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Public relations

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Public relations is the communications management function that seeks to build, maintain and protect reputations, develop and maintain positive images and perceptions, change negative perceptions into neutral ones and eventually into positive ones, create positive, clear and satisfying communications with customers and others being served, and manage outside communication to ensure accuracy and positive perceptions.

Who uses p.r.?Edit

  • Corporations use public relations as a vehicle to reach legislators and other politicians, seeking favorable tax, regulatory, and other treatment, and they may use public relations to portray themselves as enlightened employers, in support of human-resources recruiting programs. They also employ public relations as part of their marketing strategy to ensure a good name and image for their products and/or services.
  • Non-profit organizations, including schools and universities, hospitals and human and social service agencies, use public relations in support of awareness programs, fund-raising programs, staff recruiting, and to increase patronage of their services.
  • Politicians employ many public relations tools to attract votes and raise money, and, when successful at the ballot box, to promote and defend their performance in office, with an eye to the next election or, at career's end, to their legacy.
  • The various branches of the military use public relations - usually called "public affairs" - internally to boost morale and to inform and educate service men and women about military issues and current events, and externally to facilitate the flow of information between the military and civilian worlds, as well as between members of the military and their families and communities.

Public relations definedEdit

Early definitions of the profession focused on the roles of press agentry and publicity since these were major elements from which modern public relations grew.

But public relations is more than "getting your name in the paper" or "becoming known," although those are often p.r. goals.

Public relations is a management function that has as its goal to persuade and inform various publics on behalf of a client. This often seeks to change a negative image into a "neutral" image, and a "neutral" image into a positive one.

In 1976, public relations pioneer Rex Harlow used a grant to investigate 472 definitions of the field, breaking them into concepts and central ideas. After this research, he came up with this comprehensive definition:

Public relations is a distinctive management function which helps establish and maintain mutual lines of communication, understanding, acceptance and cooperation between an organization and its publics; involves the management of problems or issues; helps management to keep informed on and responsible to public opinion; defines and emphasizes the responsibility of management to serve the public interest; helps management keep abreast of and effectively utilize change, serving as an early warning system to help anticipate tends; and uses research and sound and ethical communication techniques as its principal tools.

In 1988, the Public Relations Society of America came up with their own, much shorter, definition, which reads:

Public relations helps an organization and its publics adapt mutually to each other.

In this definition, the essential public relations functions of research, planning, communications dialogue and evaluation are implied. Key words are "organization" rather than the limiting implication of "company" or "business", and "publics" which recognizes that all organizations have multiple publics from which they must earn consent and support.

In their textbook, Effective Public Relations, Scott Cutlip and Allen Center say this about the profession:

"Public Relations is the planned effort to influence public opinion through good character and responsible performance based upon mutually satisfactory two-way communication."

This definition stresses the importance of "mutual satisfaction" in public relations practice, as well as two-way communication. Often in the past, p.r. has been seen as something that is "done" by a staff at the behest of an itchy or nervous management. The idea that the profession is TWO-WAY, and is a management function itself, is a modern idea, and one that has helped advance p.r. from a "THING that is done" to a full-blown profession.


As industry consolidation becomes more prevalent, many organizations and individuals are choosing to retain "boutique" firms as opposed to so-called "global" communications firms. These smaller firms typically specialize in only a couple of practice areas and thus, often have a greater understanding of their client's business. And because they deal with certain journalists with greater frequency, specialty firms often have stronger media contacts in the areas that matter most to their clients. Added benefits of smaller, specialty firms include more personal attention and accountability and as well, cost savings. This is not to say that smaller is always better, but there is a growing consensus that specialty firms offer more than once considered.

A number of specialties exist within the field of public relations, including:

Professional associationsEdit

Public relations professional associations seek to raise the level of professionalism among public relations consultants. All have a code of ethics or standards to which they hold their members. They usually offer seminars and hold events for their members and hold other classes for the purpose of ongoing professional development. Sometimes members must seek certification on a periodic basis in order to retain a certain classification within the group.

All of this is designed to improve the stature of p.r. as a profession with professional standards, something that just over a half century ago, was lacking.

These groups also serve as a networking opportunity, and many provide job listings for p.r. openings for all levels of the profession.

Here are some professional associations around the world that maintain an Internet presence:

See alsoEdit


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