In an era where the public is flooded with thousands of promotional materials and messages every day and are becoming more and more enlightened, there is a need for an organization to rethink how they are going to reach their target publics in a way that is more engaging as well as keeping with the changes in the communication technology (Barnett, 2008). Public relations have become more than just a basic way of communicating issues.
Public relations entail nurturing favorable relations between an organization and its products and the key public categories by use of different communication channels and means. Public relations functions have broadened to cover creating awareness about the company as well as maintaining a favorable image, monitoring the media channels for the company and its products coverage, managing crises affecting the company or product, and cultivating goodwill among the target market and general public for the organization (European Union, 2007).
Relationship marketing, on the other hand, entails a business creating a mutually beneficial exchange with its partners, according to Sorce (2002). This is a strategy that is created to encourage customer loyalty, long term retention, and interaction. This is done through availing to customers information that is geared to meet their needs and interests through open communication, which in return results to repeat business, customer’s willingness to provide information to the marketer, and increased word-of-mouth promotion (Stavros, 2003).
The impact on PR regarding the changing society
The world has undergone a succession of technological revolutions in the last few decades, which has changed the whole society and the economy. One of these revolutions is the computer-based information revolution, which is characterized by refined information or communication infrastructure, which has changed the way business is conducted, including public relations (Wright & Hinson, 2008). This has impacted the practice of public relations in that computer terminals are being used to write, edit and send messages at the same time receive feedback, data banks and libraries are now online, and available at the touch of a button, teleconferencing has enabled practitioners to hold meetings with stakeholders, talk to clients, share materials and hold press events.
In addition to changing the way business is conducted, changes in society as a result of the information/communication revolution, new opportunities have been created in practice. These include upgraded research capabilities; electronic media has brought new ways of delivering messages through satellites, cable, home videos to reach stakeholders (Macnamara, 2010). PR professionals can now tailor messages for specific audiences rather than use traditional mass media messages. These include specific income classes, geographic regions, interests, and educational levels. Instant feedback from audiences has replaced the one-way communication experienced before. Finally, Practitioners will have improved chances for assessing the effectiveness of their public relations campaigns (Stonier, 1995).
Literature review on some PR & RM theories
Public relations theorists up until now have been borrowed from other related disciplines such as psychology, communication, sociology, and organizational studies. Modern public relations theoretical approaches, however, are coming from the discipline itself. The first modern theoretical approach was the four model concept of public relations developed by J. Grunig, known as the symmetrical approach.
This model views public relations as programs that are aimed at advancing the interests and principles of the organization that foots the bill for these campaigns. This contradicts the earlier model, the Asymmetrical approach, which says that the public relations programs serve the interests of both the public and the sponsoring organization (Sriramesh, 2009). Critics of the symmetrical model say that this is basically idealistic and unrealistic as organizations hire public relations practitioners to be the advocates of their interests rather than the “do-gooders” chasing the interests of the outsiders who may have a different agenda from that of the organization.
The symmetrical model, as Grunig says, is supported by research where public relations is more ethical, but the question raised by critics is whether senior managers in these organizations consider being ethical as paying. Claim Grunig responds to it by saying that it does not take place in an ideal situation but one where groups of publics meet to protect and advance their self-interests through dialogue, to listen and relationship building (Mackey, 2003).
Another modern theory is the rhetorical approach to public relations advanced by Health in his book Handbook of Public Relations (2001). This theory defines rhetorical dialogue as a process of reaching conclusions and influence actions in a two-way manner. This Health could be done through the exchange of statements and counterstatements between groups about products, services, and public policies in order to gauge each group’s outlook on values, choices, and realities. In the “marketplace of disagreements,” as Health says, the clients and public relations professionals engage each other in adopting a persuasive discourse.
One point of agreement between the symmetrical and rhetorical theories is that the playing ground should be level in ethical practice. It also adopts the asymmetrical view when health says that each idea or public policy should stand on its merit in the market place. Critics, however, argue that the rhetorical enactment rationale advanced by health does not make public relations more ethical unless all the publics involved are equally resourced (Rhee, 2004).
In 2000, Ledingham and Bruning edited the book Public Relations as Relationship Management: A relational Approach to the Study and Practice of Public relations, which introduced another theoretical approach to public relations as relationship management (Brown R., 2009). This introduces the real meaning of public relations within the organizational structure and the society at large and benefits generated for both.
The approach introduces dimensions of the relationship between the sponsoring organization and the public, such as commitment, cooperation, asymmetry, credibility, efficiency, and openness, among many others. In this model, the professionals are to outline which of these elements they mean in each project when they refer to a relationship (Valentini, 2009). In this model, however, the aspects of the relationship may not be symmetrical and, therefore, hard to compare with the above two theories.
The relationship management approach is seen as an instrumental procedure, rather than an approach as indicated by the authors, for ‘doing’ public relations as compared to the essence of public relations or what it is. It can also be interpreted as an advancement of the “goodwill” aspect of public relations, as (Wright & Hinson 2008) says. In this argument, then, ‘goodwill’ can encompass many of the relationship dimensions mentioned above to serve many purposes though not all of them may be ‘symmetrical’ or fair to all involved.
The Wimbledon Championships is a major sporting event in the world that draws a lot of interest. The 2011 championships were singularly important in that they were a crowning moment for the completion of three-stage major facility improvements, which had begun in 1993.
Background to the Wimbledon 2011
Wimbledon championship is an international event with a rich history that began in 1877 and has consistently improved to keep with the changing situations. The event was first staged by the All England Lawn tennis and Croquet Club, which is a private club that started in 1868 in Wimbledon. The participants were drawn from England in the first years of the tournament and drew crowds until 1905 when it went international, and a United States of America citizen, May Sutton, became the first overseas champion in the Ladies Singles. The championship continued to draw crowds and oversees participation, and only during World War II that they were not held until 1949 when reconstruction work from the war in Europe was finished (Wimbledon, 2011).
In the 1950s, improvement in air travel created a lot of interest among overseas players, but this was curtailed by the fact that the championships were not open. The proposal to make it open was rejected for many years until December 1967, when players from all categories were admitted. Since then, records have been made and broken in all events, major organizational changes made, and the ground alterations have been made to give improved facilities for all involved; players, officials, media, and spectators (Wimbledon, 2011).
The club that hosts the tournament, the All England Lawn tennis club, has been on top in hosting the championship, and this is the reason why a long term plan to improve the quality of the event was unveiled in 1993. The first stage was to build a broadcast center and increase grass courts to two, something that was realized in 1997. The second stage saw the dismantling of No. 1Court to build a new building with facilities for the press, players, officials, and members and increase the seating capacity by 728 seats. Stage three involved construction of housing club staff, museum, bank, ticket area, new entrance building, and increase of seating capacity, among other developments. This was finished in 2011 and crowned with the 2011 championships (Wimbledon, 2011).
The 2011 Championships were also important because they were marking the 125th anniversary of the events that started in 1877. This was marked by several special events and activities. First, a four-part 30 minute each documentary was broadcast on the history of the championships, the All England Club’s museum was showing new exhibits, merchandise all marked with the 125 years logo were sold, and a community art project.
Internal for the Wimbledon championships include the All England lawn tennis club, members of the club, volunteers, press representatives, staff of the club, whether temporary or permanent, committee of management.
External stakeholders include International Tennis Federation, players, spectators, press, officials, community, suppliers, The Lawn Tennis Association, Wimbledon local authorities, contractors, public service officials, transport providers (Wright & Hinson, 2010).
Analysis of the PR strategies used on the internal stakeholders
Goal and strategy alignment public relations strategies- This involves all those working in the planning and preparation of the championships clearly outlining their goals and those of the organization in order to set priorities and keep them in sight at all times (Goldstein, 2010).
Professional development strategies- The organization outlined three professional development programs for all our staff, management committee, and others participating in preparation every year. This was to ensure they are kept enthusiastic about their roles and are brought to speed on developments in their line of engagement. One of the programs is web-based, and the rest are offsite and conferences and development seminars (Goldstein, 2010).
Employee rounding as a key management tool is implemented in all departments where the managers interact with each employee or volunteer, or representative either in their duty station or in informal meetings with small groups. This helps create relationships with the leaders and other team members, and new ideas are exchanged in a friendly environment (Gill, 2009).
Recognition and appreciation strategy-This involves going a step further than listening to their ideas and suggestions for implementing them and appreciating the employees. This includes thank you notes to individuals who have done well and shout outs or simply recognizing peers and subordinates who have done well in our regular meetings (Bacal, 2011).
Work/life balance is another strategy Wimbledon Championships team uses to communicate to staff. This is by creating a flexible schedule and time offs during workday for the employees to participate in charity events, volunteer, exercise or eat well etc (McNamara, 2010).
Analysis of the RM strategies used on the External stakeholders
In order to communicate with the external stakeholders the Wimbledon championships uses the following strategies; a corporate website which acts as the first point of contact for the general public and messages and important communication is posted here. The schedules for tournaments, tournament results, advice to the spectators, what is available in the museums is all found on this site. Secondly, a media room controlled by the Public relations function of the event and linked to the corporate website is used to post all information intended for the public.
This is updated regularly and carries a consistent message to that of the corporate website. A blog spot is also used by the public relations function to monitor relevant weblogs and to post the content on the match is also used. Here the public can post their comments, questions and suggestions about the championships and the PR team will respond to it (Nasreen & Reid, 2008).
In addition to online strategies, Wimbledon uses press releases to communicate with various stakeholders. These are given to the media from which the Championships maintain good relations with. In addition, the preparation team for the event consists of several representatives from major media houses and once they catch the story, it is run on major news media all over the world. These press releases are then posted on the organization website and blog spot. Since the tournament is an important sporting event all over the world, and with players drawn from overseas, the event is covered by major media houses not only in Britain but also in other countries of the world (Brown, 2008).
The Wimbledon 2011 had taken PR further by including a documentary that was shown in four parts just before the start of the tournament. This covered the history of the event since it was established and the major milestones it has made so far and how the future outlook is expected to be. Films of the matches are also sold at the organizations shop as well as other merchandise with the Wimbledon Championships logo (Barnett, 2008).
Social awareness through community service activities and support is another PR strategy the organization uses. Donations and charitable contributions towards the welfare of the local community especially in Merton and Wandsworth are programs the championships, and the All England Club maintain. Excess proceedings from the tournament are forwarded by the club to the Tennis Association in the country to develop the sport.
The club also launched the Wimbledon Junior Tennis initiative in 2001 under a program known as ‘The road to Wimbledon’ at the local and national level. Together with the Department of education, the club also launched the Museum education program in 2001 for primary and secondary level students taking leisure and tourism and physical education courses. There is also the study support centre program, young ambassadors, Wimbledon village summer fair among other programs (Wimbledon, 2011).
In an era where a lot of noise abound in promotional materials and messages, public relations has gained a lot of importance as it cuts through this noise to relate directly with the stakeholders. Relationship marketing on the other hand involves mutual exchange between the business and the customers. The practice of public relations have been greatly affected by the changing society and this is the reason Wimbledon Championships organization have adopted strategies that reflect these changes.
In managing public relations with the internal stakeholders who are mainly employees, the organization uses strategies such as goal and strategy alignment professional development strategies, recognition and appreciation strategy, work/life balance is another strategy, Employee rounding as a key management tool and professional development strategies. External stakeholders’ public relations are managed through the use of online strategies such as a corporate website and blogs, documentaries and films, press releases and use of media representative in the preparation team, selling of the organization memorabilia in their shop and a variety of community outreach programs.
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