Do you RACE into your public relations tasks or approach them in another way?
RACE was the first widely-used acronym developed to summarize the public relations process. Dozens of others have followed, and more are being introduced all the time by aspiring textbook authors eager to claim a new buzzword. -- Yes, they're a gimmick, but don't totally dismiss them. -- They can be a useful mnemonic device to keep you focused as you work or to help you explain what you do to other people.
Scott Cutlip and Alan Center first used RACE as a public relations acronym in the first edition of their landmark textbook Effective Public Relations in 1952, but they didn't make a big deal about it. A decade later, John Marston borrowed the term and extensively wrote about it in his 1963 book The Nature of Public Relations. As a result, he became more associated with RACE than Cutlip and Center.
In fact, soon after Marston's book came out, the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) adopted RACE and began promoting it as a "best practice" for those seeking public relations accreditation.
RACE describes public relations as a four-step, continually-cycling process:
- R - Research - explores the situations facing your organization, how they came about, who is involved in them, how they relate to your organization's goals, and how you - as a public relations practitioner - can maximize the benefit and/or minimize the harm they might do.
- A - Action - makes use of your research findings to determine the best course(s) of action you can take, to plan your response, and then to implement these plans. Some RACE proponents prefer to call this step "Assessment" instead of action, but they invariably describe it exactly the same way.
- C - Communication - means using all available media to deliver carefully-focused messages through the most appropriate channels so they will have positive effects on each of your organization's publics.
- E - Evaluation - analyzes everything that you've done during those first three steps to see how it affected your publics and their perception of your organization. As soon as this is done, you return to the research step and begin the process again.
It's not the only way -- maybe, not even the best way -- to describe the public relations process. But, RACE is a concise and effective summary of how public relations can be performed. It may also be a clever and ironic mnemonic warning NOT to race into action before you think about what you're getting into. And, it can also be an easy way to describe the profession to someone who asks you what's involved in doing public relations.
Next time, we'll look at other acronyms that may be as good or better than RACE as descriptions of the public relations process.