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What Is Public Relations?

Updated: Apr 29

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Public Relations or PR is how organisations communicate with the public with the aim of maintaining a positive perception. It aims to influence public opinion and persuade people to support them.

The History

PR isn’t new. It’s been done in several forms since time began and you do it in your own life. Since the early days of civilisation, leaders have convinced the public with witty words. Social change has been enacted by convincing crowds with mighty messaging. You use PR every day. It's how you aim to portray a positive public perception to lead a more positive life.

But, PR in its commercial form began only 100 years ago. Public relations was first pioneered by Ivy Lee, a New York journalist turned advisor to Standard Oil in 1903. The company’s public image had been severely damaged due to unhappy workers and accidents. Lee changed public opinion and thus Standard Oil’s fortunes. He advised improved relations with the workers through visits to the mines and conversations with workers combined with the first press release following a crash on the company’s railway.

Many believe the real father of PR is Edward Bernays. The nephew of one of the most famous psychologists of all time, Sigmund Freud, his early framework created PR as we know it today. Bernays took his uncle’s behavioural psychological principles and applied them to marketing. For this reason, PR uses psychology to convince the public. In 1923, he released Crystallising Public Opinion. But, it wasn’t until 1929 that he launched Torches of Freedom, a campaign marketing cigarettes to women by associating them with the Statue of Liberty's torch and the women’s rights movement.

As PR welcomes its second century, it must move away from the negative practices of its early days and the unethical industries it supported. Powerful Positive PR can enact positive change.

Types of PR

Positive PR - Positive PR aims to positively position an organisation. Practitioners uphold ethical work practices including a happy work environment, ethical methods and working with ethical and sustainable organisations.

Traditional PR - Traditional PR focuses on increasing the brand awareness of an organisation across a mix of media including print, broadcast and online.

Digital PR - Digital PR aims to drive backlinks and brand mentions to improve Search Engine Optimisation (SEO).

Reactive PR - Reactive PR is reacting to news topics or journalists seeking sources. Newsjacking is one form of reactive PR when PRs gain exposure for their clients by sharing relevant comments or campaigns related to a topical story.

Investor Relations - Investor Relations is the strategic communication between an organisation and the public. A significant deal of attention must be paid to ensure the organisation doesn’t break the law or negatively impact its share price.

Corporate Communications - Corporate Communications is focused on communicating information to the public.

Crisis Communications - Crisis Communications is the damage control function of PR. The majority of its activities occur following an activity or event which has the potential to harm the reputation of the organisation. Organisations can also proactively prepare for any potential PR disasters.

Public Affairs - Public Affairs or Lobbying is when PRs build relationships with politicians, civil servants, think tanks, trade associations and business groups in order to influence their decision-making.

Lem-uhn is the feel-good PR agency prioritising happiness. We grow happier brands and support a more positive work environment for our employees. If you’d like to grow using PR, you can book a Free PR Strategy Audit Call.

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