Public Relations Firm

views updated Jun 11 2018

Public Relations Firm



757 N. Main Street
Morgan MI 48104

April 1, 1987

This business plan is for a public relations firm offering both traditional and non-traditional public relations services. It features highly developed goals, strategies for networking, a detailed discussion of the competition in the area, and comments from experts in the field.

  • purpose
  • executive summary
  • comments on the market
  • the opportunity
  • the market
  • definition of the business
  • objectives, goals and strategies
  • comments on the business
  • history
  • management and board of advisors
  • competition
  • comments on competition
  • plan for development
  • potential weaknesses of the business
  • additional resources
  • financial information

SHP and Associates serves the needs of companies for quality business communications. It has the ability to help clients formulate and enunciate their information to important audiences in a controlled and professional manner. Its principals are practiced business professionals and communicators. Its associates are able business analysts, writers, trainers, designers and graphic specialists.


This Business Plan indicates that the principals and those associated with the business have defined the business as well as possible using available information and judgment. Further, that they have thought through the issues and created practical, workable strategies; that they have reasonable, prudent and achievable goals; and that they have a realistic assessment of the probability of success for the business and a sound plan to build it.

This plan is to be a living document that we will revisit regularly, especially in the first year of development.


SHP and Associates (SHP) is a business communications firm. It was formed by two experienced business and public relations executives to work in the areas of corporate, financial, marketing and management communication. It serves the corporate relations needs of emerging and operating technology and industrial businesses in the southeastern Michigan region, particularly Morgan.

The firm has operated on a part-time consulting basis with a few clients since 1984. Its principals are seasoned businessmen who have served in executive marketing, communications and financial management positions for a number of large international concerns.

The firm is similar in concept to other traditional marketing or public relations firms. However, it differs from such firms in several important aspects:

It has sound relationships with executives at many operating businesses in its market area, as well as with senior partners in the region's leading legal and accounting firms and senior executives of financial institutions. These relationships with influences and venture capitalists are important to the business because they can provide SHP with immediate awareness and exposure with a large core of influential peers.

A Board of Advisors composed of industrial, marketing and financial executives of business and financial institutions and universities has been assembled. This Board serves as a consulting and directive body to assist the firm in securing and conducting its basic business.

SHP offers independent professional counsel and expertise that can be used by clients on an "as needed" basis. This means clients can benefit from such expertise when they require it, on a project or continuing basis. Clients need not retain an expensive house staff.

SHP has close working relationships with specialty firms to get the best work for clients. These specialists are in existing and established firms that maintain selected areas of expertise in video, art and design, training, and typography. This permits SHP principals to concentrate on developing clients rather than building staff and facilities.

Its principals, Mr. John Smith and Mr. Mike Johnson, have industrial operating business experience, thereby giving them a very real understanding of the kinds of tough business and marketing issues faced by corporate or divisional operating managers. SHP principals are not mere communications professionals; rather they are experienced and accomplished business executives who bring business acumen to any company's requirement to communicate its product, people, and related messages in a disciplined and planned way to its chosen audiences. Mr. Smith and Mr. Johnson have held the following positions: Director of Communications, Controller, Vice President of Advertising and Public Relations, Vice President of Marketing, Vice President of Sales, and Vice President of Corporate Operations.

SHP is developing complementary marketing relationships with a network of existing communications firms in Boston, New York, Chicago, and San Francisco. These enable SHP to conduct research or implement activities in those areas on a cost-effective basis.


"This area is well into the phase of requiring a sound infrastructure to support all the excellent area entrepreneurial businesses that have moved out of the start-up phase and into the operational phase. Your kind of business, which can help with market positioning and pinpointing these companies communications, is the key to that infrastructure."

Tom Porter
Partner, Enterprise Management Inc.
Chairman, New Enterprise Forum

The Morgan area "is improving for your kind of business because many companies need help but not necessarily on a regular basis. They don't have resources to staff up, but they do have the needs and resources to expend for major projects."

Dr. John Psarouthakis
Founder, Chairman and President
J. P. Industries

"I know several banks and companies that need your kind of service and will use you - assuming you do quality work at reasonable coston an as-needed basis."

George H. Cress
Citizens Trust Co.


"Communications, especially public relations, is growing in every phase of business. An entire redefinition of business communications is taking place and all kinds of companies are looking at how they can communicate most effectively with their audiences, be they investors, customers, communities or employers."

Robert Strayton
President, Advanced Technology Division
Hill and Knowlton

SHP's role is to serve the needs of clients in the newest wayby putting senior executives with broad skills and sound judgment to work on every account.

The Morgan area "is much like the Silicon Valley in California was 12-15 years ago. That is, the infrastructure is now developing here to support the growing number of successful technology businesses as well as the solid operating companies that already exist in the area. That infrastructure includes communications, law and accounting firms. It also includes the general growing awareness the commercial businesses are finding the area a good place to be."

Mike Johnson
SHP & Associates


The geographic marketplace for SHP is primarily southeastern Michigan, with the highest concentration of effort initially aimed at the Morgan area. It has several substantial existing businesses as well as numerous smaller ones and others spawned by University of Michigan work. Also, the Morgan area is best known to SHP principals; Mr. Smith has worked and resided in the area for most of the past 20 years; Mr. Johnson for the past seven.

Two additional target areas for the business are Toledo and Grand Rapids, both excellent industrial sites. These areas will be explored through complementary relationships with existing communications firms, or with legal or accounting firms or printers.

In the primary target market of southeastern Michigan and northern Ohio, there are approximately 600 businesses that are included in the industrial technology areas. Of these, it is estimated that about 100 now use services in the marketing or financial communication areas; another 50-75 could use such services but do not at this time. These estimates are based on the known number of public companies, client lists of the approximate 30 firms now conducting such business, directories of business from chambers of commerce and Crain's Detroit Business and the Michigan's 100 Leading Securities book of First of Michigan Securities.

In terms of market size, SHP's competitive analysis shows that the approximate 30 firms doing business in this region had a combined total of $ 10 to $ 11 million net fee income in 1986, up from about $6 million in 1981. (Figures based on firms' reports published in Crain's Detroit Business and Jack O'Dwyer's newsletter, the leading PR industry trade publication.)

SHP believes it will build its business in two years. First by gaining accounts from businesses that do not now employ outside communications counsel. Second, over time by gaining accounts from businesses now employing competitive firms.

Further, some five of the 30 firms have been started in the past year, thus indicating decent success at opening this type of business. While this has added to the competition, the five new firms have not been directly in the financial and marketing segment served by SHP.

The type of firms SHP has targeted are:

  • Public, with need for financial relations work
  • Private and positioning to go public
  • Public or private with clear need to communicate with customers and prospects in a controlled, direct manner

Annual revenue in range of $2 to $ 150 million, and particularly in the $25 - $75 million range. Larger firms are also targets although most have in-house staffs to conduct such communications work and are not, therefore, deemed primary targets at the early stage of SHP's business.


This is being created in Phase I through use of the business leaders' network, meetings and presentations with principals of targeted accounts and a mailing to targeted and secondary accounts. It will be broadened in June by official announcement of the business.


In the four county area, which is the initial phase focus of SHP, there are the following businesses: 105 public companies, 100 private, 33 service, 36 manufacturing, 15 bank holding, 14 savings and loans, 31 wholesale and retail, 15 large accounting, 25 large advertising agencies, 15 large law firms, 15 engineering firms, 10 health maintenance organizations, 15 general contractors, 25 large hospitals, 24 divisions or subsidiaries of larger corporations, and 1 major governmental research agency.

The focus of SHP for its three business segments will be:

Marketing Positioning

100 private firms, 105 public firms. Especially those in the $1-5 million revenue range whose markets are unclear and that are run by technically-oriented entrepreneurs.

We are directing our marketing efforts toward them through affiliation with the 1600-member Michigan Technology Council, through venture capitalists who have funded such firms, and through our executive network.


36 manufacturing firms, 1 governmental research agency, 33 service firms. Our marketing efforts are being directed through the executive network, mailing to target accounts, affiliation with Human Resource Development Systems and one key start up reference account.


105 public companies, 100 private firms, firms which recently went public. We are directing our marketing effort through affiliation with an existing PR firm which does not do corporate/financial work, and the executive network.


SHP and Associates is a partnership of professional business executives with expertise in specific areas of marketing, financial and management communications and special events.

SHP and Associates offers professional expertise in areas often needed by industrial and technology businesses on a project or interim basis.

This practice means clients can use SHP for its expertise on an as-needed basis, clients do not have to retain internal staff and they gain the benefit of having experienced counsel to meet needs as they arise. Such services are also available under ongoing programs.

SHP offers these communications services and products.


  • Media relations
  • Corporate identity programs
  • Annual and quarterly reports
  • Private and public offerings
  • Annual meetings
  • Company positioning
  • Speeches and presentations
  • Security analyst relations


  • Business and trade articles, news releases
  • Market research - focus groups and surveys
  • Customer newsletters and videos
  • Marketing plans and presentations
  • Product and market segmentation and positioning
  • Sales training/incentive programs
  • Product introductions
  • Seminars and employee training/motivational programs
  • Telemarketing


This section outlines the reasons why SHP and Associates can be built into a successful firm. The section contains the non-changing objectives, 1987 goals and 1987 strategies as to how those goals will be achieved.


The objectives of SHP are:

Be a profitable, recognized, respected and authoritative professional leader in its field and market area, as judged by the amount and quality of business it has.

Provide a range of business communications services that are a positive benefit to clients we serve.

Goals and Strategies for 1987

Goal 1

Be a successful start up, emerging from the year with sufficient business to insure profitable operation in 1988. This net fee income base for 1987 will be $125,000 by year end.


Secure sufficient business to insure that we meet plan. Do this by gaining aminimum of eight accounts by year end.

Goal 2

Establish the firm's reputation and awareness among the entire prospect base, the media, the financial community and in the trade, thus helping to position it in order to be able to secure reasonable growth planned for years two and three. Basis of judgement here to be eight clients by year end.


Successfully complete all work for clients and build awareness and credibility of the firm by marketing these results.

Provide communications products, thus directing the business to the areas for which it desires to become known.

Provide the benefits of the firm's accumulated knowledge and expertise in marketing and communications to counsel and guide where there is apparent client need.

Goal 3

Attract sufficient investment to insure the ability to direct attention to building the business successfully and not diverting attention to fund raising or other ancillary activities.


Work with investors, banks or other appropriate financial institutions. Do not give up any ownership in the business by raising capital via other private investors.

Establish separate corporations which will work together under the joint venture of SHP & Associates.


"98 percent of all businesses that fail do so because of the lack of expertise of management in the business, or management's incompetence."

The Business Plan
Price Waterhouse

"Any consulting business must never try to be all things to all people. You must direct your work and be able to perform better than your competitors in those certain select segments."

Dr. John Psarouthakis
Founder, Chairman and President, J. P. Industries

"Three things are needed for an entrepreneurial business to succeed: the best people, the resources those people need and the environment they need."

John Barfield
Founder, Barfield Companies

"The best things a good businessman has going for him are his integrity and reputation."

John Daly
Vice Chairman, Johnson Controls


The firm began partial operations in 1984 as a consulting business serving different computer and software companies.

It functioned as Michael Johnson Associates and was run on a part-time basis. The firm's primary area of business was the preparation of marketing and communications plans, with some implementation work. Clients of the firm in this period included JM Systems Corporation, Data Logic Systems, Dynagraphic Systems Corporation, and others.

In the summer of 1986, Johnson became associated with John Smith. They produced a 50th anniversary celebration plan for Huge Firm International, a division of Huge Conglomerate Inc., in addition to developing other marketing and public relations activities, projects and programs for industrial and technology companies.

Mr. Smith and Mr. Johnson direct the business. In addition, SHP uses business and technical writers, designers, graphics specialists and other support staff to conduct assignments. Also, the firm has a business relationship with an 11-employee professional design and production firm that has been in business since 1975, and a management and sales training firm, Resource Development Systems. Additional business relationships will be structured in 1987 that are complementary to the nature of SHP's business. That is, with existing established communications and marketing firms that offer services synergistic to SHP's. This will include complementary marketing agreements with existing communications firms in New York, Minneapolis, Chicago and Boston, as well as agreements with an audio-visual firm. Freelance researchers and writers will be employed on an as-needed basis throughout 1987; there are no present plans to employ additional staff.


SHP and Associates is a business partnership with Michael Johnson and John Smith as principals. The goal is to incorporate as separate businesses and form the joint ventures of SHP & Associates. The firm also has Board of Advisors, as follows:

  • T. Randall Macintosh, Group Vice President and Director, Inc., $70 million computer software firm.
  • George Coswell, President, Big Insurance Co.
  • Joseph Gerald, President, Huge Firm International, a Huge Conglomerate Company.
  • Dr. Thomas Kennedy, Associate Dean and Professor of Marketing, Graduate School of Business Administration, University of Minnesota.

The above individuals are available for references, also. Additional references and a current client listing are available upon request.


There are some 30 general and specialized public relations and communications firms already in the marketplace in which SHP operates. These include large, established firms with substantial financial, people and customer resources; smaller general and specialty firms that have unique market niches; and individuals who perform freelance work. In general, many of these firms are run by former newspaper or broadcast people ("communicators") whose business experience, understanding and acumen is not high.

It is estimated that these firms have net fee income of approximately $10-11 million annually, and that this number has increased from $5-6 million annually five years ago. These estimates are based on published figures for firms in the attached competitive analysis. Another relevant factor is the number of start ups that have been successful and have thus added to the total market size.

Competition also includes in-house staffs, although this is primarily confined to the larger companies in the area. Also, such larger firms tend to have larger budgets and therefore use outside resources to augment their own capabilities.

Another element of competition is commonly overlooked, but certainly ever-possible. That is not doing this type of marketing and communications work at all. The reasoning, although believed specious by SHP, is that this type of work is optional to a company, that is does not contribute to the bottom line, to product development, or to sales.

And that may well be for firms that have a unique and solo market niche, ever satisfied customers, no desire to create awareness or generate business leads, or for other reasons.

But for those majority that do not fit such categories, SHP has several differentiators which set it apart from its competition. Those are listed below.

Business Relationship: a network of known industrial, community and academic leaders.

Industrial Operations Experience: first hand knowledge of business operations due to the principals breadth of experience.

Product Specialization: in financial, marketing and management communications areas.

Board of Advisors: of high level business leaders.

Complementary Marketing Agreements: with sound established firms whose skills, geographic range and goals are complementary.

Following is a summary of area firms with which SHP and Associates competes

Frederick Marshall, Detroit

A large firm in the midwest with an annual net fee income in the millions. Specialized in financial and marketing PR and has numerous clients covered by its numerous employees. Has very professional brochures and capabilities book and lists many large companies as clients. Has high fees ($4000 monthly retainer is common at low end). Its market is primarily larger companies with substantial promotional budgets.

DP & Associates, Detroit

DPA has 37 employees and $2.5 million net fee income, double that of four years ago. Much lower visibility than Marshall, but has solid client list in Coopers and Lybrand. Owner is a creative and independent person, known for crisis-type guidance to clients as opposed to the strategy planning and counsel of Marshall. DPA is well regarded for special projects, general publicity and brainstorming ideas with clients. Does much community and charity work and has good ties with the Michigan Commerce Department and area ad firms which do not have PR units.

The Hutchinson Group, Ypsilanti

High competition. Smart people, good work and reputation. Five years old and run by Terrie Hutchinson, a well known promotion woman who created a noted and successful Michigan university fund-raiser. She is well connected and does work for the Chamber of Commerce, accounting firms, Ann Arbor News, Private Industry Council and some 15 other clients. Billings in 19 86 said to be $500K; seven employees, all bright. Not much financial, corporate or marketing work, but deemed to be a primary competitor because of established base and abilities. Primary emphasis is publicity programs; well known capability is staging special events.

Butler Communications, Jackson

Run by Jeff Lehman, who was general manager of the Business Alliance before starting Quorum in 1981. Does advertising, writing, design. Very good growth in hospital promotions-St. Peter's HMO etc. Did 1985 TL Industries' annual report design. Has some lO people. Very well tied to the community to get business leads; has capitalized on these relationships to build the business.

Willis Communications, Southfield

Run by Kelly Willis, an ex-Hamilton PR executive. Aims at high tech companies and does all kinds of brochures, annual reports, articles. Irwin Magnetics, La-Z-Boy Chair, Synthetic Vision and Symplex Corporation are or have been significant clients. Probably $100K net fee income in 1986. Willis knows many people and is well liked.

Gabriel Sapetta, Troy

New and aimed at corporate-financial area. One man band with Detroit, Michigan as an account. Has made self known among target audience since he left Hamilton, where he was Director of Press Relations for one year.


None of the firms mentioned are public. Companies of this kind tend to list clients as if they do all the client's work. In fact many, or even most, do project worknot on-going retainer workexcept with the larger companies.

There are many, many competitorsmostly small. Numerous one and two man bands, as well as consultants in select areas who could be competition on some projects.

Large New York or Chicago headquartered firms have never had much good results in establishing outposts offices in Detroit, Minneapolis, Cleveland, or other mid western cities.

Their costs and fees are high and they offer the New York mentality of "tell them how to do it" which is not often accepted well by the typical midwestern businessman. Therefore, they are not deemed to be a significant current factor in competition.

Primary competition we are running into are Hutchinson, Willis, and Sapetta.

Two Chicago-based firms currently have clients in SHP market area. Public Relations Board serves Great Lakes Federal Bank and Interface Systems for financial and investor relations. The Investor Relations Company serves Medstat.


SHP's plan is to divide the start up year of 1987 into two phases: April 1 - June 30 and July 1 - December 31. These activities are planned in Phase I.

Phase I

  1. Build client base
    • Prospect mailing and meetings with top 5-On going
    • Key influencers list
    • 25 next likely
    • Remainder (100)
  2. Complete Business PlanMarch 31
    • Reviews by selected participants
  3. Complete Corporate StructureApril 30
    • Investment
    • Type of structure
    • Establish of Board of Advisors
    • Financial
    • Get reference approvals
  4. Evaluate Complementary Relationships
    • Opportunities April 30
      • TI Group
      • Other design firms
      • Other PR firms
  5. Evaluate facilities May 31
    • Company offices
    • Offices at client sites
    • Offices in, or with, other firms
  6. Conduct work for those clients we gain Ongoing
  7. Announce the business June 1
  8. Complete plan for development for Phase II June 15
  9. Complete Phase III (1988) Plan


  • Too few people to complete work on time, in budget on a consistent basis.
  • Acceptance of projects that are not within the segment of business SHP desires to build; may be especially true in year 1.
  • Financial issues
    • Cash flow inadequate to meet necessary goals
    • Clients may desire to pay less for services the SHP desires to charge
  • Lack of awareness of the firm could cause lack of chance at existing opportunities, especially in first several months.
  • Could be trying to do too many things
  • Not absolutely certain of what the market will buy
  • Competition could beat us out


  • Freelance writers: Marie Caliski, former Business Week writer; Margaret Dayner, technical writer; Ted Moran, business and technical writer
  • Freelance Artists: Mega Group-design and graphics work
  • Management sales and training firm: Resource Development Systems
  • Law firms
  • Accounting firms
  • Family members
  • Secretary
  • Board of Advisors
  • Business executives and others in network
  • Banks
  • Printing Firms
  • University of Michigan Business School
  • Public Relations firms in other cities, and in local area
  • Venture capital firms


"The central question to any business is: who will buy this service or product?"

John Smith, Partner,
SHP & Associates

"The toughest part of a business plan is the sales forecast. You must do your best to understand the environment, outline assumptions, and list controllables and noncontrollables."

Richard David, Partner
Jefferson, Franklin, and Washington



The plan of SHP is not to spend unless it is absolutely necessary or an opportunity becomes apparent at an earlier time than was planned, thus requiring expenditures earlier. This policy will apply through Phase la, at the end of which the policy will be refined to account for expenditures necessary in Phase Ib.

It is the anticipation of the principals of the business that numerous assumptions made in the Business Plan will prove to be wrong, while other unknowns will prove to be a benefit. This is, some planned areas of developing revenue will not workout, while others will arise.


  • Two phases in year 1
    • April 1 - June 30
    • July 1 - December 31
  • No office space paid for until July 1 at least
    • Use TI office
    • Use TI phone answering and message center
    • Use home offices
    • Use offices at client sites
  • No wages until July 1
    • Exception as client engagements are gained individually, or joint projects with work apportioned.
  • Design and production work gratis by TI
    • SHP pays typeset, print costs
  • Probable purchase of used MVI furniture
    • desks, chairs, conference table
    • files, audio-visual equipment, IBM XI computer, phones easel other sources also available - leasing, etc.
  • No public announcement of the business until it is solidified
    • 8 clients
    • Complementary relationships established

Start up Costs (1 year period)

Used IBM XT with hard disk and printer$1500
3 desks and 2 chairs
1 conference table and 4 chairs
2 wood book shelves
2 file cabinets
1 computer table
2 credenzas$5000
Office supplies$ 500
Secretarial help$2000
$500/month × 4 months
Telephone$ 75
$25/month × 3 months
Professional fees
Printing and mailing
stationery, brochure, business cards$1000
Travel and entertainment$2000
Auto leases$2100
2 × $350/month × 3 months

Second Phase: Year 1 (Ongoing Costs)

Note : partners may only take expenses from business in this phase; depends on size of revenues.
Office space (6 months)$7500
Lease cars (6 × $700/months)$4200
Professional fees
Attorney$ 200
Travel and entertainment$5000
Secretary (6 months)
Partners (6 months)


1st Year2nd Year3rd Year
Partnership Billings93144168
Outside Reps/Contractors Billings204080
In-house Media/Adv Services
Printing Etc.30120
Gross Income113234448
Cost/Services Provided
Partnership Draws73100120
Outside Reps/Contractor Billings152855
1st Year2nd Year3rd Year
In-house Media/Adv Services
Printing Etc.25100
Gross Margin2571133
G&A & Other
Rent (includes clerical services - 1st year)658
Clerical Payroll & Costs1218
Partnership Insurance56
Auto Expenses81212
Office supplies/Postage258
Professional Services, Dues & Subs3610
Furniture & Fixtures (Expenses)444
Other (included adv. promotion, interest exp. & Loan reimb.71523
Net Income (Loss)(10)(5)22
Employees (including partners)22 3/44 1/2

SHP & Associates, Inc. "Samples": Analysis/Draws

1987 Partners Individual Billings45.048.093.0
Outside Reps/Contractors Billings (less costs)
In-House Media/Adv. (less cost)
Gross Billings/Receipts47.550.598.0
Less: Operating Expenses17.517.535.0
Net Before Loan30.033.063.0
Rates: Loan5.05.010.0
Net Draw/Taxable35.038.073.0
1988 Partners Individual Billings80.064.0144.0
Outside Reps etc.
In-House Media etc.7.57.515.0
1988 Cont'd IIITotal
Gross Billing/Receipts93.577.5171.0
Less: Operating Expenses38.038.076.0
Net Draw/Taxable55.539.595.0
1989 Partners Individual Billings88.080.0168.0
Outside Reps etc.12.512.525.0
In-House Media etc.
Gross Billings/Receipts
Less: Operating Expenses
Net Draw/Taxable

SHP & Associates, Inc. Income Analysis

By Income Element1st Qtr2nd Qtr3rd Qtr4th QtrTotal
Partner's Billings (Retainer etc.)
Outside Reps/Contractors Billings
In-House Media/Adv Services
By Year
1987Partner's Billings928272993
Outside Reps/Contractors51520
In-House Media/Adv.
1988-Partner's Billings34363539144
Outside Reps/Contractors1010101040
By Year Cont'd 1st Qtr2nd Qtr3rd Qtr4th QtrTotal
In-House Media Adv.510152050
1989Partner's Billings40424145168
Outside Reps/Contractors2020202080
In-House Media Adv.30506060200

Profit & Loss Assumptions

  • Partner's draw equal to individual billings and allocations of outside reps/contractor's services (billings less expenses) less 1/2 operations expenses (in first year of operations - partners will equally share responsibility of $20,000 loan line (by individual investor) and will borrow $ 10,000 ($5,000 each) against this line).
  • Partner's will file corporation papers under sub-chapter "S" and will assume income tax liabilities (Federal and State), FICA, etc. as individual payers.
  • Net Income derived from billings for outside contractors and reps, for in-house media services, printing, etc. less expenses for such services will be divided equally among partners.
  • All expenses associated with operations will likewise be born equally by the partners.

SHP & Associates, Inc. Expense Analysissee following page

SHP & Associates, Inc. Expense Analysis

Rent (includes clerical srvs.1987).
Clerical Payroll & Payroll Costs12.018.0
Partnership Insurance5.06.0
Auto Expenses1.
Office Expenses.
Professional Service, Dues & Subs.
Furniture & fixtures (expensed)
Interest Exp & Loan Repayment1.
Other (includes adv/promotion).

Public Relations

views updated May 14 2018

Public Relations



“American” flavor

The profession

Areas for research


Public relations is the organized effort to communicate information and to modify attitudes and behavior on behalf of a client or a cause. The concept of an organized effort is crucial to this definition, for it points both to the growth in recent decades of a wide assortment of groups seeking to promote some social, political, or economic ideology and to the development of a cadre of specialists whose full-time energies are devoted to winning a greater understanding and acceptance by various publics of an individual, a private business corporation, an agency of government, or other institution.


Such efforts to influence public attitudes are very old indeed, but until the beginning of the twentieth century they were largely carried out in conjunction with other duties and were not defined as constituting a distinct occupation. Politi cians gave speeches, travelers wrote accounts of their journeys, religious leaders evangelized, and generals produced memoirs, all without suspecting that they might in subsequent centuries be labeled public relations men. Yet today there are those in the public relations field who claim certain historical figures as early practitioners of their profession : Caesar writing his account of the wars in Gaul; Christ preaching his gospel; Marco Polo writing of his travels to the East, to name but a few. This disarming willingness to pick and choose one’s intellectual antecedents is significant chiefly because it reveals a chronic preoccupation of many public relations workers—a sense of insecurity regarding the professional status of their field and a need to legitimatize their work.

Today’s public relations practitioner had as one of his earlier ancestors the publicists who made their appearance during the eighteenth century. These writers turned out pamphlets and tracts in support of social, political, and religious causes. But it is important to note that their activities were usually ancillary to other professional interests and almost never provided them with any significant amount of income. More often than not, they donated their services to the group for whom they worked. In England publicists tended to address themselves to the social evils which grew out of the industrial revolution. They inveighed against the shocking conditions of factories employing women and children, or they directed attention to the need for prison reforms or the setting up of mental hospitals and similar institutions to care for the poor and helpless. Similar problems attracted publicists in the United States, but there was, in addition, an overriding concern on the part of many of them during the early decades of the nineteenth century with the abolitionist movement. Following the Civil War some publicists in the United States directed their energies to writing about corruption and abuses of power in the business world and in government. Among these were the muckrakers, who in a sense represented a transitional group from the publicists to the public relations practitioners, for they devoted their full working day to these expesés.

Public relations as a distinct occupation is almost exclusively a development of the twentieth century and the mass society which characterizes it. Big governments, big corporations, and big institutions of all kinds have proliferated since 1900. The managers of these big organizations often feel remote from the groups they serve. Headquarters, whether it be of a government bureau or a business corporation, is often psychologically and physically distant from its publics. In recent years many managements have employed public relations specialists within their organizations (or as outside consultants) in an effort to overcome hostility, misinformation, or just plain apathy toward themselves.

Business corporations in the United States tend to be larger consumers of public relations services than government bureaus, labor unions, or nonprofit social and voluntary groups. Why should this be so? In the case of government agencies, both state and federal, the party out of power is reluctant to permit too much money to be allocated for information and public relations activities which may enhance the opposition’s ability to retain power. Moreover, top elective government officials also rely on their particular political parties to carry out public relations efforts on their behalf. In the case of labor unions and a wide array of nonprofit groups, there is a tradition of voluntary work on the part of members of these organizations at the grass-roots level. The business corporation usually does not command these informal loyalties from its members. Even if it did, there is a question whether management would feel comfortable having its lower echelons initiate public relations actions on its behalf without some kind of strict control of these actions.


Since the practice of public relations is most fully developed in the private industrial sector of the United States, it is useful, for illustrative purposes, to detail some of the activities carried out by the public relations department of any large American corporation. With modifications, these operations are representative of the gamut of public relations techniques and programs employed by other institutions and organizations.

Public relations departments of large private industrial companies are expected to provide certain services to their senior executives. They prepare speeches for these corporate officers, assist in answering particularly important correspondence, and provide counsel and guidance to them on a continuing basis regarding the many demands on them to participate in community activities, fund raising, and cultural and social-welfare programs.

Public relations people also have a number of corporate responsibilities. They maintain relations with the press, television, radio, and other media of communications. Requests from these media for information about the company’s activities are almost always routed through the public relations department. This department helps to prepare statements and white papers when its management takes a public stand on an issue involving a government agency or a community problem.

Frequently the public relations department edits a company magazine, which is sent to opinion leaders, shareholders, employees, retailers, and others who are felt to have a particular importance for the firm. It organizes and coordinates film, television, and radio programs on behalf of the company and is charged with developing institutional advertising programs. Institutional advertisements are messages designed primarily to win acceptance of the company per se, rather than specifically aimed at increasing the purchase of its products. (There is obviously a relationship between the kind of product advertising conducted by a company and the impression the public has of that company. In fact, public opinion surveys have found that many people derive their impression of a company from the products it manufactures and the advertising carried out on behalf of those products.)

The public relations department also issues booklets about the company and its activities, annual financial reports, and a variety of specific documents and pictorial material, with the intent of furthering an understanding of the company and its policies. To this end it may also organize exhibits explaining aspects of the company’s operations, offer a speakers’ program to schools and community groups, and provide tours of manufacturing plants. In the implementation of such programs, public relations departments often single out specific subgroups in the population—educators, clergy, officers of civic and community action groups, and similar elite groups—and develop programs aimed at them.

All the foregoing activities represent the tangible and predictable duties of public relations people. In addition, senior public relations employees and counselors are expected to give continuing advice to their management on present and potential areas of public misunderstanding regarding the company’s operations and policies. This may involve mounting a complex and many-faceted campaign directed at coping with a new and serious public relations problem. This is sometimes referred to as “fire fighting.” On a more recurrent basis, public relations has the responsibility for the early identification of unfavorable attitudes which may subsequently give trouble. Inasmuch as a public relations department represents but one small segment of a large and frequently complex organization, it must develop sound working relations with other departments. It is likely to discover that other departments take the view that their company is not primarily organized to win a popularity contest but rather to earn a reasonable profit for its owners. And indeed, there may be occasions when difficult corporate decisions have to be taken in the field of product pricing and wage and salary administration even though they may incur the displeasure of the public. In all institutions, whether profit-making or not, public relations considerations must be weighed in the light of other organizational interests.

“American” flavor

If, as suggested earlier, public relations is primarily a child of the twentieth century, it is also preponderantly the progeny of the United States of America. A majority of all public relations workers live in the United States, and the field has received much of its impetus and direction from that environment. There is no obvious explanation for the strong American influence in the early growth of public relations. Possibly the extensive saturation by the mass media of communication in the United States facilitated the early development of public relations there. Yet, on a comparative basis, western Europe has always had an intensive spread of those media, especially in the area of the popular press and magazines of opinion; and yet it did not witness a significant growth in public relations until after World War II.

Why does public relations have such a peculiarly American flavor? At least two disparate lines of speculation offer tempting hypotheses. The first sees in the development of public relations an extension of the alleged concern Americans have with being loved and appreciated by others. For example, critics of U.S. foreign policy and information programs have suggested that these efforts are mistakenly directed at winning the affection of other nations rather than their respect. Essayists and journalists who subscribe to the idea that Americans have a pathological need for love might argue that public relations programs on behalf of impersonal institutions merely represent an extension of this need from the individual to the institutional level. Intriguing as this theory might appear, it is based essentially on a facile and tautological assumption regarding the American character which has yet to be documented.

A more plausible theory to account for the early development of public relations in the United States can be based on historical grounds. This would contend that public relations programs are a predictable outgrowth of a very old and respected American tradition —the democratic belief that all segments of the population should have access to the facts underlying public issues. In such an intellectual context, the emergence of public relations as a distinct field can be seen as a response to the need for more information on a wide variety of political, social, economic, religious, and cultural questions. The relatively simple world of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries permitted the average U.S. citizen to believe that he could inform himself on the issues of the day. But as America moved into the complex world of the twentieth century, the average citizen simply did not have the time or resources for gathering information on the flood of new problems facing him and his society. Information programs on behalf of special interest groups recognized this need and supplied Americans with material—both pro and con—on issues of interest to them. By contrast, in the more status-conscious and rigid societies of Europe, Latin America, and Asia a similar tradition was lacking, or at least was muted, during the first four decades of the twentieth century. While their citizens may have had the theoretical right to express opinions on a wide variety of public issues, there was far less precedence for them to do so and less demand from them for the information services provided by public relations programs.

The profession

As a distinct profession, public relations had its beginnings in the early twentieth century, but until the end of World War i there were few persons in the United States or elsewhere whose full-time jobs involved this work. Best known of these was Ivy Lee, whose clients were several of America’s largest corporations. But the war, and especially the activities of the United States Committee on Public Information, headed by George Creel, focused public attention on the role that propaganda and information programs play in the struggle for the allegiance of men’s minds. The possible commercial application of wartime propaganda techniques was apparent to some executives concerned about public misinformation on business policies. Edward L. Bernays, who had been active in the work of the Committee on Public Information, was a prime mover in the 1920s in developing increased awareness of public relations through a series of successful promotional ventures for important clients. Unhappily, he subsequently identified himself with a phrase, “the engineering of consent,” which has reinforced fears in certain intellectual quarters that public relations is essentially a means by which men’s minds and passions may be manipulated on behalf of the vested interests of any client.

During the 1920s and 1930s there was a continued growth in public relations in the United States. Some of the larger advertising agencies took on public relations assignments for their clients. Newspapers and other publications, however, continued to view with suspicion and distaste the “giveaways” of public relations men, feeling that these press releases were efforts to get free advertising. These misgivings lingered in publishing quarters until very recently and contributed to their tendency to equate public relations with publicity. Indeed, the line between public relations and publicity is a blurred one at best, and such distinctions as do exist probably have to do with the time perspectives of these two activities. Publicity seeks to gain maximum and rapid exposure for a client and his program by this exposure per se, as an end in itself. Public relations may also seek wide exposure for a client and his program, but behind this desire for exposure is a detailed program designed to capitalize on the attention won from the public.

Public relations experienced its truly phenomenal growth in the period following World War n. Precise data on its present size have only recently become available because statistics on the number of public relations workers in the United States were not gathered prior to 1960. Before that time the United States Census Bureau classified all public relations workers in the category “editors and reporters.” In that year, however, a separate classification was set up—“public relations men and publicity writers”—and 31,141 persons were placed in that category in the 1960 census. Of these, 7,271 were women. The actual number of persons earning a living from jobs involving some aspect of public relations work is probably in excess of 100,000. Public relations workers in the United States tend to cluster in the large metropolitan centers where corporations, trade associations, and government agencies have their headquarters and where the home offices of the mass media are located. For example, in the 1960 census, the New York metropolitan area contained 4,033 of all public relations employees in the United States. The professional association of this field, the Public Relations Society of America, had 5,300 members in 1966.

Outside the United States, the field developed almost exclusively after the end of World War n. The International Public Relations Association listed almost 300 members in 1966. The bulk of these are found in North America and western Europe. There are, of course, a number of countries where journalists, government information officers, and publicists perform the essential tasks of public relations people but do not choose to take on this title.

Public relations and the social sciences

A central assumption of public relations is that its practitioners possess special skills in assessing, interpreting, and modifying public opinion. Committed as they are to understanding the process by which attitudes are formed and changed, they necessarily find themselves working in areas that long have been of theoretical interest to students of social psychology and sociology. One might thus expect that a continuing dialogue would take place between public relations and the social sciences. Such is not the case. In fact, when it takes place at all, this dialogue has tended to be sporadic and relatively barren of results. Several explanations may account for this disappointing state of affairs.

Social scientists, for their part, sometimes profess that public relations problems offer limited intellectual challenge and stimulation. They even suggest that, in actual practice, decisions regarding public relations programs are usually based on intuition rather than on any systematic use of social science knowledge. They may also point out that the field of public relations has made no significant contribution to the body of social science theory or research method, even in the theoretical areas of greatest concern to it: the specifying of variables in the communications process; definition of the role that reference groups play in facilitating or impeding the acceptance of a public relations message; provision of a better description of how the several media of communications are perceived and used by their audiences; and the investigation of the sorting-out process by which audiences choose from the many messages directed at them at any given time.

In terms of professional self-interest, the social scientist may therefore complain that the flow of benefits between his discipline and the public relations world has been pretty much a one-way street. Public relations has adapted findings and has utilized and merchandised theories and jargon from the social sciences for its own profit but has given little of intellectual bounty in return. There is, moreover, a belief on the part of certain social scientists that public relations is willing to manipulate information and attitudes on behalf of any client willing to pay for this expertise, regardless of the social and ethical merits of the client’s objectives.

Criticisms of public relations

It would be wrong to give the impression that the critics of public relations are drawn solely from academic circles. Novels, films, and other media have frequently pictured the public relations man as a marginal type of operator, interested only in short-term profits and capable of being all things to all people. When these media have chosen not to treat public relations workers in such invidious terms, they have often elected to portray them as comic and impotent figures. Furthermore, within its own ranks, public relations people themselves often evidence an ambivalence and defensiveness about their work.

Little wonder, indeed, that the public relations fraternity has become worried over charges that it lacks professional standards and ethical norms in the conduct of its business. The Public Relations Society of America has taken several steps to mitigate these criticisms. It has adopted a Code of Professional Standards for the Practice of Public Relations and has set up a procedure by which charges of unethical practice can be brought against members of the society; several members have been suspended from the society for violations of this code. In addition, the society has set up a procedure by which its members might be tested and accredited as to their professional competence, and by 1966, 1,100 members had received this accreditation. This procedure for accreditation has evoked mixed reactions from members, some of whom have argued that the practice of public relations is so indeterminate that it defies the drawing up of any rigorous set of standards by which the ability and performance of members might be judged. Arguments on this issue are reminiscent of past wrangles within the ranks of psychologists and sociologists on the feasibility and desirability of certification of members.

Apart from efforts at internal policing of membership, public relations groups have taken steps to reassure the intellectual community in general and the university world in particular regarding their motives and modes of operation. One part of this endeavor has been the setting up of sessions at annual professional meetings of public relations groups for discussion of the relationship of public relations to the humanities and the social sciences. Frequently, distinguished psychologists, sociologists, and anthropologists address these meetings and discuss ways in which better understanding might be promoted between these two worlds. With similar ends in mind, the Public Relations Society of America has sponsored week-long seminars to provide more intensive exposure for some of its members to the thinking of social scientists and humanists from leading universities. To date, these efforts appear to have served the useful ceremonial function of lessening mutual anxieties and suspicions, but evidence is lacking on whether the day-to-day practices of public relations have been modified because of these interchanges. Certainly a survey of social science journals does not turn up any significant amount of literature reporting on techniques and theories tested in various public relations programs and their possible implications for the study of human behavior.

Training and research

Inasmuch as a substantial body of public relations theory rests on an adaptation of research findings and theories from the social sciences, the lack of close liaison between these two worlds is surprising and regrettable. In part, this may be related to the fact that most public relations people are still members of its first generation. They come with a variegated work experience and educational background. A sizable percentage of them are former journalists and free-lance writers, and still others were specialists in the graphic arts, while the rest are former academicians, civil servants, and members of other professions. Many of these public relations workers find social science theory and language remote and apparently impractical in providing answers for the specific, mundane problems of a client. More often than not, the exposure of public relations workers to social science literature has been on a hit-and-miss basis and confined to occasional leisure-time reading, making it easy for them to dismiss social science as the pompous elaboration of the commonplace and obvious. Not all public relations workers are convinced that closer cooperation between themselves and the behavioral scientists is either practical or desirable. For them, public relations demands largely intuitive and creative skills, which do not lend themselves to rigorous scrutiny and categorizing by the fledgling social sciences.

On the other hand, there remains a militant body of public relations experts who are committed to upgrading the professional status of their field, and they seek help from colleges and universities in this quest. Largely as a result of their efforts, over 250 universities in the United States and abroad have set up formal courses of study in public relations, and several have developed graduate programs in which a student may receive an advanced degree in public relations. These latter programs typically require students to spend considerable time studying sociology and social psychology and the specialized areas of communications and public opinion research. As yet, only a tiny fraction of the public relations world has had this training, and it is impossible to comment on the impact it might have on the ethos, outlook, and practices of public relations in the future.

While the social sciences can no longer afford to ignore the field of public relations, by the same token, public relations practitioners must face up to the fact that the intellectual content and theoretical basis of their field have been singularly lacking in exciting new ideas, research practices, or even impressionistic essays on understanding human behavior and the communications process.

Areas for research


A central problem for public relations is its lack of any convincing yardstick by which to measure its impact and effectiveness. Clients and employers are accustomed to looking for concrete evidence of results for money and effort expended. Product advertising can be related to sales figures and employee relations programs to data on productivity and absenteeism, but public relations efforts are more difficult to evaluate. Countless studies are made each year in which respondents are tested on the degree to which their level of information or attitudes on some issues has been changed as a result of exposure to a public relations program. To date, however, there is a dearth of studies indicating that these professed attitude changes are linked to actual changes in behavior in the marketplace, the polling booth, or in a family or community setting. Lacking such manifest criteria of performance, public relations continues to be defensive about its work.

Relation to power structure

A second area calling for greater study is the manner in which the power structure of a community or society affects the reception given to public relations messages. By its own admission, public relations seeks to locate centers of political, social, economic, and intellectual power and apply effective leverage on them. Yet the literature of public relations is excessively modest in recognizing this fact. Public relations texts contain little or no discussion of the classic theories of power as expounded by political scientists, economists, and sociologists.

On many issues facing society there are a variety of possible points of view that can be defended. Clients with conflicting interests and views call upon public relations to help win acceptance for their positions. A few years ago the public information programs of the trucking industry and the railroads in the United States were in open contention. In the international realm the contest between communist and noncommunist propaganda efforts represents a continuing effort to intellectually disarm and render impotent the competition. On a more mundane level, public relations has been called upon to help product A displace product B from the shelves of stores or to assist in the election of Mr. X over Mr. Y.

Public relations workers are often called upon to take sides in the ordinary as well as in the profoundly important issues of the day. If they do their job well, they may reduce the capacity of other groups in a community to stay alive and sustain their particular economic, social, political, or intellectual positions. Public relations is a force in bringing about social change. Change means that certain ideas, groups, and individuals must move aside and make room for others. Too little recognition has been given in the past to the part public relations plays in modifying the power structure of the society in which it operates.


Related to the lacuna of data on how the power structure of a society influences the effectiveness of a communications program is the allied topic of censorship—formal and informal. Since public relations programs are designed to create a favorable impression of a client and his cause, facts that might be detrimental to his best interests are often played down or left unmentioned. This is usually justified by saying that one must accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative. The controversy over whether cigarette packages should contain a warning pointing out the health hazards incurred in using them is an example of government agencies and tobacco companies placing very different emphasis on “the facts.” In the fields of both domestic and international communications most governments impose some degree of censorship on the information they give out. They frequently come under criticism for being too rigid in the security criteria they use in classifying information. From time to time they must defend themselves against the charge of trying to manage the news. Inasmuch as the word “censorship” has unpleasant connotations, one finds little discussion in the literature on public relations about the ground rules that ought to apply in giving out information on behalf of a client or his cause. Social psychologists have studied the relative effectiveness of presenting one side or both sides of an argument in modifying the attitudes of experimental audiences. Public relations practitioners have been slow in recognizing that the strategic decisions they make about giving out or withholding information are equally deserving of serious thought and study. All public relations programs operate on some heuristic set of beliefs regarding what may or may not be said to various audiences. Here again, however, little research data are available to tell whether these assumptions are valid. Also lacking are any serious studies of the strategy and rationale for deciding not to communicate in certain public relations situations.

The role of opinion leaders

In addition to a study of power in the communications process, there is a need for a more precise definition of the concept of “opinion leader.” This term has gained enormous popularity in public relations circles. Whole programs are predicated on reaching certain priority groups or individuals with the client’s message and largely ignoring less important ones. Again few studies have been undertaken to judge in retrospect the wisdom and success of designating group A as having a higher priority than group B. In fact, there is limited information and speculation in public relations literature on how the opinion leader exercises his power. Is he merely a gatekeeper who gives the communicator access to important persons? Is his job to embellish, translate, or simplify the communicator’s message? Or is the opinion leader’s role primarily to serve as an authority figure whose personal endorsement attests to the legitimacy of a message? Campaigns designed to reach opinion leaders would vary a great deal depending on the answers to these questions.

A broader theoretical question, with considerable implications for the field of public relations, is whether these opinion leaders can absorb all the messages directed at them: What happens when hundreds of professional communicators compete for the limited time, attention, and affect of these relatively few people? Do they learn to set up effective defenses against all kinds of information programs? Do they have the time and energy to distinguish between messages on behalf of trivial and significant causes, or are they disposed instead to tune out all efforts to reach them with special pleading? It would be ironic, indeed, if the inordinate efforts by professional communicators to reach these high priority audiences were to result in their becoming immunized to these messages.

Public opinion research

The most widely used social science research tool employed in public relations work is the public opinion research study. In many instances it has provided necessary bench-mark information for measuring the coverage of a public relations effort. However, there are reasons for suspecting that it sometimes is misused in public relations work and that its findings may be misleading. Survey research is most likely to yield fruitful results when the topic under study has rather broad political, social, cultural, or economic implications. If a client’s problems fall into these areas, survey research studies will probably make a contribution to improving his fund of information. On the other hand, if the client’s prime concern is merely to increase public awareness and acceptance of him, this research method may have limited value. The reason is fairly obvious. Countless business firms, government bureaus, voluntary associations, religious bodies, educational institutions, and community action groups are clamoring for the limited time and interest of the general public. It is totally unrealistic to expect that the average person has more than a most superficial acquaintance or interest in many of these groups. So it happens that a survey that simply asks whether the public knows and approves of certain of these groups is likely to turn up a very high percentage of Don’t Know’s or No Answer’s. Even those who may profess to know these organizations and to hold an opinion about them often turn out, on more intensive investigation, to have only the barest impression of them.

Under these circumstances other social science concepts may offer greater promise for understanding how the public relates to these institutions. For example, it would be useful to know a good deal more about the gratifications and frustrations that people obtain from relating to the impersonal institutions in our society and whether they really expect these institutions to establish an identity and a relationship with them. The literature on personality theory and the socialization of adolescents and adults seems pertinent in such an inquiry.

Implicit in all public relations efforts is the belief that favorable attitudes are desirable and unfavorable attitudes are to be avoided by clients. Why? Do favorable attitudes really get translated into action and how is this done? In some instances, public relations programs seem to supplement marketing and advertising efforts in influencing the sale of a product. In political life, they probably play some role in determining how votes are cast. But the effectiveness of many information and public relations programs is blunted simply because they do not provide the public with guidance as to what steps it should take to effect the desired change. How often do unfavorable attitudes get translated into actions that are damaging? Every public relations man can cite several horrendous examples of how unfavorable publicity and adverse public reactions led to a drop in sales, the passage of unfavorable legislation, or some other specific action against the offending organization. But these represent specific examples of what happens occasionally when the anger of the public is aroused. We know very little about the significance and possible consequences of a low-grade, unfavorable attitude that persists over time but is not related to any single episode. Does the general public have sufficient involvement in the political process, for example, to translate these simmering disapprovals into action?

From the point of view of a client, may there not be penalties associated with encouraging the public to feel that its voice should be heard in the decisions of management? Does it ever happen that a public relations program becomes too successful and generates pressures from outside groups, which intrude needlessly on the decision-making process of an organization? In fact, does the public truly expect the many large and relatively remote organizations that make up our society to establish rapport with them?

As public relations becomes increasingly a world-wide activity, it is desirable that a careful examination be made of the extent to which its practices and concepts, which have been developed in Western cultures, are applicable to other parts of the world. Public relations programs in Europe and America are predicated on the assumption that their audiences have some level of literacy and free access to the media of communication and that means are available for them to distinguish between the primary and secondary institutions of society. These distinctions may be blurred in cultures where the family and the community take on a far more significant role in the communications network and where an etiquette of listening and responding to strangers may hide the true feeling of an audience.

One of the ironies of public relations today is that it continues to draw from the same small reservoir of academic studies for its intellectual rationale, while all the time having within its own files raw data that might make a significant contribution to communications theory. Simply to list a few topics on which public relations people devote considerable research effort will illustrate the wealth of unexploited data that are collected for the specific needs of a client but that may be suitable for secondary analysis and publication: pretest studies of how best to organize messages in order to win the attention of an audience; research on how frequently the same message should be repeated in order to attain optimum impact; and studies of the relationship of the creditability of the communicator and his trade-mark to an audience’s predisposition to listen and believe.

Public relations is a new field. Often its own public relations has been poor, especially in dealing with the intellectual community. But in our fragmented and impersonal society, it is being called upon increasingly by a variety of groups to help them communicate more effectively. Its programs influence the lives of many, and for that reason its methods and philosophy deserve careful scrutiny. It represents an important means of developing consensus on problems facing our society, for it permits specialized groups and interests to articulate their points of view. In addition, public relations may help to serve as one of the consciences of a community. Effective programs on behalf of worthy causes make it difficult for anyone to avoid involvement in serious community and national problems. Still another positive function of public relations is that it has legitimatized the right of any group to speak out in support of an intellectual position, however unpopular it may be. Responsible citizens are forced to ask themselves whether there may not be two or more sides to a public question. Finally, the practice of public relations has made it necessary for those who communicate on behalf of the special interests of a client to stand up and be counted. By readily identifying the sponsors of a particular message, the public is better able to evaluate the message and the context in which it is proffered.

Public relations continues to be viewed in a narrow and stereotyped way in many quarters. This is unfortunate, for only as the status of public relations is enhanced can it hope to recruit into its ranks persons of superior talent and ethical responsibility.

Robert O. Carlson

[Directly related are the entriesAdvertisingand Communication, Mass.Other relevant material may be found inAttitudes; Propaganda; Public Opinion; Survey Analysis].


Bauer, Raymond A. 1964 The Obstinate Audience: The Influence Process From the Point of View of Social Communication. American Psychologist 19:319-328.

Barnouw, Erik 1956 Mass CommunicationTelevision, Radio, Film, Press: The Media and Their Practice in the United States of America. New York: Rinehart.

Bernays, Edward L. 1923 Crystallizing Public Opinion. New York: Bonl & Liveright. -> Of historical importance as an early effort to state the role of public relations.

Bernays, Edward L. 1952 Public Relations. Norman: Univ. of Oklahoma Press.

Bernays, Edward L. (editor) 1955 The Engineering of Consent. Norman: Univ. of Oklahoma Press.

Burton, Paul 1966 Corporate Public Relations. New York: Reinhold.

Carlson, Robert O. 1953 How Can the Social Sciences Meet the Needs of Advertisers? Printer’s Ink 245:44-47.

Carlson, Robert O. 1957 The Use of Public Relations Research by Large Corporations. Public Opinion Quarterly 21:341-349.

Carlson, Robert O. 1961 High Noon in the Research Marketplace. Public Opinion Quarterly 25:331-341.

Carlson, Robert O. 1966 The Corporate Manager and the Social Scientist: An Alliance Comes of Age. Management Review 55:4-13.

Center, Allen H. 1957 Public Relations Ideas in Action: 500 Tested Public Relations Programs and Techniques. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Cutlip, Scott M. (editor) 1966 A Public Relations Bibliography. Madison: Univ. of Wisconsin Press.

Cutlip, Scott M.; and Center, Allen H. (1952) 1965 Effective Public Relations. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall. -“A standard textbook.

Dartnell Corporation (1956)1961 The Dartnell Public Relations Handbook. Edited by John C. Aspley and L. F. van Houten. 3d ed. Chicago: The Corporation.

Finn, David 1961 The Price of Corporate Vanity. Harvard Business Review 39:135-143.

Foundation For Research On Human Behavior, Symposium, Gould House, 2961 1963 The Corporation and Its Publics: Essays on the Corporate Image. Edited by John W. Riley, Jr. New York: Wiley. -> The best available discussion by social scientists of the potentials and limits of public relations.

Harlow, Rex F. 1957 Social Science in Public Relations: A Survey and an Analysis of Social Science Literature Bearing Upon the Practice of Public Relations. New York: Harper.

Harrington, Alan 1959 Life in the Crystal Palace. New York: Knopf. -” A whimsical and wise account of one public relations man’s view of his work.

Hill, John W. 1963 The Making of a Publicity Man. New York: McKay.

Hyman, Herbert H.; and Sheatsley, Paul B. 1947 Some Reasons Why Information Campaigns Fail. Public Opinion Quarterly 11:412-423.

Jacobson, Howard B. (editor) 1961 A Mass Communications Dictionary: A Reference Work of Common Terminologies for Press, Print, Broadcast, Film, Advertising, and Communications Research. New York: Philosophical Library.

Katz, Elihu; and Lazarsfeld, Paul F. 1955 Personal Influence: The Part Played by People in the Flow of Mass Communications. Glencoe, 111.: Free Press. -“An early and important study of informal opinion leaders. A paperback edition was published in 1964.

Klapper, Joseph T. 1960 The Effects of Mass Communication. Glencoe, 111.: Free Press. -” Summarizes

a wide range of studies regarding the role of the mass media in information programs.

Lazahsfeld, Paul F. 1957 Public Opinion and the Classical Tradition. Public Opinion Quarterly 21:39-53.

Lerbinger, Otto; and Sullivan, Albert J. 1965 Information, Influence and Communication: A Reader in Public Relations. New York: Basic Books.

Lesly, Philip (editor) (1950) 1962 Public Relations Handbook. 2d ed. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall.

Marston, john 1963 The Nature of Public Relations. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Merton, Robert K. 1946 Mass Persuasion: The Social Psychology of a War Bond Drive. New York: Harper. -“A detailed sociological analysis of an intensive information program.

Newsom, Earl; Carlson, Robert O.; and Knott, Leonard L. 1959 Feedback: Putting Public Relations in Reverse. Pages 148-162 in Dan J. Fenn, Jr. (editor), Management’s Mission in a New Society. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Nielander, William A. 1948 A Selected and Annotated Bibliography of Literature on Public Relations. University of Texas, Bureau of Business Research, Bibliography, No. 3. Austin: The Bureau.

Pimlott, John A. R. 1951 Public Relations and American Democracy. Princeton Univ. Press.

Public Relations Journal. -” Published since 1945.

Public Relations News. -> Published since 1944.

Public Relations Quarterly. -“Published since 1937.

Public Relations Society Of America, Inc. 1966 An Occupational Guide to Public Relations. New York: The Society.

Ross, Irwin 1959 The Image Merchants: The Fabulous World of Public Relations. Garden City, N.Y.: Double-day.

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Simon, Raymond (editor) 1966 Perspectives in Public Relations. Norman: Univ. of Oklahoma Press.

Steinberg, Charles S. 1958 The Mass Communicators: Public Relations, Public Opinion, and Mass Media. New York: Harper.

Stephenson, Howard (editor) 1960 Handbook of Public Relations. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Wiebe, Gerhart D. 1951 Merchandising Commodities and Citizenship on Television. Public Opinion Quarterly 15:679-691.

Public Relations

views updated May 14 2018


Varying in scope and duration, and differing in the methods used, all of the following examples have one thing in common—they were managed by practitioners of public relations and they would be recognized by any professional as public relations in practice:

  • Fifty years after Thomas A. Edison invented the electric lightbulb, Edward L. Bernays convinces industrial leaders to finance and support "Light's Golden Jubilee," a year-long nationwide celebration involving school children writing essays, inventors contributing their machines to an industrial museum, and an event in Dearborn, Michigan, attended by Edison, Henry Ford, President Herbert Hoover, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., and a host of American inventors and presidents of corporations—a major "photo-op" if ever there was one.
  • A coalition of environmental groups, concerned about pollution of drinking water, pushes a state legislature to call a public referendum on a bond issue to mandate stronger control of pollutants. A grassroots campaign—costing little but involving hundreds of volunteers and a speaker's bureau— succeeds in passing the law and funding cleanups.
  • On the day of the initial public offering of its stock, the president of a software company rings the opening bell on the New York Stock Exchange while his employees toss T-shirts and baseball caps to those on the trading floor—an event that is seen by hundreds of thousands on the cable business channel CNBC.
  • To raise money for a new pediatric wing of the local hospital, the mayor, city council members, president of the hospital, and other dignitaries agree to spend a day in mock "jail." They buy their way out of incarceration by phoning citizens and asking them to pledge contributions of money.
  • The manufacturer of a spray that eliminates shoe odors stages the "America's Dirtiest Sneaker" contest for kids, with regional winners flown to New York City and the grand prize winner appearing on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno.
  • Alarmed at the migration of manufacturing and service jobs from a decaying city center to suburbs and small towns, the city's Chamber of Commerce develops a partnership with labor unions, city government agencies, and the business school at a local university to implement an "It Pays to Stay" campaign, which includes a job fair, open houses at businesses, and a series of paid advertisements in the local news media.

In Lesly's Handbook of Public Relations and Communications (1998), Philip Lesly defines public relations by listing the following activities under the heading of public relations: publicity, communication, public affairs, issues management, government relations, investor public relations, employee relations, community relations, industry relations, minority relations, advertising, press agentry, promotion, media relations, and propaganda. Scott M. Cutlip and Allen H. Center, in their public relations textbook Effective Public Relations (1978, p. 37), provided a cogent definition of public relations: "Public relations is the planned effort to influence opinion through good character and responsible performance, based upon mutually satisfactory two-way communication." James E. Grunig and Todd Hunt, in their textbook Managing Public Relations (1984, p.6), further refined the definition: "Public relations is the management of communication between an organization and its publics [i.e., groups that can have consequences on the organization]." Public Relations News, an industry newsletter, defines public relations as "the management function which evaluates public attitudes, identifies the policies and procedures of an individual or an organization with the public interest, and plans and executes a program of action to earn public understanding and acceptance." The International Public Relations Association provides a slightly different perspective: "Public relations practice is the art and science of analyzing trends, predicting their consequences, counseling organization leaders, and implementing planned programs of action which will serve both the organization's and the public's interest."

The pejorative words "hype" and "spin"—often favored by detractors of the public relations profession—are not even hinted at in these definitions. None of them even mentions "persuasion" or "selling," although the concept of "influence" is suggested. Among academics and professionals, the emphasis is on management and on two-way communication that benefits both the organization and its publics—a concept referred to as "mutually beneficial outcomes." That may be an idealistic view, especially when one considers that sports promotion, show-business campaigns, product marketing, and even the packaging of celebrities and political leaders are activities that fit in the tent of public relations. But every profession should aspire to an idealistic mission, so when the members of professional public relations associations renew their membership annually, their signature on the renewal form signifies that they agree to abide by a code of ethics that grows out of these definitions.

Development of Public Relations

Academics who study the history of public relations are fond of pointing to examples throughout American history: the Revolution against England (with that foremost of pseudo-events, the Boston Tea Party); the campaign for the drafting of a Constitution of the United States(with the eighty-five Federalist Papers written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay); newspaper editor Amos Kendall's efforts to turn the image of Andrew Jackson from that of an unschooled bumpkin to a man of presidential stature; the suffrage movement to give women voting rights; and prohibition campaigns with angry teetotalers storming saloons with axes. Indeed, public relations-like activities were part of all these movements—the making of slogans, the distribution of leaflets and pamphlets, rallies and parades, speeches, and letters to editors of newspapers. And, of course, one always can point to the legendary ballyhoo and excesses of press agentry used by showman P. T. Barnum to lure audiences to his freakish circus attractions. Some push farther back in history to argue that edicts published and publicized in ancient Egypt and Rome to gain the compliance of those living outside the cities were public relations campaigns, as were the successful efforts to marshal support for the Crusades aimed at reclaiming the Holy Land between the eleventh and fourteenth centuries.

It makes sense, however, to chronicle the history of modern public relations from the time when the actual phrase "public relations" was coined and came into sufficient usage that people knew what it meant. The clearest example of the movement of the term into the mainstream language was in 1908 when Theodore Vail, president of the American Telephone & Telegraph Co. (AT&T), titled the annual report of the firm Public Relations. Edward L. Bernays, in his book Public Relations (1952), said Vail was concerned that the company engage honestly and competently in practices that would pay a fair return to investors, thus assuring that there would be no basis for conflict between the company and its most important public.

Bernays, for his part, coined the term "public relations counsel" in the 1920s to describe a person such as himself who was more than a "press agent" disseminating press releases to the news media. The term "press agent" better described Ivy Lee, who in the early 1900s set up a "press bureau" to supply news that would provide publicity on the positions of coal mine owners during a series of bitter strikes against them by miners. In his Declaration of Principles, Lee laid the foundation for modern public relations by declaring certain principles. Among them was the concept that queries should be responded to promptly, that the information provided be complete and accurate, that business leaders should be open and honest with the press and the public, and that the press bureau was not to perform any of the functions of an advertising agency. Lee is probably most famous for his ability to rehabilitate the public reputation of John D. Rockefeller, Sr., following the bloody suppression of a coal mine strike in Colorado, blamed on Rockefeller. Lee convinced the reclusive Rockefeller to be more visible as a family man and encouraged him to allow more publicity about the millions he was donating to charity, particularly to medical research that would benefit all citizens.

Bernays is referred to as the father of public relations. Born in Vienna in 1891, a nephew of psychologist Sigmund Freud, Bernays served during World War I on the Committee on Public Information—also known as the Creel Committee after chairman George Creel—which developed the notion that mass persuasion could be based on the principles of social science. In 1919, Bernays established a public relations agency, along with Doris E. Fleischman, whom he married in 1922.

Bernays wrote Crystallizing Public Opinion, the first treatise on public relations, in 1923, followed by Propaganda in 1928. His textbook Public Relations was published in 1952. In his books, Bernays argued that publics were not sheep to be herded; they could be persuaded to do only what was in their best interest. He counseled management to let him find out what the public liked about an organization, and then he shaped messages that reinforced these beliefs. "Engineering of consent" was the Bernays approach, meaning that the gradual application of psychological theory would lead from identification with a cause to intensified interest and eventually to the action desired by the client organization.

Bernays lived past the age of one hundred, and he could list more than two hundred clients he had served in virtually every field of endeavor, including retailers, trade associations, big business, hotels, government, public-interest groups, and trade unions. Keenly interested in social welfare, he helped the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and similar organizations. On the other hand, those who consider him a master of "spin" point to gimmicks—like his promotion of cigarette smoking by women, accomplished by placing cigarette-smoking debutantes in New York's Easter Parade.

Colleges and universities began adding public relations to the curricula of journalism schools during the 1950s because corporations were hiring experienced newspaper and magazine reporters and editors to be in-house journalists, writing articles and placing them in the news media. In the 1960s, the growing focus on social responsibility and the consumer movement compelled businesses to switch from one-way message delivery to two-way communication, which meant listening to publics, responding to crises, resolving disputes, and maintaining relationships with key publics. By the 1970s, communication departments at many universities were taking on the role of training public relations professionals, using the tools of social science and preparing graduates to handle much more complicated tasks than publicity and public information.

The role of college preparation was examined in Public Relations Education for the 21st Century: A Port of Entry, the report of the Commission on Public Relations Education (1999). The group— which was comprised of forty-eight of the leading public relations practitioners and educators in the United States—summarized the status of public relations at the dawn of the millennium:

In recent years, public relations professionals have moved toward an emphasis on building and maintaining relationships and on becoming skilled active counselors at management's decision-making table. Driving the latest evolutionary movement are influential social trends: global business operations; mergers, acquisitions and consolidations; the empowerment of public opinion within the global village; segmented, fragmented audiences; the information explosion that has led to uncontrolled, gateless dissemination of messages; increased government regulation and oversight; issues of diversity and multi-culturalism in the workplace, marketplace and town hall, and the introduction of technology, including automation and computerization [pp. 9-10].

Increasingly, the professional recognizes the need for education beyond the baccalaureate to handle this complexity. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, approximately seventy schools offer master's degrees or graduate emphasis in public relations. A handful of universities offer the doctorate in public relations for those seeking careers in academic research.

Who are the people who shaped the public relations profession? The trade publication PR Week assembled a panel of experts to select "The 100 most influential PR people of the 20th century" (1999) The top ten, in order, were judged to be Harold Burson, founder of Burson & Marsteller, the largest public relations agency in the world; Edward L. Bernays; Arthur W. Page of AT&T, considered the first vice-president for public relations in a large corporation; Larry Foster of Johnson & Johnson, a former newspaperman who built that firm's public relations operation and gained fame for steering it through the Tylenol tampering crisis in 1982; Ivy Lee; Daniel Yankelovich, the researcher who developed polling to determine public opinion; John Hill, founder of Hill & Knowlton, a vigorous proponent of research and the first to seek clients overseas; David Drobis, CEO of Ketchum, who has led or served on the boards of most of the influential professional organizations in the industry; Larry Moskowitz of Medialink, who developed the video news release; and Scott Cutlip, the foremost architect of university public relations education, chronicler of the history of the field, and coauthor of a leading public relations textbook. The list indicates the variety of people who constitute the modern profession.

Settings, Structures, and Strategies

The four general settings in the field of public relations are (1) private and public corporations, (2) agencies and freelancers, (3) nonprofits, and (4) educational institutions.

Corporate public relations sometimes goes by the name corporate public affairs or corporate communications. In businesses, the chief public relations officer typically is a vice-president who sits on the management council and who has access to the chief executive officer in order to provide counsel and to receive information about any situation that may necessitate a communication program. As a senior officer of the corporation, he or she participates in planning and policymaking. The corporate public relations staff of anywhere from 5 to 250 people includes media relations specialists, investor relations people, speechwriters, publication directors, and video-conferencing specialists. Larger corporate operations have researchers, librarians, and special events coordinators.

This is not to say that all corporate communication is handled "in-house." Most businesses also use public relations agencies or freelancers to handle special tasks, such as running focus-group interviews, designing corporate brochures, making videos, or running a special community event on behalf of the corporation.

Public relations agencies may be worldwide in scope, with offices in half a dozen or more U.S. cities and as many places abroad. Those agencies often are allied with advertising and marketing groups so that they can provide complete communication services. There also are thousands of one-person agencies—often called John Doe and Associates or Jane Doe and Associates to indicate that the sole practitioner has support from free-lance writers, artists, and photographers. Mediumsize agencies of five to twenty-five persons may specialize in health care, product public relations, sports promotion, retail promotion, entertainment, travel and tourism, or fundraising, to name but a few areas of focus. Often, the principal person in a public relations agency has had prior corporate experience and left the corporate world to set up the agency. And corporations, which prefer and can pay for people with several years of experience, often hire away agency employees who have worked on the accounts of the corporation and are familiar with the company.

Nonprofit organizations have a different culture and usually need professionals with a somewhat different mindset. Most nonprofit organizations—arts organizations, health groups such as the American Cancer Society and Project Hope, environmental groups, consumer organizations, and community improvement associations—have two primary tasks: fundraising to enable the organization to survive, and public information to accomplish the goals of the organization. Public relations specialists working for nonprofit organizations must work constantly on ways to attract financial support and volunteers, as well as on ways to get their stories into the news media at little or no cost.

Educational relations is a burgeoning field, as universities and colleges become more and more competitive for students, for research money, and for public appreciation of the complex roles educational institutions play in society. Whereas universities once satisfied their needs with a small news bureau and perhaps a speechwriter for the president, the top research universities now employ well over one hundred people in marketing, community relations, legislative relations, business relations, fundraising, and sports promotion. Little wonder that on those campuses public relations also is among the fastest-growing undergraduate majors.

Whatever the setting, public relations is now so vital to an organization and so complex in its application that creativity and inspiration—which might have carried the day in another era—are not the hallmarks of the field. Strategic planning is the key. Because public relations is a management function and because practitioners must be able to demonstrate how they support the mission and goals of an organization, practitioners must be able to explain how their tactics support strategic goals and objectives.

Any organization has a broad mission, out of which grow general goals—and goals are achieved by setting specific and measurable objectives. Heads of public relations departments must set communication goals and objectives. A goal might be to increase information-seeking behaviors among mothers concerning the need to have children vaccinated for certain diseases. Out of that goal might grow specific objectives, such as increase by threefold the number of mothers calling an information hotline or requesting a brochure or, in one year, double the number of mothers bringing children to a clinic.

By its nature, then, the public relations function in an organization is one of coordinating the many parts and programs of an organization to assure that internal publics (employees) and external publics (community, consumers, governments, suppliers) receive the needed information.

At a conference sponsored by a public relations professional organization, there are generally one or two large sessions that are attended by everyone and feature a major speaker on a general topic. The rest of the time, attendees meet in their specialized divisions to talk about their special interests: financial public relations, health communication, travel and tourism, or environmental communication and technology. There are generalists in the field, but as in many professions, practitioners tend to gravitate toward specialties.

The tools and techniques used by public relations practitioners to achieve communication objectives are limitless. The list that follows— only a sampling—indicates many of the standard techniques:

  • Prepare a press kit introducing a new product and explaining its uses.
  • Disseminate a statement explaining the position of the organization on a public issue.
  • Prepare the president of the organization to appear on televised public affairs programs.
  • Design a program to encourage employees to volunteer for community organizations.
  • Select a celebrity spokesperson to represent the organization at public events.
  • Write a letter to the editor opposing the views expressed in an editorial of a newspaper.
  • Attend a public hearing to support or oppose a referendum affecting the organization.
  • Design a booth for the county fair to disseminate information about the organization.
  • Participate in a career program at a local high school.
  • Donate products or services to a local homeless shelter.
  • Publicize a program designed by the human resources department to help employees quit smoking.
  • Plan a one hundredth anniversary celebration for the organization.
  • Help raise funds for a new state or regional museum of arts and crafts.
  • Plan a campaign to introduce a new semi-professional sports franchise in the area.
  • Write a crisis communication plan for the organization.
  • Design a "letter to our consumers" advertisement on a controversial issue.
  • Form a coalition with another organization to leverage the public relations power of that group.

Whatever the tools and techniques, it is crucial that public relations practitioners be able to demonstrate they had a reason for selecting the tactics, and that those tactics were able to deliver on the stated objectives. It no longer is sufficient to agree that everyone "felt good" after a public relations program was put in place.

Thus, as in the allied fields of advertising and marketing, research now is of increased importance in public relations. Management wants numbers to prove that programs and departments are performing their functions. One has no hope of winning a Silver Anvil award from the Public Relations Society of America if research was not performed. Judges are instructed to look for evidence that there was formative research before a program was put in place and evaluative research afterward to assess results. And counting the number of "media hits" or news clippings is not enough in the evaluative stage. If a survey of a target public was conducted as part of the initial research, a follow-up survey asking the same questions of the same public is necessary to demonstrate the effect of a communication campaign.

In the past, practitioners had few tools for real research and/or little preparation in performing research. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, public relations textbooks provide guidance on sampling techniques, conducting focus group interviews, and content analysis of messages. To some extent at the undergraduate level, and definitely at the graduate level of education, professionals are trained to do research. Publications such as Guidelines for Setting Measurable Public Relations Objectives (Anderson and Hadley, 1999) enable professionals to track objectives and results so they can be reported to management in a meaningful way. In practice, much research is performed by outside agencies that are hired for that specific purpose.

Maintaining Professional Standards

Professions related to areas such as medicine, accounting, engineering, and law have requirements that include higher education at an accredited institution, passage of an entry exam, certification by a board, and maintenance of credentials through continuing education. Most mass communication professions, including public relations, do not have these requirements. A simple explanation is that many in the field do not believe that rigorous special preparation and absorption of a specific body of knowledge are necessary for most public relations positions, and the public has never demanded the same accountability it desires for doctors and lawyers. Another reason cited by some practitioners is that licensing or credentialing could interfere with the First Amendment rights of freedom of speech that mass communicators hold dear.

Bernays advocated licensing, pleading with professional groups to embrace it. He argued it was necessary in order to bring respect to the field and to prevent charlatans from passing themselves off as public relations counselors. He never got far with his campaign, and some said he was not the best proponent for licensing, given some of the dubious promotions with which he was associated.

While the public and the profession may not see a need for licensing, many feel that public relations may not be a universally trusted profession, and thus some form of credentialing is necessary to help clients and publics recognize which practitioners have education and experience in the field.

Some employers favor hiring practitioners who have a college degree in journalism, communication, or business and have taken courses teaching public relations skills. And some employers also favor hiring practitioners who have joined one or more of the several professional organizations in the field. However, considering that as many as half a million Americans work in public relations—or in public relations-like activities—and the combined membership of the major professional organizations is about fifty thousand, many in the field do not feel association is necessary.

The two largest groups based in the United States are the Public Relations Association of America (PRSA), which has nearly twenty thousand members, and the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC), with nearly fourteen thousand members. There is some overlap in membership. In the 1980s, the two groups came close to merging, but the effort to create one dominant professional association foundered over issues of focus and identity.

Both organizations offer accreditation to professionals who take a day-long examination of their skills and knowledge. PRSA confers the distinction of APR (i.e., Accredited in Public Relations), and IABC awards the distinction of ABC (i.e., Accredited Business Communicator). Recipients of the designation usually identify themselves as John Doe, APR, or Jane Doe, ABC. Accreditation is not required of PRSA or IABC members, and it is most popular with counselors in small agencies who want the designation for their business cards. Some corporations automatically grant a raise to a public relations employee who achieves accreditation.

Examples of other organizations include the International Public Relations Association (IPRA), the Canadian Public Relations Society (CPRS), the Council of Communication Management (CCM), which caters to managers and consultants, and the Arthur W. Page Society, serving the needs of top public relations practitioners such as large agency heads and corporate vice-presidents of public affairs. There are organizations for many specialized fields, such as agricultural public relations and investor relations. All such groups enable practitioners to network, to benchmark with other organizations, and to enhance their skills and abilities. They accomplish this through publications, conferences, workshops, and award programs.

The field of public relations also benefits from a growing body of knowledge coming out of academia, and scholars are visible in the leading professional organizations. Foundations sponsored by both PRSA and IABC, along with the independent Institute for Public Relations (IPR), provide grants for campus-based research on public relations topics.

A study by three public relations scholars, titled "Influential Authors and Works of the Public Relations Scholarly Literature" (Pasadeos, Renfro, and Hanily, 1999), revealed that, unlike other disciplines, public relations is typified by a concentration of scholars, institutions, and topics. During the five-year period studied, James E. Grunig of the University of Maryland was by far the most cited scholar, and his coauthored textbook Managing Public Relations (Grunig and Hunt, 1984) was the most cited work in the field. The book Excellence in Public Relations and Communication Management (1992), edited by Grunig, has been heavily cited in the field, as has his theory-building work with Larissa S. Grunig.

The most heavily cited serial publications in the public relations literature, according to the study by Yorgo Pasadeos and colleagues (1999), are Public Relations Review, followed by Journalism Quarterly, Journal of Public Relations Research, Public Relations Journal, and Public Relations Quarterly. All continue to be leading journals in the field, except Public Relations Journal, which has been supplanted by other PRSA publications. Grunig was founding editor of the Journal of Public Relations Research, which is published in cooperation with the Public Relations Division of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC). The scholars whose work is often cited—and who also are active in academic and professional organ-izations—include Glenn Broom, David Dozier, and Martha Lauzen of San Diego State University, whose work on public relations roles has been heavily cited and is the center of a major cluster of research. Robert Heath of the University of Houston had the largest number of published articles during the period of the 1999 study. He is the author of Strategic Issues Management (1997) and coauthor (with Richard Alan Nelson of Louisiana State University) of Issues Management: Corporate Public Policy Making in an Information Society (1986). Larissa Grunig, in addition to her theory-building work, is a leading authority on gender issues and research methods. Elizabeth Lance Toth of Syracuse University and Carolyn Garrett Cline of the University of Southern California are the editors of Beyond the Velvet Ghetto, an examination of women in the field of public relations. Judy Van Slyke Turk is the author of diverse articles and has examined the "information subsidy" provided to the news media by public relations practitioners in the form of news releases and videotape. Kathleen Fearn-Banks of the University of Washington is an expert on crisis communication, and Kathleen S. Kelly of the University of Southwestern Louisiana has been honored for her articles and books showing the relationship between public relations and fundraising. Douglass Ann Newsom of Texas Christian University was the first female academic to serve as president of PRSA. Debra Ann Miller of the University of Portland was the first woman of color to serve as PRSA president.

The Centrality of Public Relations

Say "television" or "radio" or "newspaper" or "magazine" or "book," and everyone knows exactly what is being talked about. People watch television, listen to the radio, and read the print media. It is very clear what these items are and what they do. Say advertising, and everyone has a clear idea of what that is: the paid messages encountered in the mass media—the main reason the media are free or cheap, because advertising is paying the bill.

Say public relations, however, and perhaps people are not so sure. It cannot be touched or felt. Most people cannot explain its role and purpose readily. So, does that mean it is a marginal form of mass communication? Hardly. Public relations plays a central role in much that occurs in the arena of mass communication. It is just that public relations often works best when its role is not apparent. Like a giant iceberg, seven-eighths of what goes on in public relations is below the surface in the sea of information we encounter every day.

Just as advertising provides important revenue to the media of mass communication, public relations provides a stream of information from which the media can select. Why did the local newspaper cover the grand opening of a new supermarket? Because a public relations agency hired a celebrity to cut the ribbon, and it informed the media that the celebrity would be available for interviews afterward. Why is a university professor appearing on a televised public affairs broadcast? Because the news service of the university included a profile of her and her area of expertise on a website where broadcast producers can find expert sources. Why is a town meeting on preventing crime being held at the high school auditorium? Because the mayor's public information department, aided by funds from the public relations departments of area businesses, has put the evening together and promoted it in the news media.

Professionals in allied fields often misunderstand the function of public relations and how it relates to their jobs. Certainly, publishers and broadcast executives understand the benefits of the "information subsidy" their enterprises receive when someone else foots the bill for pictures, text, and access to interview subjects. But reporters and editors may not appreciate the role of public relations in providing the raw material with which they work. That means public relations practitioners must be able to "pitch" their stories so the journalist sees the value of the information and feels aided in informing the public rather than pressured or annoyed into using material.

Similarly, advertising and marketing people are often not clear about what public relations people are doing. In an age when "integrated communication" is seen as necessary so that organizations speak with one voice and so that every message we see about a product or idea is consistent with other messages, public relations people need to work closely with the allied fields. One controversy that exists in the persuasive professions is whether advertising, marketing, or public relations people have the overarching perspective that makes them most central to a communication enterprise. Large public relations agencies either represent themselves as being "full service" or can tell clients they are associated with an advertising agency that handles creative work and media placement.

More and more public relations practitioners must take a global perspective because so many activities and enterprises have become international in scope. Most corporations do business abroad, so most large public relations agencies either have offices in major world capitals or they partner with local agencies in other countries. Even educational and nonprofit practitioners find themselves spanning national boundaries. Rescue and relief agencies in the United States regularly help other nations, and their fundraising is international. Educational institutions have exchange programs and distance education arrangements with universities in other countries.

The number one global priority for public relations practitioners in the twenty-first century is maintaining and strengthening support for the profession in the face of questions about the methods and the ethics of "PR"—the belief that if something is "just PR" it is not truthful communication. Counselor Chester Burger (1998) told professionals:

Perhaps too many of our corporate messages are being framed in exactly the same way they were presented a quarter-century ago. We seem to pretend that the cynicism and changed values of a new generation don't exist.… If public relations advocacy is to be effective and persuasive, our messages should be quiet and civil, not angry and adversarial. And, in the age of the Internet, we must be ready to respond instantly.

Similar to lawyers, public relations practitioners are counselors and advocates. And, similar to lawyers, they must work hard to earn respect for their profession.

See also:Advertising Effects; Organizational Communication; Organizational Communication, Careers in; Public Relations, Careers in.


Anderson, Forrest W., and Hadley, Linda. (1999). Guidelines for Setting Measurable Public Relations Objectives. Gainesville, FL: The Institute for Public Relations.

Bernays, Edward L. (1923). Crystallizing Public Opinion. New York: Liveright.

Bernays, Edward L. (1928). Propaganda. New York:Liveright.

Bernays, Edward L. (1952). Public Relations. Norman:University of Oklahoma Press.

Burger, Chester. (1998). "A Discussion of Truth and Credibility in an Era of Disbelief." Institute for Public Relations Distinguished Lecture, New York, Dec. 2.

Commission on Public Relations Education. (1999). Public Relations Education for the 21st Century: A Port of Entry. New York: Public Relations Society of America.

Cutlip, Scott M., and Center, Allen H. (1978). Effective Public Relations, 5th edition. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Grunig, James E., ed. (1992). Excellence in Public Relations and Communication Management. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Grunig, James E., and Hunt, Todd. (1984). Managing Public Relations. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

Heath, Robert L. (1997). Strategic Issues Management. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage Publications.

Heath, Robert L., and Nelson, Richard A. (1986). Issues Management: Corporate Public Policy Making in an Information Society. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage Publications.

Lesly, Philip, ed. (1998). Lesly's Handbook of Public Relations and Communications, 5th edition. Chicago: Probus.

"The 100 Most Influential PR People of the 20th Century." (1999). PR Week, Oct. 18, p. 26.

Pasadeos, Yorgo; Renfro, R. Bruce; and Hanily, Mary Lynn. (1999). "Influential Authors and Works of the Public Relations Scholarly Literature: A Network of Recent Research." Journal of Public Relations Research 11(1):29-52.

"Would You Ever Recommend that Your Son or Daughter Pursue a Career in PR?" (1999). PR Week, Nov. 1, p. 12.

Todd Hunt

Public Relations

views updated May 21 2018

Public Relations

Public relations describes the various methods a company uses to disseminate messages about its products, services, or overall image to its customers, employees, stockholders, suppliers, or other interested members of the community. The point of public relations is to make the public think favorably about the company and its offerings. Commonly used tools of public relations include news releases, press conferences, speaking engagements, and community service programs.

Although advertising is closely related to public relationsas it too is concerned with promoting and gaining public acceptance for the company's productsthe goal of advertising is generating sales, while the goal of public relations is generating good will. The effect of good public relations is to lessen the gap between how an organization sees itself and how others outside the organization perceive it.

Public relations involves two-way communication between an organization and its public. It requires listening to the constituencies on which an organization depends as well as analyzing and understanding the attitudes and behaviors of those audiences. Only then can an organization undertake an effective public relations campaign.

Many small business owners elect to handle the public relations activities for their own companies, while others choose to hire a public relations specialist. Managers of somewhat larger firms, on the other hand, frequently contract with external public relations or advertising agencies to enhance their corporate image. But whatever option is chosen, the head of a company is ultimately responsible for its public relations.


Some of the main goals of public relations are to create, maintain, and protect the organization's reputation, enhance its prestige, and present a favorable image. Studies have shown that consumers often base their purchase decisions on a company's reputation, so public relations can have a definite impact on sales and revenue. Public relations can be an effective part of a company's overall marketing strategy. In the case of a for-profit company, public relations and marketing should be coordinated to be sure they are working to achieve the same objectives.

Another major public relations goal is to create good will for the organization. This involves such functions as employee relations, stockholder and investor relations, media relations, and community relations. Public relations may function to educate certain audiences about many things relevant to the organizationincluding the business in general, new legislation, and how to use a particular productas well as to overcome misconceptions and prejudices. For example, a nonprofit organization may attempt to educate the public regarding a certain point of view, while trade associations may undertake educational programs regarding particular industries and their products and practices.


Effective public relations requires a knowledge, based on analysis and understanding, of all the factors that influence public attitudes toward the organization. While a specific public relations project or campaign may be undertaken proactively or reactively (to manage some sort of image crisis), the first basic step in either case involves analysis and research to identify all the relevant factors of the situation. In this first step, the organization gains an understanding of its various constituencies and the key factors that are influencing their perceptions of the organization.

In the second step, the organization establishes an overall policy with respect to the campaign. This involves defining goals and desired outcomes, as well as the constraints under which the campaign will operate. It is necessary to establish such policy guidelines in order to evaluate proposed strategies and tactics as well as the overall success of the campaign.

In step three, the organization outlines its strategies and tactics. Using its knowledge of the target audiences and its own established policies, the organization develops specific programs to achieve the desired objectives. Step four involves actual communication with the targeted public. The organization then employs specific public relations techniques, such as press conferences or special events, to reach the intended audience.

Finally, in step five the organization receives feedback from its public. How have they reacted to the public relations campaign? Are there some unexpected developments? In the final step, the organization assesses the program and makes any necessary adjustments.


Public relations is a multifaceted activity involving different audiences as well as different types of organizations, all with different goals and objectives. As a result, there are several specific areas of public relations.

Product Public Relations

Public relations and marketing work together closely when it comes to promoting a new or existing product or service. Public relations plays an important role in new product introductions by creating awareness, differentiating the product from other similar products, and even changing consumer behavior. Public relations can help introduce new products through staging a variety of special events and handling sensitive situations. For example, when the Prince Matchabelli division of Chesebrough-Pond's USA introduced a new men's cologne, there were twenty-one other men's fragrances being introduced that year. To differentiate its new offering, called Hero, Prince Matchabelli created a National Hero Awards Program honoring authentic male heroes and enlisted the participation of Big Brothers/Big Sisters of America to lend credibility to the program. Similarly, when Coleco introduced its Cabbage Patch Kids dolls, public relations helped increase awareness through licensed tie-in products, trade show exhibits, press parties, and even window displays in Cartier jewelry stores.

Public relations is often called on to give existing products and services a boost by creating or renewing visibility. For example, the California Raisins Advisory Board organized a national tour featuring live performances by the California Dancing Raisins to maintain interest in raisins during a summer-long advertising hiatus. The tour generated national and local publicity through media events, advance publicity, trade promotions, and media interviews with performer Ray Charles. Other public relations programs for existing products involve stimulating secondary demandas when Campbell Soup Co. increased overall demand for soup by publishing a recipe bookletor identifying new uses for the product. Public relations can interest the media in familiar products and services in a number of ways, including holding seminars for journalists, staging a special media day, and supplying the media with printed materials ranging from "backgrounders" (in-depth news releases) to booklets and brochures. Changes in existing products offer additional public relations opportunities to focus consumers' attention. An effective public relations campaign can help to properly position a product and overcome negative perceptions on the part of the general public.

Employee Relations

Employees are one of the more important audiences a company has, and an ongoing public relations program is necessary to maintain employee good will as well as to uphold the company's image and reputation among its employees. The essence of a good employee relations program is keeping employees informed and providing them with channels of communication to upper levels of management. Bechtel Group, a privately held complex of operating companies, published an annual report for its employees to keep them informed about the company's operations. The company used surveys to determine what information employees considered useful. A range of other communication devices were used, including a monthly tabloid and magazine, a quarterly video magazine, local newsletters, bulletin boards, a call-in telephone service, and "brown bag" lunches where live presentations were made about the company. Suggestion systems are another effective way to improve employee-management communications.

Other public relations programs focusing on employees include training them as company public relations representatives; explaining benefits programs to them; offering them educational, volunteer, and citizenship opportunities; and staging special events such as picnics or open houses for them. Other programs can improve performance and increase employee pride and motivation. Public relations can also play a role in recruiting new employees; handling reorganizations, relocations, and mergers; and resolving labor disputes.

Financial Relations

Financial relations involves communicating not only with a company's stockholders, but also with the wider community of financial analysts and potential investors. An effective investor relations plan can increase the value of a company's stock and make it easier to raise additional capital. In some cases special meetings with financial analysts are necessary to overcome adverse publicity, negative perceptions about a company, or investor indifference. Such meetings may take the form of full-day briefings, formal presentations, or luncheon meetings. A tour of a company's facilities may help generate interest among the financial community. Mailings and ongoing communications can help a company achieve visibility among potential investors and financial analysts.

Annual reports and stockholder meetings are the two most important public relations tools for maintaining good investor relations. Some companies hold regional or quarterly meetings in addition to the usual annual meeting. Other companies reach more stockholders by moving the location of their annual meeting from city to city. Annual reports can be complemented by quarterly reports and dividend check inserts. Companies that wish to provide additional communications with stockholders may send them a newsletter or company magazine. Personal letters to new stockholders and a quick response to inquiries insure an additional measure of good will.

Community Relations

A comprehensive, ongoing community relations program can help virtually any organization achieve visibility as a good community citizen and gain the good will of the community in which it operates. Banks, utilities, radio and television stations, and major retailers are some of the types of organizations most likely to have ongoing programs that might include supporting urban renewal, performing arts programs, social and educational programs, children's programs, community organizations, and construction projects. On a more limited scale, small businesses may achieve community visibility by sponsoring local sports teams or other events. Support may be financial or take the form of employee participation.

Organizations have the opportunity to improve good will and demonstrate a commitment to their communities when they open new offices, expand facilities, and open new factories. One company increased community awareness of its presence by converting a vacant building into a permanent meeting place. Another company built its new headquarters in an abandoned high school that it renovated. One of the more sensitive areas of community relations involves plant closings. A well-planned public relations campaign, combined with appropriate actions, can alleviate the tensions that such closings cause. Some elements of such a campaign might include offering special programs to laid-off workers, informing employees directly about proposed closings, and controlling rumors through candid and direct communications to the community and employees.

Organizations conduct a variety of special programs to improve community relations, including providing employee volunteers to work on community projects, sponsoring educational and literacy programs, staging open houses and conducting plant tours, celebrating anniversaries, and mounting special exhibits. Organizations are recognized as good community citizens when they support programs that improve the quality of life in their community, including crime prevention, employment, environmental programs, clean-up and beautification, recycling, and restoration.

Crisis Communications

Public relations practitioners become heavily involved in crisis communications whenever there is a major accident or natural disaster affecting an organization and its community. Other types of crises involve bankruptcy, product failures, and management wrongdoing. In some cases, crises call for an organization to become involved in helping potential victims; in other cases, the crisis may require rebuilding an organization's image. In any case, experts recommend that business owners prepare a plan in advance to deal with potential crises in an honest and forthright manner. The main objective of such a plan is to provide accurate information quickly in order to reduce uncertainty. After the San Francisco earthquake of 1989, for example, the Bank of America utilized its public relations department to quickly establish communications with customers, the financial community, the media, and offices in 45 countries to assure them the bank was still operating.

Government and Political Relations

Public relations in the political arena covers a wide range of activities, including staging debates, holding seminars for government leaders, influencing proposed legislation, and testifying before a congressional committee. Political candidates engage in public relations, as do government agencies at the federal, state, and local levels.

Trade associations and other types of organizations attempt to block unfavorable legislation and support favorable legislation in a number of ways. The liquor industry in California helped defeat a proposed tax increase by taking charge of the debate early, winning endorsements, recruiting spokespersons, and cultivating grassroots support. A speakers bureau trained some 240 industry volunteers, and key messages were communicated to the public through printed materials and radio and television commercials.

Public Relations in the Public Interest

Organizations attempt to generate good will and position themselves as responsible citizens through a variety of programs conducted in the public interest. Some examples are environmental programs (including water and energy conservation) and antipollution programs. Health and medical programs are sponsored by a wide range of nonprofit organizations, healthcare providers, and other businesses and industries. These range from encouraging other companies to develop AIDS-in-the-workplace policies to the American Cancer Society's Great American Smokeout. Other programs offer political education, leadership and self-improvement, recreational activities, contests, and safety instruction.

Consumer Education

Organizations have undertaken a variety of programs to educate consumers, building good will and helping avoid misunderstandings in the process. Opportunities for educating consumers might include sponsoring television and radio programs, producing manuals and other printed materials, producing materials for classroom use, and releasing the results of surveys. In addition to focusing on specific issues or industries, educational programs may seek to inform consumers about economic matters and business in general.

Other Public Relations Programs

Other types of programs that fall under the umbrella of public relations include corporate identity programs, ranging from name changes and new trademarks to changing a company's overall image. Special events may be held to call attention to an organization and focus the public's good will. These include anniversary celebrations, events related to trade shows, special exhibits, or fairs and festivals. Speakers bureaus and celebrity spokespersons are effective public relations tools for communicating an organization's point of view. Speakers bureaus may be organized by a trade association or an individual company. The face-to-face communication that speakers can deliver is often more effective than messages carried by printed materials, especially when the target audience is small and clearly defined.


Like other types of organizations, small businesses can benefit from public relations in terms of their relationships with customers, employees, investors, suppliers, or other interested members of the community. Since small business owners are the most visible representatives of their own companies, they frequently handle many of the public relations functions in person. If the activity is principally associated with public appearances and participation in public events, the owner's natural abilities will be to the fore. But if a campaign needs to be launched, and funds are available, professional help may well be needed.

Effective PR professionals will be, above all, knowledgeable about press relations. For on-going and routine assistance, the small business is well served by engaging the services of an experienced free-lance writer with an extensive journalism background now specializing in helping companies "tell their story." Such individuals, very often one-person operations, have wide contacts and know not only how to prepare but also how to get materials placed with the right media. If a large campaign looms ahead, such consultants are also the ideal contact for selecting the right firm for a major campaign.

While communication is the essence of public relations, an effective public relations campaign is based on action as well as words. Whether it is practiced formally or informally, public relations is an essential function for the survival of any organization. Small business owners cannot afford to neglect public relations. But lavish parties and gifts are not necessaryit is possible to vastly improve a small business's image within its community while also controlling public relations expenditures. Sponsoring a local softball team, speaking at a chamber of commerce meeting, and volunteering at a neighborhood clean-up are among the wide variety of public relations activities readily available to small businesses.

see also Community Relations; Press Kits; Press Releases


Harrison, Sheena. "Spend, Target Ad Dollars Wisely." Crain's Detroit Business. 16 January 2006.

Newsom, Doug, and Jim Haynes. Public Relations Writing. Thomson Wadsworth, 2005.

Nucifora, Alf. "Small Businesses Need Positive PR." Dallas Business Journal. 19 May 2000.

"Opinion: Big firm versus small is not PR's most compelling battle." PR Week. 24 April 2006.

Treadwell, Donald, and Jill B. Treadwell. Public Relations Writing: Principles in Practice. Sage Publications, 2005.

                                   Hillstrom, Northern Lights

                                    updated by Magee, ECDI

Public Relations

views updated Jun 11 2018


Public relations as a profession developed in the 20th century, mainly in the U.S. Until the beginning of the 20th century public relations was a refined form of propaganda employed almost exclusively to defend a movement, cause, or individual or institution, regardless of merit or social significance. Among the first Jews in the field were Moses Lindo of South Carolina, who made skillful use of publicity to promote the export of American indigo in the years before the Revolution, and Henry Castro, a French Jew who publicized Texas among European Jews in 1844 as an agent of the Republic of Texas. Henry Zeltner was a U.S. government press agent in New York City during and after the 1863 draft riots. Twenty years later his son, Louis, served as publicity man for Theodore Roosevelt when he was police commissioner of New York City. The country's first financial publicity agency was founded by Albert Frank in 1872 to obtain free newspaper space for stockbrokers. Rudolph Guenther set up a similar agency in 1892, and later the Albert Frank-Guenther law firm became the leading financial publicity organization. Gus J. Karger (1866–1924), a vice president of the firm, was the press chief of William Howard Taft's 1908 presidential campaign and director of the Republican Party's press bureau in the 1912 presidential election.

Modern public relations took shape during World War i with the formation of the U.S. Committee on Public Information. This first organized use of all the tools and techniques of publicity as an offensive measure for mobilizing the power of mass opinion demonstrated to business, industry, government, and private institutions the value of public relations. This committee was the training ground for two young men, Carl Byoir (1888–1957) and Edward L. *Bernays, who became major forces in raising public relations to a profession. Byoir helped distribute 40,000,000 of the famous red, white, and blue texts on war aims abroad, publicized the draft, interpreted American war objectives throughout the world, and was on Woodrow Wilson's press staff at the Versailles Peace Conference. He also served as public relations adviser to Thomas G. *Masaryk, first president of Czechoslovakia. He was the originator of the Franklin D. Roosevelt birthday balls that raised millions for polio victims and led to the establishment of the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis.

It was Bernays who coined the term "public relations counselor" and gave the profession its first code and set of principles. He also wrote the first book on the subject, Crystallizing Public Opinion, in 1923, and taught the first college course in public relations at New York University in 1930. Before his retirement in the late 1950s, Bernays represented some of the nation's largest corporations and newspapers as well as government agencies and social and health organizations.

The Europe of World War i was also the training ground for Benjamin Sonnenberg (1901– ), who began his flamboyant career as a writer of publicity stories for the *American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. He launched his own firm in 1924 and became a highly successful adviser to corporations, entertainment and literary personalities, and big businessmen. George Weissman (1919–1978), who rose from public relations director to president of the Philip Morris Co., learned the art in the Sonnenberg office. Out of the Byoir firm came Kalman Druck, later head of his own firm, and Edward Gottlieb. Druck was one of the key figures in uniting the Public Relations Society of America and the American Public Relations Association (aprsa) into a single professional organization. He headed the committee that developed the system for accrediting practitioners. Gottlieb, famed for coining the permanent-wave slogan "Which twin has the Toni?" was responsible for popularizing French champagne in the U.S.

Public Relations in Entertainment and Sport

In the 1920s and 1930s, most Jews in public relations were not in industry but in the world of entertainment, in the film industry. One of the earliest motion picture press agents was Mike Newman, promotion director for Columbia Pictures, who made Mary Pickford an international celebrity. Howard Dietz was the publicity agent who in 1917 devised Leo the Lion as the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer trademark. He spread the malapropisms of Samuel *Goldwyn for many years before becoming press chief for *Loew's. Another film public relations pioneer was Charles Einfeld (1901–1974) of Warner Bros. Studios, who trained scores of people in motion picture promotion. He introduced the movie trailer and the premiere junket. Harry Reichenbach was an outstanding press agent from 1915 to 1930, as was Irving Strouse in the 1930s. Bernard Sobol was the man who made Flo *Ziegfeld's Follies a national institution before World War ii. Sydney Eiges and Sid Garfield were publicity chiefs for the National Broadcasting Company and Columbia Broadcasting System respectively. Many of the leading stage and movie personalities were represented by Henry C. Rogers of Hollywood. The public relations resourcefulness of Henry Meyer converted Miami Beach from a winter playground for the rich to a year-round resort for people of modest means. The bathing beauty contests that became internationally famous were Meyer's brain children. Hal Cohen, Meyer's successor, built up the Florida resort even more.

Many of the best-known professional sports enterprises had Jewish public relations directors. Haskell Cohen was the public relations chief of the National Basketball Association. Robert Fishel and Harold Weisman were the public relations directors of the New York Yankees and the New York Mets respectively. Joe Goldstein, who promoted Roosevelt Raceway, began as a publicity man at the old Madison Square Garden. Irving Rudd, who handled public relations at Yonkers Raceway, grew up in small-time boxing club publicity. Harry Markson was for years the public relations man for Mike Jacobs, the leading fight promoter of Madison Square Garden. Joe Reichler handled public relations for the Baseball Commissioner of America.

Public Relations in Politics and Public Affairs

Events flowing from the depression of the 1930s and the New Deal, and later from World War ii, were responsible for the immense expansion of public and private public relations in which Jews came to play an increasingly significant role. Charles Michelson (1869–1947), brother of the scientist Albert A. *Michelson, who became press director of the Democratic National Committee in 1929, was the ablest political publicist of his time. Mike Straus, who went to Washington with the New Deal, was the highly effective public relations director of the Department of the Interior under Harold C. Ickes.

One of the founders of the American College Public Relations Association in 1917 was Bernard Sobel, information director of Purdue University. An early president of this oldest organized group of publicists was Louis Boochever, public relations director of Cornell University in the 1920s, and later national public relations director of the American Red Cross. George Hecht, publisher of Parents Magazine, was the founder in 1919 of Better Times, the first publication to publicize social work. Six years later he established the Social Legislation Information Service as a public relations lobby. Louis Resnick (1892–1941), for 15 years public relations director of the National Society for the Prevention of Blindness, set many of the standards used in social welfare publicity during his years as information director of the National Safety Council. In 1935 he became the first information director of the newly established U.S. Social Security Administration. Harold Levy, for many years on the staff of the Russell Sage Foundation, was one of the pioneers of social work publicity. Irving Rimer was the third executive director of the National Public Relations Council on Health and Welfare, and his successor was Harold Weiner. Rimer later became public relations director of the American Cancer Society. Sol Lifson was for a long time director of public information for the National Tuberculosis and Respiratory Diseases Association. Another pioneer in social work publicity was Viola Paradis, who headed public relations for the *National Council of Jewish Women. Bernard Roloff introduced the "crusade for mercy" theme as public relations director of the United Fund for Chicago, one of the largest community chests. Victor Weingarten made the Child Welfare League widely known. From 1923 to 1936 Herbert Seligman was public relations director of the National Association of Colored People, and Frances Adlerstein directed public relations for the Travelers Aid Association.

Anna *Rosenberg, who served as assistant secretary of defense under President Truman, later became a highly successful public relations expert for big business. When he retired from newspaper work, Herbert Bayard *Swope, the renowned managing editor of the New York World, was public relations adviser to Bernard M. *Baruch and to many government agencies and business firms. In the 1950s, Sydney S. Baron was the publicity director of Tammany Hall. The cio Political Action Committee's public relations director was Allan Reitman, and David B. Charney had the same post with the International Teamsters' Union. Frank Mankiewicz was the press director for Senator Robert F. Kennedy, and held the same post in the unsuccessful effort of Senator George McGovern to win the 1968 Democratic presidential nomination.

Public Relations in the Jewish Community

The rise of the public relations man in Jewish communal life was a post-World War i phenomenon directly attributable to major events and developments in Jewish history. The relief campaigns on behalf of war-stricken European Jewry, the struggles against the antisemitism of Henry Ford and the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s, the growth of national membership organizations and Jewish federations, the building-fund campaigns for synagogues, Jewish community centers, old folks homes and institutions of Jewish higher learning, the fight against Nazism, and the dramatic efforts to establish the State of Israel, all called between 1917 and 1948 for the unprecedented mobilization of Jewish public opinion as well as the winning of support from the general population.

The first public relations bureau serving the Jewish community was formed in 1919 by Louis Popkin (1894–1943) and his wife Zelda (née Feinberg). A reporter on the American Hebrew, Popkin had been drafted in 1914 to handle publicity for the newly-organized American Joint Distribution Committee. In 1917 he took on the same job for the wartime National Jewish Welfare Board. After the war the Popkin established Planned Publicity Service, which did public relations for a number of Jewish organizations. Their first assignment was the drafting of the cable to Woodrow Wilson at the Versailles Peace Conference asking for the protection of Jewish rights. For the New York Federation of Jewish Philanthropies they set up the first organized permanent public relations department in any Jewish agency. In 1922 Abraham H. Fromenson (1874–1935), editor of the English page of the Yiddish-language daily, the Tageblatt, who had been publicity head of the Zionist Organization of America when Louis D. *Brandeis controlled it, joined the Popkin firm, which trained many of the people who later became the first public relations directors of major Jewish organizations. David A. Brown, the Detroit business executive who turned into the leading Jewish fund-raiser of the 1920s and 1930s, pioneered many of the public relations techniques on which later public relations experts built.

As public relations chief of the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies from 1934 to 1945, Elliott Cohen, founder of *Commentary, introduced to the field of public relations people of professional competence and familiarity with Jewish life and traditions, who were able to interpret health and welfare with intelligence, style, and clarity. He established the high standards of production and art that set the pattern of fund-raising literature for the whole Jewish community. One of Cohen's predecessors was Isidore Sobeloff (1899– ), who went on to become a Federation executive in Detroit and Los Angeles.

Henry *Montor (1905–1982) became publicity director of the United Palestine Appeal in 1931, and was a genius in persuading American Jewish communities to provide unprecedented sums for Palestine by the use for the first time of all the tools and techniques of modern public relations. In 1939, when the jdc and upa joined forces in the United Jewish Appeal, Montor was elevated to national campaign director. He and his successor, Meyer Steinglass, broke new ground by running full-page advertisements in the daily press and using radio for campaign publicity. When Montor left uja to assume direction of the Bonds for Israel campaign, Steinglass went with him as public relations director. Raphael Levy and Ben Hanft (d. 1985), Steinglass' successors at uja extended their methods to television and films.

The public relations techniques first tested by uja and Bonds for Israel were adapted with some modifications but equal success by the American offices of Israel organizations as well by virtually every other national Jewish agency. The American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, and the American Jewish Congress varied in approach and emphasis, but they all saw public relations as a significant element of their overall educational role in bringing to public attention the nature of prejudice, the evils of antisemitism and bigotry, and the importance of understanding among men of all races and ethnic groups.

A unique public relations instrument created by the Jews of America was the Jewish Welfare Board Public Relations Committee, formed during World War ii by the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Congress, the Jewish War Veterans, and the Jewish Labor Committee. This combined operation developed within the Jewish community an understanding of the war issues, and built up support for a program of religious and morale services to Jewish military personnel.

Through public relations of the most dignified character, the Jewish Theological Seminary of America helped establish Judaism as one of the major religious traditions in America. The Seminary's radio and tv program, "The Eternal Light," was a highly effective public relations instrument. Skilled public relations played significant roles in the expansion of Yeshiva University, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Brandeis University, the growth of mass Jewish membership organizations such as Hadassah and B'nai B'rith, and the raising of hundreds of millions of dollars for new synagogues, community centers, hospitals, and other communal institutions.

By 1940 there were enough people professionally employed as public relations specialists by Jewish organizations to warrant the organization of the Jewish Publicity Directors Council. In 1956 this was reorganized as the American Jewish Public Relations Society. In 1968 it was estimated that more than 500 people were engaged in some phase of public relations for local and national American Jewish organizations and by international Jewish agencies with offices in the U.S. In the 1960s a number of commercial public relations firms headed by Jews were called in as short-or long-term consultants by several Jewish organizations. Ruder and Finn served the Jewish Theological Seminary in this capacity, while Kalman Druck's firm took over full public relations responsibility at uja in 1968. Of the more than 15,000 public relations firms operating in the U.S. in 1968, some twenty percent were reported to be Jewish in ownership or management.

[Bernard Postal]

In the latter years of the 20th century, Howard J. Ruben-stein became one of the most influential public relations practitioners in the country. As an individual and with his firm he represented important political figures, winning recognition as an adviser to Mayor Abraham *Beame of New York City. At the same time, he became close to the governors and successor mayors of New York State and City and he advised politicians of both major parties. Among his clients were such controversial figures as George Steinbrenner, principal owner of the New York Yankees, who was constantly in the news during that time. Other public relations practitioners of note were Richard Manoff, who had many clients in the theater, and Morton Yarmon, who became one of the highest officials in the American Jewish Committee.

[Stewart Kampel (2nd ed.)]

In Israel

The Public Relations Association of Israel was established in 1958 in Tel Aviv as the Public Relations and Tourism Coordinators. Each of the three major cities set up their own organization designed to serve the special interests in that area. Jerusalem members called their organization "The Spokes-men's Circle" and limited membership to government public relations and information officers.

In 1961 it was decided to create a national organization with all three branches maintaining a special autonomous status covered by a new constitution and the national body run by an Executive Committee drawn from all three branches. There are national conventions every year, professional activities on both a local and national scale, and courses either sponsored or controlled by the organization. In 1970 the Israel Association was host to the Fifth Public Relations World Congress. There were over 200 members in the Public Relations Association of Israel.

[Zvi Harry Zinder]

With the introduction of television in Israel in the late 1960s, and the understanding of the power of its images, the role of the media adviser became central in all campaigns geared to a viewing audience, particularly in politics. By the 1990s, leading candidates could be divided into those who understood the medium and those who did not, understanding often coming courtesy of advisers imported from the United States. And as in the United States, though the viewer recognized the artificiality of the presentation, he was often taken in by it in spite of himself. The handling of public relations was also thought to be a central element in the way Israel was perceived around the world in its clashes with the Palestinians. Generally, Israel was given poor marks, for using ineffective spokesmen, failing to have a comprehensive pr plan, and failing to accommodate foreign media representatives. However, some would argue that the management of news and the manipulation of images might not necessarily make Israel a more popular country, for clearly the eagerness with which many attacked Israel might lead one to believe that their views were not necessarily a response to good or bad public relations, not to mention simple facts.

Public Relations

views updated May 29 2018

Public Relations

Public relations (PR) is an important element of a firm's promotional mix or strategy, whereby the firm communicates information to the public with a goal of influencing their attitudes and behavior. The primary purposes of promotion are to inform, persuade, and remind. Many PR activities may be regarded as persuasion-based because the communications are linking the firm with desirable attributes and images. Scholars and social historians often consider PR synonymous with "image management," or less positively with "spin" or "media manipulation."

Although marketing and sales activities commonly have an objective of selling a firm's products, PR efforts are typically focused on enhancing the image of the firm or the entire institution. PR involves a very broad range of activities; thus it can be challenging to find agreement about how the term is best defined. Nevertheless, Denny Griswold, founder of Public Relations News, a leading PR newsletter for publicists and professionals in the PR field, offers a widely accepted definition of PR: "The management function which evaluates public attitudes, identifies the policies and procedures of an individual or an organization with the public interest, and plans and executes a program of action to earn public understanding and acceptance" (Seitel 2001). PR can involve communication through both paid and unpaid means, with PR practitioners communicating on either a personal or non-personal basis with several publics including customers, competitors, the academic community, the government, regulatory authorities, trade associations, special interest groups, the investment community, suppliers and distributors, employees, and the press. PR practitioners perform several functions, including press relations, product publicity, corporate communication, lobbying, employee and investor relations, and crisis management.

Early PR Efforts by the Tobacco Industry

Ivy Lee and Edward Bernays are considered key pioneers of modern public relations. Lee was a former Wall Street reporter who became involved in publicity work in 1903 and formed a PR agency with George Parker in 1904. Lee's clients included the hard coal industry, the Rockefeller family (one of the wealthiest families in the United States, who owned the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company), and the American Tobacco Company. During the mid-1920s, George Washington Hill, president of American Tobacco, sought Lee to direct the firm's PR activities, which included guidance and critical comment about various advertising campaigns. One of Lee's assignments was to improve relations with those possessing candy and sugar interests. Relations had become strained due to an effective Lucky Strike advertising campaign that encouraged female consumers to "Reach for a Lucky instead of a sweet." Lee's firm was paid a retainer of $40,000 per year for its efforts, which was a considerable amount at the time.

In 1928, the American Tobacco Company also became a key client of Bernays (he previously worked for Liggett and Myers, the producers of Chesterfields), who was the mastermind of a PR strategy that encouraged women to start smoking cigarettes in public places. A promotional campaign was introduced at the 1929 Easter parade in New York City, in which ten young women, including Ruth Hale (a leading feminist), lit "torches of freedom" as a protest against women's inequality. This freedom march gained front-page exposure in newspapers.

Bernays was assigned the formidable task of altering consumers' perceptions about the color green because internal market research indicated that many women did not hold a favorable view of Lucky Strike's green packaging. In 1934, Bernays was noted for facilitating green as the fashion color of the year by coordinating both a "Green Ball" with New York's socialites and a "Green Fashions Fall Luncheon" with leading fashion editors. The color was omnipresent at both events and supplemented with press releases indicating that green was a symbol of hope, victory (over depression), solitude, and peace. Presentations were given by both a noted art academic on the subject of "green in the work of great artists" and a renowned psychologist on green's psychological connotations. A Color Fashion Bureau was established, and letters and announcements were sent to influential interior decorators, department store managers, home-furnishings buyers, art industry groups, and women's clubs to communicate that green was a color with several virtues. These events were organized by Bernays without other participants knowing the identity of his client.

Hill recognized the importance of PR. Lee and Bernays were simultaneously on the American Tobacco payroll at great expense for a considerable number of years. At first, neither Lee nor Bernays was aware of the duplicity and duplication of many of their efforts for the same company. Interestingly, once Lee and Bernays discovered their concurrent employment, Hill explained, "If I have both of you, my competitors can't get either of you" (Pollay 1990).

The Tobacco Industry Research Committee and the Tobacco Institute

During the early 1950s, scientific and popular articles began to more commonly associate lung cancer with smoking, and smokers became increasingly "health concerned." Several epidemiologic studies linked smoking with lung cancer in the early 1950s and Reader's Digest articles in 1952 and 1953 highlighted the relationship of smoking with cancer. Tobacco firms became increasingly uneasy about the negative publicity, which prompted the industry to hire Hill and Knowlton, a renowned PR firm, in 1953. Recommendations by Hill and Knowlton led to the formation of the New York–based Tobacco Industry Research Committee (TIRC) in 1954. On 4 January 1954, a full-page PR advertisement, using the headline "A Frank Statement to Cigarette Smokers," circulated in 448 newspapers in 258 U.S. cities reaching an estimated readership of more than 43 million, to announce that the TIRC was being established with a mandate of supporting scientific research related to the health effects of tobacco use. The advertisement cast doubt on unfavorable research findings and included the statements: "We [the tobacco industry] accept an interest in people's health as a basic responsibility, paramount to every other consideration in our business. We believe the products we make are not injurious to health. We always have and always will cooperate closely with those whose task it is to safeguard the public health" (Glantz et al.).

The TIRC, renamed the Council for Tobacco Research in 1964, continued to function with the purpose of maintaining uncertainty and "controversy" over the health effects of smoking by maintaining files on experts, carefully monitoring media stories, arranging meetings with key press editors and writers, generating favorable publicity through news releases, and providing grants for scientific research that was reportedly independent. The TIRC put forward arguments that more research was needed before a conclusive link could be made between smoking and cancer, placed an emphasis on people's genetic susceptibility to cancer, speculated which other factors were attributable to lung cancer, claimed that tests on mice were not applicable to humans, and attempted to discredit the existing studies that reached unfavorable conclusions.

The Washington-based Tobacco Institute was established in 1958 to take over lobbying and PR activities, representing its members on matters of common interest pertaining to litigation, politics, and public opinion. By the late 1980s, the annual budget of the Tobacco Institute was estimated to be more than $20 million. The tobacco industry increasingly focused its efforts toward resisting increases in excise taxes, restrictions on indoor smoking, and proposals to ban advertising. The tobacco industry also continued to deny that nicotine was addictive—on 14 April 1997, seven U.S. tobacco executives made an infamous testimony to this effect in U.S. Congress—even though internal research indicated otherwise. The Council for Tobacco Research and the Tobacco Institute were both abolished in accordance with the 1998 U.S. Master Settlement Agreement.

Tobacco PR Consultants Try to Create "Controversy" About Secondhand Smoke

T he tobacco industry continues to use science as a PR tool to resist or forestall proposed bylaws that prohibit smoking in indoor, public settings. Internal tobacco industry documents, which are publicly accessible through various court proceedings, reveal that tobacco firms and their PR consultants have aggressively discredited, undermined, and refuted scientific research findings relating to the health consequences of environmental tobacco smoke exposure. When assessing Philip Morris' PR activities, researchers Elisa Ong and Stanton Glantz said that the firm has "gone beyond 'creating doubt' and 'controversy' about the scientific evidence that demonstrates that active and passive smoking cause disease, to attempting to change the scientific standards of proof" (2001).

Key PR Tools

Tools commonly used by PR practitioners include new product publicity, product placement, Internet websites, and event or "issue" sponsorship. New product publicity involves efforts to generate positive media attention about specific products or services being introduced to the marketplace. During the 1950s, cigarette promotions frequently portrayed newly introduced filtered products as technological breakthroughs and made assertions that were meant to reassure smokers with health concerns. In 1958, for example, Philip Morris organized a press conference at New York's Plaza Hotel to unveil its new "high filtration" Parliament brand. At the conference, a Philip Morris executive described the new filter—coined "Hi-Fi"—as "hospital white" and explained that this was an event of "irrevocable significance." Meanwhile, test tubes bubbled in the hotel foyers and personnel, wearing long white laboratory coats, responded to questions.

In 1964, consumer health concerns were reawakened with the release of the first U.S. Surgeon General's report on smoking and health. The tobacco industry responded by launching several low (machine-measured) yield products, which were supported by promotions implying that they were healthier or less hazardous. During the 1970s, several line extensions of familiar products were introduced, making use of the "Light" product descriptor. In the 2000s, corporate websites of tobacco firms emphasize their efforts to introduce new products that purportedly deliver lower levels of toxins to the smoker, again portraying these products as technological breakthroughs.

PR practitioners may also garner publicity through product placement, which entails efforts to have product exposure during special events or in films, television programming, stage-theater, concerts, and computer games. Philip Morris, for example, had product placement arrangements for the motion pictures Superman II (1980) and License to Kill (1989), and allegedly spent $200,000 to have actor Martin Sheen smoke Marlboro throughout Apocalypse Now (1979). Internal tobacco industry documents also reveal that, in 1983, the Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corporation agreed to pay $500,000 to actor Sylvester Stallone in exchange for him smoking the firm's brands in a minimum of five feature films. Cigarette product placement payments are prohibited in accordance with the 1998 U.S. Master Settlement Agreement, but many tobacco control groups and health practitioners remain concerned about how tobacco use is portrayed in television programming and film.

Using Internet websites, PR initiatives have attempted to "reposition" tobacco corporations such that they are perceived as responsible firms within a controversial industry. One employed strategy involves tobacco firms communicating their support of youth prevention campaigns and youth access laws. The Tobacco Institute's first prominent program related to youth access included distribution of both a booklet titled "Helping Youth Say No" and signs for posting at retail that stated, "It's the Law: We Do Not Sell Tobacco Products to Persons Under 18." The R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company initiated the "Right Decisions, Right Now" program in 1991, procuring actor Danny Glover as a spokesperson. "We Card" is an active industry-initiated program that was established in 1995 under the auspices of the Coalition for Responsible Tobacco Retailing. The self-described mandate of this coalition is to prevent underage tobacco sales in the United States by providing training and education opportunities to owners, managers, and front-line employees of retailers that sell tobacco. Member organizations of this coalition include tobacco firms, retailers, and law enforcement agencies. Philip Morris began publicizing its "Action Against Access" program in 1995 as a complement to "We Card," and in 1998, the firm formed a Youth Smoking Prevention department that has an annual budget of more than $100 million.

Internal tobacco industry documents reveal, however, that the purpose of these programs is to avert or delay regulatory measures and to improve public opinion about tobacco industry marketing practices. These industry-sponsored programs have been ineffective at diminishing youth tobacco use, largely because they portray smoking as an adult activity (thus, framing cigarettes as "forbidden fruit") and emphasize the influential role of peer pressure and parents as role models (meanwhile, omitting discussion about the role of industry marketing practices).

Finally, tobacco firms often become involved in event or "issue" sponsorships to improve the image of both the company and its products through being associated with useful works. Sponsorship objectives are typically distinguishable as either corporation related or product related. In addition to enhancing the company's image, common corporation-related objectives include: 1) increasing public awareness of the company and its services; 2) altering public perception; 3) being involved in the community and having local relevance; 4) building business relations and goodwill; and 5) enhancing employee relations and motivation. Tobacco industry representatives commonly maintain that their sponsorships allow events to be staged that might otherwise be denied, and view sponsorships as an opportunity to be regarded as good corporate citizens. With respect to "issues" sponsorship, Philip Morris ran prominent $100 million promotional campaigns during the late 1990s that communicated the philanthropic and social activism activities of the firm, relating to topics such as feeding the hungry and supporting domestic violence crisis centers. The campaigns did not specify, however, that the money spent toward promoting these efforts considerably exceeded what was actually contributed to those in need.

See Also Advertising; American Tobacco Company; British American Tobacco; Lobbying; Marketing; Philip Morris; Regulation of Tobacco Products in the United States; Sponsorship.



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Drope, Jacqui, and Simon Chapman. "Tobacco Industry Efforts at Discrediting Scientific Knowledge of Environmental Tobacco Smoke: A Review of Internal Industry Documents." Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health 55 (2001): 588–594.

Ewen, Stuart. Captains of Consciousness: Advertising and the Social Roots of the Consumer Culture. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1976.

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Irwin, Richard L., and Makis K. Asimakopoulos. "An Approach to the Evaluation and Selection of Sport Sponsorship Proposals." Sport Marketing Quarterly 1 (1992): 43–51.

Lamb, Charles W., Jr., Joseph F. Hair, Jr., and Carl McDaniel. Marketing, 5th ed. Cincinnati, Ohio: South-Western College Publishing, 2000.

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Public Relations

views updated Jun 11 2018

Public Relations

What It Means

Public relations involves building relationships with the public. For-profit businesses and nonprofit groups rely on public relations to communicate with their customers, investors, suppliers, local communities, and employees. Public relations (or “PR”) helps an organization let the public know who the organization is, what it does and why, and what is important about it.

The goal of public relations is to build support for the organization by giving its audience ways to respond and interact with it. All organizations have reputations to protect and a public image to maintain. For example, when an oil company’s tanker runs ashore and causes damage the environment, the company will then rely on its public relations department to improve its image in the public eye. Public relations is both a science and an art: it involves delivering accurate, consistent, and timely messages as well as conveying the right message to the right audience.

Whether they are major multinational corporations or small businesses, organizations of all sizes rely on public relations. Most large and midsize companies have their own public relations departments. Smaller businesses may employ their own public relations director, integrate public relations activities into the roles of managers, or hire public relations firms or consultants to handle public relations activities.

Public relations is a multifaceted field, involving several different areas of focus. Media relations involves working with the news outlets that cover the organization or industry. Community relations involves participating in the local business community and creating positive attitudes about the organization in the community. This may involve sponsoring local events, such as concerts or athletic events, or supporting public projects, such as park improvements or the construction of a new sports stadium. Government affairs involves communicating with legislators and government groups on behalf of the organization. The financial relations aspect of public relations involves maintaining relationships with regulatory agencies, industry analysts, investors, and shareholders. Internal communications develops the relationship between the organization and its own employees. Trade relations deals with the relationships between the organization and other firms in the industry.

When Did It Begin?

Business and its role in public life developed rapidly in the eighteenth century, and by the early nineteenth century U.S. businesses needed formalized public relations campaigns to help communicate their objectives to the public. Big business was often controversial in the eyes of some groups, and public relations attempted to show business practices in a positive light. Many journalists, skilled at communicating targeted messages to specific audiences, were hired in the new field of public relations.

The first public relations firm was opened in 1904 by Ivy Ledbetter Lee (1877–1934), a former newspaper journalist. Lee began to recognize the power of public relations when he represented coal miners and later a Pennsylvania railroad. He understood how alerting the press of important business events could help the public better understand organizations and their goals.

Edward L. Bernays (1891–1995), the nephew of psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, also played an important role in shaping early public relations through his work with a wide range of organizations. In the early 1900s Bernays was a publicist (someone who handles public relations for an organization) for theater productions in New York City and later helped the U.S. government build public support for World War I. Bernays also developed public relations strategies for such large businesses as soap manufacturer Proctor & Gamble and cigarette manufacturer Lucky Strike. Bernays helped these companies reach the public with special events, customer contests, gallery exhibits, and department-store window displays.

More Detailed Information

Public relations can help an organization meet a range of different goals. It can help a young organization build a presence and establish credibility in its community. It can help an established organization remain aware of what is important to its customers and stakeholders through customer surveys or shareholder meetings. Public relations can also provide the public with educational materials that explain complex products and services. If an organization goes through a significant transition and changes its products, services, or mission, the organization may use a public relations firm to communicate these changes to those who will be affected.

In general, a corporation relies on public relations to help increase its sales through such activities as media events that focus on the development or launch of a new product. Many nonprofit organizations, such as schools, social service agencies, hospitals, and environmental and arts groups, use public relations to develop and convey a certain image of the organization. All nonprofit organizations need to raise money on a regular basis, and their public relations campaigns can help them communicate the organization’s mission and raise funds. Politicians rely heavily on public relations to help them run election campaigns and present their term in office in a positive light. Many public figures in contemporary life, from star athletes to prominent entertainers, rely on public relations to shape the public’s perception of them.

Probably the most important aspect of public relations is interacting with the media. Businesses often put together public relations materials for the media in an organized format called a press kit. A typical press kit provides information on the organization’s history and background; information on its products and services, including such information as technical information and specifications; biographical sketches of the organization’s important leaders or executives; and contact information for those employees at the organization in charge of media communications.

A “media contact” is a person within an organization’s public relations team who takes all initial calls from reporters, writers, and editors. The media contact may set up an interview between the press person and someone within the organization, such as the company president or the developer of a new product. In a large company, the company spokesperson may speak to the media. This person is responsible for speaking intelligently and simply about an organization or a product, what it is, and why it is significant.

When working with the media, public relations professionals may target specific reporters or media outlets. For example, if an organization is developing software for doctors in Detroit, Michigan, the organization’s publicists would involve contacting Detroit newspaper reporters who cover technology and medicine. The organization’s publicists would also contact television and radio stations that have programs on medicine or technology and send press kits to trade magazines and websites related to medicine and technology.

If an organization has specific news to announce, it sends out what is called a press release to the media covering the organization or industry. A written document that is usually no more than two pages long, a press release contains the newsworthy information about the organization, its people, its products, and a specific newsworthy event. The goal of the press release is to present the media with opportunities to write about the organization. Press releases may be created to announce new products, new hires, new partnerships with other firms, funding or awards received, or major sales or results from a finished project.

Businesses often use public relations to tie their product or service to something else that is happening in the news, the community, or the society at large. For example, if a city opens a new park with public tennis courts, a local sports store may contact the city’s newspaper to describe how its tennis equipment can be used at the park’s facilities. Or an education company that creates standardized tests for students may set up a booth at an educational trade fair to communicate with educators about its product.

Recent Trends

An important trend in public relations is presenting information to the public and specific audiences through the Internet and other new technologies, such as satellite feeds. Many companies post their press kits and other public relations material on their websites. Press releases are sent by mass e-mail and may include links to related stories and sound and video clips.

In recent years the public relations industry has relied heavily on opinion polling and focus groups. Opinion polls are surveys conducted by telephone and in-person interviews in which people are asked their opinions about a product, a service, or even a person. Large-scale public campaigns, such as campaigns for the U.S. presidency, rely heavily on such opinion polls. Focus groups help organizations conduct research by presenting small groups of people with a new product or service and asking them questions about it. Generally, focus groups show public relations professionals what their customers’ attitudes and habits are and how their customers react to a product or service. This information can help companies shape their communications about the product or service to their audience.

Public Relations

views updated May 18 2018


Public relations (PR) is a profession that includes the functions of communication, community relations, crisis management, customer relations, employee relations, government affairs, industry relations, investor relations, media relations, mediation, publicity, speechwriting, and visitor relations. The first World Assembly of Public Relations Associations, held in Mexico City in August 1978, defined the practice of public relations as "the art and social science of analyzing trends, predicting their consequences, counseling organizational leaders, and implementing planned programs of action, which will serve both the organization and the public interest."

With the advancement of the profession, in 1988 the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) adopted a short definition, "Public relations helps an organization and its publics adapt mutually to each other." In 1994 the British Institute of Public Relations offered its definition: "Public relations practice is the discipline that looks after reputation with the aim of earning understanding and support, and influencing opinion and behavior." Although these definitions vary to some extent, they all imply that the fundamental functions of PR are communicating and improving the behavior of an organization and the perceptions of that behavior by its clientele.


People sometimes confuse public relations with advertising and propaganda. Actually, they are different.


The purpose of advertising is to stimulate consumers' desires for a product or service and to motivate them to buy that product or service. Designing advertisements, preparing verbal and graphical messages, and buying time and space from the mass media for their exposure are the tasks of advertising. When necessary, PR professionals will use advertising as one approach to building goodwill and creating proper public attitudes toward their organizations. Tobacco companies' goodwill ads and television commercials are one example of such a use.


The purpose of propaganda is to generate conditioned reflexes among people in order to replace their reasoned actions with the conditioned reflex. Propaganda is used to brainwash people with a doctrine and then mislead them, and obviously the term carries a negative connotation. Some commonly used propaganda devices are:

  • Name calling, which creates a positive or negative characterization, such as "he is wise and conscientious," "he is a liar," or "she has character!"
  • Emotional stereotyping, which evokes designed images, such as "housewife," "foreigner," or "geek"
  • Bandwagon, which creates a theme of "everyone else is doing it, and so should you"
  • Card stacking, which provides distorted information by telling only one side of the story


To carry out its fundamental functions of communicating and improving the behavior of an organization and the perceptions of that behavior by its constituents, PR professionals practice these major activities: researching the market and public opinion, planning and implementing PR campaigns, and counseling management.

Researching the Market and Public Opinion. The foundation of good PR strategies is conducting research on the market, public opinions, and circumstances on which public opinions are formed. Research enables PR professionals to identify an organization's target market and to discover what they think. Survey questionnaires and structured interviews are useful methods for collecting data from the potential market and analyzing and interpreting public opinions, attitudes, issues, and circumstances that might affect the operations of the organization positively or negatively. In some cases, PR professionals can gather information about their market and public opinion from secondary data, that is, data collected and published by others, such as government agencies, industry groups, professional organizations, research institutions, and universities.

Planning and Implementing PR Campaigns. Based on these research findings, a PR professional is able to plan and implement campaigns for bringing an organization's mission and objectives to the attention of its constituency, enhancing two-way communication and mutual understanding, and influencing or changing public opinions and policies. Planning and implementing a PR campaign involves setting objectives, budgeting, recruiting and training staff, developing persuasive messages, selecting appropriate media, working with the media, monitoring the campaign, coordinating various relations, evaluating outcomes, and managing the resources needed to perform all of these activities.

Counseling Management. Experienced PR professionals also act as advisers or counselors to organizations, which are committed to fulfilling their organizational citizenship and social responsibilities. Such professionals have developed reputations for anticipating potential issues that may affect public opinions and policies, helping organizations prepare for and deal with crisis communication, assisting organizations in establishing and maintaining good government relations, and helping organizations improve labor-management relations.


PR serves a purpose for a variety of organizations, including public and private corporations, trade unions, foundations, hospitals, industry groups, professional associations, schools, and universities, as well as government agencies. PR professionals provide organizations with new opportunities because they interact with more internal and external audiences than anyone else in the organizations. They serve as the eyes and ears of top-level executives to keep them informed of what is really happening "out there," thereby overcoming executive isolation. PR professionals also help organizations manage changes through effective communication internally and externally, thereby reducing resistance and criticism from employees and other constituencies and increasing organizational competitiveness.

In addition, PR helps this complex, pluralistic society reach decisions and consensus more effectively by contributing to mutual understanding among individuals and organizations. It serves to bring private and public policies into harmony.

Finally, efficient public relations campaigns protect organizations when they are in crisis. A classic example is when Johnson & Johnson faced a crisis in late 1982 when an unknown murderer laced Extra-Strength Tylenol capsules with cyanide, causing the deaths of seven people in Chicago. With the counsel of Burson-Marsteller (a PR firm), the company responded to the crisis in a very effective and expeditious manner. As a result, Johnson & Johnson's PR campaign was so successful that not only did its Tylenol products make a successful market comeback, but its public image as a socially responsible company was greatly enhanced.


PR professionals and their organizations have ethical responsibilities to at least these publics: clients, news media, government agencies, educational institutions, consumers, investors, communities, competitors, and critics. As the PRSA Member Code of Ethics 2000 states, PRSA members are committed to ethical practices. The code is designed as a guide for PRSA members to carry out their ethical responsibilities.

see also Communications in Business ; Customer Service ; Publicity


Marconi, Joe (2004). Public relations: The complete guide. Mason, OH: South-Western.

Newsom, Doug, Turk, Judy V., and Kruckeberg, Dean (2004). This is PR: The realities of public relations (8th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Thomson Learning.

Public Relations Society of America. (n.d.). About public relations: Official PRSA definition. Retrieved November 21, 2005, from

Public Relations Society of America. (n.d.). PRSA member code of ethics. Retrieved November 21, 2005, from

Jensen J. Zhao

public relations

views updated May 29 2018

pub·lic re·la·tions • pl. n. [also treated as sing.] the professional maintenance of a favorable public image by a company or other organization or a famous person. ∎  the state of the relationship between the public and a company or other organization or a famous person: companies justify the cost in terms of improved public relations.

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