Public Relations, management function that creates, develops, and carries out policies and programmes to influence public opinion or public reaction about an idea, a product, or an organization. The field of public relations has become an important part of the economic, social, and political pattern of life in many nations. That field includes advertising, publicity, promotional activities, and press contact. Public relations also coexists in business with marketing and merchandising to create the climate in which all selling functions occur.
Public relations activities in the modern world help individuals and organizations to build prestige, to promote products, and to win elections or legislative battles; in short, to achieve their aims in the public sphere. Public relations workers may be staff employees working within a corporate or institutional framework, or they may operate in specialist public relations firms.
In industry, public relations personnel keep management informed of changes in the opinions of various groups whose support is needed: employees, stockholders, customers, suppliers, dealers, the community at large, and government. These professionals advise management on the impact of any action—or lack of action—on the behaviour of the target audiences. Once an organizational decision has been made, the public relations professional has the task of communicating this information to the public using methods that foster understanding and support. For example, a hospital merger, an industrial plant closing, or the introduction of a new product all require public relations planning and skill to calm people’s fears, enhance their understanding of what is proposed, and maximize support for the action.
Public relations activities are a major part of the political process in many nations. Politicians seeking office, government agencies seeking acceptance and cooperation, officials seeking support for their policies, and foreign governments seeking aid and allies abroad all make extensive use of services provided by public relations specialists.
Public relations also plays an important role in the entertainment industry. The theatre, films, sports, restaurants, and individuals all use public relations services to enhance their image and thereby increase their business. Other public relations clients are educational, social service, and charitable institutions, trade unions, religious groups, and professional societies.
The successful public relations practitioner is a specialist in communication arts and persuasion. The work involves various functions including the following: (1) planning—that is, analysing problems and opportunities, defining goals, determining the public to be reached, and proposing and formulating a campaign of activities; (2) writing and editing materials such as press releases, speeches, stockholder reports, product information, and employee publications; (3) placing information in the most advantageous way; (4) organizing special events such as press functions, award programmes, exhibits, and displays; (5) setting up face-to-face communication, including the preparation and delivery of speeches; (6) providing research and evaluation using interviews, reference materials, and various survey techniques; and (7) managing resources by planning, budgeting, and recruiting and training staff to attain these objectives. Specialized skills are required to handle public opinion research, media relations, direct mail activities, institutional advertising, publications, film and video production, and special events.
Although its activities, goals, and effects have been subject at times to severe criticism, public relations is a significant force in the developed world. To avoid misuse of professional skills, several public relations organizations have developed a code of ethics for members. In totalitarian countries, the state has a monopoly on communications, and any public relations activities are government controlled, as propaganda. Public relations services are so far little used in many developing nations, but they are likely to become more prevalent in the future.