DEFINING PUBLIC RELATIONS
By those who know nothing about public relations, a public relations practitioner is someone who “spins” an event that reflects poorly on a company for the company’s advantage. That definition is false. An award winning communications firm, 8THIRTYFOUR Integrated Communications (2019), defines public relations as, “A strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics” (para. 8). What sets public relations apart from marketing, sales, or advertising is the purpose of public relations, which is to maintain and improve a company’s reputation and their relationships with their publics.
Advertising is often confused with public relations, as both fall under the umbrella term of “marketing” (8THIRTYFOUR Integrated Communications, 2019). The two disciplines have different goals. Advertising aims to make a profit by generating sales whereas public relations aims to gain favor from the public by sending a positive message (Inc Studio, 2020). Inc Studio (2020) provides a description of public relations, “The point of public relations is to make the public think favorably about the company and its offerings… the goal of public relations is generating good will” (para. 2). The difference in goals sets public relations apart from advertising.
Another way of defining public relations is proposed by Robert Wynne (2016) who categorizes public relations as part of the persuasion business. Public relations is about persuading an audience to support a company, an idea, a movement, a product, etc. Wynne (2016) includes a list of public relations tools that bring understanding to what public relations is, “Write and distribute press releases, speech writing, write pitches about a firm (less formal than press release) and send them directly to journalists, create and execute special events designed for public outreach and media relations, conduct market research on the firm or the firm’s messaging, expansion of business contacts via personal networking or attendance and sponsoring at events, writing and blogging for the web (internal or external sites), crisis public relations strategies, [and] social media promotions and responses to negative opinions online” (para. 8). This list outlines the regular tasks a public relations practitioner is responsible for.
A common, and entirely false, misconception about public relations is that the practice lacks honesty and transparency. Honesty is important in public relations because it builds trust and strengthens the relationships between a company and its publics (Anouska Leon, 2021). Transparency is equally as important to public relations. Linda Fanaras (2021) empathises the importance of public relations, “It is also an effective way to build likeability and even more importantly, loyalty with your brand. In fact, consumers are 94% more likely to be loyal to a brand that incorporates transparency into its business model” (para. 4). Without honesty and transparency, public relations is ineffective.
Public relations requires strategic communication, two-way communication, honesty, and transparency. Furthermore, public relations professionals must practice ethical codes, transparency, a “warm, yet authoritative” tone, and extensive knowledge of the company’s brand, message, and purpose (Porterfield, 2017; Wynne, 2014). With these guidelines, public relations is effective.
The purpose of public relations is to manage a company’s reputation and interactions with the public. Public relations is in the persuasive business and also requires honesty and transparency. Public relations is strategic communication that builds mutually beneficial relationships between a company and their publics.