I hear a lot, both in the online and offline environments, terms that confuse the fundamental role of public relations with other similar communications functions. Terms like “marketing public relations” certainly does not help clear up any of the confusion.
In my mind, to be a good public relations practitioner, you have to understand the fundamentals of what you are doing. You are not shoveling information down people’s throats, or probing their subconsciousness in an attempt to get them to buy that new Mercedes. If you are blasting our press releases by the thousands, you are not practicing good public relations. Really.
My three favorite definitions of public relations come from:
- Cutlip, Center and Broom (text): “Public relations is the management function that establishes and maintains mutually beneficial relationships between an organization and the publics on whom its success or failure depends.”
- Webster’s – “The art and science of developing reciprocal understanding and goodwill.”
- Public Relations News – “Public relations is the management function which evaluates public attitudes, identifies the policies and procedures of an individual or an organization with the public interest and plans and executes a program of action to earn public understanding and acceptance.”
There’s a lot to like in these definitions like “publics upon whom its success of failure depends,” “reciprocal understanding and goodwill,” and I really like the last one that classifies public relations as a management function.
What is common in all of these is the two-way nature of the relationship. Sure, you might be talking, but you damn sure should be listening as well. Think about the companies that have depended upon us for the societal license to operate (tobacco companies, chemical companies), that, due to public pressure, have changed the fundamental way that they do business. So the important part of either online or offline public relations is the reciprocity: if you are not talking to the your publics — and listening — and responding or acting — you are not doing it right.
P.S. – Just to stir the pot a little, I have listed a group of associated items that public relations, — in its purest definition — IS NOT. Feel free to comment early and often.