You can interpret public relations in many different ways. For some, it can simply be your connection to the press. For others, it can represent every external communication you make. So what is public relations and why does it matter so much? Well, here’s our public relations definition.
What is public relations?
Public relations is all about perception and outcomes. It seeks to influence how organisations or individuals are perceived by the people that matter to them. Effective public relations will also include the process of creating the desired perception and encourage the people that matter to act in a way that benefits the organisation.
So, in its simplest form, it’s the creation of a positive environment in which an organisation can thrive.
So who are the ‘public’?
A good public relations definition will stipulate that PR isn’t about relating to the general public. It’s about relating to those parts of society that have an impact on the success of the organisation (or individual). Customers, clients, decision makers, influencers and employees all have an influence on how well an organisation does.
Why do they matter?
How the organisation is perceived by these groups is important, as it will impact how they behave towards the organisation. If you’re feel positively about a company — basically, if you like or respect it — you are more likely to buy its products, use its services, become its employee, etc. And the opposite is also true.
So there are very good business reasons why organisations should want to be perceived positively. It’s what Google calls “a favourable public image”, the Business Dictionary calls “goodwill”, and The Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) calls “reputation” in their public relations definition.
What are the ‘relations’?
PR is largely about ‘relating’ rather than ‘relationships’. For most organisations, it’s not possible for them to have relationships with all of those who matter to them. The relating happens at arm’s length, usually through some form of communication via a third party (more on this below).
However, it is important to build relationships with key individuals who take important decisions — such as clients, buyers, brokers, advisers, investors and public officials — and with those who control communications — such as journalists, editors, bloggers and other influencers, both positive and negative. What they do, and say, can have a major bearing on perception, reputation and goodwill.
What is the public relations process?
Wikipedia calls it “the practice of managing the spread of information between an individual or an organisation… and the public”. The CIPR describes it as “the planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain goodwill and mutual understanding between an organisation and its publics.”
Both public relations definitions make PR sound straightforward, whereas the reality is often much more complex. It involves strategy, which is the big picture of what you want to achieve. It involves tactics, which are the methods you are going to use. Also, it involves planning, which is when and where you are going to use those tactics. And finally, it involves actually doing what you’ve set out to do.
The doing will involve communications, both directly – for example through face to face meetings, briefings, conversations, press interviews, site visits and exhibitions — and indirectly — through things like press releases, launches, literature, websites, social media, merchandise and advertising.
What can PR achieve?
‘Creating a positive environment’ is mentioned above. But PR is about much more than generating ‘warm feelings’. Ultimately, you want the people that matter to do things that benefit your organisation. In other words:
- Buy your products
- Use your services
- Invest in your shares
- Work hard as your employees
- Take the right decisions
- And advise others to do these things
Through PR you can:
- Reinforce positive perceptions — so that those who like and respect your organisation continue to feel justified in doing so
- Create positive perceptions — swing those who don’t currently have a view either way in a positive direction
- Reverse negative perceptions — address criticism, create a better understanding and seek to minimise the impact caused by those who disagree with what you do or how you do it
How can you achieve it?
This public relations definition is useful knowledge, but you’ll need expertise to truly capitalise on it. You can either employ a range of specialists in-house, or you can enlist the services of a specialist PR consultancy with the skills and specialisms needed to devise and implement a PR strategy tailored to your needs. In practice, only the biggest organisations can afford to do the former, but even they will often need to employ specialists from time to time.
At Blackstock Consulting, we have specialists on hand with experience of working in a range of sectors, and an enviable success record in achieving positive perceptions and positive outcomes for our clients. Please contact us if you would like to know what we could achieve for you.