I am often asked, “What is public relations? The definition of public relations (PR) evolves as our world, our customers, and our methods of communication change. However, the foundation that serves as the basis for PR holds steady.
Public relations can be defined as: “Any communication system or technology that can help shape and maintain the image of a company and its products, an organization, or an individual in the eyes of the client’s public.”
And who is this public?
For a cleaning products manufacturer, the public is likely end-customers, while for an entertainer, the client’s public might be either the general public or a specific demographic within the population.
PR firms serving manufacturers work to keep their clients in the public eye by placing articles in industry publications that tactfully emphasize the features and benefits of the client’s products. PR professionals also achieve their clients’ goals through the use of press releases, case studies, product releases, and social media placements.
As to the history of public relations, many say it started at the turn of the 20th century. At that time, muckraking journalists began to criticize the many wealthy industrialists and powerful monopolies in the United States. One of the big targets of the day was John D. Rockefeller, President of Standard Oil. Upset by what was being said about him and his company, Rockefeller hired former journalist Ivy Lee to feed newspapers positive stories about himself and Standard Oil.
To change his image among the general public, Lee also suggested that Rockefeller carry bags of newly minted dimes with him whenever he was in a public setting and pass the coins out to young children. Given that the average salary was 50 cents an hour at that time, both the children and their parents received these dimes gleefully.
Lee was so successful in changing Rockefeller’s image that many other companies soon sought his services—not necessarily to better their public image, but to help them promote their products and services. Soon, others followed in Lee’s steps, the PR industry was born, and is used today not only to improve images, but help organizations market all types of products and services to the consumer.