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What is public relations?

"Public relations is a distinctive management function which helps establish and maintain lines of communication, understanding, acceptance and co-operation between an organisation and its publics; involves the management of problems or issues; helps management to keep informed on, and responsive to, public opinion; defines and emphasises the responsibility of management to serve the public interest; helps management keep abreast of, and effectively utilise, change; serving as an early warning system to help anticipate trends; and uses research and ethical communication techniques as its principal tool" (Harlow, quoted in Wilcox et al 2003:7)

In 1978, The World Assembly of Public Relations Associations agreed on this more succinct definition:

"Public relations is the art and social science of analysing trends, predicting their consequences, counselling organisational leaders and implementing planned programmes of action which will serve both the organisation"s and the public interest".

And even more tidily, the UK"s Institute of Public Relations framed this one-liner:

"Public relations is the planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain good-will and understanding between an organisation and its publics".

Another way to explain PR is to say the letters stand for "Problem Resolution" and that what PR practitioners do is use communication strategy and tactics to resolve many and varied problems for clients or organisations.