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PUBLIC RELATIONS. HOW BEST TO CREATE AND MAINTAIN PUBLIC
Howard L. Olds.
Much has been written upon this subject lately by our most able writers, and very little is left to be said that will not be repetition or plagiarism; but the attention that it is receiving shows the march of progress, a wonderful stride in the direction of closer relations between the Public and Public Utilities and almost all corporations are adjusting themselves to these probing suggestions of the hour.
Public opinion is a fickle jade. From the time of earliest history on down through the centuries, kings, emperors, public men and movements have catered to the people. One moment adulation is theirs; the next they are trampled in the dust. The blowing of a straw, the turning of a hair, the coining of a phrase will sometimes accomplish success or defeat.
The public exhibits a curious trait of human nature and it is very difficult to win and to hold its good will, more difficult probably to hold. than to win it.
OBVIOUS. That friendly relations with the public and general good will are essential features to all those who are endeavoring to serve and do business with the masses, is readily admitted. No argument can be brought in rebuttal, and only failure or indifferent asuccess can result, when the proper public relations do not obtain, and failure to recognize the rights and claims of the multitudes, has caused the downfall of many institutions. That public good will is an overwhelming asset and investment, with a comparatively small outlay of money, is obvious. Be it noted that the public is taking upon itself to be informed as to our Service Companies and when the Public and Public Service corporations discover themselves to each other—better relations will exist.
In looking over the proceedings of the Gas Association for a number of years past, there appears to be very little on this subject. The Institute of 1907-1908 appointed a Committee on Public Relations. This seems to have been the pebble dropped into the smooth water that started the ever widening circle of interest; and each alert company took up the work of establishing the better mutual feeling with the public. There is in existence to-day a Company whose sole business it is to supply materials and ideas in the assistance of establishing and maintaining friendly relations with the public.
The old prejudice against public service corporations, that has come rolling down the decades, has been so persistent as to be almost humorous. We are compelled to admit that the corporations themselves are largely to blame by their lack of co-operation and by generally ignoring the public and by assuming aggressively that they have the whip handle.
This feeling has also been intensified by unscrupulous politicians, who, to curry favor with the masses, have seized upon the most flimsy technicalities to abuse the corporation, hoping thereby for self agrandizement.
Throughout this period it has seemed the public liked abuse, vituperation and invective in support of its pet prejudice and any little excuse was seized upon to feed the popular demand, but today we are living in the age of constructive thought. We are children of light, but far from being grown up, and the illuminating rays of the campaign of optimism, now abroad in the land, are going far toward dimming this phantom of the past.
TRANSITION. A critical point in the life of a company is the time when it emerges from a one man company, in which the manager is familiar with each department both at the works and office, in which he knows each consumer personally and can speedily adjust a misunderstanding; and becomes the company necessarily large enough for departments and heads of departments, with the usual amount of red tape to be unwound frequently to the consternation of the consumer. At this point, in walks the complaint man, the genial human buffer who conserves the sympathy and real human interest and nearness to the people. Fortunately the widening of the tent pins of a company, the involving of more human machinery and yards of Red Tape comes on so gradually that these difficulties generally adjust themselves.
PERSONALITY OF CORPORATIONS.
The personality of a corporation is as potent as that of an individual. A great deal depends upon the standing, bearing and particular nature of its representatives. What they do, how they bear themselves in every detail of life, is of weight, because the discussion of its affairs is current and forms public sentiment. Too little attention is paid to the impressions that the lives of owners and active presidents of corporations give out.
As to the treatment and handling of employees, a long, stirring article might be written on this and sometimes it might be well for men who hold superior positions in a company, themselves to attend a College of Instruction. Men, either by accident design, have sometimes attained to positions to which they have no more right than babes in arms and whose gross ignorance has caused the company to lose more than mere money. The courteous and appreciative treatment of good honest effort on the part of men under them, will establish good feeling within the forces themselves. This good feeling within, is one of the first requisites for creating good will without. The attitude of employees is often but a reflected light of their superiors.
MANAGERS. A careful study of successful public utility properties and progressive operators will disclose the fact that the enterprise is managed with regard to the comforts and desires of the multitude thus served, and that consumers or patrons are made to feel that their interests are to a degree in common with the corporation, which operates by virtue of an ordinance or franchise granted by those who pay the tribute, keeping the corporation in existence and enabling it to become a power among local industries.
Closer observation will show that the general manager or superintendent is a man possessing a large faculty commonly interpreted as “justice” insisting not only upon fair play to his company, but equity to his fellow citizens: He is ready at all times to receive suggestions for better service, and evinces a genuine interest in increased efficiency and improvements in the quality of the product manufactured or distributed by his company, and is ever ready to adjust wrongs and grievances that really exist, taking a firm and courteous stand against wrongs and grievances that do not really exist, but are wholly whims or idiotic complaints from the always to be found kicker. This attitude will invariably win the confidence and respect of the public and in more than equal ratio, will diminish the number of complaints, as humanity since the time of the "dark ages,” is ever ready to frame apologies and excuses, if they are needed, for those in whom they believe.
Assuming always that we are considering only those who know and know well the business in which they are engaged, it has been rightly said that to be a manager of anything, one must either be a dictator or a diplomat. The dictator will succeed in some instances “Hoe a hard row;" progress slowly in others, and fail utterly in the general run of cases. The diplomat has success for his door mat, if diplomacy does not degenerate into flattery, or to use the old time expression “humbuggery.” He does not necessarily need to act on all or any of the ideas suggested by his towns people, but he can make them feel that their words have been worth while and that some day, perhaps, their ideas will have materialized into realities ; like the wise matron, who, in reply to the question if she believed everything her husband told her, said, “No, but I make him believe I do.” A downright good boss is born, and then further made by a keen study of human nature. Any man who has been at the head of bodies of men, well knows the difficulty of keeping them in good humor, of maintaining harmony and still more—to strike their imagination so as to interest them, and evoke their enthusiasm in the objects and purposes of the organization, making each and every employee a loyal booster for his company.
A manager must so keep his hand on the pulse of the public that he can know whether it is really satisfied or has a feeling that it would do no good to complain. In short, let no company, through its acts, create the condition wherein a man pays his bill with one hand while the other is clenched behind him ready to strike.
A manager can surround himself with so much red tape that it will eventually tighten around his neck and choke his real knowledge of the intimate feelings of the public. In short, what this man should do and what he should be, would involve a discussion as wide as human nature itself. Please do not think he is a miracle. There are plenty of our good managers who are in themselves all of these things and more.
This is an age which demands the highest efficiency in all branches of work, and the employment by a company of high grade and competent office employees and foremen is of first importance. A small school of instruction in courtesy has been established by some, and could be established by every company, as the handling of an irate consumer requires much tact and patience. Not of course that these attributes can be indiscriminately handed out in any school, but a little judicious suggestion may often bring them out in an employee, and time is well spent in making a satisfied consumer. Make it an offense of the first degree to be rude or curt to a patron, as extreme courtesy and attention will in time convert even a chronic kicker. In some localities the conduct of the employees has almost the entire form