ITL #480 PR is NOT press relations: tackling misconceptions3 months ago
The nature of public relations today is widely misunderstood. To paint a more accurate picture, IPRA has developed a series of communications about the value of public relations to society. By Alain Grossbard.
If you ask the average person in the street to describe public relations, you will hear an answer such as “I don’t know” or “I’m not really sure” or something like “They’re all spin doctors”. As PR practitioners know, there is a misconception about the importance of public relations today.
For an industry which is said to have its origin in Ancient Greece to be labelled as the practice of press relations is an unfortunate failing. The role and practice of public relations has changed markedly over the past 30 years.
IPRA defines public relations as a “decision-making management practice tasked with building relationship and interests between organisations and their publics based on the delivery of information through trusted and ethical communication methods.”
As highlighted in this definition and the definitions of other PR industry associations, the practice of public relations today embraces far greater disciplines than just press relations, media release writing and storytelling.
From its beginnings, admittedly around a press relations function, the practice of public relations has expanded into a discipline that is far beyond engagement with traditional media. Today, the practice not only requires sound writing, effective and strategic communication, stakeholder engagement, research, analytical and evaluation skills, but also a firm knowledge of social, political and economic factors.
This needs to embrace stakeholder composition, segmentation and analysis, information structures and methodology, culture analysis, political systems and policy analysis, as well as that of business structures, regulation and law, and emerging communication tools and channels.
However, the communication, engagement, analytical and ethical principles that underpin the discipline of public relations are often not correctly conveyed into the business and political worlds, let alone the community.
So how is IPRA tacking these misconceptions?
The IPRA definition of public relations and the subsequent explanations of what it is not, alas continues to be misunderstood and mis-promoted in academic research, industry newsletters, everyday practice, management, and by the general public.
PR practice today has little to do with the mainstream broadcast and print media. Such media are merely channels for analysis, and the dissemination of information by PR practitioners to their stakeholders and other target audiences.
Online survey on the theme PR is not press relations
An online survey was distributed in April 2022 to IPRA members, the IPRA LinkedIn group as well as certain PR groups from outside IPRA. Its outcomes were analysed by an IPRA working group. The survey sought to assess the views of PR practitioners on a number of perceptions about PR, on how PR is practised, and on the skills, knowledge and ethical standards required of PR practitioners.
From the survey, seven main themes were evident. They can be summarised as follows:
- Media relations is NOT a significant part of the role of public relations, but it does have a place in public relations (85% of respondents).
- Most of the public relations practitioners’ TIME is devoted to research, internal communication, and strategy development and engagement activities (100% of respondents).
- The public PERCEIVE the public relations industry as mainly about media relations (67% of respondents).
- There is a general feeling that there is NOT a healthy relationship between public relations practitioners and mainstream journalists (55% of respondents).
- The public perception of public relations has been MARRED by some unethical behaviour within the public relations industry (67% of respondents).
- There should be more work done to EDUCATE the public about the roles and responsibilities of public relations in our society (80% of respondents).
- It is up to public relations practitioners and industry leaders to take an OVERT role in changing the public perception of public relations (97% of respondents).
A positive outlook
A key result of this survey found public relations is perceived more positively than media portrayal would suggest.
Respondents viewed public relations as an important activity for the public and private sectors and that it benefits society by providing accurate information. They disagreed that it is viewed as damage control, or an attempt to hide or disguise something, or is a non-substantive activity.
However, the public relations profession needs to do much more to educate the public that there is an important role for the discipline in developing trust in their communication for the betterment of society.
What is IPRA doing?
IPRA has prepared and throughout 2022 will implement a series of communications about the value of public relations to society.
- A Thought Leadership webinar was presented in May 2022, in a podcast style and subsequently posted on IPRA’s website.
- A Thought Leadership essay to encourage the PR industry and its 37 global associate members to promote the relevance and importance of public relations in the community.
- A series of short messages posted to IPRA’s social media channels outlining the value of public relations and its role in presenting ethical and trustworthy information.
- Communication with IPRA’s global network of associate members to encourage them to communicate locally on the importance of public relations in their own societies.
Alain Grossbard is Australian and since 2011 has been an educator in public relations at RMIT University, Melbourne. He has worked in numerous senior roles in the energy industry nationally and internationally. Alain is past president of the Public Relations Institute of Australia Victoria division, as well as a national board member. He has won national and international awards and has been a recipient of a GWA.mail the author
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Forward, Post, Comment | #IpraITLWe are keen for our IPRA Thought Leadership essays to stimulate debate. With that objective in mind, we encourage readers to participate in and facilitate discussion. Please forward essay links to your industry contacts, post them to blogs, websites and social networking sites and above all give us your feedback via forums such as IPRA’s LinkedIn group. A new ITL essay is published on the IPRA website every week. Prospective ITL essay contributors should send a short synopsis to IPRA head of editorial content Rob Gray email
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