From a personal perspective, I can define public relations (PR) as a tool used to promote and protect the reputation of an organization in the face of the public besides enhancing product and service promotion. This implies that PR is used basically to increase awareness about the activities of a given organization and, hence, motivating clients to access the products and services offered by the organization. Additionally, PR can be used to attract donations from interested parties, particularly in the case of nonprofit organizations. Furthermore, PR can be used by various government agencies to raise funds for various projects through tax funding from the public. Therefore, PR serves to attract clients, protect or promote the organization’s image, promote donations for nonprofit projects, and attract tax funding for governmental projects.
On the other hand, the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) defines PR as, “ a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics” (Public Relations Society of America [PRSA], 2012). This definition emphasizes three important aspects of PR, which include “communication process”, “mutual relationships”, and “publics”. Here, it is important to note that PR as a communication process enables the management function in any organization to deliver and promote ideas and control through a top-down or one-way communication channel. Moreover, PR acts as a tool for building mutual relationships aimed at bringing together different parties including organizations, individuals, and key stakeholders for the purpose of promoting certain ideas. Furthermore, PRSA’s definition of PR emphasizes that the “publics” are the most preferable stakeholders in PR projects, particularly those involving publicly-traded companies (PRSA, 2012). Therefore, according to PRSA’s definition, PR can achieve a wide range of management functions, including anticipating or analyzing public opinion or attitudes, counseling management, market research, seeking the public’s understanding of organizational aims or goals, and planning or implementing the organization’s public policy (PRSA, 2012).
From a different perspective, Dr. Anthony Curtis of the Mass Communication Department at the University of North Carolina defines PR as “the planned promotion of goods, services, and images of organizations intended to create goodwill for a person, place, or event” (Curtis, 2011). Further, Dr. Curtis notes that the work of PR professionals involves building long-term and positive relationships among individuals, organizations, and other key stakeholders. Therefore, according to Dr. Curtis’ definition, PR serves a variety of functions ranging from product and service publicity or promotion and protection of the organization’s image to building gainful relationships with the “publics”. Most importantly, Dr. Curtis notes that any PR project must be aimed at establishing and maintaining mutual understanding between individuals and institutions. Yet from a totally different angle, a host of scholars including Heath (2001) defines PR as a tool that is not only aimed at product and service promotion and protection, or promotion of images, but it is also designed to minimize the cost of conflicts that can arise between individuals and institutions. What this definition implies is that PR, besides enhancing a variety of management functions, is also focused on protecting the organization from different conflicts, which may arise in the event that the “publics” fail to understand or agree with certain organizational projects or decisions. Therefore, conflict reduction forms the rationale for the definition of PR in this case (Heath, 2001).
Thus far, it is evident from the foregoing discussions that the three definitions of PR concur that PR is an effective tool used by organizations in product and service promotion, protection or promotion of reputation, attracting donations for nonprofit projects, and promoting tax funding for governmental projects. However, the definitions differ, particularly in addressing the extended functions of PR. For instance, while the PRSA definition emphasizes that PR is a communication process aimed at building mutual relationships among individuals and organizations, Curtis (2011) does not necessarily consider PR as a communication process. Instead, Dr. Curtis indicates that PR can be any project aimed at establishing and maintaining benevolence/understanding among individuals, organizations, and key stakeholders. On the other hand, the definition by Heath (2001) differs greatly from the two definitions by focusing on conflict reduction as one of the PR functions. Nonetheless, from the discussions above, it can be concluded that PR is used to promote a wide range of management functions including product and service publicity, protection or promotion of images, and building mutual relationships among individuals and institutions. On the other hand, it is imperative to note that most people tend to look at the functions of PR when defining this phenomenon. However, the functions of PR continue to evolve year after year, especially due to the influence of technological advances, globalization, and other current trends in the world of business. Therefore, it is not surprising that there are many definitions of PR today.