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What is Public Relations

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Good Public Relations Help Your Company Maintain a Favorable Image

Public relations is a component of marketing and communications that focuses on positioning a company or an individual in a favorable light with the public at large. Public relations can be proactive in nature, continually projecting positives imagine of a company or person. It can also be used reactively, for example, if a company executive becomes embroiled in a scandal or the business faces a crisis situation that must be explained or addressed to the public.

Public Relations Options

Many marketing and communications companies have a public relations division that can be used in conjunction with, or independently of, the agency’s other services. In the same manner, some companies have their own internal public relations staffers. Public relations, on its own, focuses on building and maintaining a positive image of the company through targeted messaging, getting positive information (“good press”) into the media and proactively preventing potentially negative issues from spinning out of control.

How It Works

Public relations professionals employ tools such as news releases, social media platforms, blogs and press conferences as vehicles to promote positive things about a company. For example, a PR team might hold a press conference and invite local reporters when it’s time to announce a company expansion or introduce a new product line. Public relations professionals also keep an eye out for things that happen within a company that would make for “good PR.” For example, if a company makes a sizeable contribution to a charity or donates goods and services to a local relief effort, a PR person will promote those actions in the media to help create a favorable image of the company.

Public Relations Maintenance Efforts

Public relations is an ongoing effort, and many PR professionals manage things such as a company’s website information and the biographies of its key leaders. Public relations staffers may also blog for a company, update social media accounts and address or remove any negative online content they come across. A good PR pro will also monitor news outlets on a regular basis, looking for ways to get press for her company. For example, if the topic of tax reform is trending in the news, a PR staffer working at an accounting firm might contact the press and volunteer her company’s CEO as a “source” for interviews on the topic.

Dealing With “Bad PR”

When something goes awry in a company, it's often referred to as a “public relations nightmare,” simply because without interception, a rumor, accident or scandal can quickly spin out of control in the media, negatively impacting a company’s business. The role of a PR professional in this case is to:

  • Be accessible to the media
  • Arrange interviews with appropriate company spokespeople
  • Answer questions and provide updates for the public
  • Protect the company from aggressive media

A PR professional is also charged with “spinning” situations in such a way that she downplays the negative impact a scandal or disaster event can have. For example, if it becomes public that an employee has embezzled money, a PR person will likely call it an isolated incident that will have minimal impact on shareholder earnings. Alternatively, if a company produces a product that turns out to be defective, a PR person will issue a recall, facilitate refunds, make apologies and otherwise address concerns on behalf of the company.

Public Relations in Marketing and Communications

One of the reasons you often hear “public relations, marketing and communications” as one component is because they are three branches of a common tree. For example, in a large agency or sizable corporate PR office, the communications division may draft a press release that is distributed by public relations, while marketing designs the promotional materials that a public relations representative distributes at a public event. The three areas often overlap and complement one another in a way that’s beneficial for the client or company.

Public Relations in an Advisory Capacity

Public relations can also be a component of a company’s long-term strategic planning. For example, if a company plans to move business overseas, downsize significantly or change their branding efforts, a PR professional can help leaders evaluate potential public reaction and business impact. In this sense, large corporations often use PR professionals in an advisory capacity to help in the decision-making process.


Lisa McQuerrey has been a business writer since 1987. In 1994, she launched a full-service marketing and communications firm. McQuerrey's work has garnered awards from the U.S. Small Business Administration, the International Association of Business Communicators and the Associated Press. She is also the author of several nonfiction trade publications, and, in 2012, had her first young-adult novel published by Glass Page Books.

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