tears a ten-foot wide hole, leaving a quickly sinking vessel. The truth is that either way, something has to be done to fix the damage and reassure the passengers that the cruise line they chose to travel with is not as bad as many are saying.
Some of the key ways that the greater community hears rumors or distorted truths is by way of the press or customers. Most corporations fear the potential damage that reporters and journalists can bring to their business. However, customers these days can have almost as great an impact as a reporter, through the use of modern media. For instance, if someone has a bad experience at a store, they can post a critical article on their blog or tweet their experience, and soon thousands or even millions of people can hear about it.
The job, therefore, of public relations has become an even greater challenge than it has been in the past. There are so many probable loose cannons that could go off. The good part is that the same tools used against a conglomerate can also be used for it. If something positive happens, thousands and millions of people can quickly be notified through the use of the Internet and news stations. So, in essence, a public relations firm or department has the responsibility of getting the good news out to combat all the possible damaging reports. If they can be successful in this, the corporation will likely have wider doors of opportunity and heightened sales, and PR will have served its purpose.