A basic definition of public relations is to shape and maintain the image of a company, organization or individual in the eyes of the client's various "publics." What is a "public" exactly? A public, in PR terms, is anyone who ever has or ever will form an opinion about the client.
Depending on the nature of the client's work, these publics could include clients, potential clients, voters, members of the local community, members of the media, students, parents of students, online fans groups, foreign citizens -- the list is endless.
Public relations success requires a deep understanding of the interests and concerns of each the client's many publics. The public relations professional must know how to effectively address those concerns using the most powerful tool of the PR trade: publicity [source: Bureau of Labor Statistics].
Entrepreneur.com defines public relations purely in terms of publicity work, describing PR as "Using the news or business press to carry positive stories about your company or your products; cultivating a good relationship with local press representatives" [source: Entrepreneur.com].
In many cases, the chief duty of the public relations professional is to draft press releases, which are sent to targeted members of the media. But to limit the scope of the public relations definition to publicity alone would be to underestimate the growing influence and reach of PR.
For example, Undersecretary of State Karen Hughes is scheduled to speak at the Public Relations Society of America's annual conference about "public diplomacy," a branch of government public relations. Public diplomacy is shaping the image of a nation (in this case, the United States) in the eyes of both traditional allies and enemy states.
Today's public relations professional does much more than sit behind a desk faxing out press releases. More than ever, he's the public face of the client. It's the PR professional who organizes community outreach and volunteer programs. It's the PR representative who cultivates relationships with potential investors. And it's the PR executive who goes on the cable TV news program to answer the tough questions.
Read on to learn more about what PR professionals do.