A person who is interested in both business and communications might wonder what public relations is. Public relations (PR) has changed over time, and it is important to note that the past 10 years of social media platform development and other digital technologies have changed the scope and breadth of public relations services. Understanding what public relations is could help a person decide if this is the right career path for their skills, personality and preferences.
Early Definition of Public Relations
Public relations services have been around since the early 1900s. At that time, the set of services was defined as the use of press agentry and publicity to promote the best interests, products or services of an entrepreneur or a company. The early PR services focused more on providing information in printed media or radio ads. At the time, there were fewer media options and fewer people accessing the available media than there are today.
The Evolution of PR Services
By 1982, most people had access to television, radio and multiple types of printed media, such as newspapers or magazines. Around this time, the general definition of PR changed a little. It came to include how an organization and its audience adapt to each other. This meant that companies had to pay more attention to what people thought about their messages, and they had to update their messages based on feedback. They also had to explore new routes of communicating. The early 1980s also lead to more competition, including the upswing in international businesses competing for the dollars of American consumers. The result was more advertising in general and more personalized or emotional messages in those ads.
Reputation and Crisis Management
A large part of what PR services started to include by the 1980s and into today is reputation control. Several consumer product scares in the early 1980s necessitated a rapid response of a business to reassure the public about the safety of its products. One of these reputation issues and crises included the contamination of Tylenol that caused serious health consequences and lead to widespread panic across the United States. Today, reputation management as a PR service includes removal or scrubbing of nefarious reviews and responding to comments on social media and consumer review websites.
Current Public Relations Functions
According to the Public Relations Society of America, Inc., public relations now encompasses many strategies and communications services. Protecting the reputation of a business is one of the biggest parts of those strategies. Increased engagement with the public is another big change in what PR entails. This addition is mostly due to the rise in the use of social media. The other current PR functions in today’s business environment include internal communications, integrated marketing, event publicity, content creation, brand journalism and media relations.
Knowing what public relations is could make it easier for a person to know if this is the type of communication best suited to their skills. As technology changes, so too could the scope of what PR services entail. A person interested in PR as a career should also be comfortable with digital technologies and the new tools and devices on which they are deployed.