Public Relations Defined

The definition of public relations frequently depends upon who is using the term. For agencies and practitioners, it is a respected profession and management function. For its detractors, PR is a means for applying a gloss or otherwise polishing something that is otherwise objectionable.

PR is frequently interchanged incorrectly with terms such as “spin” and “publicity.” And the recently popular term “marketing public relations” adds to the confusion.

Here are three widely accepted definitions

o From the textbook Effective Public Relations authored by Scott Cutlip, Allen Center and Glen Broom: Public relations is the management function that establishes and maintains mutually beneficial relationships between an organization and the publics on whom its success or failure depends.

o From PR News: Public relations is the management function which evaluates public attitudes, identifies the policies and procedures of an individual or an organization with the public interest, and then plans and executes a program of action to earn public understanding and acceptance.

o From the PR Society of America (PRSA): PR helps an organization and its publics to adapt mutually to each other. The term “publics” recognizes the need to understand the attitudes and values of and to develop effective relationships with many different stakeholders such as employees, members, customers, local communities, shareholders other institutions and society at large

The common factor in these definitions is the two-way nature of the relationship. PR calls for equal amounts of listening as well as talking.

Furthermore, as a management function it includes:

o Anticipating, analyzing and interpreting public opinion, attitudes and issues that might impact an organization’s operations and plans positively or negatively.

o Counseling management regarding policy decisions, courses of action and communications with an eye toward public ramifications and the organization’s social or citizenship responsibilities.

o Continually researching, conducting and evaluating programs designed to achieve the public’s informed understanding of an organization’s aims.

o Planning and implementing an organization’s efforts to influence public policy. Specifically: establishing objectives, budgeting, recruiting and training staff and developing facilities — essentially the management of all resources necessary to achieve an organizations PR objectives.

The primary quality of PR is that it is based on a reciprocal relationship — a two-way street — between an organization and its many publics.

If you are not talking and listening to your publics and responding accordingly to the benefit of both, you are not practicing public relations.