What Is Public Relations (PR)?

Public relations (PR) is the art of managing how information about an individual or company is disseminated to the public. Every individual or entity operating in the public eye faces the spread of information about them or their practices to the public. While public relations is an industry unto itself, any attempt to portray oneself in a certain way to the public can be considered public relations.

Key Takeaways

  • Public relations (PR) refers to managing how others see and feel about a person, brand, or company. 
  • PR is different from advertising or marketing as it’s meant to look organic. 
  • PR for corporations, notably publicly-traded companies, will focus on maintaining a positive corporate image while handling media requests and shareholder inquiries. 
  • PR is especially important to defray public or investor outcry following negative news announcements.

Understanding Public Relations (PR) 

Although not inherent in the definition, PR is often thought of as "spin," with the goal being to present the person, company, or brand in the best light possible. PR differs from advertising in that PR attempts to represent a person or brand's image in ways that will appear organic, such as generating good press from independent sources and recommending business decisions that will incur public support. Loosely defined until the mid-twentieth century, PR is one of the fastest growing industries in the United States.

PR is essential to any company's success, especially when shares in the company are publicly traded and the value of a share depends on the public's confidence in a company or brand. In addition to handling media requests, information queries, and shareholder concerns, PR personnel are frequently responsible for crafting and maintaining the corporation's image. Occasionally, PR professionals also engage in negative PR or willful attempts to discredit a rival brand or company, although such practices are not in keeping with the industry's code of ethics.

Public Relations (PR) Example

PR also involves managing a company's reputation in the eyes of its customers. In a 2012 PR crisis, restaurant chain Chick-fil-A was forced to issue emergency statements with respect to its stance on same-sex marriage after a Chick-fil-A executive publicly came out against marriage equality. The statement stressed the company's "biblically-based principles" and its belief in treating "every person with honor, dignity and respect." It was an example of how companies must exercise good PR. Most major companies have a PR department or utilize the services of an outside firm.

A company often has multiple publics to impress. Internally, a company will want to present itself as competently operated to its investors and biggest shareholders, which can involve arranging product demonstrations or other events directed towards shareholders. 

Externally, a company that sells a good or service directly to consumers will want to present a public image that will encourage genuine, lasting brand support, which extends beyond the somewhat knowingly specious goals of advertising. 

This can involve reassuring customers during a crisis, such as when Target (TGT) offered an $18.5 million settlement to its customers following a 2013 credit card hack in an attempt to restore good faith or the promotion of a lifestyle that would make the company's product or service attractive. The company also generates PR to attract investors. In this respect, good PR is especially important for startups or rapidly expanding companies.