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public relations (PR)

Contributor(s): Ivy Wigmore

Public relations (PR) is the use of communications channels to manage public perception of an individual or an organization. 

PR is ingrained in the corporate culture of most larger enterprises. Executives often give speeches and make other public appearances to foster their organization’s relationship with its community. Corporate communications, such as mission statements, press releases, social media posts and website content, are typically written with attention to PR considerations.

Public relations firms and professionals also exist to provide PR communications. As a profession, public relations dates back to the early 1900s. Ivy Lee, a former Wall Street reporter, is considered the founder of PR. In 1906, Lee published the Declaration of Principles for public relations, in which he maintained that communications should be accurate and open, and that the PR field has a responsibility to the general public beyond its responsibility to the client.  In practice, however, Lee was less scrupulous. For example, his PR communications about the Rockefeller family’s coal mining operation were roundly criticized as false and misleading.

Today, the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) and similar organizations provide codes of ethics for PR professionals.  Here’s how the PRSA describes PR management functions:

•  Anticipating, analyzing and interpreting public opinion, attitudes and issues that might impact, for good or ill, the operations and plans of the organization.

•  Counseling management at all levels in the organization with regard to policy decisions, courses of action and communication, taking into account their public ramifications and the organization’s social or citizenship responsibilities.

 •  Researching, conducting and evaluating, on a continuing basis, programs of action and communication to achieve the informed public understanding necessary to the success of an organization’s aims. These may include marketing; financial; fund raising; employee, community or government relations; and other programs.

•  Planning and implementing the organization’s efforts to influence or change public policy. Setting objectives, planning, budgeting, recruiting and training staff, developing facilities — in short, managing the resources needed to perform all of the above.

See also: reputation management, spin, chief reputation officer (CRO)

This was last updated in January 2017

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