What is Public Relations? Definition, Tools, Function, Advantages, Process

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What is Public Relations?

Public relations is a unique management function which helps organizations to establish and maintain mutual lines of communications, understanding, acceptance, and cooperation with their public(s).

Public relations is about building public relationships. Public relations is the strategic art and science of connecting your story to the audiences that matter most, i.e.: key constituents, target audiences, thought leaders, and decision-makers.

Many people confuse public relations with publicity, which refers to getting new media coverage. But public relations are broader in scope.

What is Public Relations
What is Public Relations

Table of Content

Public Relations Definition

One of the earliest Public Relations Definition was coined by Edward Bernays.

Public Relations is a management function which tabulates public attitudes, defines the policies, procedures and interest of an organization followed by executing a program of action to earn public understanding and acceptance.

Edward Bernays

Public Relations is concerned with or dedicated to creating mutual understanding among groups and institutions.

Public Relations Society of America (PRSA)

“Public Relations is the art and social science of analyzing trends, predicting their consequences. Counselling organization leaders and implementing planned programmes of action which will serve both the organization’s and the public interest”.

World Assembly of Public Relations Associations

Public Relations Meaning

Public relations are a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.

Objectives of Public Relations

The prime objective of PR is to depict a positive image of the organisation or brand. It also strives to maintain a strategic relationship with the public, prospective customers, stakeholders, investors, employees, etc. By doing so, an organisation can showcase its integrity, honesty and values.

The objectives of PR are as follows:

  • To generate awareness about the organisation, its goals, products and services.

  • To monitor media channels and social networking sites to analyse public response

  • To deal with crises that imperil an organisation’s goodwill

  • To create a positive image by undertaking philanthropic, special programmes and events in the public interest

  • To stimulate product demand through positive blogs or newspaper articles, advertisements

  • To reinforce public trust, especially during the time of rumours, public outrage and misinformation

  • To deal with government and legislative entities on behalf of the organisation

Components of Public Relations

  1. Community Relations
  2. Consumer Relations
  3. Corporate Communications
  4. Employee Communication
  5. Government Affairs and Lobbying
  6. Litigation Public Relations
  7. Marketing Communication
  8. Media Relations

Community Relations

Interaction with a geographic or cultural community in order to enhance mutual understanding, goodwill and support.

Consumer Relations

Interaction with consumer groups and media for the purpose of generating consumer understanding and support. A sub-category, customer relations, also involves interaction with individual customers.

Corporate Communications

The production and dissemination of messages by an organization through both internal media such as brochures and websites as well as through external media such as news and advertising.

Employee Communication

Interaction with employees, volunteers, members, and other internal publics in order to enhance mutual understanding, goodwill and support.

Government Affairs and Lobbying

Interaction with legislators and regulatory agencies of government to generate support for an organization and its causes. Lobbying specifically refers to interaction with legislators and regulators for the purpose of influencing their votes and/or official decisions.

Litigation Public Relations

The engagement of the news media in a bid for public understanding and support within the context of lawsuits and litigation.

Marketing Communication

Interaction with consumer and trade media, particularly associated with the introduction of new products and services.

Media Relations

Interaction with the news media in order to gain publicity or editorial support or to respond to journalistic inquiries.

Types of Public Relations

Public relations is frequently segmented into distinct agencies or departments, with each department being specialized in managing a specific aspect, as outlined below:

  • Media Relations: Establishing a good relationship with the media organizations and acting as their content source.

  • Investor Relations: Handling investors events, releasing financial reports and regulatory filings, and handling investors, analysts and media queries and complaints.

  • Government Relations: Representing the brand to the government with regard to the fulfillment of policies like corporate social responsibility, fair competition, consumer protection, employee protection, etc.

  • Community Relations: Handling the social aspect of the brand and establishing a positive reputation in the social niche like environment protection, education, etc.

  • Internal Relations: Counselling the employees of the organization with regard to policies, course of action, organization’s responsibility and their responsibility. Cooperating with them during special product launches and events.

  • Customer Relations: Handling relationships with the target market and lead consumers. Conducting market research to know more about interests, attitudes, and priorities of the customers and crafting strategies to influence the same using earned media.

  • Marketing Communications: Supporting marketing efforts relating to product launch, special campaigns, brand awareness, image, and positioning.

Public Relations Tools

Public relation has its origin in publicity with a broader focus as it addresses a wider set of audience. Various public relations tools are briefly mentioned below:

  1. Press Releases: The press release is the basic building block of a publicity program concerned with story placement.

  2. Fact Sheets: Fact sheets include more detailed information on the product, its origins, and its particular features.

  3. Press Kits: The press kit pulls together all the press releases, fact sheets, and accompanying photographs about the product into one neat package.

  4. Video News Releases: The Video News Release (VNR) is the video equivalent of a press release.

  5. Employee/Member Relation Program: Corporate public relations people often spend a great deal of time developing employee communication programs, including regular newsletters, informational bulletin boards, and internet postings.

  6. Community Relations Program: Many companies actively encourage their employees to take part in community organisations, and local corporations are often major sponsors of community events and activities such as art presentations, blood donation drives, and educational activities.

  7. Financial Relations Programs: Financial relations people are responsible for establishing and maintaining relationships with the investment community, including industry analysers stockbrokers, and journalists specialising in financial reporting.

  8. Industry Relations Programs: The primary public that industry relations specialists deal with is other businesses operating within the same industry, as well as trade associations.

  9. Development/Fund-Raising Program: This is a particularly important area for not-for-profit organisations such as art organisations, educational institutions, and community service programs.

  10. Special Events: Event marketing is rapidly gaining popularity. Besides linking their brands to existing events, marketers are also creating events of their own, designed to reach special targets.

  11. House Ads: A company uses various media like newspapers, magazines and broadcast stations to prepare advertisements for the internal public. Public relations program manages these house advertisements.

  12. Public Service Announcements: These are ads for charitable and civic organisations that run free of cost on television or radio or in the print media. These are called public service announcements.

  13. Corporate Advertising: This kind of advertising promotes corporate image or corporate viewpoints. These advertisements do not talk about products and services.

  14. Publications: Companies publish various publications in the form of pamphlets, booklets, annual reports, books, bulletins, newsletters, inserts and enclosures and position papers.

  15. Speakers, Photos and Films: Many companies use speaker bureaus to communicate with people about topics of public’s interest. Some publics like news media also want pictures and video films for use in their media.

  16. Displays, Exhibits, Events and Tours: Exhibits, displays, tours and events are important tools for public relations. Companies use displays and point of purchase materials for image building.

Advantages of Public Relations

Public relations provides businesses and society with a vital service. So, there are various public relation advantages which are briefly explained below:

  1. Credibility
  2. Cost
  3. Avoidance of Clutter
  4. Ability to Reach Specific Groups
  5. Lead Generation
  6. Image Building


PR communication is not perceived in the same light as advertising. This is because the public knows that the media is not being compensated for providing information. Whereas the public knows that advertisement money is paid to the medium and hence the content may be true or may not be true.

Example: Automotive award given by CNBC for the best car is considered to be very reliable information. This is because the company is not advertising to promote its products.


Cost of PR is very low compared to the cost of the advertisement.

Avoidance of Clutter

Because PR is perceived as news items, the clutter effect of ad, will not be there. A story regarding a new product introduction or a breakthrough is treated as a news item and is likely to receive attention.

This can be clearly seen when the car manufacturers introduce a new product through a slot in CNBC network rather than newspaper advertisement.

Ability to Reach Specific Groups

Because some products appeal only to a small market segment, it is not feasible to engage in advertising. In such a case, the PR is an easier way to communicate with this segment.

Lead Generation

Information about medical breakthrough, technological innovation can be well communicated through PR since a number of questions, may have to be asked about the same.

Image Building

Effective PR helps to develop a positive image of the organization. People approach organizations due to its reliability, consistency, and past experience. This is the basis for success of the company.

Disadvantages of Public Relations

  1. PR cannot totally whitewash the Tarnished image
  2. Can’t hide anything in the best interest of the company
  3. PR fails to have valued public opinion
  4. Public relations demands public speaking
  5. Public relations is a very difficult discipline to understand and conduct successfully
  6. Hard to predict the responses of the audience
  7. Draws end-users who have bad quality

PR cannot totally whitewash the Tarnished image

PR changes the produced minds, misunderstanding wrong impressions, misinterpretation but certainly not change the tarnished image into a solid gold block.

Can’t hide anything in the best interest of the company

The company as a family should not leak out weaknesses because competitors always want to en-cash on these matters Public relation cannot create a reputation out of anything.

The PRO (public relation officer) cannot create a reputation or goodwill unless there is little of it. A totally hopeless company is a hopeless company.

PR fails to have valued public opinion

Public relations do not value public opinion in the same way some people draw money on a bank where they have no money. Technically a person can draw the money from the bank from his acc even if there is no balance which is called an overdraft.

Public relations demands public speaking

Public relations reach good conclusions to create ’mutual understanding’. PR is a great art of moving with the current but not against. To influence public mood, public view, line of thinking, the PR has to go along and then it can be bent as and when it is very opportunistic and viable.

Public relations is a very difficult discipline to understand and conduct successfully

A strategy supported by the professional knowledge of the media will be needed to get the media where one can get high responses to promotions.

Hard to predict the responses of the audience

However, the responses of the PR last around 3 days to 1week at most. A business plan will be necessary that utilizes the media exposure well without getting influenced by the needs which temporarily went up.

Draws end-users who have bad quality

It draws the end users who have bad quality and you haven’t had before into your business as your business is introduced in the media. Therefore, the claims that your business never had before might take place or it often happens that the problem of the product is picked up on.

Importance of Public Relations

Forging relations with public pertains to circulating the correct information to right places and people to build the organisation’s reputation. There are PR agencies that work on behalf of organisations to shape their positive image in a certain industry.

PR agencies make use of effective marketing strategies to promote the goodwill of the client organisation. PR is an aspect that can truly transform the image and future of an organisation. If harnessed properly, PR can provide an organisation with the power to overcome almost any hurdle.

Irrespective of the industry an organisation is in, trust plays an indispensable role in identifying whether an organisation will prosper or not. The lack of customer trust in an organisation can also lead to a decline in sales.

However, PR ensures to maintain the organisation’s trustworthiness and reputation by leveraging opportunity, influencer connections and networking strategies. PR is important as it enhances an organisation’s credibility in operating through various dependable intermediaries.

The intermediaries may be renowned spokespersons, stock market analysts, investors, industry analysts, customers, employees or even the electronic and print media. These intermediaries work to get rid of all the negative news about the organisation and ensure that customers sustain trust in the organisation.

Furthermore, in the prevailing environment, almost every individual has access to digital platforms. People have the freedom to present their personal views and opinions about the products or services that they use. PR is important as it portrays organisations in good light and allays the negative news regarding the organisation or its products.

PR is instrumental for organisations to have a robust online presence, which can be viewed by the target audience. PR is also important as it empowers an organisation to overcome adverse publicity or something that imperils the reputation of the organisation.

Public Relation Strategy

A public relation strategy will help to organize PR activities and make strategic decisions around the best way to communicate. It can also help to use the stories in business to draw in target audience as well as increase profile and build brand awareness.

  1. Determine goals and objectives
  2. Target audience
  3. Key messages
  4. Tactics
  5. Create a time frame
  6. Measure your success

Determine goals and objectives

When creating a PR strategy it’s important to outline goals and objectives for what ones want to achieve.

Target audience

Target audiences are the individuals, groups and communities that have influence and decision making . They are the ones businesses are trying to attract and sell to – they are the people business want to communicate with.

Key messages

Key messages are the core messages business want the target audience to hear and remember. They are an important part of a PR strategy because they can shape the content and communicate a unified message.


Tactics are the activities that will help to achieve PR objectives. Tactical options include email newsletters, social media campaigns, blogs, public speaking or pitching interesting story ideas about your business to journalists.

A good place to start is to make a list of the types of publications target audience reads, the events they go to and how they spend their time online. This may help to guide what type of tactics will work.

Create a time frame

Put time frames around each tactic to ensure they are completed in a timely manner.

Measure your success

It’s important to measure the success of PR strategy. Create own measurement tools or set key performance indicators (KPIs) around to know what to achieve.

Functions of Public Relations

PR enables an organisation to build trust and credibility with groups that are of prime importance to it. The function of PR is to create awareness about the organisation as well to define, control and convey information internally and externally.

Effective PR can also enhance an organisation’s goodwill, help communicate during a distressing situation or safeguard the organisation’s reputation. The function of PR is to gauge people’s attitudes towards an organisation and try to maintain a positive image of the organisation in the public domain. The various functions of PR are as follows:

Facilitates promotion

PR facilitates in promoting an organisation’s products. It helps in creating awareness and invoking public interest in the products and services offered by the organisation. PR entices people to buy a product that they see in the form of advertisement. It, thus, influences people’s buying choice and allures them to buy the product as they believe in the claims made by the organisation through advertisements.

Media representation

Representing an organisation in the media is one of the cardinal functions of PR . It entails establishing and circulating both written and video news releases, conveying product advantages to media houses and responding to customer enquiries.

Media platforms can be used by the organisation to create more awareness about a product or service and entice customers to buy them. Media representation further subsumes monitoring and gauging news coverage of the organisation.

Managing relations with stakeholders

Stakeholders are those people or groups who may be affected by an organisation’s objectives or actions. Managing amicable relations with stakeholders is another crucial function of PR. From time to time, the stakeholders must be provided with important organisational information such as financial health, quarterly report, merger or acquisition.

Dealing with social and environmental concerns

PR assists an organisation in dealing with social and environmental concerns. If an organisation has a good record of fulfilling its societal responsibilities and taking steps to protect the environment, it will create a favourable public image. When an organisation propagates that its operations or manufacturing activities do not adversely affect the environment, it will create a good perception in the public eye.

Managing negative publicity

An organisation that acknowledges the need to upkeep a good public relationship with its stakeholders will respond swiftly, precisely and effectively to negative publicity. Negative publicity can seriously hamper an organisation’s goodwill and smooth flow of operations.

An organisation takes years to build goodwill, however, even a small lapse or negative news pertaining to the organisation can mar its image. An astute organisation will vehemently counter all negative publicity and will ensure that public confidence towards it is restored.

Public Relations Process

Public relations process – it is a series of actions, changes, or functions that bring about a result.

One popular way to describe the process, and to remember its components, is to use the RACE acronym, first articulated by John Marston in his book The Nature of Public Relations. Essentially, RACE means that public relations activity consists of four key elements:

Research: What is the problem or situation?
Action (program planning): What is going to be done about it?
Communication (execution): How will the public be told?
Evaluation: Was the audience reached and what was the effect?

Steps in Public Relations Process

  1. Step 1: Research and Analysis
  2. Step 2: Policy Formulation
  3. Step 3: Programming
  4. Step 4: Communication
  5. Step 5: Feedback
  6. Step 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 regulations.

Step 2: Policy Formulation

Public relations personnel, as advisors to top management, 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 that will further the organization’s objectives. They will set objectives, define audiences, and decide on 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

The effect of these efforts is 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 as a way of determining whether additional efforts are needed, or whether new issues or opportunities must be addressed. Thus, it is a continuous loop process.

Note that public relations play two distinct roles in this process, thus serving as a “middle ground” or “linking agent.”

  • On one level, public relations interacts directly with external sources of information, including the public, media, and government, and relays these inputs to management along with recommendations.
  • On a second level, public relations becomes the vehicle through which management reaches the public with assorted messages.

Public Relations vs Advertising

Just as many people mistakenly equate publicity with public relations, there is also some confusion about the distinction between Public Relations vs Advertising.

  1. Advertising works almost exclusively through mass media outlets; public relations relies on a number of communication tools—brochures, slide presentations, special events, speeches, news releases, feature stories, and so forth.

  2. Advertising is primarily directed to consumers of goods and services; public relations presents its message to specialized external audiences (stockholders, vendors, community leaders, environmental groups, and so on) and internal publics (employees).

  3. Advertising primary function is to sell goods and services; public relations function is to create an environment in which the organization can thrive.

PR and Lobbying

Lobbying is a subset of PR, which pertains to the act of lawfully trying to influence the actions, policies, or decisions of government officials or regulatory agencies. Generally, lobbying as part of PR entails direct, face-to-face interaction done by private organisations or organised groups with legal legislators or government officials. Lobbying is an attempt to influence the government or regulatory agencies to promulgate laws or rules that will favour the organisation.

Some people wrongly deem lobbying as bribe offered to government or politicians for seeking personal interests. There is also a misconception that lobbyists are unprincipled people who try to influence law or public officials that benefits them. However, lobbying is an ethical and lawful act as it obviates political corruption and establishes transparency.

Predominantly, there are two types of lobbying, which are as follows:

Direct lobbying

In this type of lobbying, a person directly tries to influence a legislative body or a government official who is entrusted to frame legislation. This type of lobbying is generally done by an organisation to nullify old laws that precluded the growth of the organisation. For instance, negotiating the terms of a bill or meeting with legislators or their staff to discuss specific legislation. ‰

Grassroot lobbying

In this type of lobbying, the general public is mobilised to contact legislators and government officials about the concerned issue. Organisations and citizens together take part in grassroot lobbying in an attempt to influence a change in laws and regulations.

The organisations and citizens together can resort to grassroot lobbying by writing an open letter, creating an online petition, organising a public demonstration/rally or circulating pamphlets. For instance, when students organise a strike against reservation rights in university as an attempt to influence the reservation policy and regulation.

Public Relations Skills

There are broadly 6 public relations skills that are required to be develop for a successful career in public relations.

  1. Writing skill
  2. Research ability
  3. Planning expertise
  4. Problem-solving ability
  5. Business/ economics competence
  6. Expertise in social media

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