Joseph Benjamin

Public Relations

Joseph Benjamin
What is public relations
Public relations (PR) is a field concerned with maintaining a public image for businesses, non-profit organizations or high-profile people, such as celebrities and politicians.

A basic definition of public relations is to shape and maintain the image of a company, organization or individual in the eyes of the client's various "publics." What is a "public" exactly? A public, in PR terms, is anyone who ever has or ever will form an opinion about the client.
Depending on the nature of the client's work, these publics could include clients, potential clients, voters, members of the local community, members of the media, students, parents of students, online fans groups, foreign citizens -- the list is endless.
Public relations success requires a deep understanding of the interests and concerns of each the client's many publics. The public relations professional must know how to effectively address those concerns using the most powerful tool of the PR trade: publicity [source: Bureau of Labor Statistics].
Brief History of PR
Public relations arrived with the development of mass media. At the turn of the 20th century, "muckraking" journalists were stirring up public dissent against the powerful monopolies and wealthy industrialists who ruled the day. Early public relations firms combated the bad press by placing positive stories about their clients in newspapers.

Former journalists, such as Ivy Lee, used the first press releases to feed newspapers "the facts" about his misunderstood clients, namely the railroad and tobacco industries, and J.D. Rockefeller's Standard Oil.

Lee and company became so good at whitewashing even the darkest corporate sins that PR professionals earned a reputation as "spin doctors."

Much time has passed since the days of Ivy Lee, and to label today's PR professionals as dishonest would be to ignore how pervasive and important their work has become to people and organizations of all shapes and sizes -- small businesses, authors, activists, universities, and non-profit organizations -- not just big business and big government.

Entrepreneur.com defines public relations purely in terms of publicity work, describing PR as "Using the news or business press to carry positive stories about your company or your products; cultivating a good relationship with local press representatives" [source: Entrepreneur.com].
In many cases, the chief duty of the public relations professional is to draft press releases, which are sent to targeted members of the media. But to limit the scope of the public relations definition to publicity alone would be to underestimate the growing influence and reach of PR.
For example, Undersecretary of State Karen Hughes is scheduled to speak at the Public Relations Society of America's annual conference about "public diplomacy," a branch of government public relations. Public diplomacy is shaping the image of a nation (in this case, the United States) in the eyes of both traditional allies and enemy states.
Today's public relations professional does much more than sit behind a desk faxing out press releases. More than ever, he's the public face of the client. It's the PR professional who organizes community outreach and volunteer programs. It's the PR representative who cultivates relationships with potential investors. And it's the PR executive who goes on the cable TV news program to answer the tough questions.
Read on to learn more about what PR professionals do.