Public Relations or the mere mention of it among common people brews scores of mixed emotions. Previous to picking up a book and reading about public relations I looked at it as being a means of ‘disaster response’ a way to try to clean up a high-profile mess a tactic that would appeal to the public after someone has done something vile or shameful. Examples that come to my mind are Tiger Woods and his public apology after his illicit extra marital affairs and Michael Vick, the NFL quarterback who wants a family dog after being caught up in a dog fighting ring where he was the executioner of his losing dogs.
In a Google Search I was easily able to find four different definitions for “public relations” and they are as follows:
(1) Concerned with maintaining a public image for business, non-profit organizations or high-profile people such as celebrities and politicians.
(2) Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) definition is: public relations help an organization and its publics adapt mutually to each other.
(3) Using the news or business to carry positive stories about a company or a company’s products; cultivating a good relationship with local press representatives.
(4) Art or science of establishing and promoting a favorable relationship with the public.
Researcher, Julie Henderson, wrote that “37 percent of the stories used public relations in a negative manner, and only 17 percent contained a positive reference” this after studying 100 stories with the term public relations in them. Of those stories “fewer than 5 percent of them used the term correctly”. (5)
Different things that public relations practitioners do include news release writing, brochure design, creation of annual reports, and the development of marketing materials. One duty that is most important is communicating information to help people during difficult times. For example, the Red Cross in Puerto Rico faced a serious blood supply shortage in 2005. They turned to a public relations agency for help. After GCI Group organized a “Descubre el Regalo que llivamos dentro,” the “Discover the Gift Inside” tour they were able to educate residents in Puerto Rico about the shortage of blood supplies and why it is so important to donate blood. As a result blood donations went up 20 percent in a 4 month period. (6) Public Relations practitioners utilize their connections to spread awareness so publicity is only one of their many duties as a practitioner.
In 1976, Rex Harlow collected 472 different definitions of public relations. Common themes among the majority of definitions view public relations as a management function that provides advice on the timing and manner in which important actions take place. It is seen as a two-way communication that includes both informing and listening. Public Relations practitioners do not act randomly they carefully execute plans to ensure that they stay consistent with the values and goals of the agency/group they are representative of. Public relations practitioners are socially responsible, meaning their responsibilities extend beyond the organizations goals. Finally public relations are a research-based social science. The information that is gathered is exchanged in the form of academic publications between educators and other professionals so that formal and informal research can be done so that educators and public relations practitioners are able to identify and deal with any issues that may arise. (6)
Researchers Todd Hunt and James Grunig identified four models that public relations practitioners commonly follow.
“Hunt-Grunwig Models of Public Relations”
1. The “press agentry/publicity model” focuses on getting favorable media coverage regardless of the truth.
2. The “public information model” focuses more on getting accurate and objective information out to the public.
3. The “two-way asymmetrical model” is geared towards influencing important publics toward a particular point of view.
4. The “two-way symmetrical model” focuses on two-way communication as a means of conflict resolution and the promotion of understanding between an organization and its important publics.
Whether public relations are a profession or a trade continues to be a hot topic. Professionals tend to have a higher level of education and undergo some kind of licensing whereas a tradesman isn’t quite as educated or skilled as the professional but has more experience than a laborer. I would have to say that since there are more than 400 definitions of public relations I am quite certain that it can be both a profession and a trade.
5. Julie K. Henderson, “Negative Connotation in the Use of the Term ‘Public Relations’ in the Print Media,” Pubic Relations Review (Spring 1998): 45-54.
6. Public Relations: A Values-Driven Approach David W. Gruth, Charles Marsh 2-9