Understanding What PR is and What it is Not


You see it on the news and read about it in the papers. Opinions are often circulating about high profile companies or celebrities getting “bad PR.” Sometimes you hear references about an organization, an individual or a politician who has “turned on the PR machine.” Maybe you’ve heard about a “PR stunt.”

But at the end of the day, what really is PR? Those in the public relations industry can effectively define it, but do most people really understand what it is and why it exists?

There are many out there, I’m sure, who believe PR exists only to help corporate America or high-profile celebrities tip-toe through a crisis or embarrassing situation. Those not familiar with the true value of PR most likely believe that it is a reactive function only, rather than a proactive function that is critical for long-term success.

Here is the Institute of Public Relations’ definition:

“Public Relations practice is the planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain goodwill and mutual understanding between an organization and its publics

The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), a leading organization of PR professionals, adopts the following definition of public relations:

“Public relations helps an organization and its publics adapt mutually to each other.”

In this definition, the essential functions of research, planning, communications and evaluation are implied. Key words are “organization,” rather than the limiting implication of “company” or “business,” and “publics,” which recognizes that all organizations have multiple publics from which they must earn consent and support.

In its simplest form, PR is all about effective communications with targeted audiences. It involves establishing a positive image and then managing and protecting your organization’s reputation. It’s about creating a protective coat of armor that can help you withstand periodic attacks.

Let’s quickly look at what public relations can do:

o Public relations can enhance the image of a business
o It can help sell a product or service
o It can build credibility from third parties
o It can enhance knowledge and understanding
o It can play a critical role in averting or diminishing negative reactions in a crisis situation
o It can also help in monitoring public opinion and, if necessary, shift public opinion by communicating accurate messages and educating the masses

On the flip side, here are the things PR can’t do:

o Public relations can’t hide or change the truth
o It can’t be a quick fix
o It can’t manipulate public opinion

When considering how PR can positively impact your business, be sure to think from a strategic, big-picture view, not just how to avoid negative media coverage.


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