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What is PR?

Let’s go back to basics with this post…


Ask any Public Relations (PR) practitioner or academic to define their career field and each answer will be indubitably different. PR is almost going through the transition from high school to college, to find its place and adjust to the social media generation.

Before this, the Roman Catholic Church, in the 17th Century introduced the term propaganda, to convert non-believers. Propaganda got it’s fame during the second world war as governments throughout America, Britain and Germany used various methods of communication to control information being released and to accentuate the obligation of going to war.

Edward Bernays, self-acclaimed Father of Public Relations, was considered an expert in propaganda in the 1900’s – a term which PR professionals have aimed to distance themselves from (believe me). Bernays described PR as “a management function that tabulates public attitudes, defines the policies, procedures and interests of an organisation…followed by executing a program of action to earn public understanding and acceptance.” Alternatively, PR has been noted as “management of communication between an organisation and its publics,” by Grunig and Hunt. This shows that PR is a form of planned communication and that nothing in the PR world is random.

However, during the rise of PR 2.0 it denotes the web and social media as having changed everything, inserting people equally into the process of traditional influences.

A more trusted name in Public Relations is the CIPR, who define PR as ‘the discipline which looks after reputation, with the aim of earning understanding and support and influencing opinion and behaviour’, this embodies the notion of PR being about reputation as it is ‘the result of what you do, what you say and what others say about you.’ CIPR explains that PR is about reputation as the result of what you do, what you say and what others say about you. Challenging this, The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) suggested the expansion of the Internet; especially the social media boom has highly influenced the way in which PR is practiced today, to reach the mass audience. This ideally provides a link to the significance of communications and relationships rather than CIPR’s issue of respect. Butterick (2011) deems the inconsistency ‘is used by critics to demonstrate its fundamental weakness’.

The PRSA, earlier this year, announced the final definition for what they believe public relations is, an update from the 1982 version. And the winner is:


Gerard Corbett, CEO and chair of PRSA, announced:

“Simple and straightforward, this definition focuses on the basic concept of public relations—as a communication process, one that is strategic in nature and emphasizing ‘mutually beneficial relationships.’ ‘Process’ is preferable to ‘management function,’ which can evoke ideas of control and top-down, one-way communications. ‘Relationships’ relates to public relations’ role in helping to bring together organizations and individuals with their key stakeholders. ‘Publics’ is preferable to ‘stakeholders,’ as the former relates to the very ‘public’ nature of public relations, whereas’“stakeholders’ has connotations of publicly-traded companies.”

Essentially, public relations is the act of handling communications with a variety of public or stakeholder groups. It can also be seen as the practice of relating with audiences who have the ability to influence or can be influenced by an individual or organisation. PR is seen as being able to build, manage and protect fruitful relationships with people through PR tactics and necessary communication. Each definition is sufficient in describing the overall performance of each and every PR practitioner working in any sector. A Public Relations firm positions itself as the middleman between journalists and people or organisations with a story for the media. In layman’s terms, PR can be said to be delivering a message.

Content Team Leader – Meera Patel – @MeeraGiraffeSM

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