An excerpt from a speech given in 1988 by Edward W. Block, then senior consultant to Burson Marsteller Inc., and former senior vice president at AT&T. Block clearly and aptly defined the public relations profession in this presentation to the Public Relations Research and Education annual luncheon meeting.
“What is it that makes public relations public relations—and not the engineering department, the marketing department or the personnel department?
“First of all, we are not a department. We are a point of view. We organize our work like a department, that’s true. We do so because it is administratively convenient to do it that way and because it makes sense—and makes us accessible—to the people and organizations we serve.
“But the fact remains, our mission is not functional in a departmental sense.
“What public relations is all about is governance: Institutional governance. We are trans-departmental and the specialists at promoting harmony between the corporation and its stakeholders—not for the sake of harmony or image or any other equally metaphysical purpose, but because no corporation can succeed when its objectives or its behavior are in conflict with its stakeholders.
“Secondly, we are accountable to the chief executive because the tasks delegated to us are, by definition, responsibilities of the chief executive’s office.
“Policy is our main job. Not so much to make it as to provoke it. This we do by being always at the ready, equipped to supply context—the facts and the insights—that assist management at all levels in making timely decisions with respect to the interests of stakeholders.
“Communication is our main activity. Not so much to do all of the communicating but, rather, to ensure that what is being communicated communicates what our stakeholders need to know and what we want them to understand and believe.
“As we all know, communication is a crucial element in the management art—and process—of establishing an environment in which ideas as well as feelings can influence behavior over time. That’s why it’s so important that our communications programs be consistent, not episodic. That’s why, above all, it’s so important that our communications programs relentlessly confirm, interpret and amplify the goals, ideals and objectives of the business.”