A plethora of terms has come to be associated with modern-day public relations practice. Because of the disreputable beginnings of public relations that we will briefly discuss next, it is often the case that organizations will choose to name their public relations function by another moniker. These various terms create much confusion about the responsibilities of public relations versus overlapping or competing organizational functions. The term corporate communication is the most common synonym for public relations in practice today,Bowen et al. (2006). followed by marketing communication and public affairs. We view the term corporate communication as a synonym for public relations, although some scholars argue that corporate communication only applies to for-profit organizations. However, we view corporate communication as a goal-oriented communication process that can be applied not only in the business world but also in the world of nonprofits and nongovernmental organizations, educational foundations, activist groups, faith-based organizations, and so on. The term public relations often leads to confusion between the media relations function, public affairs, corporate communication, and marketing promotions, leading many organizations to prefer the term corporate communication.
We believe that the key component of effective public relations or corporate communication is an element of strategy. Many scholars prefer to use the phrase strategic public relations to differentiate it from the often misunderstood general term public relations, or “PR,” which can be linked to manipulation or “spin” in the minds of lay publics. Strategic communication management, strategic public relations, and corporate communication are synonyms for the concept displayed in the preceding definitions. To scholars in the area, public relations is seen as the larger profession and an umbrella term, comprising many smaller subfunctions, such as media relations or public affairs or investor relations. The subfunctions of public relations will be delineated later in this chapter. Academics tend to use the term public relations, whereas professionals tend to prefer the term corporate communication. Do not be distracted by the name debate and the myriad of synonyms possible. Whatever name you prefer or encounter, a strong body of knowledge in the field, based on academic study and professional practice, has solidified the importance of the concepts supporting the strategic communication function that we will discuss in this text.