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

  • Post last modified:8 August 2021
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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.

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 Program

Professional public relations programs help business organisations accomplish their objectives. They can fulfil some of the objectives of public relations listed below.

  • Presenting a favourable image and its benefits
  • Promotion of products or services
  • Detecting and dealing with its publics
  • Determining the organisation’s posture in dealing with its publics
  • Goodwill of the employees or members
  • Prevention and solution of labour problems
  • Fostering the goodwill of communities in which the organisation has units
  • Goodwill of the stockholders or constituents
  • Overcoming misconceptions and prejudices
  • Forestalling attacks
  • Goodwill of suppliers
  • Goodwill of the government
  • Goodwill of the rest of the industry
  • Goodwill of dealers and attracting other dealers
  • Ability to attract the best personnel
  • Education of the public in the use of a product or service
  • Education of the public regarding a point of view
  • Goodwill of customers or supporters
  • Investigation of the attitude of various groups towards the company formulation and guidance of policies
  • Fostering the viability of the society in which the organisation functions
  • Directing the course of change.

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.

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.

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

The functions of public relations include:

  • Public Relations is a means for the public to have its desires and interests felt by the institutions in our society. It interprets and speaks for the public to otherwise, unresponsive organizations. It also speaks on behalf of those organizations to the public to help create public acceptance and recognition.

  • It helps the promotion of a company’s goods or services and builds up ‘image’  Public Relations is a means to achieve mutual adjustment between institutions and groups, establishing smoother relationships that benefit the public.

  • Publications Relations is a safety valve for freedom. By providing means of working out accommodation it makes arbitrary action or coercion less likely.

  • It can help to attract talented personnel for the organization.

  • Public Relations is an essential element in the communication systems that enable individuals to be informed on many aspects of subjects that affect their lives. It can stimulate attitudes and bring about changes.

  • It can help overcome public misconceptions about the organization by disseminating correct information.

  • Public Relations personnel can help activate the organization’s social conscience and thus foster the goodwill of the community.

  • It can help earn the goodwill of employees by showing interest in their welfare. Thus it may prevent labour problems and solve any disputes with greater ease

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.

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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