Public relations

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Media conferences are one approach used in public relations. FEMA - 42468 - Participants at Joint Field Office News Media Conference.jpg
Media conferences are one approach used in public relations.

Public relations (PR) is the practice of managing and disseminating information from an individual or an organization (such as a business, government agency, or a nonprofit organization) to the public in order to influence their perception. Public relations and publicity differ in that PR is controlled internally, whereas publicity is not controlled and contributed by external parties. [1] Public relations may include an organization or individual gaining exposure to their audiences using topics of public interest and news items that do not require direct payment. [2] The exposure is mostly media-based, and this differentiates it from advertising as a form of marketing communications. Public relations aims to create or obtain coverage for clients for free, also known as earned media, rather than paying for marketing or advertising also known as paid media. But in the early 21st century, advertising is also a part of broader PR activities. [3]


An example of good public relations would be generating an article featuring a PR firm's client, rather than paying for the client to be advertised next to the article. The aim of public relations is to inform the public, prospective customers, investors, partners, employees, and other stakeholders, and persuade them to maintain a positive or favorable view about the organization, its leadership, products, or political decisions. Public relations professionals typically work for PR and marketing firms, businesses and companies, government, and public officials as public information officers and nongovernmental organizations, and nonprofit organizations. Jobs central to public relations include internal positions such as public relations coordinator, public relations specialist, and public relations manager, and outside agency positions such as account coordinator, account executive, account supervisor, and media relations manager. [4]

Public relations specialists establish and maintain relationships with an organization's target audience, the media, relevant trade media, and other opinion leaders. Common responsibilities include designing communications campaigns, writing press releases and other content for news, working with the press, arranging interviews for company spokespeople, writing speeches for company leaders, acting as an organization's spokesperson, preparing clients for press conferences, media interviews and speeches, writing website and social media content, managing company reputation (crisis management), managing internal communications, and marketing activities like brand awareness and event management. [5] Success in the field of public relations requires a deep understanding of the interests and concerns of each of the company's many stakeholders. The public relations professional must know how to effectively address those concerns using the most powerful tool of the public relations trade, which is publicity. [6]


Ivy Lee, the man who turned around the Rockefeller name and image, and his friend, Edward Louis Bernays, established the first definition of public relations in the early 20th century as follows: "a management function, which tabulates public attitudes, defines the policies, procedures and interests of an organization... followed by executing a program of action to earn public understanding and acceptance." [7] However, when Lee was later asked about his role in a hearing with the United Transit Commission, he said "I have never been able to find a satisfactory phrase to describe what I do." [8] In 1948, historian Eric Goldman noted that the definition of public relations in Webster's would be "disputed by both practitioners and critics in the field." [8]

According to Bernays, the public relations counsel is the agent working with both modern media of communications and group formations of society in order to provide ideas to the public's consciousness. Furthermore, he is also concerned with ideologies and courses of actions as well as material goods and services and public utilities and industrial associations and large trade groups for which it secures popular support. [9]

In August 1978, the World Assembly of Public Relations Associations defined the field as

"the art and social science of analyzing trends, predicting their consequences, [10] counselling organizational leaders and implementing planned programs of action, which will serve both the organization and the public interest." [11]

Public Relations Society of America, [12] a professional trade association, [13] defined public relations in 1982 as:

"Public relations helps an organization and its publics adapt mutually to each other." [14]

In 2011 and 2012, the PRSA solicited crowd supplied definitions for the term and allowed the public to vote on one of three finalists. The winning definition stated that:

"Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics." [15]

The Chartered Institute of Public Relations focuses its definition on reputation, beginning with:

Public Relations is about reputation – the result of what you do, what you say and what others say about you.

And continuing:

Public Relations is the discipline which looks after reputation, with the aim of earning understanding and support and influencing opinion and behaviour. It is the planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain goodwill and mutual understanding between an organisation and its publics. [16]

Public relations can also be defined as the practice of managing communication between an organization and its publics. [17]


Public relations has historical roots pre-dating the 20th century. Most textbooks regard the establishment of the "Publicity Bureau" in Boston in 1900 as marking the founding of a public relations profession. [18] Academics have found early forms of public influence and communications management in ancient civilizations. Aristotle's Rhetoric, for example, explains core foundations for persuasion. [19] Evidence shows that it continued to evolve during the settling of the New World and during the movement to abolish slavery in England. [20] [21] Basil Clarke is considered the founder of public relations in the United Kingdom for his establishment of "Editorial Services" in 1924. [22]

The United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, and others used the concept of propaganda, which later[ when? ] evolved into public relations, to rally domestic support and to demonize enemies during the World Wars (compare journalism). World War I (1914–1918), which affected not only military but whole populations, is considered to be "modern propaganda's launching pad". [23] This led to more sophisticated commercial publicity efforts as public-relations talent entered the private sector.[ citation needed ] Most[ quantify ] historians believe modern-day public relations was first established in the US by Ivy Lee (1877–1934) in 1903 when he started working as the image maker for and corporate advisor for Rockefeller. Edward Bernays (1891–1995), who handled the publicity of theatrical associations in 1913,[ which? ] then spread internationally.[ citation needed ] Meanwhile, in the nascent Soviet Russia of the 1920s, artists and poets (such as Mayakovsky [24] ) engaged in public-relations campaigns for various state agencies and causes (note for example Likbez).

Many American companies with PR departments spread the practice to Europe when they set up European subsidiaries in the wake of the Marshall plan of 1948–1952. [25]

In the second half of the 20th century, public relations entered an era of professional development. Trade associations, PR news-magazines, international PR agencies, and academic principles for the profession were established. In the early 2000s, press-release services began offering social-media press releases. The Cluetrain Manifesto, which predicted the effect of social media in 1999, [26] was controversial in its time, [27] but by 2006 the effect of social media and new Internet technologies [ which? ] became broadly accepted by the general public.[ citation needed ]


Public relations professionals present the face of an organization or individual, usually to articulate its objectives and official views on issues of relevance, primarily to the media. Public relations contributes to the way an organization is perceived by influencing the media and maintaining relationships with stakeholders. According to Jacquie L'Etang from Queen Margaret University, public relations professionals can be viewed as "discourse workers specializing in communication and the presentation of argument and employing rhetorical strategies to achieve managerial aims." [28]

Specific public relations disciplines include:

Building and managing relationships with those who influence an organization or individual's audiences have a central role in doing public relations. [29] After a public relations practitioner has been working in the field, they accumulate a list of relationships that become an asset, especially for those in media relations.

Within each discipline, typical activities include publicity events, speaking opportunities, press releases, newsletters, blogs, social media, press kits, and outbound communication to members of the press. Video and audio news releases (VNRs and ANRs) are often produced and distributed to TV outlets in hopes they will be used as regular program content.

Audience targeting

A fundamental technique used in public relations is to identify the target audience and to tailor messages that are relevant to each audience. [30] Audience targeting requires public relations professionals to have a deep understanding of the needs and desires of the audience they are trying to appeal to. Sometimes the interests of differing audiences and stakeholders common to a public relations effort necessitate the creation of several distinct but complementary messages. These messages however should be relevant to each other, thus creating consistency in the overall message and theme. Audience targeting tactics are important for public relations practitioners because they face all kinds of problems: low visibility, lack of public understanding, opposition from critics, and insufficient support from funding sources. [31]

On the other hand, stakeholder theory identifies people who have a stake in a given institution or issue. [32] All audiences are stakeholders (or presumptive stakeholders), but not all stakeholders are members of a target audience. For example, if a charity commissions a public relations agency to create an advertising campaign to raise money to find a cure for a disease, the charity and the people with the disease are stakeholders, but the audience is anyone who is likely to donate money. Public relations experts possess deep skills in media relations, market positioning, and branding. They are powerful agents that help clients deliver clear, unambiguous information to a target audience that matters to them. [33]

The public in public relations

A public is any group whose members have a common interest or common values in a particular subject, such as a political party. Those members would then be considered stakeholders, which are people who have a stake or an interest in an organization or issue that potentially involves the organization or group they are interested in. The Publics in Public Relations are:

Early literature authored by James Grunig (1978) suggested that publics develop in stages determined by their levels of problem recognition, constraint recognition and involvement in addressing the issue. The theory posited that publics develop in the following stages:


Messaging is the process of creating a consistent story around: a product, person, company, or service. Messaging aims to avoid having readers receive contradictory or confusing information that will instill doubt in their purchasing choices, or other decisions that affect the company. Brands aim to have the same problem statement, industry viewpoint, or brand perception shared across sources and media.

Social media marketing

Digital marketing is the use of Internet tools and technologies such as search engines, Web 2.0 social bookmarking, new media relations, blogging, and social media marketing. Interactive PR allows companies and organizations to disseminate information without relying solely on mainstream publications and communicate directly with the public, customers and prospects.

PR practitioners have always relied on the media such as TV, radio, and magazines, to promote their ideas and messages tailored specifically to a target audience. Social media marketing is not only a new way to achieve that goal, but also a continuation of a strategy that existed for decades. Lister et al. said that "Digital media can be seen as a continuation and extension of a principal or technique that was already in place". [36]

Social media platforms enable users to connect with audiences to build brands, increase sales, and drive website traffic. This involves publishing content on social media profiles, engaging with followers, analyzing results, and running social media advertisements. The goal is to produce content that users will share with their social network to help a company increase brand exposure and broaden customer reach. Some of the major social media platforms are currently Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, YouTube, and Snapchat. [37]

As digital technology has evolved, the methods to measure effective online public relations effectiveness have improved. The Public Relations Society of America, which has been developing PR strategies since 1947, identified 5 steps to measure online public relations effectiveness.

  1. Engagement: Measure the number of people who engaged with an item (social shares, likes and comments).
  2. Impressions: Measure the number of people who may have viewed an item.
  3. Items: Measure any content (blog posts, articles, etc.) that originally appeared as digital media.
  4. Mentions: Measure how many online items mention the brand, organization, or product.
  5. Reach: Measure how far the PR campaign managed to penetrate overall and in terms of a particular audience. [38]

Types of public relations arenas

Publicists [39] can work in a host of different types of business verticals such as entertainment, technology, music, travel, television, food, consumer electronics and more. Many publicists build their career in a specific business space to leverage relationships and contacts. There are different kinds of press strategies for such as B2B (business to business) or B2C (business to consumer). Business to business publicity highlights service providers who provide services and products to other businesses. Business to Consumer publicizes products and services for regular consumers, such as toys, travel, food, entertainment, personal electronics and music.

Other techniques

Litigation public relations is the management of the communication process during the course of any legal dispute or adjudicatory processing so as to affect the outcome or its effect on the client's overall reputation (Haggerty, 2003).


Public relations professionals both serve the public's interest and private interests of businesses, associations, non-profit organizations, and governments. This dual obligation gave rise to heated debates among scholars of the discipline and practitioners over its fundamental values. This conflict represents the main ethical predicament of public relations. [40] In 2000, the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) responded to the controversy by acknowledging in its new code of ethics "advocacy" – for the first time – as a core value of the discipline. [40]

The field of public relations is generally highly un-regulated, but many professionals voluntarily adhere to the code of conduct of one or more professional bodies to avoid exposure for ethical violations. [41] The Chartered Institute of Public Relations, the Public Relations Society of America, and The Institute of Public Relations are a few organizations that publish an ethical code. Still, Edelman's 2003 semi-annual trust survey found that only 20 percent of survey respondents from the public believed paid communicators within a company were credible. [42] Individuals in public relations are growing increasingly concerned with their company's marketing practices, questioning whether they agree with the company's social responsibility. They seek more influence over marketing and more of a counseling and policy-making role. On the other hand, individuals in marketing are increasingly interested in incorporating publicity as a tool within the realm marketing. [43]

According to Scott Cutlip, the social justification for public relations is the right for an organization to have a fair hearing of their point of view in the public forum, but to obtain such a hearing for their ideas requires a skilled advocate. [44]

Marketing and communications strategist, Ira Gostin, believes there is a code of conduct when conducting business and using public relations. Public relations specialists have the ability to influence society. Fact-checking and presenting accurate information is necessary to maintain credibility with employers and clients. [45]

Public Relation Code of Ethics

The Public Relation Student Society of America has established a set of fundamental guidelines that people within the public relations professions should practice and use in their business atmosphere. These values are:

International Public Relations Code of Ethics

Other than the ethics put in place in the United States of America there are also International ethics set to ensure proper and, legal worldwide communication. Regarding these ethics, there are broad codes used specifically for international forms of public relations, and then there are more specific forms from different countries. For example, some countries have certain associations to create ethics and standards to communication across their country.

The International Association of Business Communication (founded in 1971), [47] or also known as IABC, has its own set of ethics in order to enforce a set of guidelines that ensure communication internationality is legal, ethical, and is in good taste. Some principles that members of the board of IABC follow include.

The IABC members use the following list of ethics in order to work to improve values of communication throughout the world: [47]

  1. Being credible and honest
  2. Keeping up with information to ensure accuracy of communication
  3. Understanding free speech and respecting this right
  4. Having sensitivity towards other people's thoughts, beliefs, and way of life
  5. Not taking part in unethical behaviors
  6. Obeying policies and laws
  7. Giving proper credit to resources used for communication
  8. Ensuring private information is protected (not used for personal gain) and if publicized, guarantee proper legal measures will be put in place.
  9. Publishers of said communication do not accept gifts, benefits, payments etc.; for work, or their services
  10. Creating results and spreading results that are attainable and they can deliver.
  11. Being fully truthful to other people, and themselves.
Media is a major resource in the public relations career especially in news networks. That is why as a public relations specialist, having proper information is very important, and crucial to the society as a whole. Three sheets of newspaper.jpg
Media is a major resource in the public relations career especially in news networks. That is why as a public relations specialist, having proper information is very important, and crucial to the society as a whole.


Spin has been interpreted historically to mean overt deceit that is meant to manipulate the public, but since the 1950s has shifted to describing a "polishing of the truth." [48] Today, spin refers to providing a certain interpretation of information meant to sway public opinion. [49] Companies may use spin to create the appearance of the company or other events are going in a slightly different direction than they actually are. [48] Within the field of public relations, spin is seen as a derogatory term, interpreted by professionals as meaning blatant deceit and manipulation. [50] [51] Skilled practitioners of spin are sometimes called "spin doctors."

In Stuart Ewen's PR! A Social History of Spin, he argues that public relations can be a real menace to democracy as it renders the public discourse powerless. Corporations are able to hire public relations professionals and transmit their messages through the media channels and exercise a huge amount of influence upon the individual who is defenseless against such a powerful force. He claims that public relations is a weapon for capitalist deception and the best way to resist is to become media literate and use critical thinking when interpreting the various mediated messages. [52]

According to Jim Hoggan, "public relations is not by definition 'spin'. Public relations is the art of building good relationships. You do that most effectively by earning trust and goodwill among those who are important to you and your business... Spin is to public relations what manipulation is to interpersonal communications. It's a diversion whose primary effect is ultimately to undermine the central goal of building trust and nurturing a good relationship." [53]

The techniques of spin include selectively presenting facts and quotes that support ideal positions (cherry picking), the so-called "non-denial denial", phrasing that in a way presumes unproven truths, euphemisms for drawing attention away from items considered distasteful, and ambiguity in public statements. Another spin technique involves careful choice of timing in the release of certain news so it can take advantage of prominent events in the news.


Negative public relations, also called dark public relations (DPR), 'black hat PR' and in some earlier writing "Black PR", is a process of destroying the target's reputation and/or corporate identity. The objective in DPR is to discredit someone else, who may pose a threat to the client's business or be a political rival. DPR may rely on IT security, industrial espionage, social engineering and competitive intelligence. Common techniques include using dirty secrets from the target, producing misleading facts to fool a competitor. [54] [55] [56] [57] In politics, a decision to use negative PR is also known as negative campaigning.


The T.A.R.E.S. is a five-point test that evaluates ethical persuasion and provides boundaries in persuasive practices.

Politics and civil society

In Propaganda (1928), Bernays argued that the manipulation of public opinion was a necessary part of democracy. [59] In public relations, lobby groups are created to influence government policy, corporate policy or public opinion, typically in a way that benefits the sponsoring organization.

In fact, Bernays stresses that we are in fact dominated in almost every aspect of our lives, by a relatively small number of persons who have mastered the 'mental processes and social patterns of the masses,' which include our behavior, political and economic spheres or our morals. [60] In theory, each individual chooses his own opinion on behavior and public issues. However, in practice, it is impossible for one to study all variables and approaches of a particular question and come to a conclusion without any external influence. This is the reason why the society has agreed upon an 'invisible government' to interpret on our behalf information and narrow the choice field to a more practical scale. [61]

When a lobby group hides its true purpose and support base, it is known as a front group. [62] Front groups are a form of astroturfing, because they intend to sway the public or the government without disclosing their financial connection to corporate or political interests. They create a fake grass-roots movement by giving the appearance of a trusted organization that serves the public, when they actually serve their sponsors.

Politicians also employ public relations professionals to help project their views, policies and even personalities to their best advantages. [63] [64]

See also


    Related Research Articles

    <span class="mw-page-title-main">Spin (propaganda)</span> Form of propaganda in public relations and politics

    In public relations and politics, spin is a form of propaganda, achieved through knowingly providing a biased interpretation of an event or campaigning to influence public opinion about some organization or public figure. While traditional public relations and advertising may manage their presentation of facts, "spin" often implies the use of disingenuous, deceptive, and manipulative tactics.

    <span class="mw-page-title-main">Sales</span> Activities related to the exchange of goods

    Sales are activities related to selling or the number of goods sold in a given targeted time period. The delivery of a service for a cost is also considered a sale. A period during which goods are sold for a reduced price may also be referred to as a "sale".

    <span class="mw-page-title-main">Edward Bernays</span> American public relations pioneer (1891–1995)

    Edward Louis Bernays was an American pioneer in the field of public relations and propaganda, and referred to in his obituary as "the father of public relations". His best-known campaigns include a 1929 effort to promote female smoking by branding cigarettes as feminist "Torches of Freedom", and his work for the United Fruit Company in the 1950s, connected with the CIA-orchestrated overthrow of the democratically elected Guatemalan government in 1954. He worked for dozens of major American corporations, including Procter & Gamble and General Electric, and for government agencies, politicians, and nonprofit organizations.

    Corporate propaganda refers to corporations or government entities that spread specific ideology in order to shape public opinion or perceptions and promote its own interests. The more well known term, propaganda, refers to the spreading of information or ideas by someone who has an interest in changing another persons thoughts or actions. Two important early developers in this field were Harold Lasswell and Edward Bernays. Some scholars refer to propaganda terms such as public relations, marketing, and advertising as Organized Persuasive Communication (OPC). Corporations must learn how to use OPC in order to successfully target and control audiences.

    <span class="mw-page-title-main">Media manipulation</span> Techniques in which partisans create an image that favours their interests

    Media manipulation refers to orchestrated campaigns in which actors exploit the distinctive features of broadcasting mass communications or digital media platforms to mislead, misinform, or create a narrative that advance their interests and agendas.

    In marketing, publicity is the public visibility or awareness for any product, service, person or organization. It may also refer to the movement of information from its source to the general public, often via the media. The subjects of publicity include people of public recognition, goods and services, organizations, and works of art or entertainment.

    The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to public relations:

    Impression management is a conscious or subconscious process in which people attempt to influence the perceptions of other people about a person, object or event by regulating and controlling information in social interaction. It was first conceptualized by Erving Goffman in 1959 in The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, and then was expanded upon in 1967.

    Marketing communications refers to the use of different marketing channels and tools in combination. Marketing communication channels focus on how businesses communicate a message to its desired market, or the market in general. It is also in charge of the internal communications of the organization. Marketing communication tools include advertising, personal selling, direct marketing, sponsorship, communication, public relations, social media, customer journey and promotion.

    Reputation management, originally a public relations term, refers to the influencing, controlling, enhancing, or concealing of an individual's or group's reputation. The growth of the internet and social media led to growth of reputation management companies, with search results as a core part of a client's reputation. Online reputation management, sometimes abbreviated as ORM, focuses on the management of product and service search engine results.

    <span class="mw-page-title-main">Internal communications</span>

    Internal communications (IC) is the function responsible for effective communications among participants within an organization. The scope of the function varies by organization and practitioner, from producing and delivering messages and campaigns on behalf of management, to facilitating two-way dialogue and developing the communication skills of the organization's participants.

    Propaganda, a book written by Edward Bernays in 1928, incorporated the literature from social science and psychological manipulation into an examination of the techniques of public communication. Bernays wrote the book in response to the success of some of his earlier works such as Crystallizing Public Opinion (1923) and A Public Relations Counsel (1927). Propaganda explored the psychology behind manipulating masses and the ability to use symbolic action and propaganda to influence politics, effect social change, and lobby for gender and racial equality. Walter Lippmann was Bernays' unacknowledged American mentor and his work The Phantom Public greatly influenced the ideas expressed in Propaganda a year later. The work propelled Bernays into media historians' view of him as the "father of public relations."

    Earned media is content relating to a person or organization, which is published by a third party without any form of payment to the publisher. It includes articles by media outlets, interviews with the person or representatives of the organization, or bylined editorials in trade press and other publications. It may also include social media sharing, unpaid mentions by podcast hosts and guests, or word-of-mouth marketing.

    Business development entails tasks and processes to develop and implement growth opportunities within and between organizations. It is a subset of the fields of business, commerce and organizational theory. Business development is the creation of long-term value for an organization from customers, markets, and relationships. Business development can be taken to mean any activity by either a small or large organization, non-profit or for-profit enterprise which serves the purpose of ‘developing’ the business in some way. In addition, business development activities can be done internally or externally by a business development consultant. External business development can be facilitated through Planning Systems, which are put in place by governments to help small businesses. In addition, reputation building has also proven to help facilitate business development.

    Sustainability advertising is communications geared towards promoting social, economic and environmental benefits (sustainability) of products, services or actions through paid advertising in media in order to encourage responsible behavior of consumers.

    Corporate communication(s) is a set of activities involved in managing and orchestrating all internal and external communications aimed at creating a favourable point of view among stakeholders on which the company depends. It is the messages issued by a corporate organization, body or institute to its audiences, such as employees, media, channel partners and the general public. Organizations aim to communicate the same message to all its stakeholders, to transmit coherence, credibility and ethics.

    Crisis communication is a sub-specialty of the public relations profession that is designed to protect and defend an individual, company, or organization facing a public challenge to its reputation. Crisis communication is aimed at raising awareness of a specific type of threat, the magnitude, outcomes, and specific behaviors to adopt to reduce the threat. The communication scholar Timothy Coombs defines crisis as "the perception of an unpredictable event that threatens important expectancies of stakeholders and can seriously impact an organization's performance and generate negative outcomes" and crisis communication as "the collection, processing, and dissemination of information required to address a crisis situation."

    "The Engineering of Consent" is an essay by Edward Bernays first published in 1947, and a book he published in 1955.

    Most textbooks date the establishment of the "Publicity Bureau" in 1900 as the start of the modern public relations (PR) profession. Of course, there were many early forms of public influence and communications management in history. Basil Clarke is considered the founder of the PR profession in Britain with his establishment of Editorial Services in 1924. Academic Noel Turnball points out that systematic PR was employed in Britain first by religious evangelicals and Victorian reformers, especially opponents of slavery. In each case the early promoters focused on their particular movement and were not for hire more generally.

    Media Relations involves working with media for the purpose of informing the public of an organization's mission, policies and practices in a positive, consistent and credible manner. It can also entail developing symbiotic relationships with media outlets, journalists, bloggers, and influencers to garner publicity for an organization. Typically, this means coordinating directly with the people responsible for producing the news and features in the mass media. The goal of media relations is to maximize positive coverage in the mass media without paying for it directly through advertising.


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