There is no single right or wrong answer to this metaphor (said any knowledgeable PR practitioner). A good argument could most likely be made for several different animals, as PR has many characteristics and strengths. However, I’m inclined to state a case for one possible answer here, and I think that if PR were an animal, it would be a chameleon.
Chameleons are most known for the ability to change colors in order to blend in with their environment. This is a natural survival mechanism – and one that I’m sure they are glad to have at times when they most need to blend in – but it’s the adaptability factor of this particular characteristic that links it to PR.
In order to effectively engage with an audience through public relations, it is absolutely imperative that practitioners understand the environment in which they are communicating. The visual and verbal messages conveyed will be most effective if they are developed and distributed in ways that make sense for the environment. For example, an anti-smoking organization might distribute posters communicating a “don’t smoke” message through graffiti in high schools, but the same message aimed at pregnant women would be inked in a completely different way on the poster at the obstetrician’s office.
Chameleons actually have a couple of other specific characteristics that are highly significant to adaptability – and to PR. Through research, I discovered that the tiny feet of these reptiles are quite complex. There are many little intricacies that allow them to climb trees and rocks in order to get off the ground and better perceive their environment. PR, too, involves many small intricacies that make a big impact on the effectiveness of a campaign.
Additionally, chameleons have the most distinctive eyes of any reptile. They have the ability to rotate and focus their eyes independent of each other, allowing them to observe two different objects simultaneously, as well as affording them a full 360-degree view of their environment. Talk about being completely aware of what’s going on around you! And, that’s really the basis for effective PR.
To recap, PR in its simplest form is about relating to your publics. Adapting your messages to the environment of your audience will help you communicate effectively, and by keeping a “360-degree view” of what’s going on around your company or organization, you will be able to adapt to changes and discover opportunities that you may have missed before. PR is definitely “in the details,” and even the smallest steps can make big waves for a company or organization – leading it to rise above the forest or fall from the tree.