What Is Public Relations?
“Public relations is the management function that identifies, establishes and maintains mutually beneficial relationships between an organisation and the various publics on whom its success or failure depends” – Scott Cutlip
Public relations, byname PR, is an aspect of communications involving the relations between an entity subject, to, or seeking public attention of the various publics that are, or may be interested in it. The entity seeking attention may be a business corporation, an individual politician, a performer or author, a government or government agency, a charitable organisation, a religious body, or almost any other person or organisation. The publics may include segments as narrow as female voters of a particular political party who are between 35 and 50 years of age or the shareholders in a particular corporation; or the publics may be as broad as any national population or the world at large. The concerns of public relations operate both ways between the subject entity, which may be thought of as the client, and the publics involved. The important elements of public relations are to acquaint the client with the public conceptions of the client and to affect these perceptions by focusing, curtailing, amplifying, or augmenting information about the client as it is conveyed to the publics.
Public relations encompasses a variety of marketing activities that strengthen organisations credibility, enhance organisations image and develop goodwill. These are usually targeted directly at an audience, such as speeches, special events, newsletters, and annual reports. A public relation involves communicating who you are, what you do, why you do it, and how you make a difference.
The difference between publicity and public relations
The term’s public relations and publicity are often misused. They are not interchangeable. Publicity is only one function of public relations. It is media coverage i.e. news stories, feature articles, talk show interviews, editorials and reviews. Other commonly confused terms are publicity and advertising. The key distinction is you pay for advertising. Because publicity is free, it is more credible and more likely to have an impact on the reader or viewer. Advertising is generally not considered a public relations function.
According to the Public Relations Institute of America: Public relations is the deliberate, planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain understanding between an organisation and its public (Malan and L’Estrange, 1981).
PR is a broad and complex activity although its basic objective is simple: to communicate in order to achieve understanding through knowledge. Consequently, PR exists, liked or not, and all modern organisations, because of their size and complexity, need and are concerned with PR. Good PR with the conscious effort to inform and be informed provides knowledge, understanding, goodwill and a good reputation. PR exists to keep institutions alert to an ever-shifting environment of circumstance and public opinion.
PR is an on-going activity, hence the word sustained in the definition. It must anticipate problems and eliminate causes before problems arise. It is not there to rescue an operation or to apologise for it (Malan and L’Estrange, 1981). PR is essentially concerned with communication: between people, between people and organisations and within and between organisations.
Activities and Methods
Public relations activities in the modern world help institutions to cope successfully with many problems, to build prestige for an individual or a group, to promote products, and to win elections or legislative battles. The majority of public relations workers are staff employees working within a corporate or institutional framework. Others operate in public relations counselling firms.
In industry, public relations personnel keep management informed of changes in the opinions of various publics (that is, the groups of people whose support is needed): employees, stockholders, customers, suppliers, dealers, the community, and government. These professionals counsel management as to the impact of any action—or lack of action—on the behaviour of the target audiences. Once an organisational decision has been made, the public relations person has the task of communicating this information to the public using methods that foster understanding, consent, and desired behaviour. For example, a hospital merger, an industrial plant closing, or the introductions of a new product all require public relations planning and skill.
Public relations also play an important role in the entertainment industry. The theatre, motion pictures, sports, restaurants, and individuals all use public relations services to increase their business or enhance their image. Other public relations clients are educational, social service, and charitable institutions, trade unions, religious groups, and professional societies.
The successful public relations practitioner is a specialist in communication arts and persuasion. The work involves various functions including the following:
1. programming—that is, analysing problems and opportunities, defining goals, determining the public to be reached, and recommending and planning activities;
2. writing and editing materials such as press releases, speeches, stockholder reports, product information, and employee publications;
3. placing information in the most advantageous way;
4. organising special events such as press functions, award programs, exhibits, and displays;
5. setting up face-to-face communication, including the preparation and delivery of speeches;
6. providing research and evaluation using interviews, reference materials, and various survey techniques; and managing resources by planning, budgeting, and recruiting and training staff to attain these objectives. Specialised skills are required to handle public opinion research, media relations, direct mail activities, institutional advertising, publications, film and video production, and special events.
Ten Effective Public Relations Activities
Below are ten common public relations activities. You may choose to implement all or a few. Which ones will benefit you depends upon several factors — your objectives, the size, type and location of your business, the characteristics of your customers or audience, and your budget.
Media relations includes a variety of methods to contact and give information to the media: news releases, press kits, media advisories, news conferences, press tours, and personal letters or phone calls to editors and reporters.
Events draw attention to your organisation or bring people to your place of business. Open houses, fund-raisers, trade shows, awards ceremonies, contests, stunts, receptions, speeches by V.I.Ps. are examples of special events.
Publications typically four to 12 pages in length, although some are longer, with short articles intended to keep your customers, members, investors, or donors up-to-date on what your organisation and its people are doing. It may also contain advice or other information of particular interest to your audience.
One or two-sided sheets containing advice, instructions, or other information of particular use to your customers. The objective is to show off your expertise. These sheets are usually formatted as bulleted or numbered lists.
Letters to the
Promote your expertise by responding to items in the news by writing a letter to the editor.
Arrange to have individuals in your organisation speak at meetings of professional and trade associations, service clubs, civic organisations, and community groups.
It is not always necessary to organise a special event, sponsor what somebody else is organising, or sponsor a local sports team, musical group, or community theatre. Ensuring sponsorship will be acknowledged on advertising, programs, uniforms, posters, and other promotional materials.
Even though a donation has to be very large to make the news, a consistent commitment to giving back to your community by supporting local charities will do much to enhance your image. By donating to charities, they acknowledge donations in their newsletter, annual report, wall plaques, and other promotional materials.
Thank You Notes and Letters
Directly thanking customers for their business, and donors for their contribution, will encourage repeat business.
The real tasks of public relations in the business world may focus on corporate interests or those of marketing products or services; on image creation or defence against attack; on broad public relations or straight publicity. In general, the strategic goal of public relations is to project a favourable public image, one of corporate good citizenship. This cannot be accomplished with lights and mirrors in an age of investigative journalism, and the first responsibility of public relations is to persuade management that the reality must correspond with the desired image.
Public relations is concerned with creating a favourable climate for marketing the client’s products or services, including maintaining good relations with merchants and distributors as well as placing product publicity and disseminating information to trade and industrial groups. It further includes publicising praiseworthy activities by company personnel. Financial public relations involves relations with a company’s own stockholders (stockholder relations) as well as with the investment community.
To a large extent, the job of public relations is to optimise good news and to forestall bad news. But when disaster strikes, the public relations practitioner’s task, in consultation with legal counsel, is to assess the situation and the damage, to assemble the facts, together with necessary background information, and to offer these to the news media, along with answers to their questions of fact. When a client is under attack, it is a public relations responsibility to organise the client’s response, usually involving several complicated issues to be both lucid and persuasive.