Defining Public Relations
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I had always believed that public relations meant going out into the public for some organization and creating that “warm and fuzzy feeling” for consumers, persuading them to purchase products. However, after further research and contemplation, I find my personal definition to be extremely vague. The American Heritage Dictionary (n.d.) defines public relations as “the methods and activities employed to establish and promote a favorable relationship with the public.” A basic definition provided by Management Help (2006), an organization that provides free, online resources for businesses, defines public relations as “ongoing activities to ensure the company has a strong public image.” In 1998, the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) adopted a formal definition of public relations stating, “public relations helps an organization and its publics adapt mutually to each other.”
All three definitions focus on an organizations relationship with the public, however, there are differences in the definitions that require one to think more in depth about which is the most accurate. The American Heritage definition suggests that public relations require that a company take steps to ensure the public views them in a favorable light. However, the definition does not give insight as to how the company establishes such an image. The definition provided by Management Help suggests that PR helps in ensuring a company has a strong public image. However, the definition does not state whether this image is positive or negative. In addition, this definition lacks the same specificity, as the American Heritage definition, in not giving insight as to how a company establishes such a relationship, be it a positive or negative one.
The PRSA seems to give a more accurate “description” rather than definition of public relations. This definition mentions a mutual adaptation of the organization and the public. From the consumers point of view, this definition makes the most sense. An organization should want the public satisfaction from the use of its products or services. From this satisfaction, the organization would gain the trust of the public, which, in turn, results in brand loyalty and a larger profit. The definition also refers to the public in plural terms. Consumers could appreciate this detail as they realize organizations cater to more than one demographic of purchasers. The definitions of American Heritage or Management Help either recognize or acknowledge this fact.
It is my belief that there are many varying definitions of public relations due, in part, to the realization of organizations that in order to sell products, you must first gain the trust of your target market. However, I feel that once trust is gained, is should also be maintained. It is the maintenance of this trust that attracts new customers and sustains existing customers. This ideal prompted further change in the original definition of public relations. Though good consumer relations are an integral part of public relations, the organization must also keep shareholders in mind. While trying to please consumers, PR specialist must keep the bottom line in mind. For example, if consumers are not pleased with product pricing, the organization may not be able to afford to lower the price. However, the organization could arrange other incentives such as volume discounts or loyalty bonuses. The description of public relations provided by PRSA echoes this point.
Organizations have become increasingly aware that public relations are an integral part of establishing a positive public image. This awareness prompted several companies to begin releasing information to the public such as Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) statements. These statements represent an organizations desire to be sensitive to all shareholders, including suppliers, employees, consumers, community organizations, and local neighborhoods (Wikipedia, 2006). Such statements have varying impact