What is Public Relations?

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:

  • communication
  • relationships
  • reputation

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.

But We All Know How to Communicate, Why Do We Need 'Experts' to Help?

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:

  • listening, and passing on what they learn
  • explaining what they are able to explain, in plain language
  • finding the best ways to communicate (sometimes by talking or writing to the media, sometimes by going out and talking to people and groups directly, sometimes by organising events, sometimes by creating publications and online information, and sometimes by many other methods too)
  • assessing the risk of events or activities going wrong in any way, and making contingency plans to manage communication effectively if these things do go wrong
  • raising awareness of people and issues responding to the feedback they are getting and giving their employer good advice on what to do next

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.

What is NOT Public Relations?

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:

  • tertiary qualified in public relations or a related field
  • highly skilled and versatile, with a good knowledge of fields like professional writing and editing, strategic planning, and creative thinking processes on a career path increasingly respected for its contribution to other aspects of business, government and organisational development

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.

Working Visas For Public Relation Jobs?

There are several working visas that are suitable for international visitors looking to work in PR within Australia. These include migration pathways such as the 457 visa and for those finishing their studies as an international student the 485 visa. A good guide for suitable visas can be found on the Victorian Government Website.

It is critical that if you apply for such a 457 visa that you meet ALL requirements including 457 visa health insurance. A full list of providers can be found on the 457 Visa Compared Health Insurance Table.

Make sure you make it clear to the employer when you apply of your visa status and that they can sponsor you if your applying for an employer sponsorship visa.

Last Updated: Tue, Sep 30 2014