These include the organisations sector (stable sectors need sustained, pre-planned PR campaigns, fast moving sectors require reactive as well as proactive programmes) and size (if small the PR department will be multifunctional or the PR work may be outsourced, if large multiple specialists can work in a specialized PR department or within other departments, and may be part of management).
Systems theory summarizes the structure and operation of an organisation, and how it interacts with its environment, breaking the organisation itself into subsystems impacting on each other and the organisations environment.
Organisational theorists typically present five subsystems; Production, producing the products and services of an organisation; Maintenance, spanning the organisation and encouraging unity and co-operation e.g. Human Resources, and Adaptive, covering research, development and strategic planning, helping the organisation to adjust to environmental changes. Management, the dominant subsystem, directs and controls all other subsystems, managing conflicting demands between them, and conflict between the whole organisation and its environment. Marketing is part of the Disposal subsystem, focusing on the marketing and distribution of products and services.
In Systems theory, PR is given a potentially, far broader role than its frequent rival Marketing, described as being ‘Boundary Spanning’. The PR professional works on the edges of the organisation, facilitating communication between the internal subsystems and between the organisation and its external audiences. Understanding these elements is vital to strategic planning, and involves the PR department in that process, evidence of high status within the organisation. Systems theory frequently places PR within the management subsystem (Gregory 2006a).
Systems theory can offer further guidance on the potential importance of the PR department by differentiating closed and open systems. An organisation described as a closed system resists change, reacting only when it must. Because it ignores the environment, it usually has a limited life span. PR practitioners in closed systems have a reactive role and are excluded from the management subsystem and decision-making. Open systems are different, responding to change and monitoring the environment. Here PR is proactive and part of the management subsystem, anticipating issues before they arise and contributing to the decisions being made (Gregory, 2006b).
Much of PR’s contribution to the organisations strategic planning comes from information gathering on all elements of the social environment. Davis describes the PR department as the ‘Organizational Eyes and Ears’.
Environmental Scanning enables the PR department to maintain awareness of the wider (Macro) environment, in order to spot developing issues that are beyond the organisation’s control and formulate policies to deal with them.
Good PR involves regular analysis of all relevant factors, often employing the analytical tool PEST (segments the environment into Political, Economic, Social and Technological factors) or EPISTLE (as PEST but also considers the categories of Informational, Legal and the green Environment). Such analyses must be thorough and are time consuming, but are of great value to the organisation.
PR also monitors the Task environment, which is usually concerned with the organisations relationships with its stakeholders, matters that the organisation can influence.
Knowledge of Stakeholders
PR’s remit does not focus on one set of stakeholders, as marketing frequently does, namely customers. It extends beyond. PR considers the wider network.
Stakeholder theory attaches importance to all parties with an interest or stake in the company. An organisation’s Stakeholders can include employees, customers, suppliers, unions and the local community, among others (Tench 2006). All have different interests and can influence the company. A company that damages the environment, for example, will be resented by the local community, with associated drop in employee morale, and may be attacked by pressure groups and activists.
It is the sole job of the PR department to maintain full awareness of all possible stakeholders for its organisation. This is a complex and skilled role, as relationships continually form, evolve and dissolve, and the stakeholders are themselves influenced by the macro environment. Problems and issues in the relationships need to be addressed before the stakeholders feel that they must act against the organisation, causing the organisation potential difficulties, such as a damaged reputation and the need to defend itself publicly.
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