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2.1: Defining Public Relations

  • Page ID
    44904
    • Anonymous
    • LibreTexts
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    Public relations is a conduit, a facilitator, and a manager of communication, conducting research, defining problems, and creating meaning by fostering communication among many groups in society. The United Parcel Service (UPS) case illustrated the importance of this communication, both in financial terms—the strike cost UPS about $750 million—and in terms of reputation with strategic publics.

    Public relations is a strategic conversation. As you might imagine, it is an ephemeral and wide-ranging field, often misperceived, and because of the lack of message control inherent in public relations, it is difficult to master. Public relations is even difficult to define. Is it spin or truth telling? Either way, the public relations function is prevalent and growing; the fragmentation of media and growth of multiple message sources means that public relations is on the ascent while traditional forms of mass communication (such as newspapers) are on the decline.

    You can find public relations in virtually every industry, government, and nonprofit organization. Its broad scope makes it impossible to understand without some attention to the taxonomy of this diverse and dynamic profession. Learning the lexicon of public relations in this chapter will help you master the discipline and help your study move quicker in subsequent reading.

    Corporate and agency public relations differ. These concepts are discussed in detail in a later chapter, along with nonprofit public relations and government relations or public affairs. For the purposes of an overview, we can define corporate public relations as being an in-house public relations department within a for-profit organization of any size. On the other hand, public relations agencies are hired consultants that normally work on an hourly basis for specific campaigns or goals of the organization that hires them. It is not uncommon for a large corporation to have both an in-house corporate public relations department and an external public relations agency that consults on specific issues. As their names imply, nonprofit public relations refers to not-for-profit organizations, foundations, and other issue- or cause-related groups. Government relations or public affairs is the branch of public relations that specializes in managing relationships with governmental officials and regulatory agencies.

    Among the many competing definitions of public relations, J. Grunig and Hunt’s is the most widely cited definition of public relations: Public relations is “the management of communication between an organization and its publics.”Grunig and Hunt (1984), p. 4. Emphasis in original. One reason this definition is so successful is its parsimony, or using few words to convey much information. It also lays down the foundation of the profession squarely within management, as opposed to the competing approaches of journalism or the promotion-based approach of marketing and advertising that focuses primarily on consumers. The component parts of Grunig and Hunt’s famous definition of public relations are as follows:

    • Management. The body of knowledge on how best to coordinate the activities of an enterprise to achieve effectiveness.
    • Communication. Not only sending a message to a receiver but also understanding the messages of others through listening and dialogue.
    • Organization. Any group organized with a common purpose; in most cases, it is a business, a corporation, a governmental agency, or a nonprofit group.
    • Publics. Any group(s) of people held together by a common interest. They differ from audiences in that they often self-organize and do not have to attune to messages; publics differ from stakeholders in that they do not necessarily have a financial stake tying them to specific goals or consequences of the organization. Targeted audiences, on the other hand, are publics who receive a specifically targeted message that is tailored to their interests.

    As “the management of communication between an organization and its publics,” public relations has radically departed from its historical roots in publicity and journalism to become a management discipline—that is, one based on research and strategy.


    This page titled 2.1: Defining Public Relations is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Anonymous.

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