Public relations (PR) might mean the difference between success and failure when we think about a company as a whole, and not only in terms of its image. Strategic thinking, good media relations, and a handful of skills are the baseline for PR agencies, departments, and professionals.

What does public relations mean?

According to the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), “public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.” It’s a good definition, and not only because it was created after PRSA received a few thousand submissions for its idea, but the general question remains: what does that mean in practice?

Modern days brought challenges to companies and professionals within each department, from media management to line workers. That being said, the standard definitions for each of those areas aren’t enough anymore to explain what professionals in their respective fields really do. The main concept of public relations is pretty straightforward: create, manage, and strategize how a company relates to its audience, in order to further advance and evolve at both ends. It is in that sense that PRSA’s definition is valid: PR professionals usually work on creating mutually beneficial relationships between the company and the public, and more than that, on explaining to the audience — and convincing them of — those benefits.

However, public relations per se means much more than that. Understanding each lead, each medium the potential customers might use — including social media platforms —, search engine optimization, general public perception, brand positioning, media relations, and much more, makes public relations professionals true chameleons proficient in each field of the marketing industry. So, public relations’ on-paper definition and its actual field of work might be worlds apart.

PR professionals will be able to reach their goals through knowledge, strategy, adaptation, risk management, and other independent abilities. Methods can vary, but nobody related to the industry will ever say it’s easy or only requires some basic skills.


Public relations is your license to operate. Every company needs relationships just to exist. Relationships with customers, employees, investors, legislators, and so many more. Every company has a reputation with each of these stakeholders. The clue is in the name. Public relations is about reputations and relationships. Reputation is a result of what you do. Public relations is primarily about what a company does and then about what it says and what others say about it,” shares Stuart Bruce, PR Futurist.

Ultimately, the amount of work required is huge and needs thoughtful planning, which means the PR industry is extremely strategic — creating, applying, managing, and adapting the communication process to the audience is the bread and butter of any good PR department.

Nevertheless, the general perception of public relations can be much more limited. It’s not unusual to think that PR efforts only result in media exposure and/or media coverage. That, however, is only a tiny slice of a PR department’s work — media relations. As already mentioned, generating brand awareness and taking care of the brand’s image is much more than sending out a few press releases to a bunch of journalists.

To answer “what is public relations”, we need to understand this diversity of fields and how they are all geared towards the objective of clear, convincing, and smart communications between a company and its public — that’s why they’re all immensely valuable, and the work of PR professionals will be a significant asset towards the company’s success.

What is what: advertising, communications, and public relations

As a study field, marketing is a giant octopus with many tentacles. However, most good PR professionals are at least somewhat in touch with each of these tentacles; every one of them concerns the PR department since they all affect the company’s image in some sense — that’s the objective, after all. Thus, fields of expertise such as advertising and internal communications are deeply related to PR.

You can have your advertising ideas come from the Commercial sector (for instance) or your internal communications managed by Human Resources, but in most cases, it falls on PR to map at least the strategic development of such campaigns. Endomarketing, as an example, — a very flamboyant name for “good internal communications” — relies very much on strategy, and ultimately, it’s more connected to PR than HR. Both areas should work together to deliver an experience tailored to each and all of your employee’s needs that makes them comfortable and happy in the work environment.

That kind of “department interoperability” is the standard for modern PR professionals. One of the most common challenges PR faces is building those links; being public relations of the public relations department. Easier said than done, trust me — and people thinking that PR is just sending off a bunch of annoying emails aren’t helping to overcome this challenge.

Therefore, while marketing, advertising, communications, and public relations can be allocated across different company sectors, they are all fed from the same source: in-depth management of the company’s public perception. While they can be theoretically thought of as fairly independent fields of work, they’re all closely interconnected. Also, a PR professional should be able to handle those situations — after all, if you’re creating a campaign on Instagram, it’s still public relations. You can call yourself a social media expert, but you’ll likely still report to the PR department — or whatever your company chooses to name it.

What are the roles of a public relations professional?

Marketing goes through many steps, and in public relations, there are many tools to maneuver the brand’s image and public acceptance. Career prospects usually include the following attributions:

Media relations