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Public relations

Public relations

Public relations (PR) is the practice of deliberately managing the spread of information between an individual or an organization (such as a business, government agency, or a nonprofit organization) and the public.[2] Public relations may include an organization or individual gaining exposure to their audiences using topics of public interest and news items that do not require direct payment.[3] This differentiates it from advertising as a form of marketing communications. Public relations is the idea of creating coverage for clients for free, rather than marketing or advertising. But now, advertising is also a part of greater PR Activities.[4] An example of good public relations would be generating an article featuring a client, rather than paying for the client to be advertised next to the article.[5] The aim of public relations is to inform the public, prospective customers, investors, partners, employees, and other stakeholders and ultimately persuade them to maintain a positive or favorable view about the organization, its leadership, products, or political decisions. Public relations professionals typically work for PR and marketing firms, businesses and companies, government, and public officials as PIOs and nongovernmental organizations, and nonprofit organizations. Jobs central to public relations include account coordinator, account executive, account supervisor, and media relations manager.[6]

Public relations specialists establish and maintain relationships with an organization's target audience, the media, relevant trade media, and other opinion leaders. Common responsibilities include designing communications campaigns, writing news releases and other content for news, working with the press, arranging interviews for company spokespeople, writing speeches for company leaders, acting as an organisation's spokesperson, preparing clients for press conferences, media interviews and speeches, writing website and social media content, managing company reputation (crisis management), managing internal communications, and marketing activities like brand awareness and event management[7] Success in the field of public relations requires a deep understanding of the interests and concerns of each of the company's many stakeholders. The public relations professional must know how to effectively address those concerns using the most powerful tool of the public relations trade, which is publicity.[8]


Ivy Lee, the man who turned around the Rockefeller name and image, and his friend, Edward Louis Bernays, established the first definition of public relations in the early 1900s as follows: "a management function, which tabulates public attitudes, defines the policies, procedures and interests of an organization... followed by executing a program of action to earn public understanding and acceptance." In 1948, historian Eric Goldman noted that the definition of public relations in Webster's would be "disputed by both practitioners and critics in the field."[10]

According to Bernays, the public relations counsel is the agent working with both modern media of communications and group formations of society in order to provide ideas to the public's consciousness.

Furthermore, he is also concerned with ideologies and courses of actions as well as material goods and services and public utilities and industrial associations and large trade groups for which it secures popular support.[11]

In August 1978, the World Assembly of Public Relations Associations defined the field as

"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."[12]

Public Relations Society of America, a professional trade association,[13] defined public relations in 1982 as:

"Public relations helps an organization and its publics adapt mutually to each other."[14]

In 2011 and 2012, the PRSA solicited crowd supplied definitions for the term and allowed the public to vote on one of three finalists.

The winning definition stated that:

"Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics."[15]

Public relations can also be defined as the practice of managing communication between an organization and its publics.[16]

Public relations is to speak out its advocacy in public, and it builds up a talking platform to achieve its goals and protect the interests of people.[17]


Public relations is not a phenomenon of the 20th century, but rather has historical roots.

Most textbooks consider the establishment of the Publicity Bureau in 1900 to be the founding of the public relations profession.

However, academics have found early forms of public influence and communications management in ancient civilizations, during the settling of the New World and during the movement to abolish slavery in England. Basil Clark is considered the founder of public relations in the United Kingdom for his establishment of Editorial Services in 1924.

Propaganda was used by the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, and others to rally for domestic support and demonize enemies during the World Wars, which led to more sophisticated commercial publicity efforts as public relations talent entered the private sector.

Most historians believe public relations became established first in the US by Ivy Lee or Edward Bernays, then spread internationally. Many American companies with PR departments spread the practice to Europe when they created European subsidiaries as a result of the Marshall plan.

The second half of the 1900s is considered the professional development building era of public relations.

Trade associations, PR news magazines, international PR agencies, and academic principles for the profession were established.

In the early 2000s, press release services began offering social media press releases.

The Cluetrain Manifesto, which predicted the effect of social media in 1999, was controversial in its time, but by 2006, the effect of social media and new internet technologies became broadly accepted.

Career prospects

United Kingdom

Cosmopolitan reported that the average annual salary for a "public relations director" was £77,619 in 2017.[18] One notable former PR practitioner was former Prime Minister David Cameron.[19]

United States


Public relations practitioners typically have a bachelor's degree in journalism, communications, public relations, marketing, or English.[20] Many senior practitioners have advanced degrees; a 2015 survey found that forty-percent of chief communications officers at Fortune 500 companies had master's degrees.[21]

In 2013, a survey of the 21,000 members of the Public Relations Society of America found that 18-percent held the Accreditation in Public Relations.[22]


The BLS reports the median annual wage for public relations specialists was $67,990 in 2017.

The best-paid 10 percent in the field made approximately $112,260, while the bottom 10 percent made approximately $32,840.[23]

According to the United States Department of Labor, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports an 9 percent growth in job outlook from 2016-2026.[24]

Private sector

According to a 2017 survey by Spring Associates, public relations practitioners in the United States private sector – working at PR agencies - earn salaries which range from $54,900 for an early career position as an account executive, to $118,400 for a mid-career position as an account director, to $174,200 for a senior position as an executive vice-president.[25] Those working in the private sector within a company or organization's PR department earn salaries ranging from $77,600 for an early-career position as a PR specialist, to $149,300 in a mid-career position as a PR director, to $185,000 for a senior position as a vice-president of public relations.[25] Salaries tended to be higher for persons employed in major media markets such as New York and Los Angeles, and lower for those employed in tertiary markets.[25]

The c-level position of chief communications officer (CCO), used in some private companies, usually earned more than $220,000 annually as of 2013.[26] CCOs at Fortune 200 companies, meanwhile, had an average compensation package of just over $1 million annually, according to a 2009 survey by Fortune; this amount included base salary, bonus, and stock options.[27]

The position of chief reputation officer is concerned with "reputational risk" from sources including social media and inappropriate individual or corporate behaviour, and deals with public relations from that angle.[28] This kind of risk was seen as a growing concern for many companies since at least the mid-2010s, related to the rise of social media.[29]

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported public relations specialists had a median annual salary of $59,020 in 2016.[20]

Public sector

Within the U.S. federal government, public affairs workers[1] had a 2016 average salary of approximately $101,922, with the U.S. Forest Service employing the most such professionals.[31] Of federal government agencies employing more than one public affairs worker, those at the Federal Aviation Administration earned the most, on average, at approximately $150,130.[31] The highest-earning public affairs worker within the U.S. government, meanwhile, earned $229,333.[31]

Salaries of public relations specialists in local government vary widely.

The chief communications officer of the Utah Transit Authority earned $258,165 in total compensation in 2014 while an early-career public information officer for the city of Conway, South Carolina had a pay range beginning at approximately $59,000 per year in 2017.[32][33]


Indeed reported that the average annual salary for a "public relations manager" was $59,326 in June, 2019.[34] According to Stats Canada, there has been no growth in the demand for journalists in Canada, but the demand for PR practitioners continues to grow.[35] Most journalists transition into public relations [73] smoothly and bring a much-needed skill-set to the profession.


Public relations practitioners typically have a bachelor's degree in communications, public relations, journalism, or English.[20] Some senior practitioners have advanced degrees.

The industry has seen an influx of journalists because newsrooms are in decline and the salaries tend to be higher.[36]


Public relations professionals present the face of an organization or individual, usually to articulate its objectives and official views on issues of relevance, primarily to the media.

Public relations contributes to the way an organization is perceived by influencing the media and maintaining relationships with stakeholders.

According to Dr. Jacquie L’Etang from Queen Margaret University, public relations professionals can be viewed as "discourse workers specializing in communication and the presentation of argument and employing rhetorical strategies to achieve managerial aims."[37]

Specific public relations disciplines include:

  • Financial public relations – communicating financial results and business strategy

  • Consumer/lifestyle public relations – gaining publicity for a particular product or service

  • Crisis communication – responding in a crisis

  • Internal communications – communicating within the company itself

  • Government relations – engaging government departments to influence public policy

  • Media relations – a public relations function that involves building and maintaining close relationships with the news media so that they can sell and promote a business.

  • Social Media/Community Marketing - in today's climate, public relations professionals leverage social media marketing to distribute messages about their clients to desired target markets

  • In-house public relations – a public relations professional hired to manage press and publicity campaigns for the company that hired them.

Building and managing relationships with those who influence an organization or individual's audiences has a central role in doing public relations.[38][39] After a public relations practitioner has been working in the field, they accumulate a list of relationships that become an asset, especially for those in media relations.

Within each discipline, typical activities include publicity events, speaking opportunities, press releases, newsletters, blogs, social media, press kits, and outbound communication to members of the press. Video and audio news releases (VNRs and ANRs) are often produced and distributed to TV outlets in hopes they will be used as regular program content.

Audience targeting

A fundamental technique used in public relations is to identify the target audience and to tailor messages to be relevant to each audience.[40] Sometimes the interests of differing audiences and stakeholders common to a public relations effort necessitate the creation of several distinct but complementary messages. These messages however should be relevant to each other, thus creating a consistency to the overall message and theme. Audience targeting tactics are important for public relations practitioners because they face all kinds of problems: low visibility, lack of public understanding, opposition from critics, and insufficient support from funding sources.[41]

On the other hand, stakeholder theory identifies people who have a stake in a given institution or issue.[42] 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. Public relations experts possess deep skills in media relations, market positioning, and branding. They are powerful agents that help clients deliver clear, unambiguous information to a target audience that matters to them.[43]

The Publics in Public Relations

The public is any group whose members have a common interest or common values in a particular subject, such as political party.

Those members would then be considered stakeholders, which are people who have a stake or an interest in an organization or issue that potentially involves the organization or group they're interested in.

The Publics in Public Relations are:

  • Traditional Publics: Groups with which the individual has an ongoing and long term relationship with, this may include; Employees, Media, Governments, Investors, and Customers[44]

  • Non-Traditional Publics: Groups that are typically unfamiliar with the organization and the individual has not had a relationship with but may become traditional publics due to changes in the organization, in society or if a group changing event occurs.[44]

  • Latent Publics: A group whose values have come into contact with the values of the organization but whose members haven't yet realized it; the members of that public are not yet aware of the relationship.[44]

  • Aware Publics: A group of members who are aware of the existence of a commonality of values or interests with your organization, but have not organized or attempted to respond to that commonality.

  • Intervening Publics: Any public that helps an individual send a message to another public, could be the media or someone with stature.[44]

  • Primary Publics: If a public can directly affect an organization's pursuit of its values-driven goals. This publics would include media, employees, government, shareholder, financial institutions, and the immediate community.[44]

  • Secondary Publics: Have high interest in the company such as the primary publics but will not be directly affected by decisions of the organization.[44]

  • Internal Publics: People within an organization[44]

  • External Publics: People outside of an organization[44]

  • Domestic Publics: Those within the country[44]

  • International Publics: Those outside of the country and when communicating with this publics individuals must be wary of that areas culture, beliefs, values, ethic, and other valuable cultural difference as to not offend anyone.[44]


Messaging is the process of creating a consistent story around: a product, person, company, or service.

Messaging aims to avoid having readers receive contradictory or confusing information that will instill doubt in their purchasing choices, or other decisions that affect the company.

Brands aim to have the same problem statement, industry viewpoint, or brand perception shared across sources and media.

Social media marketing

Digital marketing is the use of Internet tools and technologies such as search engines, Web 2.0 social bookmarking, new media relations, blogging, and social media marketing. Interactive PR allows companies and organizations to disseminate information without relying solely on mainstream publications and communicate directly with the public, customers and prospects.

PR practitioners have always relied on the media such as TV, radio, and magazines, to promote their ideas and messages tailored specifically to a target audience.

Social media marketing is not only a new way to achieve that goal, it is also a continuation of a strategy that existed for decades.

Lister et al. said that "Digital media can be seen as a continuation and extension of a principal or technique that was already in place".[45]

PR professionals are well aware of the fact that digital technology is used in a practically different way than before.

For instance, cellphones are no longer just devices we use to talk to one another.

They are also used for online shopping, dating, learning and getting the most up to date news around the world.[46]

As digital technology has evolved, the methods to measure effective online public relations effectiveness have improved.

The Public Relations Society of America, which has been developing PR strategies since 1947, identified 5 steps to measure online public relations effectiveness.

  1. Engagement: Measure the number of people who engaged with an item (social shares, likes and comments).

  2. Impressions: Measure the number of people who may have viewed an item.

  3. Items: Measure any content (blog posts, articles, etc.) that originally appeared as digital media.

  4. Mentions: Measure how many online items mention the brand, organization, or product.

  5. Reach: Measure how far the PR campaign managed to penetrate overall and in terms of a particular audience.[47]

Types of Public Relations Arenas

Publicists can work in a host of different types of business verticals such as entertainment, technology, music, travel, television, food, consumer electronics and more.

Many publicists build their career in a specific business space to leverage relationships and contacts.

There are different kinds of press strategies for such as B2B (business to business) or B2C (business to consumer).

Business to business publicity highlights service providers who provide services and products to other businesses.

Business to Consumer publicizes products and services for regular consumers, such as toys, travel, food, entertainment, personal electronics and music.

Other techniques

Litigation public relations is the management of the communication process during the course of any legal dispute or adjudicatory processing so as to affect the outcome or its effect on the client's overall reputation (Haggerty, 2003).


Public relations professionals both serve the public's interest and private interests of businesses, associations, non-profit organizations, and governments.

This dual obligation gave rise to heated debates among scholars of the discipline and practitioners over its fundamental values.

This conflict represents the main ethical predicament of public relations.[48] In 2000, the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) responded to the controversy by acknowledging in its new code of ethics "advocacy" – for the first time – as a core value of the discipline.[48]

The field of public relations is generally highly un-regulated, but many professionals voluntarily adhere to the code of conduct of one or more professional bodies to avoid exposure for ethical violations.[49] The Chartered Institute of Public Relations, the Public Relations Society of America, and The Institute of Public Relations are a few organizations that publish an ethical code. Still, Edelman's 2003 semi-annual trust survey found that only 20 percent of survey respondents from the public believed paid communicators within a company were credible.[50] Public relations people are growing increasingly concerned with their company's marketing practices, questioning whether they agree with the company's social responsibility. They seek more influence over marketing and more of a counseling and policy-making role. On the other hand, marketing people are increasingly interested in incorporating publicity as a tool within the realm marketing.[51]

According to Scott Cutlip, the social justification for public relations is the right for an organization to have a fair hearing of their point of view in the public forum, but to obtain such a hearing for their ideas requires a skilled advocate.[52]

Public Relation Code of Ethics

The Public Relation Student Society of America has established a set of fundamental guidelines that people within the public relations professions should practice and use in their business atmosphere.

These values are:

  • Advocacy: Serving the public interest by acting as responsible advocates for the clientele. This can occur by displaying the marketplace of ideas, facts and viewpoints to aid informed public debate.

  • Honesty: Standing by the truth and accuracy of all facts in the case and advancing those statements to the public.

  • Expertise: To become and stay informed of the specialized knowledge needed in the field of Public Relations. Taking that knowledge and improving the field through development, research and education. Meanwhile, professionals also build their understanding, credibility, and relationships to understand various audiences and industries.

  • Independence: Provide unbiased work to those that are represented while being accountable for all actions.

  • Loyalty: Stay devoted to the client while remembering that there is a duty to still serve the public interest.

  • Fairness: Honorably conduct business with any and all clients, employers, competitors, peers, vendors, media and general public. Respecting all opinions and right of free expression.[53]


Spin has been interpreted historically to mean overt deceit that is meant to manipulate the public, but since the 1990s has shifted to describing a "polishing of the truth."[54] Today, spin refers to providing a certain interpretation of information meant to sway public opinion.[55] Companies may use spin to create the appearance of the company or other events are going in a slightly different direction than they actually are.[54] Within the field of public relations, spin is seen as a derogatory term, interpreted by professionals as meaning blatant deceit and manipulation.[56][57] Skilled practitioners of spin are sometimes called "spin doctors."

In Stuart Ewen's PR! A Social History of Spin, he argues that public relations can be a real menace to democracy as it renders the public discourse powerless. Corporations are able to hire public relations professionals and transmit their messages through the media channels and exercise a huge amount of influence upon the individual who is defenseless against such a powerful force. He claims that public relations is a weapon for capitalist deception and the best way to resist is to become media literate and use critical thinking when interpreting the various mediated messages.[58]

The techniques of spin include selectively presenting facts and quotes that support ideal positions (cherry picking), the so-called "non-denial denial," phrasing that in a way presumes unproven truths, euphemisms for drawing attention away from items considered distasteful, and ambiguity in public statements. Another spin technique involves careful choice of timing in the release of certain news so it can take advantage of prominent events in the news.


Negative public relations, also called dark public relations (DPR) and in some earlier writing "Black PR", is a process of destroying the target's reputation and/or corporate identity. The objective in DPR is to discredit someone else, who may pose a threat to the client's business or be a political rival. DPR may rely on IT security, industrial espionage, social engineering and competitive intelligence. Common techniques include using dirty secrets from the target, producing misleading facts to fool a competitor.[59][60][61][62] In politics, a decision to use negative PR is also known as negative campaigning. Public relations are frequently just recycled information used by a plethora of sources, thus giving way to minimal perspectives regarding events.[63]

Politics and civil society

In Propaganda (1928), Bernays argued that the manipulation of public opinion was a necessary part of democracy.[64] In public relations, lobby groups are created to influence government policy, corporate policy or public opinion, typically in a way that benefits the sponsoring organization.

In fact, Bernays stresses that we are in fact dominated in almost every aspect of our lives, by a relatively small number of persons who have mastered the ‘mental processes and social patterns of the masses,’ which include our behavior, political and economic spheres or our morals.[65] In theory, each individual chooses his own opinion on behavior and public issues.

However, in practice, it is impossible for one to study all variables and approaches of a particular question and come to a conclusion without any external influence.

This is the reason why the society has agreed upon an ‘invisible government’ to interpret on our behalf information and narrow the choice field to a more practical scale.[65]

When a lobby group hides its true purpose and support base, it is known as a front group.[67] Front groups are a form of astroturfing, because they intend to sway the public or the government without disclosing their financial connection to corporate or political interests. They create a fake grass-roots movement by giving the appearance of a trusted organization that serves the public, when they actually serve their sponsors.

Politicians also employ public relations professionals to help project their views, policies and even personalities to their best advantages.[68][69]

See also

  • Brand management

  • Grassroots

  • Impression management

  • List of press release agencies

  • List of public relations journals

  • Media intelligence

  • Media manipulation

  • Promotion (marketing)

  • Propaganda

  • Public relations in India

  • Publicist

  • Reputation management


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