In general, people have a solid understanding of what advertising is. If it looks like an ad, sounds like an ad and tries to sell a product like an ad, then it is probably an ad. Unlike advertising, public relations is a subtle marketing tactic, which can lead many people to ask the question, “What is PR?”

In a nutshell, public relations means building relationships between an organization and its publics.

To better understand this definition, we’ve compiled several interpretations of public relations from the Risdall Public Relations team and professional organizations. Take a look at the definitions below, and continue the conversation around the definition of public relations by contacting us.

What Is PR – As Told by the Risdall PR Team

Let’s start answering the question, “What is PR?” by letting Risdall PR team members give their definitions. With over 50 combined experience in the public relations industry, Risdall PR has gained an expert understanding of the definition of public relations.

Joel Swanson

Joel Swanson, APR, President of Risdall PR and President of Minnesota PRSA

Public relations in general is selling awareness, reputation, and changes in behavior.  It’s a game-changer with one of the highest ROIs of any marketing/communications activity. Public relations builds top of mind awareness and sometimes explosive visibility for brands, products and thought leaders, as it:

  • Starts conversations
  • Builds credibility
  • Differentiates an organization
  • Engages audiences instead of sells to them
  • Increases searchability and spreadability

Public relations often “owns” specific communications tools/channels, including media relations, content marketing, speaking opportunities, special events, social media, internal communications, corporate social responsibility, etc. Yet public relations also advances broader business needs and relationships that leverage two-way communications models and executive-level decisions. It does this by:

  • Managing crisis communications/issues, communicating financials, establishing leaders, creating brand advocates, influencing public affairs, building thought leadership, etc., are all PR/Reputation challenges.
  • Addressing key audiences that don’t typically fall into marketing categories, such as influencers, investors, regulators, channel partners, suppliers, etc.

As a result, PR increases the effectiveness of other sales efforts – and it can be measured.

Jim Lukaszewski, ABC, APR, Fellow PRSA, America’s Crisis Guru


Original definition: Doing good and taking credit for it.

New definition: Doing good and letting the good speak for itself.

Maggie Tompkins, Senior Account Executive

Maggie Tompkins

Public relations is about sharing information that matters with people who matter to you, based on smart research and what you know about your market. It is one of the best ways to build a strong reputation as a leader in your industry.

Michelle Peterson, Account Coordinator

Michelle Peterson

Public relations means building your company’s reputation by earning third-party endorsements, such as customer testimonials, media placements and online engagement.

What Is PR – As Told by Professional Organizations

The Risdall PR team gave some helpful insight into the question, “What is PR?” Now we can gain a better understanding by perusing technical definitions of public relations from professional organizations.

Public Relations Society of America

“Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.”

Canadian Public Relations Society

“Public relations is the strategic management of relationships between an organization and its diverse publics, through the use of communication, to achieve mutual understanding, realize organizational goals and serve the public interest.”

International Public Relations Association

“Public relations is defined as the planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain goodwill and mutual understanding between an organisation and its public…”

Chartered Institute of Public Relations

“Public Relations is about reputation – the result of what you do, what you say and what others say about you. Public Relations is the discipline which looks after reputation, with the aim of earning understanding and support and influencing opinion and behaviour. It is the planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain goodwill and mutual understanding between an organisation and its publics.”

Although public relations has many definitions, the theme remains the same: Building relationships between an organization and its audiences.

What Public Relations Means to Your Business

Now that we have a better understanding of what public relations is, let’s talk about why it matters to your business.

Public relations is more than, “We expanded our product line, so we need a news release.”

It’s about telling the story of the people who stand behind your company and their commitment to making customers happy.

Public relations is: “We listened to our customers when they said they wanted a phone case that protects their expensive phones from any type of damage. So we expanded our product line with an indestructible phone case, and we need to let our customers know that we heard them, and we responded.”

Public relations helps your company communicate who you are, what you do and why your business matters to its internal and external audiences. Through these communication pieces, public relations practitioners weave in your company’s core values, which helps your audiences gain a deeper understanding of your company and the people who represent it.

Through all of our public relations services, we work to communicate these kinds of meaningful messages, building relationships with you and your audiences.

Whether you’re just starting to explore the industry of public relations, or you’re an experienced vet, let us know if you have any questions or thoughts on this introduction to public relations by contacting us.

Sources: Public Relations Society of America, Canadian Public Relations Society, International Public Relations Association, Chartered Institute of Public Relations

Photo credit: Richard