Public Relations (PR) is the actions of a corporation, store, government, individual, etc., in promoting goodwill between itself and the public, the community, employees, customers, etc.
An earlier definition of public relations, by The first World Assembly of Public Relations Associations, held in Mexico City, in August 1978, was "the art and social science of analyzing trends, predicting their consequences, counseling organizational leaders, and implementing planned programs of action, which will serve both the organization and the public interest."
Others define it as the practice of managing communication between an organization and its publics. Public relations provides an organization or individual exposure to their audiences using topics of public interest and news items that provide a third-party endorsement and do not direct payment. Common activities include speaking at conferences, working with the media, crisis communications, social media engagement, and employee communication.
The European view of public relations notes that besides a relational form of interactivity there is also a reflective paradigm that is concerned with publics and the public sphere; not only with relational, which can in principle be private, but also with public consequences of organizational behaviour A much broader view of interactive communication using the Internet, as outlined by Phillips and Young in Online Public Relations Second Edition (2009), describes the form and nature of Internet-mediated public relations. It encompasses social media and other channels for communication and many platforms for communication such as personal computers (PCs), mobile phones and video game consoles with Internet access. The increasing use of the mentioned technologies give the media a democratisation power and thus, aid to the demystification of subjects.
Public relations is used to build rapport with employees, customers, investors, voters, or the general public. Almost any organization that has a stake in how it is portrayed in the public arena employs some level of public relations. There are a number of public relations disciplines falling under the banner of corporate communications, such as analyst relations, media relations, investor relations, internal communications and labor relations. Most of them include the aspect of peer review to get liability.
Other public relations disciplines include:
Status of the industry
The practice of public relations is spread widely. On the professional level, there is an organization called Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), the world's largest public relations organization. PRSA is a community of more than 21,000 professionals that works to advance the skill set of public relations. PRSA also fosters a national student organization called Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA).
In the United States, public relations professionals earn an average annual salary of $49,800 which compares with £40,000 for a practitioner with a similar job in the UK . Top earners make around $89,220 annually, while entry-level public relations specialists earn around $28,080. Corporate, or in-house communications is generally more profitable, and communications executives can earn salaries in the mid six-figures, though this only applies to a fraction of the sector's workforce.
The role of public relations professionals is changing because of the shift from traditional to online media. Many PR professionals are finding it necessary to learn new skills and to examine how social media can impact a brand's reputation.
Methods, tools and tactics
Public relations and publicity are not synonymous, but many public relations campaigns include provisions for publicity. Publicity is the spreading of information to gain public awareness for a product, person, service, cause or organization, and can be seen as a result of effective public relations planning. More recently in public relations, professionals are using technology as their main tool to get their messages to target audiences. With the creation of social networks, blogs, and even Internet radio public relations professionals are able to send direct messages through these mediums that attract the target audiences. Methods used to find out what is appealing to target audiences include the use of surveys, conducting research or even focus groups. Tactics are the ways to attract target audiences by using the information gathered about that audience and directing a message to them using tools such as social mediums or other technology. Another emerging theme is the application of psychological theories of impression management.
There are various tools that can be used in the practice of public relations. Traditional tools include press releases and media kits which are sent out to generate positive press on behalf of the organization. Other widely used tools include brochures, newsletters and annual reports. Increasingly, companies are utilizing interactive social media outlets, such as blogs and social media as tools in their public relations campaigns. Unlike the traditional tools which allowed for only one-way communication, social media outlets allow the organization to engage in two-way communication, and receive immediate feedback from their various stakeholders and public. Furthermore companies can join discussions with multiple user identities to create a positive image of the company.
One of the most popular and traditional tools used by public relations professionals is a press kit, also known as a media kit. A press kit is usually a folder that consists of promotional materials that give information about an event, organization, business, or even a person. What are included would be backgrounders or biographies, fact sheets, press releases (or media releases), media alerts, brochures, newsletters, photographs with captions, copies of any media clips, and social mediums. With the way that the industry has changed, many organizations may have a website with a link, "Press Room" which would have online versions of these documents.
The art of public relations is more than simply press kits and social media. 'PR' is synonymous in many people's minds with "Press Release", but the tools of the PR industry are actually many and varied as well as sophisticated and subtle. They include media relations kits containing video and audio news releases, referred to in the industry as VNRs and ANRs, which are often carefully produced to emulate the signature style of a particular network news or current affairs program. These products are then delivered to networks and run as regular program content, with or without source acknowledgment, thereby saving the network tens of thousands of dollars in production costs and delivering for the client of the PR firm an extremely effective and subtle method of managing public opinion. Crisis and issues management campaigns often utilize VNRs and ANRs in their efforts to manage information pertaining to threats to client reputation or profit. Astroturfing, or creating front groups designed to appear as genuine grass roots movements, (hence astroturf or fake grass) has proven to be a very effective method of opinion management because people are less suspicious and critical of "ordinary people voicing their concerns" than they are of representatives of corporations or governments. Buzz generation, or buzz marketing is another powerful and subversive form of PR in which people are paid to create a "buzz" amongst their peers by exposing them to products or opinions in a manner that appears not to be deliberate marketing or opinion management. Most PR campaigns use many or all of these "communication" techniques and a great many more in creative ways that deliver practical results in marketing or public opinion management. Interacting with the consumer is a key part of public relations.
A fundamental technique used in public relations is to identify the target audience, and to tailor every message to appeal to that audience. It can be a general, nationwide or worldwide audience, but it is more often a segment of a population. A good elevator pitch can help tailor messaging to each target audience. Marketers often refer to socio-economically driven "demographics", such as "black males 18-49". However, in public relations an audience is more fluid, being whoever someone wants to reach. Or, in the new paradigm of value based networked social groups, the values based social segment could be a trending audience. For example, recent political audiences seduce such buzzword monikers as "soccer moms" and "NASCAR dads."
An alternative and less flexible, more simplistic, approach uses stakeholders theory to identify people who have a stake in a given institution or issue. All audiences are stakeholders (or presumptive stakeholders), but not all stakeholders are audiences. For example, if a charity commissions a public relations agency to create an advertising campaign to raise money to find a cure for a disease, the charity and the people with the disease are stakeholders, but the audience is anyone who is likely to donate money.
Sometimes the interests of differing audiences and stakeholders common to a public relations effort necessitate the creation of several distinct but complementary messages. This is not always easy to do, and sometimes, especially in politics, a spokesperson or client says something to one audience that creates dissonance with another audience or group of stakeholders.
Lobby groups are established to influence government policy, corporate policy, or public opinion. An example of this is the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), which influences American foreign policy toward another country. Such groups claim to represent a particular interest and in fact are dedicated to doing so. When a lobby group hides its true purpose and support base, it is known as a front group. Moreover, governments may also lobby public relations firms in order to sway public opinion. A well illustrated example of this is the way civil war in Yugoslavia was portrayed. Governments of the newly seceded republics of Croatia and Bosnia, as well as Serbia invested heavily with UK and American public relations firms, so that they would give them a positive image in the USA.
Negative public relations, also called dark public relations (DPR), is a process of destroying the target's reputation and/or corporate identity. In other words, instead of concentrating efforts in the maintenance and the creation of a positive reputation or image of your clients, the objective is to discredit someone else, usually a business rival. Unlike the regular services in public relations, those in DPR rely on the development of industries such as IT security, industrial espionage, social engineering and competitive intelligence. A common technique is finding all of the dirty secrets of their target and turning them against their very own holder.
The building of a dark PR campaign, also known as a dirty tricks or a smear campaign is a long and a complex operation. Traditionally it starts with an extensive information gathering and follows the other needs of a precise competitive research. The gathered information is being used after that as a part of a greater strategical planning, aiming to destroy the relationship between the company and its stakeholders.
Politics and civil society
Defining the opponent
In the USA, but not in the larger public relations markets, the tactic known as "defining one's opponent" is used in political campaigns. Opponents can be candidates, organizations and other groups of people.
In the 2004 US presidential campaign, Howard Dean defined John Kerry as a "flip-flopper," which was widely reported and repeated by the media, particularly the conservative media. Similarly, George H.W. Bush characterized Michael Dukakis as weak on crime (the Willie Horton ad) and hopelessly liberal ("a card-carrying member of the ACLU"). In 1996, President Bill Clinton seized upon opponent Bob Dole's promise to take America back to a simpler time, promising in contrast to "build a bridge to the 21st century." This painted Dole as a person who was somehow opposed to progress.
In the debate over abortion, self-titled pro-choice groups, by virtue of their name, defined their opponents as "anti-choice", while self-titled pro-life groups refer to their opponents as "pro-abortion" or "anti-life".
If, in the USA, a politician or organization can use an apt phrase in relation to an issue in interviews or news releases, the news media will often repeat it verbatim, without questioning its aptness. This perpetuates both the message and whatever preconceptions might underlie it. Often, something that sounds innocuous can stand in for something greater; a "culture of life" sounds like general goodwill to most people, but will evoke opposition to abortion for many pro-life advocates. The phrase "States' rights" was used as a code for anti-civil rights legislation in the United States in the 1960s, and allegedly in the 1970s and 1980s.
Conveying the message
The means by which a message is communicated can be as important as the message itself. Direct mail, robocalling, advertising and public speaking are commonly used depending upon the intended audience and the message that is conveyed. Press releases are also used, but since many newspapers are folding in the USA, they have become a less reliable way of communicating for American practitioners, and other methods have become more popular.
In the USA and India, news organizations have begun to rely more on their own websites and have developed a variety of unique approaches to publicity and public relations, on and off the web.
Israel has employed a series of Web 2.0 initiatives which are indicative of how a small nation can use internet mediated communication. Israel's initiative in 2008 included a blog, MySpace page, YouTube channel, Facebook page and a political blog to reach different audiences. The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs started the country's video blog as well as its political blog. The Foreign Ministry held the first microblogging press conference via Twitter about its war with Hamas, with Consul David Saranga answering live questions from a worldwide public in common text-messaging abbreviations. The questions and answers were later posted on IsraelPolitik, the country's official political blog.
One of the most controversial practices in public relations is the use of front groups, organizations that purport to serve a public cause while actually serving the interests of a client whose sponsorship may be obscured or concealed. Critics of the public relations industry, such as PR Watch, contend that some public relations firms involve a "multi-billion dollar propaganda-for-hire industry" that "concocts and spins the news, organizes phony grassroots front groups, spies on citizens, and conspires with lobbyists and politicians to thwart democracy."
Instances with the use of front groups as a public relations technique have been documented in many industries. Coal mining corporations have created "environmental groups" that contend that increased carbon dioxide emissions and global warming will contribute to plant growth and will be beneficial, trade groups for bars have created and funded citizens' groups to attack anti-alcohol groups, tobacco companies have created and funded citizens' groups to advocate for tort reform and to attack personal injury lawyers, while trial lawyers have created "consumer advocacy" front groups to oppose tort reform.
- Works cited
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- Scott M. Cutlip/ Allen H. Center/ Glen M. Broom, "Effective Public Relations," 7th Ed., Prentice-Hall, Inc. A Simon and Schuster Company, Englewood Cliffs, N.J. 07632, 1994, Figure 10-1
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- Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communication Management
- Stockholm Accords for Public Relations
- Russia (independent) Alliance for Public Relations
- Public Relations at the Open Directory Project
- About the industry
- A History of Public Relations, from The Institute for Public Relations
- PR industry to double in size to US$10.5bn by 2012: Assocham
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