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Public relations is the art and science of building relationships between an organization and its key publics. It is concerned with communications management. Examples include:

  • Corporations use marketing public relations (MPR) to convey information about the products they manufacture or services they provide to potential customers to support their direct sales efforts. Typically, they support sales in the short and long term, establishing and burnishing the corporation's branding for a strong, ongoing market.
  • Corporations also use public-relations as a vehicle to reach legislators and other politicians, seeking favorable tax, regulatory, and other treatment, and they may use public relations to portray themselves as enlightened employers, in support of human-resources recruiting programs.
  • Non-profit organizations, including schools and universities, hospitals, and human and social service agencies, use public relations in support of awareness programs, fund-raising programs, staff recruiting, and to increase patronage of their services.
  • Politicians use public relations to attract votes and raise money, and, when successful at the ballot box, to promote and defend their service in office, with an eye to the next election or, at career’s end, to their legacy.

HistoryEdit

Precursors to public relations are found in publicists who specialized in promoting circuses, theatrical performances and other public spectacles. In the United States, where public relations has its origins, many early PR practices were developed in support of the expansive power of the railroads. In fact, many scholars believe that the first appearance of the term "public relations" appeared in the 1897 Year Book of Railway Literature.

Later, PR practitioners were -- and are often -- recruited from the ranks of journalism. Some journalists, concerned with ethics, criticize former colleagues for using their inside understanding of news media to help clients receive favorable media coverage.

Despite many journalists' discomfort with the field of public relations, well-paid PR positions remain a popular choice for reporters and editors forced into a career change by the instability of the print and electronic media industry. PR historians say the first PR firm, the Publicity Bureau, was established in 1900 by former newspapermen, with Harvard University as its first client. [1]

The First World War also helped stimulate the development of public relations as a profession. Many of the first PR professionals, including Ivy Lee, Edward Bernays, and Carl Byoir, got their start with the Committee on Public Information (also known as the Creel Commission), which organized publicity on behalf of U.S. objectives during World War I. Some historians regard Ivy Lee as the first real practitioner of public relations, but Edward Bernays is generally regarded today as the profession's founder. In describing the origin of the term Public Relations, Bernays commented, "When I came back to the United States, I decided that if you could use propaganda for war, you could certainly use it for peace. And propaganda got to be a bad word because of the Germans.. using it. So what I did was to try to find some other words, so we found the words Council on Public Relations".

Ivy Lee, who has been credited with developing the modern news release (also called a "press release"), espoused a philosophy consistent with what has sometimes been called the "two-way street" approach to public relations, in which PR consists of helping clients listen as well as communicate messages to their publics. In the words of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), "Public relations helps an organization and its publics adapt mutually to each other." In practice, however, Lee often engaged in one-way propagandizing on behalf of clients despised by the public, including Standard Oil founder John D. Rockefeller. Shortly before his death, the US Congress had been investigating his work on behalf of the controversial Nazi German company IG Farben.

Bernays was the profession's first theorist. A nephew of Sigmund Freud, Bernays drew many of his ideas from Freud's theories about the irrational, unconscious motives that shape human behavior. Bernays authored several books, including Crystallizing Public Opinion (1923), Propaganda (1928), and The Engineering of Consent (1947). Bernays saw public relations as an "applied social science" that uses insights from psychology, sociology, and other disciplines to scientifically manage and manipulate the thinking and behavior of an irrational and "herdlike" public. "The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society," he wrote in Propaganda. "Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country."

One of Bernays' early clients was the tobacco industry. In 1929, he orchestrated a legendary publicity stunt aimed at persuading women to take up cigarette smoking, which was then considered unfeminine and inappropriate for women with any social standing. To counter this image, Bernays arranged for New York City débutantes to march in that year's Easter Day Parade, defiantly smoking cigarettes as a statement of rebellion against the norms of a male-dominated society. Photographs of what Bernays dubbed the "Torches of Liberty Brigade" were sent to newspapers, convincing many women to equate smoking with women's rights. Some women went so far as to demand membership in all-male smoking clubs, a highly controversial act at the time.

In 1950 PRSA enacts the first "Professional Standards for the Practice of Public Relations," a forerunner to the current Code of Ethics, last revised in 2000 to include six core values and six code provisions. The six core values are "Advocacy, Honesty, Expertise, Independence, Loyalty, and Fairness." The six code provisions are "Free Flow of Information, Competition, Disclosure of Information, Safeguarding Confidences, Conflicts of Interest, and Enhancing the Profession."

The industry todayEdit

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were approximately 122,000 public relations specialists in the United States in 1998, while there were approximately 485,000 advertising, marketing, and public relations managers working in all industries. Public relations practitioners deliver information through the media to target audiences or, with the advent of the Internet, directly to specific stakeholder groups. Because similar opinions tend to be shared by a group of people rather than an entire society, research may be conducted to determine a range of things such as target audiences, appeal, as well as strategies for coordinated message presentation. PR may target different audiences with different messages to achieve an overall goal. Public Relations sets out to effect widespread opinion and behavior changes.

Modern public relations uses a variety of techniques including opinion polling and focus groups to evaluate public opinion, combined with a variety of high-tech techniques for distributing information on behalf of their clients, including satellite feeds, the Internet, broadcast faxes, and database-driven phone banks to recruit supporters for a client's cause. According to the PRSA,

"Examples of the knowledge that may be required in the professional practice of public relations include communication arts, psychology, social psychology, sociology, political science, economics, and the principles of management and ethics. Technical knowledge and skills are required for opinion research, public issues analysis, media relations, direct mail, institutional advertising, publications, film/video productions, special events, speeches, and presentations."

Although public relations professionals are stereotypically seen as corporate servants, the reality is that almost any organization that has a stake in how it is portrayed in the public arena employs at least one PR manager. Large organizations may even have dedicated communications departments. Government agencies, trade associations, and other nonprofit organizations commonly carry out PR activities.

Public relations should be seen as a management function in any organization. An effective communication, or public relations, plan for an organization is developed to communicate to an audience (whether internal or external publics) in such a way the message coincides with organizational goals and seeks to benefit mutual interests whenever possible.

SpecializationEdit

As industry consolidation becomes more prevalent, many organizations and individuals are choosing to retain "boutique" firms as opposed to so-called "global" communications firms. These smaller firms typically specialize in only a couple of practice areas and thus, often have a greater understanding of their client's business. And because they deal with certain journalists with greater frequency, specialty firms often have stronger media contacts in the areas that matter most to their clients. Added benefits of smaller, specialty firms include more personal attention and accountability and as well, cost savings. This is not to say that smaller is always better, but there is a growing consensus that specialty firms offer more than once considered.

A number of specialties exist within the field of public relations, including:

Methods, tools and tacticsEdit

Public relations and publicity are not synonyms. Publicity is the spreading of information to gain public awareness in a product, service, candidate, etc. It is just one technique of public relations as listed here.

Audience targetingEdit

A fundamental technique used in public relations is to identify the target audience, and to tailor every message to appeal to that audience. An "audience" can be a general, nationwide or worldwide audience, but it is more often a segment of a population. Marketers often refer to economy-driven "demographics," such as "white males 18-49," but in public relations an audience is more fluid, being whoever someone wants to reach. For example, recent political audiences include "soccer moms" and "NASCAR dads."

In addition to audiences, there are usually stakeholders, literally people who have a "stake" in a given issue. All audiences are stakeholders (or presumptive stakeholders), but not all stakeholders are audiences. For example, a charity commissions a PR agency to create an advertising campaign to raise money to find a cure for a disease. The charity and the people with the disease are stakeholders, but the audience is anyone who is likely to donate money.

Sometimes the interests of differing audiences and stakeholders common to a PR effort necessitate the creation of several distinct but still complementary messages. This is not always easy to do, and sometimes – especially in politics – a spokesperson or client says something to one audience that angers another audience or group of stakeholders.

Press conferencesEdit

Main article: press conference (also called a "news conference")

A press conference consists of someone speaking to the media at a predetermined time and place. Press conferences usually take place in a public or quasi-public place. Press conferences provide an opportunity for speakers to control information and who gets it; depending on the circumstances, speakers may hand-pick the journalists they invite to the conference instead of making themselves available to any journalist who wishes to attend.

It is also assumed that the speaker will answer journalists' questions at a press conference, although they are not obliged to. However, someone who holds several press conferences on a topic (especially a scandal) will be asked questions by the press, regardless of whether they indicate they will entertain them, and the more conferences the person holds, the more aggressive the questioning may become. Therefore, it is in a speaker's interest to answer journalists' questions at a press conference to avoid appearing as if they have something to hide.

But questions from reporters – especially hostile reporters – detracts from the control a speaker has over the information they give out. For even more control, but less interactivity, a person may choose to issue a press release.

Press releasesEdit

Main article: press release (also called a "news release")

A press release is a written statement distributed to the media. It is a fundamental tool of public relations. Press releases are usually communicated by a newswire service (such as PR Newswire, Business Wire to various news media and journalists may use them as they see fit. Very often the information in a press release finds its way verbatim, or minimally altered, to print and broadcast reports. If a media outlet reports that "John Doe said in a statement today that...", the "statement" usually originated in a press release, or a direct quote from an interview with a John Doe.

The text of a release is usually (but not always) written in the style of a news story, with an eye-catching headline and text written standard journalistic inverted pyramid style. This style of news writing makes it easier for reporters to quickly grasp the message. Journalists are free to use the information verbatim, or alter it as they see fit. PR practitioners research and write releases that encourage as much "lifting" as possible.

Many journalists believe it is unethical to copy from a press release -- they believe it is a lapse of good judgement (for instance, a direct quote, as in: Senator Smith said, "This is the most fiscally irresponsible bill that the Congress has passed since the Buy Everyone A Mercedes Act." In this case, a journalist may copy the quote verbatim into the story, although ethical reporters prefer to try soliciting an individual quote from the speaker before filing their story). Public relations professionals believe that press releases and other collateral material aid a journalist's job, and it is the job of the journalist to decide whether or not reprinting material verbatim tells the real story.

Since press releases reflect their issuer's preferred interpretation or positive packaging of a story, journalists are often skeptical of their contents. The level of skepticism depends on what the story is and who's telling it. Newsrooms receive so many press releases that, unless it is a story that the media are already paying attention to, a press release alone often isn't enough to catch a journalist's attention.

With the advent of modern media and new technology, press releases now have equivalents in these media - video news releases and audio news releases. However, many television stations are hesitant to use VNR's that appear canned and are not newsworthy.

A New Kind of Press Release - 'Optimized' for the Internet

The advent of the Internet has ushered in a new kind of press release known as an optimized press release. Unlike conventional press releases of yore, written for journalists' eyes only, in hopes the editor or reporter would find the content compelling enough to turn it into print or electronic news coverage, the optimized press release is posted on an online news portal. Here the writer carefully selects keywords or keyword phrases relevant to the press release contents. If written skillfully, the press release can rank highly in searches on Google News, Yahoo News or MSN News (or the many other minor news portals) for the chosen keyword phrases.

Readers of optimized press releases constitute far more than journalists. In the days before news search engines, a press release would have landed only in the hands of a news reporter or an editor who would make the decision about whether the content warranted news coverage. Although the news media is always privy to online press releases in the search engines, most readers are end-users. Optimized press releases circumvent the mainstream media which is formerly -- but no longer -- the gatekeeper of the news.

Lobby groupsEdit

Lobby groups are established to influence government policy, corporate policy, or public opinion. These groups purport to represent a particular interest. When a lobby group hides its true purpose and support base it is known as a front group.

AstroturfingEdit

Creating an artificial 'grassroots' movement is known as astroturfing. A typical example would be the writing of letters to multiple newspaper editors under different names to express an opinion on an issue, creating the impression of widespread public feeling but being controlled by one central entity

SpinEdit

Public relations is used to present information in a favourable manner. When a presentation uses deceptive and/or highly manipulative tactics, it is referred to as spin.

OtherEdit

  • Publicity events or publicity stunts
  • The talk show circuit. A PR spokesperson (or his/her client) "does the circuit" by being interviewed on television and radio talk shows with audiences that the client wishes to reach.
  • Books and other writings
  • After a PR practitioner has been working in the field for a while, he or she accumulates a list of contacts in the media and elsewhere in the public affairs sphere. This "Rolodex" becomes a prized asset, and job announcements sometimes even ask for candidates with an existing Rolodex, especially those in the media relations area of PR.
  • Direct communication (carrying messages directly to constituents, rather than through the mass media) with, e.g., newsletters – in print and e-letters.
  • Collateral literature, traditionally in print and now predominantly as web sites.
  • Speeches to constituent groups and professional organizations; receptions; seminars, and other events; personal appearances.
  • The slang term for a PR practitioner or publicist is a "flack."

The Process of Public RelationsEdit

Scott Cutlip, Allen Center and Glen Broom describe the public relations process in four steps (1994). The first step is "Defining Public Relations Problems," usually in terms of a "situational analysis," or what public relations professionals call a SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats). According to Cutlip, Center and Broom, this should answer the question, "What's happening now?" The next step in the public relations process is "Planning and Programming," where the main focus is "strategy," Cutlip, Center and Broom argue that this step should answer the question "What should we do and say, and why?" The third step in the public relations process is "Taking action and Communicating," also known as "Implementation;" this step should answer the question "How and when do we do and say it?" The final step in Cutlip, Center and Broom's Four-Step Public Relations Process is "Evaluating The Program," making a final "assessment," which should answer the question "How did we do," this is where public relations professionals make a final analysis of the success of their campaign or communication.

Another process model by Sheila C. Crifasi (2000) uses the acronym "ROSIE" to define a five-step process of "Research, Objectives, Strategies, Implementation and Evaluation (See Media evaluation)." Using another acronym, "ROPES," Dr. Kathleen S. Kelly explains a five-step process through "Research, Objectives, Program, Evaluation and Stewardship." Wilcox, Ault, Agee and Cameron (2002) define the public relations process through four steps of "Research, Action (Program Planning), Communication and Evaluation." Center and Jackson (1995) define the process of public relations through four steps: "Fact-finding and data gathering; Planning and programming; Action and communication; Evaluation."

Public relations professionals use different methods for analyzing the results of their work such as focus groups, surveys, and one-on-one interviews. These same methods are used in defining what medium of communication will be used in the process of strategy and what tools will be used in relaying the message, such as press releases, brochures, Web sites, media packs, video news releases, news conferences and in-house publications.

Politics and civil societyEdit

Defining the opponentEdit

A tactic used in political campaigns is known as "defining one's opponent". Opponents can be candidates, organizations and other groups of people.

In the 2004 US presidential campaign, George W. Bush defined John Kerry as a "flip-flopper," among other characterizations, which were widely reported and repeated by the media, particularly the conservative media. Similarly, George H.W. Bush characterized Michael Dukakis as weak on crime (the Willie Horton ad) and as hopelessly liberal ("a card-carrying member of the ACLU"). In 1996, President Bill Clinton seized upon opponent Bob Dole's promise to take America back to a simpler time, promising in contrast to "build a bridge to the 21st century." This painted Dole as a person who was somehow opposed to progress.

In the debate over abortion, pro-abortion rights groups defined their opponents by defining themselves instead: "pro-choice." Anti-abortion rights groups responded in kind, branding themselves "pro-life." Extrapolating their respective rhetorics, pro-choice groups refer to their opponents as "anti-choice," and pro-life groups refer to their opponents as "anti-life."

More recently, opponents of same-sex marriage in the U.S. have declared that their opponents are not the gay couples suing for the right to marry in various state courts, but rather the judges who rule in their favor. They are now calling them "activist judges," implying that they impose their personal beliefs instead of objectively interpreting the law. This sidesteps the thorny issue of making millions of gay people an "enemy," and instead focuses attention on the much smaller judiciary, who all Americans can ostensibly agree should be prevented from being "activists" on the bench.

Managing languageEdit

If a politician or organization can use an apt phrase in relation to an issue, such as in interviews or news releases, the news media will often repeat it verbatim, thus furthering the message. (This may be considered an example of a meme.)

"New Deal" became a description of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's anti-Depression economic plans, and "states' rights/state sovereignty" became near-code words for anti-civil rights legislation.

Recent examples come almost solely from Republican politicians: "death tax" for estate tax, "racial preferences" for affirmative action, "faith-based" instead of religious, among others.

Entertainment and celebrityEdit

Playing up weaknessesEdit

Celebrities tend to be fans of the dictum "any publicity is good publicity". If a celebrity says or does something embarrassing, he or she will often turn it into a strength and make it part of his or her "image." This tactic is used just as much with favorable situations as much as with unfavorable ones.

A current (2004) example involves the entertainer Jessica Simpson, who gained nationwide prominence when she wondered aloud on a reality show if "Chicken of the Sea"-brand tuna fish was actually chicken or tuna, garnering her a reputation for being slow-witted. But by the summer of 2004, she was being paid to endorse a brand of breath mints called "Liquid Ice." In the product's television commercial, Simpson replicates her earlier confusion by debating whether the mint is really liquid or ice. So although she was previously ridiculed, she (and her advisers) turned her nationwide embarrassment into a lucrative endorsement deal.

Top US entertainment publicists include Lizzie Grubman, Karen Ammond (KBC Media Relations), and PMK Public Relations.

Branching outEdit

As Oscar Wilde is supposed to have said, the only thing worse than being talked about is not to be talked about at all. Many celebrities seem to take this truism to heart, because when their popularity (and income) wane, they take on new projects that attract media attention. Considering that a celebrity's celebrity is a brand unto itself, many celebrities are under constant pressure to "reinvent" themselves, as a prophylactic against obscurity.

A current trend among American celebrities is the transformation of musicians, comedians, and almost every other sort of performer into children's book authors. Madonna, Jay Leno, Billy Crystal, Ricky Gervais and several other celebrities have recently written children's books, accompanied by much media coverage.

A more traditional way of branching out is the celebrity restaurant. This is especially common among professional athletes, whose time in the spotlight is often limited by the physical demands of their jobs. Basketball player Michael Jordan opened a restaurant in Chicago, Illinois, and singer Britney Spears opened an ill-fated eatery in New York which closed a few months later.

Male celebrities like Tim Robbins, Sean Penn and Charlton Heston seem to gravitate toward politics, although some female celebrities, such as Susan Sarandon and Barbra Streisand, also become strong political voices.

Younger female celebrities on the other hand are often drawn into the fashion world. Hotel heiress Paris Hilton recently announced that she was starting her own line of jewelry, and Jennifer Lopez has started a line of clothing. And fading star Elizabeth Taylor launched a fragrance called "White Diamonds" several years ago, bringing renewed interest from the media. Britney Spears also kept herself in the public eye when she had her secretive marriage to Kevin Federline and bore his child. Although neither topic has to do with her career, audiences seemed to be just as intrigued to know about her personal life.

Some celebrities have also entered the world of self promotion by establishing other business ventures. St. Louis rapper Nelly's Vokal for men and Applebottoms for Women and Ludacris's "Disturbing the Peace" record company are both examples of celebrities taking public relations into their own hands.

Ethical and social issuesEdit

Many of the techniques used by PR firms are drawn from the institutions and practices of democracy itself. Persuasion, advocacy, and education are instruments through which individuals and organizations are entitled to express themselves in a free society, and many public relations practitioners are engaged in practices that are widely considered as beneficial, such as publicizing scientific research, promoting charities, raising awareness of public health concerns and other issues in civil society.

One of the most controversial practices in public relations is the use of front groups -- organizations that purport to serve a public cause while actually serving the interests of a client whose sponsorship may be obscured or concealed. The creation of front groups is an example of what PR practitioners sometimes term the third party technique -- the art of "putting your words in someone else's mouth." PR Watch, a nonprofit organization that monitors PR activities it considers to be deceptive, has published numerous examples of this technique in practice. Critics of the public relations industry, such as PR Watch, have contended that Public Relations involves a "multi-billion dollar propaganda-for-hire industry" that "concoct[s] and spin[s] the news, organize[s] phony 'grassroots' front groups, sp[ies] on citizens, and conspire[s] with lobbyists and politicians to thwart democracy." [1].

Instances of the use of front groups as a PR technique have been documented in many industries. For example, the coal mining corporations have created environmental groups that contend that increased CO2 emmissions and global warming will contribute to plant growth and will be beneficial, trade groups for bars and beer distributers have created and funded citizens' groups to attack Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and tobacco companies have created and funded citizens' groups to advocate for tort reform and to attack personal injury lawyers. [2][3]

Current issues in ethical and social arenas have been brought to the attention of people from all strata of the population when it was found that more than one journalist with a platform had received money from a Public Relations firm for espousing a certain point of view.

Public relations in fictionEdit

File:Absolute Power.jpg
  • Absolute Power (2000 - ) is a British comedy series, set in the offices of Prentiss McCabe, a fictional public relations company in London.
  • Wag the dog (1997), an American movie about a PR-consultant (Robert De Niro) that teams up with a movie-producer (Dustin Hoffman) to cover up a presidential sex scandal by creating a war.

NotesEdit

  1. Clarke Caywood, The Handbook of Strategic Public Relations & Integrated Communications, McGraw Hill, New York, 1997, p. 23
  1. The articles of 'Entertainment and celebrity' and the 'Ethics' section of 'Public Relations' are written, researched, and contributed by Habib Dager and Rouba Saadeh (Beirut, Lebanon)
  2. Scott M. Cutlip/ Allen H. Center/ Glen M. Broom, "Effective Public Relations," 7th Ed., Prentice-Hall, Inc. A Simon and Schuster Company, Englewood Cliffs, N.J. 07632, 1994, Figure 10-1
  3. Center, Allen H. and Jackson, Patrick, "Public Relations Practices," 5th ed., Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle, N.J., 1995, pp. 14-15
  4. Crifasi, Sheila C., "Everything's Coming Up Rosie," from Public Relations Tactics, September, 2000, Vol. 7, Issue 9, Public Relations Society of America, New York, 2000.
  5. Kelly, Kathleen S., "Effective Fund Raising Management," Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Mahwah, N.J., 1998
  6. Wilcox, D.L., Ault, P.H., Agee, W.K., & Cameron, G., "Public Relations Strategies and Tactics," 7th ed., Allyn & Bacon, Boston, MA, 2002

BooksEdit

  • Burson, Harold (2004). E pluribus unum: The Making of Burson-Marsteller, New York: Burson-Marsteller.
  • Cutlip, Scott (1994). The Unseen Power: Public Relations, A History, Hillsdale, N.J.: Erlbaum Associates. ISBN 0805814647.
  • Ewen, Stuart (1996). PR!: A Social History of Spin, New York: Basic Books. ISBN 0465061680.
  • Grunig, James E.; and Todd Hunt (1984). Managing Public Relations, New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston. ISBN 0030583373.
  • International Association of Business Communicators (IABC)
  • Macnamara, Jim (2005). Jim Macnamara's Public Relations Handbook, 5th ed., Melbourne: Information Australia.
  • Nelson, Joyce (1989). Sultans of Sleaze: Public Relations and the Media, Toronto: Between The Lines. ISBN 0921284225.
  • Phillips, David (2001). Online Public Relations, London: Kogan Page. ISBN 0749435100.
  • Stauber, John C.; and Sheldon Rampton (1995). Toxis Sludge is Good for You: Lies, Damn Lies, and the Public Relations Industry, Monroe, ME: Common Courage Press. ISBN 1567510612.
  • Tye, Larry (1998). The Father of Spin: Edward L. Bernays & the Birth of Public Relations, New York: Crown Publishers. ISBN 0517704358.
  • Stoykov, Lubomir; and Valeria Pacheva (2005). Public Relations and Business Communication, Sofia: Ot Igla Do Konetz. ISBN 954-9799-09-3.

See alsoEdit

List of Marketing Topics List of Management Topics
List of Economics Topics List of Accounting Topics
List of Finance Topics List of Economists
Topics related to public relations

External linksEdit

About the industryEdit

Watchdogs and criticsEdit

  • SourceWatch.org Provides background on PR agencies and practitioners. Focuses mostly on conservative and right-wing PR
  • PR Watch, critiques deceptive PR campaigns
  • Spinwatch Monitors public relations and propaganda
  • CorporateWatch, a critical overview of the public relations and lobbying industry
  • Global PR blog week, online event focused on how new communications technologies are changing public relations and business communication.cs:Public relations

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