31 Public Relations Definitions

What is PR (aka Public Relations)?

Say PR, as in public relations, particularly during a conversation about marketing and/or social media, and participants are liable to have vastly different perspectives on the topic. Traditionally, public relations referred to the art of getting mentions of a person, company or other organization placed in the media, namely print, radio and television.

As a marketer active in the ever-changing world of digital marketing and social media, I understand that PR’s role has evolved and become more integrated into an organization’s overall marketing and communications. In pursuit of a good definition of public relations, I discovered unexpected diversity in how PR professionals describe what they do.

31 Public Relations Definitions

Here are thirty-one definitions of public relations from experienced PR practioners. The list starts with the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA.) As the professional public relations organization, PRSA’s definition was a starting point for several of the respondents. Following PRSA’s explanation of public relations, the PR definitions have been organized in alphabetical order by source.

  1. Public relations helps an organization and its publics 
adapt mutually to each other. Public Relations broadly applies to organizations as a collective group, not just a business; and publics encompass the variety of different stakeholders.  PRSA (Public Relations Society of America)
  2. Public relations is communicating your organization’s messages at the right time and in the right place to the right audience. With the proliferation of tools and technologies, we can measure the value of those efforts and how they align with a business’ overall mission.  Marla Aaron – MRM Worldwide
  3. Public Relations in its true sense is about human connections and the art of mastering human connections at a deep level. In the early days of PR, it was about relationships with not just the press but communities in various forms – the difference was that these audiences were not online. When played from a place of passion and purpose, public relations in the new world will not only take social media, branding and marketing to the next level, but will elevate the people and products that are changing the world.  Renee Blodgett – Magic Sauce Media
  4. Traditionally, PR has focused on cultivating the media and celebrities, who’ve the reach and credibility, to tell the stories of an agency’s clients. However, in the new media world, where digital conversations among peers can capture a higher Google ranking than a main stream media publication, who influences opinion has been expanded. At the end of the day, PR is still about building relationships with the people who can convey that third party endorsement. That person just may surprise you because it could be you!  Toby BloombergBloomberg Marketing/Diva Marketing
  5. PR focuses on building good relations with the company’s various publics by obtaining favorable publicity, building a good corporate image, and handling crisis management issues.  Today, a good PR firm must be experts in use of social media.  Mark Burgess – Blue Focus Marketing
  6. Public relations communicates the news, influences the news, receives the news, and responds to the news for a brand via the media. It’s the art and science of talking to the right audience in the right voice. PR is the communication hub of an organization. It influences and shapes a company’s image, reputation, brand perception and culture. PR connects a brand and its public via direct messages or editorial media including print, broadcast, radio, digital, video or social media. Before social media, a company had one voice; now social media encompasses an orchestra of voices that contribute to a company’s image, reputation, brand perception and its public community.  Lisa BuyerThe Buyer Group
  7. PR is the part of a marketing and communications strategy that crafts an organization’s message(s) to its diverse publics including customers, prospects, investors, employees, suppliers, distributors, media/journalists, social media networks, the government and the public.  Given communications and media evolution, these messages can be communicated one-to-many, one-to-one and/or many-to-many across owned media, third party media and/or social media via online and offline vehicles. These communications and their distribution must be search-friendly. Since every individual is essentially a publisher complete with a media platform from which to broadcast his message, organizations must monitor the social media landscape for keywords and brand mentions, be prepared to respond to emerging news 24/7, and have a crisis management plan ready.  Heidi Cohen – Riverside Marketing Strategies
  8. PR is the process of making a heartfelt connection between a person or organization and the people who can truly benefit from and care about their message. It’s an awareness of what makes people tick, facilitated by a desire to build communities, engage and discuss, and give voice to worthy projects. PR isn’t mass messaging, spinning truths, or a barrier between the public and the person represented. PR should make genuine connections.  Shennandoah Diaz Brass Knuckles Media
  9. The purpose of PR is to participate in conversations about your industry and your business, build relationships with relevant stakeholders and ultimately build a supportive community of influencers and interested parties around a company, organization or brand.  Sally FalkowPress-Feed
  10. In our relationship with the media, we view PR as great customer service. We try to turn around data requests or calls to speak with analysts as quickly as possible. Similar to the old Domino’s pizza slogan, “Under 30 minutes or it’s free,” we try to get reporters the information they need in under 30 minutes, or pass them quickly to someone else who can.  Clark Fredricksen eMarketer
  11. Good PR tentacles out key messages in alignment with the business plan in a factual/creative way; communicating to audiences through appropriate channels.  Sue R.E. Geramian – DMA
  12. Public relations is the creation, distribution and dissemination of messaging and communications for the purpose of promoting and fostering positive awareness, associations, imagery, perception of a person, place or thing among a particular target audience to effect a desired behavior.  Dan Gersten
  13. PR is a set of activities aimed at increasing a vendor’s positive exposure with its markets.  Lee Greenhouse – Greenhouse Associates
  14. The definition of PR would be “reputation, value and relationship building.” It is valuable but not valued. (Terry Flynn) Although the function can be very effective at marketing PR, I think time is better spent in reputation and issues management. If an organization is perceived to be a good corporate citizen (decent to its employees, etc.), customers are more likely to want to purchase products and services. Meaning that, ultimately, marketing goals are also met. Judy Gombita – Public Relations and Communication Management Specialist  [Note: Judy blogged about the Canadian Public Relations Society’s official definition of PR. (Editor’s Note: This quote was previously edited in a way that changed the meaning. It has been replaced with the original wording. My apologies for this error.)]
  15. Public relations is a management function that establishes and maintains two-way, mutual relationships and communications between an organization and its publics and stakeholders (i.e. those who have a stake, such as employees, shareholders, etc.) that often determine their success or failure. PR management includes on-going research, analysis, planning and evaluation to understand, develop and nurture strategic relationships. Areas of PR specialization include Investor Relations, Lobbying, Public Affairs (Government & Community), Publicity & Media/Blogger Relations, Employee Relations, International Relations and Crisis Management. Often, PR and Publicity are used synonymously, which leads to a misunderstanding of the field of PR.  Beth HarteThe Harte of Marketing
  16. Search engines, social networking sites, and video sharing communities have redefined PR and put the “public” in public relations. I define PR as “the practice of managing communication between an organization and its publics.”  This definition is elastic and permits PR professionals to make other necessary changes in the future.  Greg Jarboe – SEO-PR
  17. Public Relations, once called “non-paid” media, is the element of the marketing communications mix where a marketer creates messages and supplies them to publishers for distribution.  The result is content contained within a third party channel providing an air of authenticity. Additionally, public relations is the interactions with the media to ensure the intent of the marketers message is maintained.  Brian Kelly
  18. Public relations is communication between an organization and its various stakeholders—both internal and external. Barbara Kowalski – Modern Health Communications, Inc.
  19. As a part of marketing, Public Relations is tasks to promote a product or service at little or no cost. The objective is to complement paid marketing by communicating a firm’s trust and credibility toward appropriate traditional and digital channels.  Paul Mosenson – NuSpark Marketing
  20. In its purest form, PR is the art and science of influencing public opinion through communications. These days, it’s often a ham-handed attempt at message control. The problem is that message control is (and always was) an illusion. The best PR people understand integrated communications and know that if your product sucks, nothing else matters.  B.L. Ochman – What’s Next Blog
  21. Today’s PR professional understands the intersection of content, social technologies and marketing in ways that achieve common PR objectives: credibility, thought leadership and influence. It’s less about managing information flow and pushing content – and more about creating content, networking and engagement.  Lee Odden TopRank Online Marketing
  22. Integrated marketing and PR are focused multichannel messages that make a difference, as well as generate a profit in ways that matter to customers.  Michele PriceWomen In Business Radio
  23. PR and corporate communications is marketing, except, you’re selling an intangible to an audience with no interest.  Richard Reavey
  24. At its essence, Public Relations is about managing and shaping public perception about your company, product, service, brand, and individual. PR has evolved to also encompass engaging in one-to-one and one-to-many conversations that further shape the public perception. In some cases, it can turn doubters into evangelists for your company, brand or persona.  Cece Salomon-LeePR Meets Marketing
  25. Advertising: I walk into a bar and tell the first hot girl I see how amazing I am in bed. The hot girl doesn’t go home with me.  PR: I walk into a bar and a friend of the hot girl sees me and tells her friend how great I am in bed.  The hot girl goes home with me.  Peter Shankman – Help A Reporter Out  [ Note: Maybe it’s a male thing but this definition appeared several times. Peter’s was first. ]
  26. From a business viewpoint, many people mistakenly think PR is one-way communication, intended to persuade or sell those stakeholders on the merits of the company and/or its products or services. Public relations is actually a dialogue between an organization and its stakeholders geared towards building mutual understanding, and in that way, building and maintaining reputation for a company and its products or services.  Lucy Siegel – Bridge Global Strategies
  27. Public relations is a highly strategic discipline that’s integrated with marketing to achieve business goals. It positions companies and spokespeople with key audiences, whether internal or external. Public relations complements an integrated marketing campaign with measurable results garnered through media relations, social media, thought leadership, industry analyst relations, investor relations and/or special events. Jayme Soulati – Soulati Media Inc
  28. Public relations is part of the larger marketing function. PR’s main objective is to help companies create and build their brands. PR is more than just announcing a company’s latest news. Public relations is leveraging communications strategies to establish a market position through thought leadership. Instead of being self-serving, PR provides third-party perspectives about the industry to the press, bloggers, analysts and influencers, expertise through speaking engagements, and contribute thought leadership articles, and engage in social media.  Steve Stratz – Illuminate Public Relations
  29. PR has evolved with technological advances and its role in management has increased. Public relations is defining and communicating a company’s narrative to provide clarity and insight to the market it seeks to reach.  Nancy Tamosaitis – Thompson-Vorticom, Inc.
  30. Public relations is the art and science of sharing genuine, credible, relevant news and information to grow, maintain and protect brand acceptance, awareness, reputation and sales, when appropriate. Public Relations creates measurable, fact-based conversations, events and activities conceived to generate positive, third party endorsements and target audience buy-in.  Deborah Weinstein – Strategic Objectives
  31. Using traditional and digital media (free of charge) to educate and inform public masses about relevant issues and stories that are worthy of sharing and that have an impact on people. Public relations requires a creative, compelling, and concise approach, with a deep sense of the art of story-telling through our emotions and humanity.  We have the power to move and influence people through the news and media.  Susan Young – Get in Front Communications, Inc.

Regardless of which definition of public relations you choose, several factors are consistent. PR is part of an organization’s overall marketing and communications function. PR is critical in helping to engage an organization’s diverse publics across media platforms including third party and social media. Public relations must protect the organization’s reputation and provide crisis management where necessary. Further, PR must accomplish this with an understanding of the search optimization opportunities.

How do these definitions of public relations relate to yours? Please feel free to add your definition in the comment section below.

Happy marketing,
Heidi Cohen

 

Big tip of my hat to everyone who contributed to this column and helped clarify the definition of PR or public relations.

Note: Definitions were gathered from a variety of sources. Respondents were asked to reply in one to five sentences. Understandably, some answers ran long give the topic. As editor, I took the liberty of editing the definitions for usage and length. Any errors or misstatements are mine. As stated above, readers are invited to add their definitions or modifications in the comment section below.


Heidi CohenHeidi Cohen is the President of Riverside Marketing Strategies. You can find Heidi on , Facebook and .

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  • http://www.experiate.net Paul Flanigan

    Interesting. I did a word search. Out of all 31, I found that only seven talk about “relationships,” or building them.

    Only two use “connection.”

    Only two use “engagement” in the sense of connection.

    Only one uses “human.”

    That’s the problem. Most don’t even know what a relationship is, or how to develop one, instead opting for homogenous copy that has no impact at all. I don’t believe any definition of PR requires the use of the words I mention above, but it seems that most could do much better if they want to be good at it.

    • http://antoinedidienne.wordpress.com Antoine Didienne

      I agree with you Paul. Public realtions is about relationships, about a flow of communication that goes both ways. If one wants to push messages to an audience, they might as well go into advertising.
      There’s still a great confusion between PR and Marketing. It’s not the same thing, but it seems that most of the companies that have shared their definitions are marketing firms…
      The real problem with defining PR is that it works on so many levels that PR is part of almost everything a company does.
      Until PR owns itself, we are still going to see marketing departments talking about PR like it’s publicity.

    • http://wearqr.com QR Code Marketing

      Interesting analysis. Amazing that relationships are barely explored in those definitions.

  • http://www.theharteofmarketing.com Beth Harte

    Heidi, very interesting how there can be so many definitions. Goes to show why the industry is not on the same playing field.

    I think most true blood PR professionals would not agree that PR is part of marketing & communications, but a stand alone function that deserves a seat at the management table.

    PR is usually taught in the English/Communications department of most colleges & universities while marketing is taught in the business school. As a PR and marketing adjunct professor, I often see how this separation affects a PR student’s understanding of the business world. That’s why most PR is learned on the job and it’s typically “publicity,” not public relations.

    From an integration perspective, I think PR and marcom either should be together (i.e. no silo) or they should be bridged to work together very closely.

    Cheers,
    Beth Harte
    @bethharte

  • http://www.3hatscommunications.com/blog/ Davina K. Brewer

    Great list, bookmarking. And per Peter’s answer, I’ve shared this one a few times – from an old Reader’s Digest post explaining the difference in advertising vs. publicity vs. PR. FWIW:

    “if the circus is coming to town and you paint a sign saying ‘Circus Coming to the Fairground Saturday’, that’s Advertising. If you put the sign on the back of an elephant and walk it into town, that’s Promotion. If the elephant walks through the mayor’s flower bed, that’s Publicity. And if you get the mayor to laugh about it, that’s Public Relations. ..”

    • http://www.akamediainc.com Andrew Krause

      I was waiting to see this one. I use it all the time.

    • darla mey legion

      That’s really confusing. Two days from now i’m going to have a report about pr. Good Luck !

    • http://www.myprcounselor.com Robert Austin, APR

      Davina,
      I love this. While it is overly simplistic, the “getting the mayor to laugh” is as much about persuasive aspects of PR as it is about the understanding and relationship building with the mayor.

  • http://www.themccinsider.com Mike Ekey

    Interesting. Looking at this list I can tell even internally our various departments subscribe to different definitions of what we in the PR office should be doing.

  • Jane Crofts

    I would take issue that PR is always part of a marketing and communications function. Excellent PR is a strategic function in its own right – as cited by James Grunig in his lecture last year. PR can be part of marketing but it can also make use of marketing. PR is about developing the organisation’s narrative – it influences, engages and counsels.

  • http://soulati.com/blog Jayme Soulati

    Hi, Heidi!
    So great to get introduced to you as a result of this incredible round-up of PR peeps and definitions. I’m pursuing this very discussion on my blog these last many days, and will reference this going forward.

    While I don’t think we’re re-inventing the wheel and I think it’s OK to draw attention to this as much as possible, you’ve done my work for me! I’ll still proceed with the comments I’ve received and share, as well. Thanks, again, for this work. Impressive.

  • http://www.myntpr.com Ronnie Manning

    Great post! as social media continues to become integrated into PR plans and strategy I’m sure we will see definitions shift and expand as well. I actually put together a similar post a few months ago (based on Twitter’s character count) asking PR professionals to define PR in 140 characters or Less – http://bit.ly/h3F9L5 – which holds similar parallels.

    best,
    Ronnie Manning
    Mynt Public Relations

  • http://www.nospinpr.com Ruth Seeley

    But a much simpler, more succinct, and yet far more comprehensive definition of PR is this one, attributed to Indra Nooyi, CEO of PepsiCo: “PR aligns ‘performance with purpose.’”

  • http://312Digital.com Sean McGinnis

    Peter’s comment (and apparently the others as well) is part of a longer, long standing joke in the industry. I’ve seen it referenced multiple times. Here’s a link from a 2005 blog post.

    http://daveibsen.typepad.com/5_blogs_before_lunch/2005/11/son_i_finally_f.html

  • http://www.punchakpr.com Whitney Punchak

    Thanks for the break down @PaulFlanigan! I’ll add that only 4 mention growing, improving or working with “business”. Which also relates to @BethHarte’s point about PR being taught in the arts.

  • http://www.prconversations.com Judy Gombita

    Now that the (mainly) marketers above have weighed in with their definitions of public relations–which as you know, Heidi, I view as a quite different discipline from public relations, although PR definitely can (and should) work effectively alongside marketing to achieve mutual goals and objectives (and definitely can provide counsel on reputation management)–will you next be tackling how marketing can or should be defined?

    Maybe have some fun, and ask PR practitioners and/or academics to weigh in (for a change), too.

    From the American Marketing Association’s website:

    Marketing:

    Marketing is the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large. (Approved October 2007)

    From the Canadian Marketing Association’s website:

    C. Definition of Marketing

    Marketing is a set of business practices designed to plan for and present an organization’s products or services in ways that build effective customer relationships.

    Best,
    Judy

  • http://mandyvavrinak.com Mandy Vavrinak

    One key obstacle to defining PR is separating WHAT we do (measurable results achieved) from HOW we do it (strategies, tools) and WHY it matters (what difference does it make that we do it at all, and to whom?) Most definitions tend to wander around and often devolve into corporate speak… PRSA’s being one of the worst offenders, I think. I don’t know that I have the answer, either. Because we take an integrated approach to marketing, which we believe should include PR as a practice, I think PR and “marcomm” are not separate highways, but rather are related paths toward the only real goal: Influencing a public (be it government, customers, employees, etc.) to believe or act in a particular way *because we want them to*.
    @Beth – Not teaching some business skills/concepts to PR majors or solid writing and crisis management skills to business majors is a serious oversight in how we educate college kids, in my opinion. I think you nailed the core reason for the continued (and false!) separation of marketing and PR in most minds.

  • shauna

    Wow – so many words! That’s one thing I remember – in advertising you try to say as much as possible in as few words as possible; in PR you take something simple and use lots of words to make it news!
    But my favorite definition of PR has always been (I would credit the source if I knew it) “P – for performance; R- for recognition”.

  • @mattceni

    Interesting that a post re: defining PR doesn’t include Ed Bernays’ definition. In just the first two paragraphs of his essay, The Engineering of Consent, – which is the basis of PR and propaganda- Bernays lays out then what is taking place now, “the US has become a small room in which a single whisper can be magnified a thousand times.” Given the new world of communications you can exchange US for the world, but the sentiment is still the same.

    The definitions articulate what trends and activities are happening now, but managing influence is at the heart of the practice. It doesn’t matter which school the function is taught in because it is both an art and a science. So of the best PR people I know don’t have a journalism, comms, English degree, but have the gift of understanding influence.

    How you do it, how you measure it, what channels are used is besides the point – when defining your trade remember why it was/is so highly differentiated that we have the opportunity to make a living doing such important work.

  • http://www.mediamasterstraining.com Tripp Frohlichstein

    The best and simplest definition I have ever heard is simply this equation (which applies in good times and bad)-

    “Doing something good AND getting credit for it.”

  • http://ariherzog.com Ari Herzog

    Intriguing that people are still calling PR public relations when it’s really about people relations.

    • Adeniyi Aduragbemi

      yeah,well said. We are the public that comprised the word People. the public aspect is the term to be used in the course of study. “People relations”,i think is the deepened aspect and not the corporate word.

  • Tom Adkinson, APR

    It is interesting how so many of the 31 definitions focused on the “how” or the “why” of public relations and didn’t drill down to the core of the “what.”

    Only one came close to the definition I use in a workshop when I’m speaking to an audience of diverse backgrounds. I want the audience to understand PR not at publicity, influence, engagement or connection, but as never-ending and useful communication that results from careful thought.

    In that context, PR is “a management function that facilitates effective communication between an organization and its various publics for mutual benefit.”

    What so many people — practitioners and the public alike — don’t grasp is the last phrase of that definition: for mutual benefit.

  • Michael

    PR is the management of communications and relationships between an organization and its publics.

  • http://www.smye-holland.com Mike Holland

    The UK’s Chartered Institute of Public Relations defines PR as:

    “The discipline which looks after reputation, with the aim of earning understanding and support and influencing opinion and behaviour. It is the planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain goodwill and mutual understanding between an organisation and its publics.”

    I like the definition because:

    a) It says why we are doing it – we aim to influence opinon and (importantly) behaviour.
    b) It stresses that it is about EARNING (my emphasis) understanding and support.
    c) It makes clear this is a two-way process – “mutual understanding” (“and goodwill” it goes on to say – I am not sure this is necessary – it would be great to have everyone’s goodwill but I would often settle just for their understanding).

  • http://www.premierprsrilanka.com Deepika Gunasekera

    I see PR as a part of marketing communications. it builds strategic relationships with different stakeholders of corporates .The company decides with whom they desire to build the relationships with. as a result positive perceptions are created. through this PR helps them to achieve their corporate objectives. A positive image will increase your sales and enhance your profits. that is the ultimate objective of any corporate. positive publicity which is a part of PR will help them build relationships. Its a very thin line between advertising and PR. however PR gives more credibility to the function of marcom.

  • Emmett Coffey

    Interesting collegium of definitions of PR but as a former practitioner and now PR lecturer I was struck by lack of reference to some of the most accepted academic definitions. I’m not contending that these are necessarily of greater merit but they do cast interesting light on how the practice is viewed and how it continues to evolve. Finally, the key point should be how PR engages with ALL publics and not just those ones traditionally associated with the marketing effort.
    Emmett Coffey
    Public Relations Lecturer
    Cork Institute of Technology
    Cork
    Ireland

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oYfOG58BfNk Emina von Borstel

    I am currently studying Public Relations and did a Man on the street interview to find out how much the public knows exactly about the PR industry. The result was rather entertaining. Feel free to watch

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oYfOG58BfNk

  • Olatilo samuel

    Is a delibrate planned an system effort to established and explain mutual between a organisation an it’s public.

  • ANNA MASSAO

    am a public relations student am happy to see ur comments they real teaches me alot.

  • Randy

    Oh my Gosh, you just saved my life!! Thanks for providing this for my next class–sheez, public-relation introduction kinda sux.

  • Asm4ndhi113

    this is exactly what i have been searching for, thank you so much.

  • Reo

    PR is a deliberate and consistent attempt to build relationships between organizations and its publics, Countries and its citizens for the purpose of good image building and eventual patronage of products or services. REO COMMUNICATIONS

  • Masaya Tapona

    The definitions are special. What i liked most the fact that the implication derived from all of the definitions is the same. thanks. Taps MASAYA

  • http://twitter.com/RTorossian5wpr Ronn Torossian

    In my book, For Immediate Release, I definite PR as:

    Great pub•lic re•la•tions:

    1. helps make the impersonal personal. 2. bridges divides. 3. creates excitement and builds equity for businesses, personalities, politicians, and others. 4. manages crises and catastrophes. 5. about telling stories, having conversations, and making impressions.
    6. needed by any business—or anyone with a pulse, for that matter.

  • http://www.ikf.co.in/digitalmarketing/seo-services.html SEO Services India

    PR (Public Relation) is really very important factor since long back. “PR is part of an organization’s overall marketing and communications function. “

  • Amr H. Fodah

    I could say that PR as a component of the marketing function – it,s main goal is to develop positively internal and external environment of business to maximize the opportunities of profitability and growth .

  • mike

    “From a corporate standpoint, PR can help companies to develop positive images for their businesses. From a marketing perspective, public relations play an important role as part of the marketing strategy. PR help to position the company’s product or brand and build brand equity.“
    M. Chmielecki, PR in Asia, Journal of Intercultural Management , Vol. 4, No. 4, December 2012, p. 136

  • Tim Mccallan

    Its indeed very interesting PR it such many definition. Hmmm this article is what i’m looking for.

    mccallant @ http://www.timmccallan.com/

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  • http://www.topthingstoknow.com/ Rocks

    Nice chunk of information. Will love to read it more and more time.

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