Let’s start with what PR is not, at least in my professional opinion.
PR is not “spin,” even though most people would say that’s what PR is all about. As in, “let’s see how we can spin this message.”
Spin implies the clever use of clever words to persuade an audience regardless of the truth of those words. All that matters to the “spin doctor” is persuasion, with the inevitable result that “spin” can lapse into half-truths and even outright lies. Pure spin is propaganda, a fine example being anything that erupts from the mouth of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
The modern practice of public relations is all about managing the flow of information to strengthen the relationship between an organization (be it a business, nonprofit or government entity) and the audiences or publics on which its reputation—and ultimately its economic survival— depends.
And the great majority of today’s public relations professionals are ethical folk who want the work they do for their clients to be based on honest facts. They resist crossing over into the dark side of spin. (I say “resist” because, truth be told, the promise of a plump monthly retainer can put a sizable dent in a PR practitioner’s once-sturdy ethical armor. As in any business, ethical behavior is a personal choice.)
Modern PR seeks first to understand the true nature of the relationship between an organization and the “publics” on which that organization depends for its success and survival. Then it seeks to strengthen that relationship with a communications campaign that influences attitudes and behaviors.
Frequently, a crisis, such as the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, will be the catalyst for an organization’s decision to seek PR counsel. In cases such as this, the PR professional will advise the organization to do some good old-fashioned soul searching and to initiate organizational change as well, if that’s what is needed.
Bottom line: PR is about establishing, improving or changing an organization’s relationship with the key publics on which its reputation, success, and survival depend. To learn more, see PRSA definition of PR.