The PR BlogPublic RelationsCorporate CommunicationsHow to Classify Stakeholders in Public Relations

How to Classify Stakeholders in Public Relations

Stakeholders are a central part of public relations.

Cover photo by Jerry Silfwer (Instagram)

Stakeholders play a central role in public relations.

In public relations, we typically segment three audiences; publics, influencers, and stakeholders. They overlap but are used for different purposes.

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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

Influencers and publics exist regardless of the organisation, whereas stakeholders exist because of the organisation.

“In a corporation, a stakeholder is a member of “groups without whose support the organisation would cease to exist”, as defined in the first usage of the word in a 1963 internal memorandum at the Stanford Research Institute. The theory was later developed and championed by R. Edward Freeman in the 1980s. Since then it has gained wide acceptance in business practice and in theorising relating to strategic management, corporate governance, business purpose and corporate social responsibility (CSR).”
Source: Wikipedia

The Stakeholder Model in PR

Arranging groups of people as stakeholders is so common that most PR specialisations have been named following the model.

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. 1The 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

Developing and maintaining relationships with various stakeholders is a significant challenge for PR professionals since their information needs are typically very different. From a resource perspective, the PR function must constantly struggle to find balance in prioritising these needs.

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].

1 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 Silfwer
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.


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