The Public Relations Handbook
eBook - ePub

The Public Relations Handbook

Alison Theaker, Alison Theaker

  1. 358 pages
  2. English
  3. ePUB (mobile friendly)
  4. Available on iOS & Android
eBook - ePub

The Public Relations Handbook

Alison Theaker, Alison Theaker

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Table of contents

About This Book

The Public Relations Handbook, 6th edition provides an engaging, in-depth exploration of the dynamic and ever-evolving public relations industry.

Split into four parts exploring key conceptual themes in public relations, the book offers an overview of topics including strategic public relations, politics and the media; media relations in the social media age; strategic communication management; public relations engagement in the not-for-profit sector; activism and public relations; and the effects of globalisation and technology on the field. Featuring wide-ranging contributions from key figures in the PR profession, this new edition presents fresh views on corporate social responsibility, public relations and politics, corporate communication, globalisation, not-for-profit, financial and public sector public relations. The book also includes a discussion of key critical themes in public relations research and exploratory case studies of PR strategies in a variety of institutions, including Extinction Rebellion, Queen Margaret University, Mettis Aerospace, and Battersea Cats' and Dogs' Home.

Containing student-friendly features including clear chapter aims, analytical discussion questions, and key further reading throughout the text, The Public Relations Handbook is an ideal resource for students of public relations, corporate and strategic communications, and media studies.

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The context of public relations

1 What is public relations?

Sarah Roberts-Bowman

Chapter aims

This chapter attempts to define public relations (PR) and its complexity. There is a brief history of the discipline to explain how it emerged and to provide context. An overview of the sector follows that looks at the structure, skills and tasks and what distinguishes it from other disciplines. It concludes by looking at the different ways of understanding PR and introduces the idea of theory.


PR is often misunderstood and difficult to explain, yet it touches everything and everyone. When Save the Children launched their Read On. Get On. campaign to encourage dads to read to their children for 10 minutes every day, and secured substantial media coverage in newspapers, this is considered helpful.
What about a company such as Unilever who took their Lifebuoy soap brand and established a powerful social mission by creating accessible and affordable soap bars? Started in 2010, the aim of this new product and its associated communication is to change the handwashing behaviour of one billion people by the end of 2020. By linking the organisation’s values and products with a social need puts responsibility central. On a different note, Unity PR ran a hard-hitting campaign for vInspired tackling Internet trolling. They used real-life trolling tweets projected onto the walls of the Waterloo Station underpass in London. This created an immersive space where passers-by felt just as threatened as if they had received real tweets. The campaign saw #lolzNOTtrolls trending on Twitter 2 hours after launch and was reported in over 74 pieces of traditional media. Just over 9,000 young people activity engaged with Facebook to discuss the impact of trolling. Changing attitudes and behaviours is often at the heart of what PR does.
Then there is perhaps the traditional view of PR – how to grab consumer attention. Edelman’s launch of Xbox 360’s Halo 4 in Europe – a game worth $3 billion and has sold over 45 million copies worldwide – resulted in a campaign that made virtual reality, real reality. Working with the Principality of Liechtenstein, a real-life replica of the Halo universe was created and 70 media, super-fans and bloggers were invited to play the game for real. As a result, Halo 4 became the best-selling Halo title ever released making more than $220 million worldwide in the first 24 hours. The event secured more than 250 stories, with coverage in 20 markets and reached more than 14 million people via Twitter.
What about when organisations get PR wrong? The response by BP to the Gulf of Mexico environmental disaster in 2010 when 11 workers died has become a case study of how not to communicate. With poorly judged comments by the CEO Tony Hayward, long silences and a complete disconnect with the local communities in the region that were affected by the disaster caused long-term damage to BP’s reputation and share price.
These examples show PR in action. It is capable of having a tremendous impact helping organisations and individuals to connect, communicate and build relationships with those necessary for their survival and success. But how do we explain it?

In search for a definition

PR has its modern-day origins in the late 19th century. Yet it is only in the last 50 years that the practice of PR has come under serious study and defining the practice still vexes practitioners and academics. One of the earliest and most helpful definitions is by Harlow (1976), who suggests that:
Public relations is a distinctive management function which helps establish and maintain mutual lines of communication, understanding, acceptance and cooperation between an organisation and its publics; involves the management of problems or issues; helps management to keep informed on and responsible to public opinion; defines and emphasises the responsibility of management to serve the public interest; helps management keep abreast of and effectively utilize change, serving as an early warning system to help anticipate trends; and uses research and ethical communication techniques as its principal tools.
(Harlow, 1976: 36)
The key words here are management meaning that PR is deliberate; mutuality in that it is not one-sided; publics meaning that there are a variety of different types of audiences around which relationships need to be built; responsibility and public interest in that it has a wider duty of care inside and outside the organisation.
In 1978, the first World Assembly of Public Relations Associations agreed that PR ‘is the art and social science of analyzing trends, predicting their consequences, counseling organisational leaders and implementing programmes of action that will serve both the organisations and the public interest’ (Mexican Statement). The idea of PR as an art and science is relevant – an art because of the importance of showing empathy and understanding, the role of storytelling and creativity; yet, a social science because it uses tools from psychology including persuasion and is grounded in research and evaluation. Again, the ideas of mutuality and a duty of care predominate these definitions.
Over time, the definition has been broadened to incorporate the concept of reputation. The UK’s Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) talks of PR being:
About reputation – the result of what you do, what you say and what others say about you. PR is the discipline which looks after reputation, with the aim of earning understanding and support and influencing opinion and behaviour. It is the planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain goodwill and mutual understanding between an organisation and its publics.
(UK Chartered Institute of Public Relations, n.d.)
We will look at reputation shortly, but other key words to think about include PR being planned returning to the idea of it being a deliberate activity. The concept of mutual understanding embeds conversation, an exchange of viewpoint and a relationship. The word organisation is important as it implies that PR belongs not just to one type of organisation but is applicable to all sorts of organisations from small businesses to FTSE 100 companies, from trade associations to governments and activist groups, and also works across the private, public and third sectors. Then there is the idea of publics and not just a single entity. Organisations need to communicate with a range of different types of publics (also known as audiences or stakeholders) from customers to investors, from employees to politicians. All are relevant and important.
The year 2012 saw yet another definition when the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) consulted its members on how they would define PR, given the impact of social media. They came up with: ‘Public Relations is a strategic communications process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organisations and their publics’. This mirrors the simple and earlier definition of leading PR scholars, Grunig and Hunt, who suggested: ‘the management of communication between an organisation and its publics’ (1984: 6). This was later refined to ‘an organisation’s managed communications behaviour’ (Grunig, 1997, cited in Grunig et al., 2006: 23). The role of Grunig and Hunt in PR history is one that will be explored later in this chapter.
What does this tell us? It tells us that PR is not tied to one particular PR tool (e.g. social media or media relations) but as Guth and Marsh (2006: 7) outline, there are five core concepts that help define it (see Table 1.1).
TABLE 1.1 Adaption of Guth and Marsh five elements of PR (2006: 7)
PR is management function.
The relationship between an organisation and the publics important to its success must be a top concern of the organisations leadership. The PR practitioner provides counsel on the timing, manner and form important communication should take. In other words, practitioners aren’t just soldiers who follow orders; they’re also generals who help to shape policy. And like all managers, they must be able to measure the degree of their success in their various projects.
PR involves two-way communication.
Communication is not just telling people about an organisation’s needs. It also involves listening to those same people speak of their concerns. This willingness to listen is an essential part of the relationship-building process.
PR is a planned activity.
Actions taken on behalf of an organisation must be carefully planned and consistent with the organisations values and goals. And since the relationship between an organisation and the publics important to its success is a top concern, these actions must also be consistent with the publics’ values and goals.
PR is a research-based social science.
Formal and informal research is conducted to allow an organisation to communicate effectively, possessing a full understanding of the environment in which it operates and the issue it confronts. PR practitioners and educators also share their knowledge with others in the industry through various professional and academic publications.
PR is socially responsible.
A practitioner’s responsibilities extend beyond organisational goals. Practitioners and the people they represent are expected play a constructive role in society.
So, PR is an organisational function, but organisations should be viewed broadly. Organisations need relationships and PR is in fact a relationship function. Ledingham and Bruning (1998: 62) defined the organisation–public relationship as ‘the state that exists between an organisation and its key publics in which the actions of either entity impact the economic, social, political and/or cultural well-being of the other entity’. This moves PR away from a narrow definition of relationships such as information exchange to something more meaningful and mutual. Ledingham (2003) went on to argue that this relationship perspective of PR was fundamental to its understanding as a managerial and strategic function.
PR is also a society function. Here, ideas around corporate responsibility and corporate citizenship are important moving our understanding of organisations beyond economic entities to expecting them to demonstrate a degree of societal accountability. Some argue PR itself supports the free flow of information that underpins freedom of speech, decision-making and democrati...

Table of contents

  1. Cover
  2. Half Title
  3. Title Page
  4. Copyright Page
  5. Table of Contents
  6. List of figures
  7. List of tables
  8. List of contributors
  9. Preface
  10. Part 1 The context of public relations
  11. Part 2 Strategic public relations
  12. Part 3 Stakeholder public relations
  13. Part 4 Shaping the future
  14. Bibliography
  15. Index