What Is Public Relations?
“Public relations is the management function that identifies, establishes and
maintains mutually beneficial relationships between an organisation and the various
publics on whom its success or failure depends” - Scott Cutlip
Public relations, byname PR, is an aspect of communications involving the relations
between an entity subject, to, or seeking public attention of the various publics that
are, or may be interested in it. The entity seeking attention may be a business
corporation, an individual politician, a performer or author, a government or government
agency, a charitable organisation, a religious body, or almost any other person or
organisation. The publics may include segments as narrow as female voters of a particular
political party who are between 35 and 50 years of age or the shareholders in a particular
corporation; or the publics may be as broad as any national population or the world at
large. The concerns of public relations operate both ways between the subject entity,
which may be thought of as the client, and the publics involved. The important elements of
public relations are to acquaint the client with the public conceptions of the client and
to affect these perceptions by focusing, curtailing, amplifying, or augmenting information
about the client as it is conveyed to the publics.
Public relations encompasses a variety of marketing activities that strengthen
organisations credibility, enhance organisations image and develop goodwill. These are
usually targeted directly at an audience, such as speeches, special events, newsletters,
and annual reports. A public relation involves communicating who you are, what you do, why
you do it, and how you make a difference.
The difference between publicity and public relations
The term’s public relations and publicity are often misused. They are not
interchangeable. Publicity is only one function of public relations. It is media coverage
i.e. news stories, feature articles, talk show interviews, editorials and reviews. Other
commonly confused terms are publicity and advertising. The key distinction is you pay for
advertising. Because publicity is free, it is more credible and more likely to have an
impact on the reader or viewer. Advertising is generally not considered a public relations
According to the Public Relations Institute of America: Public relations is the
deliberate, planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain understanding between
an organisation and its public (Malan and L'Estrange, 1981).
PR is a broad and complex activity although its basic objective is simple: to communicate
in order to achieve understanding through knowledge. Consequently, PR exists, liked or
not, and all modern organisations, because of their size and complexity, need and are
concerned with PR. Good PR with the conscious effort to inform and be informed provides
knowledge, understanding, goodwill and a good reputation. PR exists to keep institutions
alert to an ever-shifting environment of circumstance and public opinion.
PR is an on-going activity, hence the word sustained in the definition. It must anticipate
problems and eliminate causes before problems arise. It is not there to rescue an
operation or to apologise for it (Malan and L'Estrange, 1981). PR is essentially concerned
with communication: between people, between people and organisations and within and
Activities and Methods
Public relations activities in the modern world help institutions to cope successfully
with many problems, to build prestige for an individual or a group, to promote products,
and to win elections or legislative battles. The majority of public relations workers are
staff employees working within a corporate or institutional framework. Others operate in
public relations counselling firms.
In industry, public relations personnel keep management informed of changes in the
opinions of various publics (that is, the groups of people whose support is needed):
employees, stockholders, customers, suppliers, dealers, the community, and government.
These professionals counsel management as to the impact of any action—or lack of
action—on the behaviour of the target audiences. Once an organisational decision has
been made, the public relations person has the task of communicating this information to
the public using methods that foster understanding, consent, and desired behaviour. For
example, a hospital merger, an industrial plant closing, or the introductions of a new
product all require public relations planning and skill.
Public relations also play an important role in the entertainment industry. The theatre,
motion pictures, sports, restaurants, and individuals all use public relations services to
increase their business or enhance their image. Other public relations clients are
educational, social service, and charitable institutions, trade unions, religious groups,
and professional societies.
The successful public relations practitioner is a specialist in communication arts and
persuasion. The work involves various functions including the following:
1. programming—that is, analysing problems and opportunities, defining goals,
determining the public to be reached, and recommending and planning activities;
2. writing and editing materials such as press releases, speeches, stockholder reports,
product information, and employee publications;
3. placing information in the most advantageous way;
4. organising special events such as press functions, award programs, exhibits, and displays;