What is Public Relations?


What is public relations? An exact definition can be hard to find because public relations consists of so many things. In 2012, Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) members actually even had trouble thinking of a definition themselves that they could all agree upon. The final, unanimously decided definition was “public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics”. This definition is just the start of an even bigger concept.


There are always at least two sides to every story, usually the positive and the negative. This concept goes for public relations as well. There is a positive side to public relations, but there is also the negative, crisis management side of it.


The positive side of PR is the fact that as a PR professional, you work with different organizations, companies, individuals and more to represent them in a positive and satisfying way. PR professionals do this through four different types of media. These types consist of paid (e.g., advertising), earned/unpaid (e.g., news coverage), shared (e.g., a social media) and owned media (e.g., your client’s website). Another positive aspect of being a PR professional is that you are usually not just trying to reach one paying customer, but an organization and their publics as a whole. You, as a PR professional, have the opportunity to make a positive impact on an organization and its publics.


Although there are numerous positive aspects of being a PR professional, there are also negative aspects when it comes to damage control. As stated previously, PR professionals are paid to represent their clients in a positive way, but they are also paid to alleviate any damage that could potentially hurt their client’s reputation. For example, say a dangerous chemical was found in a client’s product, a PR professional would have to make difficult decisions quickly to fix the issue. Some of these difficult decisions include counseling clients on strategies and tactics for crisis communications. Crisis communication strategy consists of what to communicate to affected publics and when to do so. A crisis situation can become extremely stressful because it is usually a time-sensitive matter.


PR professionals know to handle both the negative and positive aspects of their work. Although these negative aspects can be stressful and difficult times, public relations is a great field to work in because as a PR professional, you can help businesses, organizations and other clients satisfied by making them seen by their publics in a positive light.


Written by Emily Gay, publications committee member.

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