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.

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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

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

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.

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