Public relations is many things and the field has been growing and changing over the years, so it’s easy to get confused about what it means.
But most of the current definitions of public relations have three key words in common:
A person who works in public relations is usually working on behalf of an organisation (like a company, a government department or a charity) or sometimes for an individual (like a celebrity, a government leader or an author). A public relations practitioner works with an organisation to help them look after their relationships with people and groups (or stakeholders) that are important to them. Good relationships and good communication are important in working with people and groups to achieve the things you (and they) want to achieve.
It’s easier to clear up misunderstandings. Easier to find common ground. Easier to find ways to move forward. But one of the first things you learn from good public relations professionals is that good communication is not just about talking and persuading. It’s also about doing a lot of listening, and responding thoughtfully and responsibly to what’s being said.
There can be good communication and poor communication. Poor communication can affect an organisation’s reputation – and that may hurt its business. Public relations practitioners plan and manage communication so that it is structured and clear – and purposeful. This often involves a lot of research and planning.
Listening is also important.
A good public relations practitioner will make it their business to spend a lot of time:
In the past, public relations people were once described as being a bit like a megaphone. Modern public relations people need to be just as much a hearing aid. They bring a better understanding of the outside world into their organisations and then help find practical ways to respond to it.
Sadly, job advertising websites and newspapers are awash with advertisements seeking people to hand out give-aways in shopping centres, schmooze with patrons of nightclubs, participate in thinly disguised telemarketing by phone and all manner of other activities often loosely (very loosely) described as 'public relations'.
These are NOT professional public relations roles, although they can be people associated with a public relations campaign. A genuine public relations practitioner is usually:
The best public relations professionals are also usually accredited as members of professional associations which have rules of conduct and promote ongoing professional development, and have links to ‘best practice’ developments around the world.
Last Updated: May 2, 2013