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3.2: The Subfunctions of Public Relations

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    • Anonymous
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    Before we delve deeper into the profession, we would like to introduce you to the subfunctions or specialties within public relations. Think of the public relations function as a large umbrella profession encompassing many subfunctions. Those subfunctions are often independent units within an organization, sometimes reporting to public relations and sometimes reporting to other organizational units such as legal, marketing, or human resources. Learning the subfunctions and the lexicon of terminology associated with this function is crucial to understanding how to manage an integrated and effective public relations function. The following subfunctions will be discussed in more detail later in this volume.

    Although there are many subfunctions that make up public relations, most people would identify two major types, corporate and agency. Corporate, or “in-house,” is a part of the organization or business. It functions to create relationships between an organization and its various publics. The second type of subfunction is associated with the public relations agency; its purpose is to assist organizations in a specific area of expertise.

    Typical Corporate Public Relations Subfunctions

    It is important to note that each subfunction may differ according to organizational structure and size, as we discuss in Chapter 5, “Organizational Factors Contributing to Excellent Public Relations.” Sometimes the public relations subfunctions overlap and one department (or even one person) is responsible for many or all of these activities. Large organizations, particularly those with multiple locations doing business internationally, will sometimes have multiple units covering just one of these subspecialties in public relations. Oftentimes the public relations function is structured with a separate department handling each of the responsibilities.

    Issues Management

    Issues management is arguably the most important subfunction of public relations. Issues management is the forward-thinking, problem-solving, management-level function responsible for identifying problems, trends, industry changes, and other potential issues that could impact the organization. Issues management requires a formidable knowledge of research, environmental monitoring, the organization’s industry and business model, and management strategy.

    Media Relations

    The media relations subfunction is likely the most visible portion of public relations that an organization conducts because it deals directly with external media. The media relations subfunction is a largely technical function, meaning it is based on the technical skill of producing public relations materials, or outputs. Outputs are often related to tactics, and examples of tactics include news releases, podcasts, brochures, video news releases for the broadcast media, direct mail pieces, photographs, Web sites, press kits, and social media (digital media).

    Community Relations

    As the name implies, the community relations subfunction is responsible for establishing and maintaining relationships with an organization’s communities. Normally this territory implies a physical community, as in the borders of manufacturing facilities with their residential neighbors.

    Philanthropy and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)

    Oftentimes the functions of strategically donating funds or services and a corporate social responsibility endeavor are part of the public relations department’s efforts. The Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 requires corporations to hold to a code of ethics and to report on their socially responsible conduct. The public relations subfunction responsible for this reporting usually is called the CSR unit or department and often is combined with or managed by community relations.

    Financial and Investor Relations

    Many managers do not realize that public relations is the function responsible for writing an organization’s annual report, quarterly earnings statements, and communicating with investors and market analysts. This type of public relations normally requires experience with accounting and financial reporting.

    Marketing Communications

    Marketing communications is also known as integrated marketing communications or integrated communications. Publicity and product promotion targeting the specific public consumers is the focus of this subfunction. Public relations strategies and tactics are used primarily through a press agentry model meant to increase awareness and persuade consumers to try or buy a certain product.

    Government Relations and Public Affairs, Including Lobbying

    The public affairs of an organization are the issues of interest to a citizenry or community about which an organization must communicate. Government relations handles maintaining relationships with both regulatory agencies and appointed and elected officials.

    Internal Relations

    Maintaining an effective and satisfied workforce is the job of internal relations. Public relations professionals who specialize in internal relations have the primary responsibilities of communicating with intraorganizational publics, executives, management, administrative staff, and labor.

    Typical Public Relations Agency Subfunctions

    In addition to the general media relations activities offered by many public relations agencies, seven specializations or subfunctions commonly exist.

    Crisis Management

    Crisis management involves both planning for and reacting to emergency situations. Organizations have a need for quick response plans and fast and accurate information provided to the news media that public relations agencies specializing in crisis or risk management often provide and implement in the case of a crisis.


    As an adjunct to the government relations or public affairs unit of the corporation, an external lobbying firm may also be hired. Lobbyists normally have expertise with the industry for which they are hired to communicate, and maintain relationships with legislators, press secretaries, and other governmental officials. They often provide educational documents, policy analysis, and research to those in government on behalf of clients.

    Member Relations

    The public relations subfunction known as member relations, as the name implies, is responsible for maintaining good relationships with members of an organization. These members may be alumni, donors, members of activist or support groups, or virtually any group distinguished by a commonality and requiring membership.

    Development and Fund-Raising

    The public relations subfunction of development fund-raising often overlaps with member relations in that it seeks to build support, particularly in the form of financial donations or government grants.

    Polling and Research

    Polling and research are carried out to such an extent within public relations that specialized firms exist to conduct these activities full time, usually on a contract or retainer basis. It should be noted, however, that very large organizations often have their own research “departments” within one or more public relations subfunctions.

    Sports, Entertainment, and Travel Public Relations

    Specialized forms of public relations exist as public relations subfunctions for each of these very large industries.


    Although advertising is a separate profession from public relations, it is usually employed as part of a public relations campaign.

    This page titled 3.2: The Subfunctions of Public Relations is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Anonymous.

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