What is PR?

What is PR? Public Relations, or PR, is how organisations or clients communicate with both their target audience and the wider public. It is responsible for managing and influencing the spread of information – which is more important than ever in our ever-evolving Digital Age – and engaging old and new audience members.


It’s all about storytelling: Public Relations promotes and protects the positive image of an organisation or client, maintains their reputation, and ensures a mutually beneficial relationship between the organisation or client and the public. It is an active practice of constant valued and trusted engagement.

What is PR?

Most people have a general idea of what Public Relations is. It’s the business of persuasion, maintaining positive images of an organisation or client, and managing bad press. But what are the formal definitions?
Cambridge Dictionary gives two definitions of Public Relations. Firstly, it is ‘the activity of keeping good relationships between an organisation and the general public’. That is Public Relations at its core. Its second definition, ‘the activity of providing information about an organisation so that people have positive ideas about it’, highlights the importance of a positive approach. Public Relations isn’t just about managing the rare bad news, it’s about creating and enhancing the favourable aspects of an organisation or client.

PR Institutions

Public Relations arose alongside the development of mass media, and to distinguish the genuine and honest practice of Public Relations from spin doctors and manipulators, several organisations were founded to support its growth and those who worked to maintain it.
In August 1978, the World Assembly of Public Associations defined Public Relations as ‘the art and social science of analysing trends, predicting consequences, counselling organisational leaders, and implementing planned programmes of action, which will serve both the organisation and the public interest’.
The Institute for Public Relations, which promotes itself as the ‘science beneath the art public relations’, defines it as communicating ‘with the target audience directly or indirectly through media with an aim to create and maintain a positive image and create a strong relationship with the audience’.
The Chartered Institute of Public Relations defines Public Relations simply as being ‘about reputation – the result of what you do, what you say and what others say about you’.

An Updated Definition

In 2012, the Public Relations Society of America decided an updated definition was in order. As no two Public Relations jobs are the same, it is a complicated thing to ultimately define. For the sake of fairness, they conducted a public vote to decide on the new definition.
With a whopping 674 votes, the new definition became as follows: ‘a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics’. As the PRSA’s chair and CEO Gerard Corbett said, this definition is ‘simple and straightforward’, emphasising a communication process strategic in nature.

What PR is not

There is an old saying amongst Public Relations professionals: ‘Advertising is what you pay for, publicity is what you pray for’.
Public Relations is not advertising or marketing. Rather, it promotes organisations or clients through unpaid, earned methods. Paid media is not honest, earned media is. A Public Relations professional convinces reporters, social media influences (our Digital Age’s thought leaders), editors, and producers to write or present a positive story about an organisation or client through honesty and merit, not money.
Earned media is trustworthy and has the integrity that modern consumers crave. With easy access to a mind-boggling variety of content, it is crucial for organisations or clients to push through the soulless paid promotion of modern media and get to the heart of what modern consumers want from a brand – authenticity.

What does PR involve?

There is a multitude of Public Relations tactics and responsibilities available to create and enhance an organisation’s positive image. These include:

  • Press release distribution
  • Designing communication campaigns
  • Social media outreach – promoted posts via blogs or platforms such as Instagram where Social Media Influences have tremendous audience reach
  • Pitches to editors and producers
  • Writing news releases and other online content such as blogs or social media posts on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn
  • Liaising with the press – this can include arranging interviews and photo opportunities, as well as acting as a spokesperson for an organisation or client
  • Internal communications to keep fellow employees informed
  • Governmental relations – engaging with governmental departments to influence public policy
  • Public appearances – this can include internal and external events management, writing speeches or preparing an organisation or client for a press conference

How to improve your PR in the Digital Age

Public Relations has changed drastically since its creation. Jason Falls, in his article ‘Social Media Is The Responsibility Of Public Relations’, sees social media marketing ‘as an almost exclusive domain of public relations professionals’. Bearing this in mind, here are three steps to help you improve your Public Relations in the Digital Age:

  1. Identify your audience and where they are online: determine your demographic in terms of age, the gender they identify as, and their social and/or political background. Are they professionals or amateurs? In search of business or pleasure? Are they mostly on Facebook or LinkedIn? Twitter or Instagram? YouTube or Steam?
  2. Identity what content appeals to them and align your values and attitudes with theirs. Be tech-savy and trend-focused. Are you a cruelty-free make-up manufacturer? Reach out to and send samples to Beauty Bloggers such as Kristen Leanne on YouTube or Suzi Grapefruit on Instagram, who have built their public image on consuming and promoting cruelty-free products. Are you a book publisher? Reach out to BookTubers and Instragrammers such as coffeeandbookss or paperbackdreams in exchange for honest reviews. This will guarantee online exposure for your organisation or client. And share this positive press with your audience! People follow these influencers for their honesty and credibility – if they are endorsing you, their followers are more likely to engage with you.
  3. Cut through the clutter. Pitch emails should be clear, compelling, and considerate, and avoid generic headers that will get lost in a potential audience members’ inbox. It should explain who you are, what you’re sending, and why it matters.

ProfileTree are a content marketing agency based in Belfast, Northern Ireland. To find out more about PR and how it can transform your business, get in touch with our expert team or subscribe to our blog for more insights.

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