What is PR? What is Public Relations?I hear this question more often than I would like to admit. What, exactly is public relations or PR? I even hear this question from people who are in the industry or trying to get into the industry.

Public relations is an overarching discipline. A definition from The Public Relations Handbook:

Public relations is a distinctive management function which helps establish and maintain mutual lines of communications, understanding, acceptance, and cooperation between an organization and its publics; involve the management of problems or issues; helps management to keep informed on and responsive to public opinion; defines and emphasizes the responsibility of management to serve the public interest; helps management keep abreast of and effectively utilize change, serving as an early warning system to help anticipate trends; and uses research and ethical communication techniques as its principal tools.

So many people equate public relations with publicity (media relations) but there are many other activities. Here is a rough list:

  • Internal communications (communicating with employees through in-house newsletters, intranet sites and suggestion boxes, etc.)
  • Corporate PR (Communicating on behalf of whole organization with annual reports, ethical statements, conferences, etc.)
  • Media Relations (Communicating with journalists with press releases, press events, briefings, and increasingly social media)
  • Business to Business (Communicating with other organizations like suppliers and retailers at trade events, exhibitions and through newsletters and e-mail campaigns)
  • Public Affairs (Communicating with opinion formers and politicians, monitoring the political environment)
  • Community relations and Corporate Social Responsibility (Communicating with local community, elected representatives, creating exhibitions, presentations, letters, meetings, sports activities and other sponsorships)
  • Investor Relations (Communicating with financial organizations through newsletters, briefings and events)
  • Strategic Communication + Reputation Management (Identification and analysis of situation, problem and solutions through research, planning and executing a campaign to improve the ethical reputation of the organization)
  • Issues Management (Monitoring Political, social, economic and tech environment )
  • Crisis Management (Communicating clear messages in an emergency as the PR people at Toyota or BP needed to do to deal with the media in light of recent crises)
  • Copywriting (Writing for different audiences to high standards of literacy, writing press releases, newsletters, web pages, annual reports, crafting copy for tweets)
  • Publications Management (Overseeing print and media processes like leaflets, internal magazines, and websites)
  • Events Management (Organizing conferences, press launches, trade shows)

Was that overwhelming? It shouldn’t be. It should help you focus in on what you want to do, what you do best or a potential focus area. Most firms and/or solo practitioners pick 2-3 focus areas to specialize. Larger agencies can afford to pick more. If you’re just starting out, try a few things and see what you like. You can probably tell whether or not you’re interested in, for example, investor relations or public affairs which require an interest and deep subject matter expertise in finance and politics respectively.


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