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The Public Relations Concept

Information feedback to management is an essential part of the management process.

Traditional management feedback system

Traditional management feedback system

It can be an essential and powerful tool in improving motivation at the operative level. If it is properly handled, improved productivity will follow. In effect the traditional feed back is made to work in the reverse direction, and whether appropriate information is presented in verbal, written or graphical form, improvement in performance can be quite remarkable. This is just as true in the field of projects whether they are large or small, and applies equally to those working on the project as well as those affected by it.

Public Relations feed forward system

Public Relations feed forward system

On a major project, particularly if it is publicly funded, a general information and progress center is quite normal. Equipped with visual aids for presentations, it will exhibit not only pictures, diagrams and models, but up-to-date charts of schedule and progress information suitable for the public at large as well as the project work force. Known in the trade as Public Relations, this whole effort is a vital part of managing the project. It can prove invaluable to project management in helping to control all aspects of a complex project.

In general terms Public Relations, or PR as it is more frequently termed, may simply be defined as "An activity designed to improve the environment in which an organization operates in order to improve the performance of that organization." From this definition it will be noted that the public interest groups, or target areas of the program, are clearly both internal and external to the project.

Unfortunately, to many people the term Public Relations is somewhat vague and self serving and its use may therefore be undesirable. However, there appears to be no really satisfactory term for an activity which should be a legitimate project function. The image of the "PR man" tends to be one of a smooth, fast talking individual replete with over worked clich³s. Little distinction is drawn between PR and marketing, promotion or just hard selling where the message is deliberately one sided.

"Public Participation" is another description for a similar -activity which attempts to deal with the environmental and social impacts of a project. In many jurisdictions it is prescribed by government regulations. Its perception tends to be one of interference with project objectives, escalating cost and schedule delays.

A more dynamic and acceptable term might be "Communication Plan", provided that this term does not conflict with responsibilities elsewhere in the project organization. It is perhaps the most innocuous of the available terms, for without ample definition it fails almost completely to convey its purpose.

Whatever title is preferred, every project team should bear in mind that most capital projects are the target of negative information campaigns. These are usually mounted by those with other vested interests. Such special interest groups may seek to have the project delayed or cancelled to preserve the status quo, or otherwise held to ransom for their own pecuniary gain. Like bees to the honey pot, the News Media is much more likely to be attracted to such biased and often uninformed positions as being more "newsworthy" than the official project press releases.

The cry of the critics will likely include: The technology is untried; safety is at stake; the environment will be adversely impacted; indirect costs will be incurred by the community; taxpayers will be saddled with increased taxes and so on. Of course, within the local community there may be some individual hardship cases which will attract political and media attention, especially if the project has to acquire property for its implementation. In this case, people's homes, businesses and lifestyles may indeed be affected. In addition, actual construction, pile driving, trucking and road restrictions or congestion will create issues which will demand immediate and effective response.

All of these issues should be foreseen, recognized and dealt with honestly, fairly and promptly. Understand that everyone who works on the project contributes to its image. Make sure that that contribution is positive.

To a large extent, the project team's ability, to control the project environment will determine their ability to control the project in terms of cost and schedule.

Examples  Examples

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