North Central Business Journal News
PUBLIC RELATIONS IS EVERYONE'S JOB
(December 1999 issue)
by Sandra Kay Neal, Ph.D.
The purpose of Public Relations is to create
a positive image of the company in the minds of people. Besides the
normal human desire to be liked by others, the intent of public relations
is to enhance the company’s sales in some way. Customer loyalty cannot
be assumed. People make their purchasing choices for many reasons,
only some of which are rational. Price and/or quality of product
or service are the rational reasons for choosing a particular company.
But the intangible factor of positive impression is equally powerful in
the decision. That is the focus of public relations.
Many companies may forget that every contact
impacts public relations. When talking about public relations, most
executives think in terms of the tasks typically covered by a public relations
department – sponsoring community activities, developing promotional materials
that highlight the company, ensuring quick turn-around time on delivery,
standing behind the product or service. These are essential aspects
of creating and maintaining a positive public image.
But at least equally important, and possibly more important, are
the ordinary interactions employees have with people outside the company.
Take, for example, the two minor incidents described below:
Maxine Wright called the pharmacy she
had always used to refill a prescription for a dental product. The
next day, the pharmacist called to say the product was on back-order and
suggested Maxine call other pharmacies to see if they had it. While
this was a thoughtful response on the part of the pharmacist, a better
response would have been for the pharmacist to call around within the pharmacy
chain to find the product. The pharmacy probably lost Maxine as a
customer. The pharmacist wasn’t thinking as a public relations person,
probably because the company didn’t think of the pharmacist as a customer
Josh Miller was visiting his grandmother
at the senior home for the first time, and entered by the wrong door.
He wandered through the halls, trying to figure out how to find his grandmother.
No one noticed his confused look. When he asked someone, the aide
apologized that she didn’t know anything about the sections outside her
area and left. The apology was nice, but a better response would
have been to find someone who could help Josh find his grandmother’s room.
The aide wasn’t thinking as a public relations person, probably because
the senior home didn’t think of the aide as a customer relations expert.
In both of these incidents, an employee
not usually classified as doing public relations probably hurt the company’s
image. While the responses would not have generated a negative impression
of the companies involved, both of them said to the two outsiders, “you
are not important.”
People who feel valued and important
are likely to turn to a company when purchasing that company’s product
or service. The company that does this best is probably
the Disney company. All employees at their theme parks have customer
relations as their first priority. Even the groundskeepers and cleaning
personnel smile and chat with visitors as they go about their tasks.
None of the employees publicly grumble about their job overload; they do
not indicate, by behavior, tone of voice, or words, that the customers
are getting in the way of doing their job. In fact, the impression
is exactly the opposite – visitors feel that their own concerns are important
to each employee with whom they interact. This positive impression
pays off for the company in repeat business.
To generate that Disney approach,
public relations needs to be intentionally incorporated into all the human
resource tactics of the company.
relations is written into every job description.
Customer relations is incorporated into employee
development and training.
Training in how to focus on public relations is essential for
employees to know when and how to address the needs of customers.
People tend to think narrowly about their job’s task They need to
notice opportunities such as those described above, and to practice better
ways of responding to the public.
3. Supervisors reward employees putting customers first.
A lot of companies give lip service to the idea that the customer is the
first priority. But they often penalize employees who stop
their work to handle outside tasks. Supervisors need to be reminded
to reward employees who are focusing on customers.
Customer relations is discussed at each performance appraisal meeting.
Companies that are serious about developing exceptional public relations
need to connect that priority with their employees. Not
only does customer relations belong in the written job description, but
employees who are doing so need to have that noted in their written performance
Publicize employees doing exceptional public relations.
Companies should recognize employees who do things that benefit the company.
Companies need to devise ways to recognize those
employees who put the customer as top priority. When employees
realize that this is an important priority, they will enact that priority
in their job.
Sandra Kay Neal holds a Ph.D. in Industrial/Organizational
Psychology and has 19 years experience helping organizations solve human
resource issues. Her company, Synergistic Organizational Solutions,
specializes in aiding small businesses. Dr. Neal can be reached at