Sunday, September 25, 2005

What is PR

Eavesdropping on umpteen universities teaching public relations to fresh faced students in their first semester, one might hear a lecture or tutorial asking the attentive freshmen, “what is public relations?”

There will be the usual view of PR taken from 'Sex and the City', the keener members of class will have a view of about generating plenty of 'good ink', providing the strategic public relations approach needed to 'connect your business with prospects, customers and other key audiences'. There will be more like that. But parties and 'good ink' aside, there is anothet view that students will come to learn about. Typically they will be of the nature of the following statements.

  • Public relations practice is the planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain good will and mutual understanding between an organisation and its publics (CIPR)

  • Public relations practice is the process of organised two-way communication between an organisation and its audiences, its objective is to build a level of mutual understanding and respect which allows the organisations goals to be more readily met (CIPR)

  • …is an instrument of management by means of which all consciously used forms of internal and external communication are harmonised as effectively and efficiently as possible, so as to create a favourable basis for relationships in the groups upon which the company is dependent. (Van Riel 1995).

  • Public relations is the management, through communication, of perceptions and strategic relationships between an organisation and its internal and external stakeholders, for mutual benefit and a greater social order.' (Valin 2004)

  • Public Relations is defined as: “influencing behaviour to achieve objectives through the effective management of relationships and communications” (CIPR/DTI 2003)

  • Public relations is ".. what it says on the tin" "It is about organisations building relationships with its publics... to build positive relationships in both directions" (Gregory 2005)

This seems to be very confusing and is made even less helpful when mixed with the concept that there are many types of PR practice which were identified in 2005 (Phillips 2005) and many description in the literature such as the 472 types identified by Rex Harlow.

This all seems so much more complicated than Sex and the City parties and 'good ink'.

The concept that the many domains and practices of Public relations are different is deceiving.

There is an overriding principle behind the practice. It is that the various domains and types of practice seek to change relationships and to create a better relationship.

The distinction between changing relationships and making relationships better is important and has ethical implication's. The processes and skills of public relations can apply for good and ill. This question of ethics will come to the fore in a later post.

There is another principle that is noticeable which is that this is a planned and managed process.

The significance of the process being planned and managed is important. This profession is based on a managed process with know outcomes. Others can try and through good luck and serendipity appear to do well but, in the long term, the structured approach wins every time.

So what are these processes and skills? What is the PR 'magic bullet'?

There are two components to this.

The first is that the practice of public relations is about relationships.

The second is that there is some form of value in having 'better relationships'. A poor relationship seems to be of less, even negative, value and a good relationship would appear to be valuable. So, public relations is about value.

But what is meant by 'relationships? What is meant by relationships?

Indeed, as we see so many references about relations between organisations and their publics or constituency (sometimes misleadingly called stakeholders), what do we mean by organisation?

The Relationship Value Model is beginning to answer such questions.

  • Van Riel CBM (1995) Principles of Corporate Communication, Prentice Hall

  • Valin, J. (2004) Overview of Public relations around the world and principles of modern practice Remarks by Jean Valin, APR, (2004) Fellow CPRS Chair of the Global Alliance At a the CONFERP conference Brasilia, October

  • Chartered Institute of Public Relation and the UK Department of Trade and industry “Unlocking the Potential of Public Relations: Developing Good Practice” (2003)

  • Gregory, A. (2005) The Message BBC 14th January 2005

  • Phillips, D. (2005) Domians of Practice

  • Harlow in Wlicox, D.L.,Cameron,G.T., Ault, P.R.,Agee, W.K.2003 Public Relations Strategies and Tactics 7 th Edition Allyn and Bacon

Picture (Domian field)