Public Relations: Definition, PR Tools, Public Relations Decisions

Meaning of Public RelationsPublic Relations(PR) is the management of communication between an organization and its publics. Public Relations is concerned with or dedicated to creating mutual understanding among groups and institutions.”

Public relations work counseling, media relations, publicity, community relations, governmental affairs, employee relations, investor relations, development/fund-raising, special events, and marketing communications.

Public relation is a distinct discipline separate from journalism, advertising, and marketing. Although the disciplines share some basic concepts of effective communication, public relations is much broader in scope and works to build relationships with multiple publics.

Meaning of Public Relations

Public relations includes activities directed towards building good relations with the company’s various publics by obtaining favorable publicity, building up a good “corporate image,” and handling or heading off unfavorable rumors, stories, and events.

The difference between public relations and publicity should be clearly understood. Publicity includes activities to promote a company or its products by planting news about it in media not paid for by the sponsor.

Public relations is a much broader concept. It includes publicity as well as many other activities. Public relations departments may perform any or all of the following functions:

  • Press Relations or Press Agentry: Creating and placing newsworthy information in the media to attract a person, product, or service.
  • Product Publicity: Publicizing specific products.
  • Public Affairs: Building and maintaining national or local community relations.
  • Lobbying: Building and maintaining relations with legislators and government officials to influence legislation and regulation.
  • Investor Relations: Maintaining relationships with shareholders and others in the financial community.
  • Development: Public relations with donors or members of nonprofit organizations to gain financial or volunteer support.

Public relations are used for promoting products, people, places, ideas, activities, organizations, and even nations.

Definitions of Public Relations

Institute of Public Relations in the USA defined Public Relations as a deliberate, planned, and sustained effort to establish and maintain mutual understanding between an organization and its publics.

According to Bernays, Public Relations is as applied social science to be planned through opinion research and precisely evaluated. Paradoxically, there is a little description of the measurement and evaluation of campaign effectiveness in Bernays’ books and papers.

His first book, Crystallizing Public Opinion, established the foundation for a systematic approach to Public Relations. Advertising and the Publicity side of Public Relations expanded speedily in the 1920s, driven along by pioneers’ self-publicizing efforts and numerous business books on Publicity and Public Relations.

Ivy Lee, credited as being the founding father of Modern Public Relations, presented a more specific approach to Public Relations communication. In his campaigns, messages were based on economic theory, combined with situational ethics derived from psychological and scientific concepts.

More importantly, Lee’s campaign methods help change public relations practitioners’ reputation from salespeople to scientific, strategic communicators.

Bernays argued that society would move towards chaos unless Public Relations practitioners “manipulate” (in a good way) the Public Opinion into logical and organized patterns. Till the next thirty years, this perspective would ultimately become the modern definition of the role of Public Relations in society.

Bernays’ definition of Public Relations includes two distinct philosophies of the role of the industry’s practitioners. The first philosophy categorizes the practitioner, while paid, simply advocating a principle that he/she already believes in.

This is no different than the expression of an opinion. The second philosophy sees the Public Relations representative as a hired conduit for a point of view that he/she may not personally believe, and that is the toughest part.

Edward L. Bernays said, “Public relations is the attempt by information persuasion and adjustment to engineer public support for an activity, cause, movement or institution.”

Herbert M. Baus defines Public Relations as a combination of philosophy, sociology, economics, language, psychology, journalism, communication, and other knowledge into a system of human understanding.” –

Fortune (Magazine) defines Public relations are; “Good performance, publicity appreciated because adequately communicated.” –

Robert Heilbroner said, “Public Relations is Dale Carnegie – winning friends and influencing people – writ large.”

Rex F. Harlow said; “Public Relations is the distinctive management function;

  • which helps establish and maintain mutual lines of communication, understanding, acceptance, and cooperation between an organization and its publics
  • involves 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 sound and ethical communication as its principal tools.”

Major Public Relations Tools

Public relations professionals use various tools. Major public relations (PR) tools include news, speeches, and special events.

PR professionals find or create news in favor of the company and its products. Speeches and talks given at trade associations or sales meetings can create product and company publicity.

Special events used as PR tools range from news conferences, press tours, grand opening, multimedia presentations, and star-studded spectaculars.

PR executives also prepare written materials such as annual reports, brochures, articles, company newsletters, and magazines. Audio­visual materials, such as films, slide-and-sound programs, video, and audio cassettes, are increasingly used as PR tools.

Corporate identity materials also work as PR tools. Logos, stationery, brochures, signs, business forms, business cards, buildings, uniforms, and company cars and trucks contribute to its public relations.

Publicity Media

Print Media, TV, Radio, Films and Documentaries, New Media, etc. are the different mediums of mass media, which plays an important role in disseminating information among the target groups to achieve the desired goals. Print Media has played an instrumental role in awakening a large number of people during the freedom struggle.

Thus, publicity through Press or Print Media is an effective tool with the highest impact.

Also, the Language Press can help in targeting the audience of specialized interests. Television is another effective medium with the highest popularity among all the mediums of communication as it informs, educates, and entertains the people with audio­visual mode.

Then another medium is Radio, which is a mobile medium and possesses the qualities of a direct personal medium as it uses the spoken word for the most part to convey the message.

The Public Relations department or personnel need to prepare an apt press release, press briefings and should arrange press conferences to provide clear information to all these mediums.

The message can also be communicated through Films/Short Films or Documentaries based on a particular subject. Films make a powerful impact on the audience with their audio-visual qualities.

And the impact of the news media like the internet, teleconferencing, mobile communication, social media, etc. have also become prominent nowadays.

Oral Communication

It is an age-old tool used for communication.

Before the introduction of writing and technologies of communication, oral communication was the only means to communicate. It may be carried through meetings, speeches, telephone calls, public address systems, panel discussions, counseling, workshops, seminars, etc.

This medium is very much effective, fast, and less costly. Still, at the same time, it has limitations that the message cannot be retained for long, and also, there is a possibility of misinterpretation.

Printed Literature

Printed Literature is an essential thing for any business, organization, and service, whether it is commercial or non-profit making.

The house journals, annual reports, brochures, catalogs, booklets, leaflets, annual reports, direct mail, etc. comprise Printed Literature, which keeps the record and helps inform and persuade the target audience about a product, service, or an idea. The photographs are also a vital source to attract attention and provide proof of the facts or events.


Exhibitions are another device that serves as an effective tool for PR.

People often do not participate in formal meetings, workshops, etc. out of disinterest towards long speeches and other formalities attached to these programs. Still, exhibitions and fairs have an interesting and relaxed ambiance with various entertainment sources, food stalls, etc.

Thus, they have the potential to attract a large number of people.

Instead of long speeches and boring sessions, they display the Posters, Photographs, Animated Flow Charts and Diagrams, Murals, Sculptures, Audio-Video Aids, and interesting Literature, etc. Organizing Exhibitions/Fairs, Puppet Shows, Community Songs, and Dance Programs, Nautanki, Tamasha, Street Plays, etc. are the powerful forms of Traditional Media that provide information, education, and entertainment to the rural, uneducated folks.


Advertising is the paid presentation and promotion of ideas, goods, and services. The advertisements are given in the different mediums of communication to disseminate messages, create a favorable image, and establish goodwill.

The various types of advertisements include Print Media (display ads in newspapers & magazines and also leaflets, flyers, posters, etc.), Electronic and New Media (audio-visual ads on TV, Radio, internet, mobile, etc.), Outdoor Media (hoardings, gantries, kiosk poles, display ads on mobile vans, visual ads on the railway station, airports, restaurants, and other public spots).

Also, in these times of aggressive marketing and promotional strategies, promotional literature, and material referred to as P.O.P., i.e., point of purchase, is a vital tool as it influences the consumers’ decision regarding the purchase of any product.

At the same time, Public Service Advertising contains the purpose of public welfare and educating the people about various government policies so that they can avail maximum benefit out of it. These advertisements are also used to improve and maintain a good image of the Government and generate Favourable Public Opinion.

Special Events

Special events are the most visible component to maintain community relations. Special events include Celebration of Local and National Festivals and Days, Organising Music Concerts, Plays, Book Fairs, Career Fairs, Trade Fairs, Jewellery Shows, Literary Weeks, Honouring Famous Artists, Celebrities and Intellectuals, etc.

These programs are entertaining as well as informative, and people look forward to such programs in advance. The promotion of any attached product or sponsors through these events becomes very much convenient and convincing.

Media Relations

Media Relations is an important activity of Public Relations and an important tool for a Public Relations Practitioner because good Media coverage and support from Media can be availed only by maintaining healthy and good relations with media persons.

Through press releases, press conferences, press briefings, a Public Relations Person, can establish a rapport with Media persons. The hospitality arrangements, arranging visits, and tours for media persons to ensure their participation in press conferences and meetings come under Media relations.

Public Relations Process

public relations process

Public relation is a process—that is, a series of actions, changes, or functions that bring about a result. The conceptualization of public relations as a cyclical process, feedback, or audience response leads to an assessment of the program, which becomes an essential element in developing another public relations project.

  1. Research and Analysis.
  2. Policy Formulation.
  3. Programming.
  4. Communication.
  5. Feedback.
  6. Assessment.

Step 1: Research and Analysis

This consists of inputs that determine the nature and extent of the public relations problem or opportunity. These may include feedback from the public, media reporting and editorial comment, analysis of trend data, other forms of research, personal experience, and government pressures and

Step 2: Policy Formulation

As advisors to top management, public relations personnel make recommendations on policy and what actions should be taken by the organization.

Step 3: Programming

Once a policy or action is agreed on, public relations staff begin to plan a communications program to further the organization’s objectives. They will set objectives, define audiences, and decide what strategies will be used on a specific timeline. Budget and staffing are also major considerations.

Step 4: Communication

Public relations personnel execute the program through such vehicles as news releases, media advisories, newsletters, Internet and Web postings, special events, speeches, and community relations programs.

Step 5: Feedback

These efforts are measured by feedback from the same components that made up the first step.

  • Did the media mention the key messages?
  • Did people change their attitudes or opinions?
  • Did sales go up?
  • Did the organization preserve or enhance its reputation?

Step 6: Assessment

The cycle is then repeated. The success or failure of the policy or program is assessed to determine whether additional efforts are needed, or whether new issues or opportunities must be addressed. Thus, it is a continuous loop process.

Major Public Relations Decisions

The major public relations decisions are setting objectives, choosing messages and vehicles, implementing the plan, and evaluating public relations results.

Setting Public Relations Objectives

PR executives should first set objectives for public relations. These objectives should be specific, pragmatic, and capable of being turned into marketing goals. Objectives should then be translated into actions followed by the evaluation of results.

Choosing Public Relations Messages and Vehicles

The company now must choose the appropriate PR messages which will reflect the objectives set earlier. These messages will be conveyed through stories created by PR executives. The next task is to select the proper vehicle (PR tools) for sending the message to the target people.

Implementing the Public Relations Plan

Public relations plan should be implemented carefully. PR executives should maintain personal relationships with media people. This will ensure timely executions of PR plans. Media people should be considered as a market in which the PR professionals should try to satisfy.

Evaluating Public Relations Results

The impact of public relations is difficult to measure for two reasons.

First, PR is used with other promotion tools. Second, its impact is often indirect.

However, there are a few approaches to measure PR results. The simplest approach to measure the effectiveness of publicity is the number of exposures in the media.

However, such exposure measures can not be considered perfect. They do not indicate the number of people reached through the message.

Moreover, as the media overlap in readership and viewership, it does not give information on the net audience reached.

Another approach is to monitor product awareness, knowledge, and attitude resulting from the publicity campaign.

However, the most precise method of measuring public relations results is to analyze sales and profit impact if necessary data is available.

Final Words – Public Relations can be understood as the management function that evaluates public attitudes

Public Relations is influencing behavior to achieve objectives through the effective management of relationships and communications.

Public relations practice is the art and social science of analyzing trends, predicting their consequences, counseling organization leaders, and implementing planned programs of action that serve both the organization’s and the public’s interests.

Public Relations can be understood as the management function that evaluates public attitudes, informs the management about public opinion, finds out the policies and procedures of an individual or an organization aiming public interest, and executes a program of action to earn public understanding and acceptance.

The main and elementary purpose of Public Relations is to establish a two-way understanding between an organization and its public based on truth, pure knowledge, and complete information.

Public relations is well established in the United States and throughout the world. Growth is strong in Europe and Asia, particularly China.

Common terms in most public relations definitions are deliberate, planned, performance, public interest, two-way communication, and strategic management function.

Organizations use various terms to describe the public relations function, calling it corporate communications, public affairs, communication, and even external affairs. Less flattering terms used in the media include flack and a spin doctor.

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