My PR Journey: What is Public Relations? The Basics (8/26/2015)

This is the question that is often explored in every Public Relations course.  If you, the one interested in Public Relations even ask this question, I wonder if you even have an interest in going into the field at all.  This question is okay to ask in your junior year of college, but a little late if you are seeking to go into the profession.

So why am I asking this question?  I feel that it is important that we explore what we already know about Public Relations before we venture forward into the further legs of the PR journey.  The beginner legs are quite simple, but the terrain does get far more challenging.  Trust me.

If you are just tuning in, welcome.  I have recently begun my PR journey, and I have a goal.  I want to share my journey with the world.  Every leg of it.  All the new runners can learn from this information and all the experienced runners can teach us the ins and outs of this industry.  PR as an industry has changed in the more recent years, and I will talk about that in a later post.  What I want to focus on today is the question that identifies the very core of this industry.  What is Public Relations?

I’m sure that you can all remember your professor asking you this question.  And he even challenged you to come up with your own definition.  What is Public Relations?  If we were to look at a textbook, here are a few definitions that you may find from it.


PR Definitions

Rex Harlow, the founder of PRSA came up with this definition for what Public Relations is:

“Public Relations is a distinctive management function which helps establish and maintain mutual lines of communication, understanding, acceptance, and cooperation between an organization and its publics; involves the management of problems or issues; helps management keep informed on and responsive to public opinion; defines and emphasizes the responsibility of management to serve the public interest; helps management keep abreast of and effectively utilize change, serving as an early warning system to help anticipate trends; and uses research and sound ethical communication techniques as its principal tools.”

Professors Lawrence W. Long and Vincent Hazelton define Public Relations as “a communication function of management through which organizations adapt to, alter, or maintain their environment for the purpose of achieving organizational goals.”

The British Institute of Public Opinion has a definition that is widely used in a number of different Commonwealth nations:

“Public Relations is the deliberate, planned, and sustained effort to establish and maintain mutual understanding between an organization and its publics.”

Well, you get the idea.  Public Relations is basically the relationship between an organization and the public at large.  It is how information is communicated between the two parties and how that information is managed.  If the information is managed and communicated effectively,  the public has a favorable opinion about that organization.  If the information is miscommunicated and managed poorly, the public has a not so favorable opinion about that organization.  An opinion like this can be harmful to an organization’s image.  With this in mind, good PR is important for the organization, so that its members can have a positive opinion of it.  Good PR is also important externally, so that the public holds a positive opinion on the organization.  This includes customers, clients, consumers, shareholders, donors and contributors.

While the goal in PR is to maintain positive relationships between the organization and its publics, we all know that there are cases where PR can go in the opposite direction.  Scandals can ruin an organization’s image.  Harmful products, recalls and other negative scenarios associated with an organization can generate negative opinion and ruin that organization’s image.  In some of the later legs of this journey, I will be exploring some important case studies, outlining the situation and how each organization/business  handled that situation.   Crisis management is an important thing to learn, as each organization is prone to negative publicity.  And with an emergency kit, a crisis can be identified, isolated, diffused and controlled.  The healing of a crisis comes with time.

The case studies will be explored later.  There are a lot of good ones that each person going into PR should know, and we will explore them together.

In getting back to the discussion, what is public relations?  As of the time of my typing this, wikipedia defines Public Relations as “the practice of managing the spread of information between an individual or an organization (such as a business, government agency, or a nonprofit organization) and the public.”

I included that above definition to illustrate the current age that we live in.  With social media, wikis, and everything else on the internet, this is changing the way that information is shared in the PR industry.  With blogs and twitter, information can be shared instantaneously, at the stroke of the key and the click of a mouse.  Or, if you have your smartphone, at the press of a touch screen.  With this new technology, this has created new possibilities and opportunities in the way that information is shared.  At the same time, it has created new issues.  Issues that I will definitely be sharing in the later legs of this journey.  Oh. there is so much we are going to learn.  I am just getting started.

I mean, we have barely scraped the surface!  For those who just love those sparknotes and live by them,  here’s what I discussed:

  • I went over some definitions of PR including an IMPORTANT one from Rex Harlow, the founder of PRSA (I would definitely write that one down if I were you.) I even gave my own definition of PR, which is fairly easy to find (psst!  It’s right after the third definition!)
  • I talk about the positive and negative consequences of PR.  I then talk about how PR can go in the totally opposite direction  (Does Tylenol ring a bell?  Anyone?  Don’t worry.  We’ll cover it in the future.)
  • I then share another PR definition from a new medium and explain how the information age is changing the way that information is exchanged in PR (Have you reddit yet?).

I would like to end today with a question directed at you, my fellow runner.  What is your definition of public relations?  How would you explain public relations to someone who doesn’t know what it is?  I’m curious to see your answers.

Oh, and by the way,  I just set up that facebook page, so give it a good click.  Don’t forget to like it!  It is a new community, so not a lot of people have moved in yet.  With that in mind, I encourage you to click that like button!

To all of you in PR, old and new,

I look forward to running with all of you!

Your friend in PR,


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