What is public relations?


According to Scott Cutlip, Allen Center and Glen Broom in their 1994 textbook Effective Public Relations, "public relations is the management function that identifies, establishes, and maintains mutually beneficial relationships between an organization and its publics" (p. 3).

    According to the Public Relations Society of America, the key areas of corporate public relations work include:
  1. ensuring that the corporation acts in the public interest and maintains social responsibility
  2. protecting and enhancing the company's reputation
  3. maintaining openness and integrity in channels of communication
  4. maintaining effective and open relations with news media professionals
  5. building and maintaining the company's identity
  6. communicating the company story when controversy arises
  7. developing and communicating programs to explain company goals and policies
  8. maintaining ties with environmental publics to ensure that the company performs in the interest of protecting the natural environment
  9. protecting and promoting corporate trademarks and logos
  10. demonstrating excellence in community relations by caring for the welfare of company employees and community publics where the company facilities are located
  11. explaining the company position on political and economic issues

According to the Public Relations Society of America, public relations encompasses the following activities:

Information Service:
Part of building a company's reputation is the role of supplying information to a variety of publics. Companies send news releases to the media in order to inform the public about earnings, acquisitions, new products and the like (media relations). Companies must respond to inquiries from customers, distributors, government officials and community residents.

Product Publicity:
Introduction of new products, and campaigns to put fresh life into the sale of established products, are important functions in what is broadly called marketing communications. PR practitioners work closely with the marketing department to develop product publicity that reinforces advertising and promotion campaigns. Product recall is the negative side of product publicity.

Investor Relations:
Also referred to as stockholder communications, investor relations is a means for providing information to individuals who own stock or have a special interest in the corporation. Elaborate annual reports, quarterly reports mailed with dividend checks and other printed materials are sent to stockholders on a regular basis. Staff members may have to convince stockholders that an acquisition or merger is in their best interest.

Financial Relations:
A parallel function to investor relations is to provide extensive information to the financial community including security analysts at brokerage houses, large banks and similar institutions, and to weigh the information and make judgments on a company's financial strength and prospects. On the basis of their recommendations, institutional investors and brokerage firms buy or sell a company's stock. A thorough knowledge of finance, as well as Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) rules, is essential for a PR person specializing in financial relations.

Community Relations:
A company is a vital part of a community and as such has obligations to that community through various kinds of support including encouraging employees to do volunteer work, providing a grant to the local orchestra or art museum, lending executives to the United Way effort, donating needed equipment to local schools or hospitals and so on. Good relations include efforts to ensure compliance with EPA standards and efforts to improve the quality of life in the community.

Employee Relations:
In any organization, there must be a good communication "flow" between management and employees and employees and management. The public relations department often works closely with personnel or human resources to achieve good employee relations through publication of an employee newsletter, magazine, newspaper, or video news magazine, the writing of brochures to explain company policies and benefits, preparation of audio-visual materials for training and policy-transmission purposes, the scheduling of staff meetings and seminars, the training of speakers among managers and supervisors who serve as communicators to employees, and coordination of employee productivity or energy conservation campaigns.

Special Events Management:
Public relations personnel are responsible for the planning and implementation of special events including sponsorship of the Olympics, of athletic events, of civic events, and festivals.

Public Affairs:
The actions of government on the local, state, and national level have major they conduct their affairs. Thus, a number of PR people work in an area often referred to as governmental relations. In this role, public affairs executives seek to influence legislation through contact with legislators and governmental regulatory agencies. A public affairs manager must be "concerned with the management function covering the relationship between the organization and its external environment and involving key tasks of intelligence gathering and analysis, external action programs directed at government, communities and the general public as well as strategic issue management and internal communications." A lobbyist has a narrower function "concerned with direct or indirect means of exercising influence on passage or defeat of legislative bills or regulatory actions, and to influence their outcomes."

Issues Management:
Issues management is the management process of determining how various public issues will affect a company. The manager must identify the issue, analyze it, ascertain options open to the company, initiate a plan of action and evaluate the results (e.g., How would a company handle investments in the Republic of South Africa? How would a company handle environmental legislation impacting specific manufacturing processes?).

Trade Associations::
are generally comprised of member companies that produce the same type of product or provide similar services. The association works to promote or oppose legislation, informs the public about the industry, and undertakes statistical and other types of research for the benefit of its members. Examples include: National Association of Retail Merchants, National Association of Manufacturers, National Association of Broadcasters.

Labor Unions:
must use PR extensively to inform members about pension plans, insurance programs, contract negotiations to name a few tasks. In addition, labor unions participate actively in politics from the federal to the local level by endorsing and financing candidates and taking positions on political issues.

Professional Societies:
like the American Medical Association, the American Dental Association, the American Bar Association, and the American Chemical Society, work as professional societies to support legislative campaigns, advocate professional standards, publish information at both the skilled professional and general readership levels, recruit membership, and generally work to strengthen the profession's stature in the public mind.

Cultural Societies:
like the Metropolitan Museum of Art or the Chicago Historical Society, work to publicize their programs, produce publications, arrange speaking engagements and event opening, recruit new members, foster community support and participation, and raise funds.

Government or Military Relations:
personnel work as public relations practitioners although they are most commonly referred to as public information officers (specialists) or public affairs officers (specialists).

Sports Information and Entertainment Publicists:
work basically as press agents to promote the personalities and careers of movie stars, musicians, rock bands, athletes, politicians, authors and so on. Professional sports teams have a public relations specialist. Many collegiate sports teams or athletic departments have public relations specialists. Generally, professionals in the sports industry are referred to as promotions directors or managers.

Educational Public Relations
plays a vital part in almost every educational institution. Fund raising is an important part of educational public relations. In urban areas, elementary and high school districts frequently employ public relations officers to assist the news media and to work with parents and school groups. Collegiate public relations practitioners may distribute news releases containing information about campus events and personalities, prepare periodicals, brochures and catalogues, maintain ties with alumni, maintain relations with local, state and federal government officials, recruit students, maintain internal relations with faculty, staff and students, solicit donations from foundations, alumni, federal and state governments and special interest groups (a serious task in private institutions).

Nonprofit Organizations:
include many (but not all) healthcare organizations, the Braille Institute, Goodwill Industries, United Way and so on. Fund raising plays a vital role in nonprofit survival.
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