Many people ask me what public relations is.
PR seems to become easily confused with marketing and even advertising. And as more communications professionals from these fields use social media as a channel, the definition appears to become more blurred in some people’s minds. (Professionals across a range of disciplines are using social media tools as part of their communications plans, but this doesn’t change what their discipline is, any more than the availability of TV or a megaphone.)
One of my favourite (and most simple) definitions of PR comes from James Grunig and Todd Hunt, who call PR the “practice of managing communication between an organisation and its publics”. Let me make three points to help further explain public relations ….
One: looking at that definition … the interesting word is ‘publics’. That does not always equal The Public. This is where people have the most misconceptions about public relations. For one of my clients, its public could potentially be one suburb. It could be one community group, a network of CEOs around the world, one columnist, teen members of a sports code, female orange juice drinkers, or any other target audience you’d like to define and detail. PR doesn’t necessarily want to make a big mass audience splash.
Two: PR does not necessarily want to sell you Product A today – but it may work with Company A to keep it in business over the long term. PR can be about learning more from a target public. It might be trying to find out why health messages aren’t getting through to Public X. It might be defending a business smeared by an industry-wide scandal. It might want to lead an organisation through the best steps to announce a public float or release an annual report.
Three: PR work can go unnoticed; in many cases that’s when it’s most successful. That’s a stark difference between PR, advertising and marketing. You won’t see all of the best PR campaigns in awards ceremonies or on PR blogs – they’re behind the scenes work where clients have been helped to manage an issue that could have become a crisis. With good counsel, the clients’ business thrives on happily.
So, to recap: PR does not equal publicity. PR is the “practice of managing communication between an organisation and its publics”.
I’m happy to field questions … feel free to leave them in comments below.