Public Relations

Man yelling into horn

Public relations is a communication strategy used by individuals or organizations to curry favor or interest from the general public. Applying various methods of exposure to either defend or promote their client, public relations specialists attempt to persuade customers, stakeholders, fans, employees, and other people potentially involved with the person with generally positive messages in the form of various media.

Public Relations today

Pioneers of public relations, such as the distinguished social scientist Edward Louis Bernays, have devised public relations methods applicable to both public office and private enterprise. Since the advent of the internet, however, the complexity of past public relations strategies has been greatly simplified. Today, through social networking, search engine optimisation and content publishing, public figures no longer have to create decisive strategies for grassroots communication. This has lead to two schools of thought for exchanging information with the public:

  1. Symmetrical public relations
  2. Asymmetrical public relations

Symmetrical PR seeks to enter into conversation with the public, using platforms such as Facebook or Twitter to create brand loyalty and personal bonds. Asymmetrical PR, on the other hand, takes into careful account the desires of the customer and responds accordingly in an attempt to balance organizational success and customer satisfaction.


There are various methods used by public relations specialists to create rapport for the group being represented. Whether it be consumer relations or crisis control, the same tactics are generally employed. Publicity events are often used to gain support at local, national and international levels, depending on the press behind the events. While this publicity can come in the form of press conferences or televised interviews, it can also come in the form of sponsorship. For example, a company under scrutiny for pollution issues may make financial contributions to a sustainable event to associate themselves with environmental friendliness.

Public relations always needs to take into account the audience it is dealing with. Promoting a celebrity to fans is much different than justifying bad business decisions to a group of stakeholders. As mentioned earlier, modern public relations places key emphasis on establishing personal relationships with the clientele, and their satisfaction is often more important than the message itself.


Of course, public relations is not without its ethical conflicts. The need to present someone or something in a positive manner does at times necessitate altering the truth. One of the methods put under ethical scrutiny is “spin”, which can either be a manipulation of the truth or an embellishment of a lie. Experts of persuasion known as spin doctors have used various rhetorical techniques to avoid admitting wrongs, most of them involving the avoidance of revealing language and the favoring of mostly-agreeable positions.

Another more volatile type of public relations known as “negative PR” is used to gain clout by attacking competition or rivals. By doing so, companies can escape public scrutiny, as media attention might get shifted to the more current and negative stories; whether they are factual or not.

Public relations have also challenged the ethical standards 0f the political arena, as lobby groups supporting certain parties may use their financial support to start front groups. Front groups are generally disguised as grassroots organizations with close ties to the community, where they are merely spokespeople for the company disguised as political activists.