What Exactly IS Public Relations?

Last week, SoloPR joined the Social Media chat group for our weekly discussion on all things public relations. It was an incredible hour with lots of very thoughtful comments all around. Most of us are hoping this group chat becomes a regular occurrence. But the realization hit me – again – that many don’t understand public relations.

Simply…it’s NOT just publicity/media relations/press releases.

In 2011, the Public Relations Society of America gathered representatives of numerous PR groups to help craft a new definition of public relations. It hadn’t been done since 1982 since it was such a complex project, only made more complicated with the changes in our industry over the past five years. Many aren’t happy with the result but it’s what we’re using for now:

“Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.”

There are many aspects of the definition I like:

  • Strategic communication process – you need to have a plan and a strategy before you can be an effective practitioner

  • Mutually beneficial relationships – relationships have really been the cornerstone of public relations for years.

  • Publics – you can argue until the cows come home about this word. But as practitioners we know how important out publics, target audiences, stakeholders, etc., are to what we do.

From this you can see public relations professionals are often used to influence, persuade, create awareness and help the public develop a preference around a company, product, issue or idea. We go about doing so with a strategic process often known by RACE:

  • Research

  • Analysis – goals and objectives, strategy, audience

  • Communication – tactics, timeline and budget

  • Evaluation

Too often we hear only about the “communicate” or “tactics, timeline and budget” sides of the equation but a good PR program (like a good advertising, marketing, communications program) must begin by understanding the problem. Research and measurable objectives are critical. Then we open our tool box and choose tactics: social media, advertising, speeches, events, newsletters, brochures, trade shows, public forums, blogging, media relations and much more.

Many PR professionals specialize in an industry or practice area. The first 15 years of my career were spent in food public relations, a specialty I didn’t realize existed but now often miss. Others work in crisis communications, government relations (yes, including lobbying), internal communications, investor relations, community relations, event management, development and fundraising to name just a few areas of expertise.

Regardless of the specialty or the problem being solved, there’s always a plan and nearly always a myriad of tools from which to choose.

The Barber Group

Gig Harbor, Washington


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