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:
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 strategic and tactical use of communication to develop and maintain productive relationships with stakeholders, influencers, and publics.
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.
Learn more: How To Define Public Relations
Some Additional PR Definitions
Here are a few additional definitions:
“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 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
“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 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 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 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
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PR Resource: Stakeholders in PR
Stakeholders in Public Relations
In PR, we often discuss stakeholders. And our PR specialisations are named based on which stakeholders we’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
Here’s the stakeholder model in PR:
A widespread 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 tiny percentage of all the stakeholder relationships PR professionals must manage daily.
Learn more: Stakeholders in Public Relations
PR Resource: Publics in PR
The 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).
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.
Learn more: The Publics in Public Relations
|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.|