The PR BlogPublic RelationsPR IndustryHow To Define Public Relations

How To Define Public Relations

This is definitely the definitive definition, maybe.

Cover photo by Jerry Silfwer (Instagram)

How to define public relations?

Defining public relations is no easy task.

We are a profession with powers to help brands communicate better, but we struggle with defining ourselves—the irony isn’t lost on anyone.

Still, after many years of theoretical and practical trial-and-error, I’ve created a definition that I find useful in my daily PR life.

Here we go:

How I Define Public Relations

Someone once tried to count the number of suggested definitions of public relations, but they allegedly gave up after finding 2,000+ different attempts. 1From the early 1900s to 1976, Rex F. Harlow, a well-respected expert on public relations, gathered around 500 different definitions of public relations (Cutlip et al. 2006).

The story might be an urban PR legend, but the point remains the same: Many PR definitions exist.

With all of those 2,000+ definitions in mind, what kind of PR blogger would I be if I didn’t take a stab at a PR definition as well?

So, here’s how I define public relations:

I Love PR – Mug in Snow – Doctor Spin – The PR Blog 2
I love PR. And coffee.

How To Define Public Relations

Someone once tried to count the number of actual definitions of public relations, but they allegedly gave up after finding over 2,000+ different versions.

Amongst so many definitions of public relations, here’s the definition that I find to be most useful.

Public Relations (PR) = the strategical and tactical use of communication to develop and maintain productive relationships with stakeholders, influencers, and publics.

Please note:

Stakeholders in PR = incentivised representatives with various interests in the organisation.

Influencers in PR = independent gatekeepers with audiences of importance to the organisation.

Publics in PR = situational groups with similar communicative behaviours affecting the organisation.

Here are a few additional definitions:

“Public relations is an organizational function and a set of processes for managing communication between an organization and its publics.”
International Association of Business Communicators

“Public relations is the strategic practice of influencing attitudes and behavior through communication, which seeks to create and maintain mutually beneficial relationships between an organization and its publics.”
Public Relations Society of America

“Public relations is the management of communication between an organization and its publics, through the use of technology, social media, and other forms of communication to achieve mutual understanding, realize organizational goals, and serve the public interest.”
The Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communication Management

“Public relations is the management function which evaluates public attitudes, identifies the policies and procedures of an organization with the public interest, and plans and executes a program of action to earn public understanding and acceptance.”
Institute for Public Relations

“Public relations is the process of creating, building, and maintaining relationships with key stakeholders in order to achieve organizational goals and objectives.”
Chartered Institute of Public Relations

“Public relations is the art and social science of analyzing trends, predicting their consequences, counseling organizational leaders, and implementing planned programs of action, which will serve both the organization and the public interest.”
IPR Commission on PR Education

Read also: How To Define Public Relations

Thank you for reading this article. Please consider supporting my work by sharing it with other PR- and communication professionals. For questions or PR support, contact me via [email protected].

PR Resource: Stakeholders in PR

Stakeholders in Public Relations

In PR, we often discuss stakeholders. And most PR specialisations are grouped based on which stakeholders they’re responsible for managing. 2The stakeholder model is far from perfect. There are plenty of overlaps, especially when it comes to media relations. Also, the corporate communications function is often regarded as an umbrella … Continue reading

A few examples:

  • External and internal publics, business journalists, regulatory institutions, partners, suppliers, vendors etc. (Corporate Communications)
  • Shareholders, financial markets, market analysts, financial institutions, trade journalists etc. (Investor Relations)
  • Journalists, editors, influencers etc. (Media Relations)
  • Inbound web traffic, brand communities, subscribers, fans, followers, influencers, social networks etc. (Digital PR)
  • Voters, political journalists, political analysts, columnists, interest groups etc. (Public Affairs)
  • Politicians, legislators, government officials, committees influencers etc. (Lobbying)
  • Coworkers, potential recruits etc. (Internal Communications)
  • Crisis victims, worried publics, the general public, coworkers, journalists, influencers, customers, shareholders etc. (Crisis Communications)
  • Potential customers, existing customers, trade journalists, members, affiliates etc. (Marketing Communications)
  • Trade journalists, trade organisations, niche influencers etc. (Industry PR)

A common misconception is that the PR function only deals with journalists, editors, and influencers (Media Relations) within the scope of attracting new customers (Marketing PR). But such work represents only a small percentage of all the stakeholder relationships PR professionals must manage daily.

Read also: How To Classify Stakeholders in Public Relations

PR Resource: Publics in PR

Publics in Public Relations

Here’s how to define ‘publics’ in public relations:

‘Publics’ in PR = a psychographic segment (who) with similar communication behaviours (how) formed around a specific issue (why).

Please note:

Psychographic segment = similarities in cognitive driving factors such as reasoning, motivations, attitudes etc.

Communication behaviours = how the public’s opinion is expressed (choice of message, rhetorical framing, and medium type).

Specific issue = determined situationally by a specific social object, often high on the agenda in news media or social media.

Read also: The Publics in Public Relations

ANNOTATIONS
ANNOTATIONS
1 From the early 1900s to 1976, Rex F. Harlow, a well-respected expert on public relations, gathered around 500 different definitions of public relations (Cutlip et al. 2006).
2 The stakeholder model is far from perfect. There are plenty of overlaps, especially when it comes to media relations. Also, the corporate communications function is often regarded as an umbrella category for the other disciplines.
Jerry Silfwer
Jerry Silfwerhttps://www.doctorspin.net/
Jerry Silfwer, alias Doctor Spin, is an awarded senior adviser specialising in public relations and digital strategy. Currently CEO at KIX Index and Spin Factory. Before that, he worked at Kaufmann, Whispr Group, Springtime PR, and Spotlight PR. Based in Stockholm, Sweden.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

.

Grab a free subscription before you go.

Get notified of new blog posts & new PR courses

🔒 Please read my integrity- and cookie policy.

Write B2B Blog Posts

Use my storytelling template (with action prompts) to create blog posts for B2B experts using The Outline Method. Including my 16-page How-To Guide, Demo Post, and professional feedback.

I've created the Venn diagram of corporate awareness to emphasise the importance of internal collaboration between public relations, marketing, and branding.
Most popular