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Published on November 29th, 2011

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Blog: What is Public Relations?

This week, the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) threw its weight behind the Public Relations Society of America’s (PRSA) “PR Defined” initiative – “a collaborative, industry-wide effort to develop a modern definition for the new era of public relations”.

It makes sense because if you look up “public relations” in a dictionary, you will find something akin to the following:

‘The professional maintenance of a favourable public image by an organisation or a famous person’ or…

‘The state of the relationship between the public and a company or other organisation or a famous person’

Almost identical definitions, right? That’s because the term PR is not as broad as other disciplines, like medicine or media for example.

But while the definition has remained relatively unchanged from the day it was first entered into the dictionary, the way in which it is presented and consumed most certainly has not. Here’s why.

The explosion of social media has fundamentally changed how we all communicate and share information. We’re global now. Indeed, social media has been the catalyst for virtually every industry you can think of as companies create new strategies to engage online.

PR arguably leads the way and you will find it hard to locate a PR proposal for a potential client that doesn’t feature a social media strategy. The reason is practitioners can communicate instantly with their target audience using social channels to share information and get feedback. Put simply, it’s now a two-way communication. Gone are the days where the likes of Max Clifford relied on feeding a story into print and broadcast media, leaving the consumer only with the choice of whether or not to believe it.

This two-way communication directly with the consumer is invaluable for businesses in that they gain real-time feedback on messaging coming from the company – good and bad.

By engaging proactively, PRs can create new opportunities and build a favourable brand impression with the whole world.

Look no further than Stephen Fry, who pretty much does his own PR by tweeting dozens of times a day, whether he is at the theatre or stuck on tarmac. The result? More followers than the average Tweeter can possibly imagine.

Social media has also changed the long-standing dynamics of the PR/Journalist relationship. Just as journalists use tweets as the basis of a story, PR professionals benefit from ‘following’ journalists and commentators they never knew existed. It’s also a good place to identify new business leads.

Now, of course, there is the expectation from consumers that they will not be subjected to mass, non-targeted information and any issues they raise will be addressed swiftly and personally. The latter can be challenging for PR personnel managing social media, due to the difficulty of vetting content. All it takes is one unhappy customer on a Facebook page or an accusatory post on Twitter and a brand can see years of positive work start to unravel in seconds.

Public relations is now just that. Public.



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