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 “public.” 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 public 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 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.
Public relations is not about spicing up the curry to make up for the poor meat. It is about communicating what the public ‘needs’ to hear about organizations instead of what they ‘want’ to hear, in order to build, manage, and maintain a company’s goodwill, so that the brand grows on the public as it grows in the market.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.