What Public Relations Does

Not many people know, yet it’s no secret.

Cover photo: @jerrysilfwer

What pub­lic rela­tions does is not a secret.

However, it’s com­mon for pub­lic rela­tions to be shrouded in an air of mys­tique. Not many know exactly what pub­lic rela­tions does for an organisation.

Marketing, of course, is anoth­er story. Almost every­one knows what mar­ket­ing does: pro­mot­ing a brand and its products or services! 

Let’s unveil what pub­lic rela­tions does. After all — it’s not a secret.

Here we go:

What Public Relations Does

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The stake­hold­er mod­el in pub­lic relations.
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What Public Relations Does

Public rela­tions and mar­ket­ing both use rela­tion­ship-build­ing tech­niques, but their mis­sions and philo­sophies are fun­da­ment­ally dif­fer­ent.”
Source: Public Relations Review 1Broom, G., Lauzen, M., & Tucker, K. (1991). Public rela­tions and mar­ket­ing: Dividing the con­cep­tu­al domain and oper­a­tion­al turf. Public Relations Review, 17, 219 – 225. … Continue read­ing

Suppose you’re run­ning a busi­ness and wish to be top-of-mind and sell more products and ser­vices. The go-to option is to double down on mar­ket­ing to run ad cam­paigns, invest in SEM, or get into paid col­lab­or­a­tions with influencers.

To get star­ted, you devel­op a cre­at­ive concept and a mar­ket­ing strategy, which you pair up with copy­writ­ing and art dir­ec­tion to cre­ate your assets. After care­ful plan­ning, you place your media budget with third-party pub­lish­ers who can expose your mes­saging to poten­tial customers.

That’s mar­ket­ing!

However, there are lots of instances where the mar­ket­ing tool­box falls short:

Media Relations

(Sometimes referred to as “Press Office.”)

Organizations’ media rela­tions activ­it­ies can influ­ence media con­tent and opin­ions, but suc­cess depends on more than just dis­trib­ut­ing news releases.”
Source: Public Relations Review 2Turk, J. (1985). Information sub­sidies and influ­ence. Public Relations Review, 11, 10 – 25. https://​doi​.org/​1​0​.​1​0​1​6​/​S​0​3​6​3​-​8​1​1​1​(​8​5​)​8​0​078 – 3

Some third-party pub­lish­ers don’t accept pay­ment because their live­li­hood depends on objectiv­ity. Journalists (and influ­en­cers with journ­al­ist­ic ambi­tions) fall into this cat­egory. Their unbiased approach makes them highly influential.

Obviously, you can­not send your mar­ket­ing assets to a journ­al­ist. They will refer you to their mar­ket­ing depart­ment and ask you to pay for an ad!

However, a PR pro­fes­sion­al under­stands how to cre­ate mater­i­al that a journ­al­ist (or an ambi­tious influ­en­cer) will want to fea­ture to their audi­ence.

Learn more: Media Relations

Corporate Communications

(Sometimes used inter­change­ably with “Communications” and “Inhouse PR” as a gen­er­al term.)

Corporate com­mu­nic­a­tion is a new [editor’s note: pub­lished in 1996] and grow­ing dis­cip­line that focuses on com­mu­nic­a­tion with­in organ­iz­a­tions, relat­ing to man­age­ment, busi­ness, and organ­iz­a­tion­al aspects.”
Source: Management Communication Quarterly 3Argenti, P. (1996). Corporate Communication as a Discipline. Management Communication Quarterly, 10, 73 – 97. https://​doi​.org/​1​0​.​1​1​7​7​/​0​8​9​3​3​1​8​9​9​6​0​1​0​0​0​1​005

What if an organ­isa­tion depends not just on wheth­er people buy its products or ser­vices but also on what people think of your organ­isa­tion and how it con­ducts its busi­ness? What if people want to dis­cuss crit­ic­al top­ics with the organisation?

Unfortunately, pro­mot­ing your products and ser­vices to these people won’t cut it. However, pub­lic rela­tions has pro­fes­sion­al know-how in this area.

Learn more: Corporate Communications

Investor Relations (IR)

Investor rela­tions officers sig­ni­fic­antly influ­ence cor­por­ate dis­clos­ures and play a cru­cial role in private com­mu­nic­a­tion between IROs, ana­lysts, and investors.”
Source: Journal of Accounting and Economics 4Brown, L., Call, A., Clement, M., & Sharp, N. (2019). Managing the nar­rat­ive: Investor rela­tions officers and cor­por­ate dis­clos­ure✰. Journal of Accounting and Economics. … Continue read­ing

In some organ­isa­tions, espe­cially large ones, there are vari­ous fin­an­cial stake­hold­ers. Shareholders, investors, fin­an­cial insti­tu­tions, etc. You can­not “do mar­ket­ing” towards these groups; their inform­a­tion­al needs dif­fer from those of poten­tial consumers. 

But with­in pub­lic rela­tions, we under­stand how to engage in two-way communication.

Learn more: Investor Relations (IR)

Digital PR

(Sometimes referred to as “Digital Communications,” “Online PR,” or “Online Communications.”)

Online pub­lic rela­tions can enhance vis­ib­il­ity and build rela­tion­ships with the pub­lic, pro­mot­ing organ­iz­a­tions and products through dia­lo­gic com­mu­nic­a­tion.”
Source: Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences 5Petrovici, M. (2014). E‑Public Relations: Impact and Efficiency. A Case Study. Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences, 141, 79 – 84. https://​doi​.org/​1​0​.​1​0​1​6​/​J​.​S​B​S​P​R​O​.​2​0​1​4​.​0​5​.​015

Not all online traffic is paid for by ads. People search organ­ic­ally for inform­a­tion, know­ledge, inspir­a­tion, enter­tain­ment, etc. Some people even wish to be more than just cus­tom­ers — they want to be fans, fol­low­ers, and subscribers! 

And yes, pub­lic rela­tions is equipped to cater to the inform­a­tion­al needs of fin­an­cial stakeholders.

Learn more: Digital PR

Public Affairs (PA)

Integrating cor­por­ate plan­ning and pub­lic affairs per­spect­ives is cru­cial for organ­iz­a­tions to effect­ively respond to envir­on­ment­al change and adapt to social and polit­ic­al tur­bu­lence.”
Source: Long Range Planning 6Post, J., Murray, E., Dickie, R., & Mahon, J. (1982). The pub­lic affairs func­tion in American cor­por­a­tions: Development and rela­tions with cor­por­ate plan­ning. Long Range Planning, 15, 12 – 21. … Continue read­ing

For some organ­isa­tions, it mat­ters what the gen­er­al pub­lic thinks about cer­tain issues. For an elec­tric car man­u­fac­turer, it mat­ters what people think of the elec­tri­fic­a­tion of soci­ety. Because in a demo­cracy, pub­lic opin­ion will ulti­mately shape pub­lic policy.

In pub­lic rela­tions, we have the skill set to nav­ig­ate and man­age pub­lic per­cep­tions and shape opin­ions long-term. While advert­ising can sup­port such endeav­ours, the driv­ing force is usu­ally pub­lic relations.

Learn more: Public Affairs (PA)

Lobbying

Lobbying can be viewed as a form of legis­lat­ive sub­sidy, provid­ing policy inform­a­tion, polit­ic­al intel­li­gence, and legis­lat­ive labor to stra­tegic­ally selec­ted legis­lat­ors, assist­ing nat­ur­al allies in achiev­ing their object­ives.”
Source: American Political Science Review 7Hall, R., & Deardorff, A. (2006). Lobbying as Legislative Subsidy. American Political Science Review, 100, 69 – 84. https://​doi​.org/​1​0​.​1​0​1​7​/​S​0​0​0​3​0​5​5​4​0​6​0​6​2​010

At times, it’s a good idea to present your organ­isa­tion’s ideas dir­ectly to those in charge of mak­ing the decisions, like politi­cians, legis­lat­ors, ana­lysts, top­ic experts, etc. And these groups are rarely con­vinced by mar­ket­ing messages.

Learn more: Lobbying

Internal Communications (IC)

Strengthening intern­al com­mu­nic­a­tion through vari­ous meth­ods, includ­ing face-to-face com­mu­nic­a­tion, can improve employ­ee engage­ment and build trust between man­age­ment and employ­ees.”
Source: International Journal of Business Communication 8Mishra, K., Boynton, L., & Mishra, A. (2014). Driving Employee Engagement. International Journal of Business Communication, 51, 183 – 202. https://​doi​.org/​1​0​.​1​1​7​7​/​2​3​2​9​4​8​8​4​1​4​5​2​5​399

Most organ­isa­tions have employ­ees. Their opin­ions and atti­tudes towards the employ­er often decide wheth­er the organ­isa­tion will rise or fall. Aiming mar­ket­ing cam­paigns at them rarely resolves any issues. 

In pub­lic rela­tions, we have a long and proud tra­di­tion of improv­ing all types of com­mu­nic­a­tion with­in an organ­isa­tion. (It’s also a major field of aca­dem­ic research!)

Learn more: Internal Communications (IC)

Crisis Communications

(Sometimes referred to as “Crisis Management.”)

Effective crisis com­mu­nic­a­tion strategies, tim­ing, and situ­ation­al factors can guide man­agers in achiev­ing desired out­comes and enhan­cing cor­por­ate repu­ta­tion dur­ing crises.”
Source: Business Horizons 9Coombs, W. (2015). The value of com­mu­nic­a­tion dur­ing a crisis: Insights from stra­tegic com­mu­nic­a­tion research. Business Horizons, 58, 141 – 148. https://​doi​.org/​1​0​.​1​0​1​6​/​J​.​B​U​S​H​O​R​.​2​0​1​4​.​1​0​.​003

Sometimes, things go wrong. In such situ­ations, paus­ing all mar­ket­ing cam­paigns is often a good idea. No one wants to see an ad for your busi­ness when people suf­fer or have got­ten hurt. 

We have developed a tried-and-tested tool­box in pub­lic rela­tions to assist organ­isa­tions in deal­ing with extremely chal­len­ging scenarios.

Learn more: Crisis Communications

Marketing PR

(Sometimes referred to as “Marketing Communications.”)

Integrating mar­ket­ing com­mu­nic­a­tions across tra­di­tion­al and new media can improve the effect­ive­ness and effi­ciency of mar­ket­ing pro­grams.”
Source: Journal of Marketing 10Batra, R., & Keller, K. (2016). Integrating Marketing Communications: New Findings, New Lessons, and New Ideas. Journal of Marketing, 80, 122 – 145. https://​doi​.org/​1​0​.​1​5​0​9​/​j​m​.​1​5​.​0​419

Journalists and influ­en­cers are some­times inter­ested in con­sumer offer­ings, too. Not only are poten­tial cus­tom­ers inter­ested in learn­ing about new products or ser­vices — journ­al­ists might be curi­ous, too. This often hap­pens when there are big launches or sig­ni­fic­ant tech­no­lo­gic­al advancements. 

This is where mar­ket­ing and pub­lic rela­tions “cross swords.” While mar­ket­ing will use paid cam­paigns to push products or ser­vices, pub­lic rela­tions will pitch those products or ser­vices to journ­al­ists (and influ­en­cers with journ­al­ist­ic ambitions).

Learn more: Marketing PR

Industry PR (B2B)

(Sometimes referred to as “B2B PR,” “B2B Communications,” or with more spe­cificity, like “Tech PR,” “Telecom PR”, “Medical PR,” etc.) 

Contemporary pub­lic rela­tions for B2B involves 7 dis­tinct types of fram­ing: situ­ations, attrib­utes, choices, actions, issues, respons­ib­il­ity, and news.”
Source: Journal of Public Relations Research 11Hallahan, K. (1999). Seven Models of Framing: Implications for Public Relations. Journal of Public Relations Research, 11, 205 – 242. https://​doi​.org/​1​0​.​1​2​0​7​/​S​1​5​3​2​7​5​4​X​J​P​R​R​1​1​0​3​_02

In many indus­tries, organ­isa­tions sell products and ser­vices to oth­er com­pan­ies. Marketing can be import­ant, espe­cially if there are thou­sands of poten­tial cus­tom­ers. However, many niches are small and depend­ent on per­son­al relationships.

Also, many organ­isa­tions depend on func­tion­al rela­tion­ships with vendors, dis­trib­ut­ors, part­ners, sup­pli­ers, etc. Public rela­tions is the way to com­mu­nic­ate with these organisations.

Learn more: Industry PR (B2B)


All of the above types of pub­lic rela­tions can be found in the stake­hold­er mod­el.

As you can see, a lot of com­mu­nic­a­tion has to occur for most organ­isa­tions — besides mar­ket­ing. Marketing is a great tool, but pub­lic rela­tions is some­times the only way.

And, finally:

Why do most people know what mar­ket­ing does — when the same thing can­not be said for pub­lic relations?

Marketing is big money. Marketing gen­er­ates sales dir­ectly, which makes it a pri­or­ity for many organ­isa­tions. While media place­ments are expens­ive and require budgets expo­nen­tially lar­ger than any budgets spent on com­mu­nic­a­tions, advert­ising expos­ure is also guaranteed.

Public rela­tions budgets and resources are often less well-defined and less accep­ted than mar­ket­ing budgets and resources, but both dis­cip­lines con­trib­ute to the bot­tom line.”
Source: Public Relations for Marketing Professionals 12Haywood, R. (1998). Public rela­tions budget and resources. Public Relations for Marketing Professionals, 83 – 96. https://​doi​.org/​1​0​.​1​0​0​7​/​978 – 1‑349 – 14365-8_5

Learn more: What Public Relations Does

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Public Relations Meaning — What Is PR?

Public Relations Meaning - What Is PR - Doctor Spin - The PR Blog
Public rela­tions mean­ing — what is PR?
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Public Relations Meaning (What Is PR?)

The single biggest prob­lem in com­mu­nic­a­tion is the illu­sion that it has taken place.”
— George Bernard Shaw

Public Relations (abbre­vi­ated “PR”) is the stra­tegic and tac­tic­al use of com­mu­nic­a­tion to devel­op and main­tain pro­duct­ive rela­tion­ships with stake­hold­ers, influ­en­cers, and pub­lics.

PR is some­times referred to as “Strategic Communications” or simply “Communications.” Public rela­tions pro­fes­sion­als some­times jok­ingly say that PR also stands for “Perception Management” or “Personal Relationships.”

PR pro­fes­sion­als have vari­ous spe­cial­isa­tions, includ­ing cor­por­ate com­mu­nic­a­tions, investor rela­tions (IR), media rela­tions, digit­al PR, pub­lic affairs (PA), lob­by­ing, intern­al com­mu­nic­a­tions (IC), crisis com­mu­nic­a­tions, mar­ket­ing PR, and industry PR (B2B).

The PESO mod­el explains the cent­ral dif­fer­ence between marketing/​advertising and communications/​PR:

Marketing/​Advertising

  • Paid Media: Advertising, pro­mo­tions, etc.

Communications/​PR

  • Earned Media: Publicity, word-of-mouth, etc.
  • Shared Media: Online buzz, social shares, etc. 
  • Owned Media: Web pages, social accounts, etc.

Learn more: Public Relations Meaning — What Is PR?

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Public Relations Definition

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The Public Relations Definition

Someone once tried to count the num­ber of actu­al defin­i­tions of pub­lic rela­tions, but they allegedly gave up after find­ing over 500+ dif­fer­ent ver­sions. 13Morris, T., & Goldsworthy, S. (2008). From PR to pro­pa­ganda. 97 – 111. https://​doi​.org/​1​0​.​1​0​0​7​/​978 – 0‑230 – 59485-2_7

Amongst so many defin­i­tions of Public Relations, here’s the defin­i­tion that I find to be most useful:

Public Relations Definition

Public Relations (PR) = the stra­tegic 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.

Learn more: Public Relations Definition

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Please sup­port my PR blog by shar­ing it with oth­er com­mu­nic­a­tion pro­fes­sion­als. For ques­tions or PR sup­port, con­tact me via jerry@​spinfactory.​com.

PR Resource: Public Relations 101

Be so good they can­’t ignore you.”
— Steve Martin

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Doctor Spin’s PR School: Free Introduction PR Course

Get star­ted with this free Introduction PR Course and learn essen­tial pub­lic rela­tions skills and con­cepts for future suc­cess in the PR industry.

Comparing Public Relations

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ANNOTATIONS
ANNOTATIONS
1 Broom, G., Lauzen, M., & Tucker, K. (1991). Public rela­tions and mar­ket­ing: Dividing the con­cep­tu­al domain and oper­a­tion­al turf. Public Relations Review, 17, 219 – 225. https://​doi​.org/​1​0​.​1​0​1​6​/​0​363 – 8111(91)90018‑G
2 Turk, J. (1985). Information sub­sidies and influ­ence. Public Relations Review, 11, 10 – 25. https://​doi​.org/​1​0​.​1​0​1​6​/​S​0​3​6​3​-​8​1​1​1​(​8​5​)​8​0​078 – 3
3 Argenti, P. (1996). Corporate Communication as a Discipline. Management Communication Quarterly, 10, 73 – 97. https://​doi​.org/​1​0​.​1​1​7​7​/​0​8​9​3​3​1​8​9​9​6​0​1​0​0​0​1​005
4 Brown, L., Call, A., Clement, M., & Sharp, N. (2019). Managing the nar­rat­ive: Investor rela­tions officers and cor­por­ate dis­clos­ure✰. Journal of Accounting and Economics. https://​doi​.org/​1​0​.​1​0​1​6​/​J​.​J​A​C​C​E​C​O​.​2​0​1​8​.​0​8​.​014
5 Petrovici, M. (2014). E‑Public Relations: Impact and Efficiency. A Case Study. Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences, 141, 79 – 84. https://​doi​.org/​1​0​.​1​0​1​6​/​J​.​S​B​S​P​R​O​.​2​0​1​4​.​0​5​.​015
6 Post, J., Murray, E., Dickie, R., & Mahon, J. (1982). The pub­lic affairs func­tion in American cor­por­a­tions: Development and rela­tions with cor­por­ate plan­ning. Long Range Planning, 15, 12 – 21. https://​doi​.org/​1​0​.​1​0​1​6​/​0​024 – 6301(82)90115 – 7
7 Hall, R., & Deardorff, A. (2006). Lobbying as Legislative Subsidy. American Political Science Review, 100, 69 – 84. https://​doi​.org/​1​0​.​1​0​1​7​/​S​0​0​0​3​0​5​5​4​0​6​0​6​2​010
8 Mishra, K., Boynton, L., & Mishra, A. (2014). Driving Employee Engagement. International Journal of Business Communication, 51, 183 – 202. https://​doi​.org/​1​0​.​1​1​7​7​/​2​3​2​9​4​8​8​4​1​4​5​2​5​399
9 Coombs, W. (2015). The value of com­mu­nic­a­tion dur­ing a crisis: Insights from stra­tegic com­mu­nic­a­tion research. Business Horizons, 58, 141 – 148. https://​doi​.org/​1​0​.​1​0​1​6​/​J​.​B​U​S​H​O​R​.​2​0​1​4​.​1​0​.​003
10 Batra, R., & Keller, K. (2016). Integrating Marketing Communications: New Findings, New Lessons, and New Ideas. Journal of Marketing, 80, 122 – 145. https://​doi​.org/​1​0​.​1​5​0​9​/​j​m​.​1​5​.​0​419
11 Hallahan, K. (1999). Seven Models of Framing: Implications for Public Relations. Journal of Public Relations Research, 11, 205 – 242. https://​doi​.org/​1​0​.​1​2​0​7​/​S​1​5​3​2​7​5​4​X​J​P​R​R​1​1​0​3​_02
12 Haywood, R. (1998). Public rela­tions budget and resources. Public Relations for Marketing Professionals, 83 – 96. https://​doi​.org/​1​0​.​1​0​0​7​/​978 – 1‑349 – 14365-8_5
13 Morris, T., & Goldsworthy, S. (2008). From PR to pro­pa­ganda. 97 – 111. https://​doi​.org/​1​0​.​1​0​0​7​/​978 – 0‑230 – 59485-2_7
Jerry Silfwer
Jerry Silfwerhttps://doctorspin.net/
Jerry Silfwer, alias Doctor Spin, is an awarded senior adviser specialising in public relations and digital strategy. Currently CEO at Spin Factory and KIX Communication Index. Before that, he worked at Kaufmann, Whispr Group, Springtime PR, and Spotlight PR. Based in Stockholm, Sweden.

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