Let’s Define Public Relations!

Hello people of the internet and welcome to our first installment of exploring concepts and terms in relation to the broad field of Public Relations. Seeing how you are here, I am sure that you have a basic understanding of what public relations actually are. I actually have an extensive background in the medical field and have never really actively thought about public relations as a concept, though I believe I do indeed get the general idea.When asked early in January from my instructor, I responded,”I define public relations as the idea of understanding the relationship you or the entity you are working withes relationship with other entities or the general public. Once you have that knowledge, you can then work on building or maintaining those relationships through various means and techniques, though it would primarily be through advertising and interpersonal communications.” Now, this definition comes from me having general knowledge of what PR actually is from a previous class I took at Grand Valley State University, but to be honest, while I think I am generally right, there are better definitions out there and we will explore them together.

I began my search by simply searching for,”what is PR?” I got a bunch of pages which really didn’t tell me wanted I to know. Not yet discouraged, I refined my search to,” definition of PR?” I got some more results, but yet again, nothing I really wanted to use. Several other searches later, including a trip to NFL.com and dorkly.com, I finally put in a term and found a definition that satisfied what I was looking for. Seeing how English came from England,( well, technically northern Germany and influenced by French, but we won’t get into that) I wanted to get a British perspective on this matter, which I found on the UK’s CIPR (chartered institute of public relations) website and found their definition to be satisfying. “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”(CIPR,2016) While my actual definition doesn’t exactly match theirs, the concepts match almost exactly, so I think I am on the right track.

But I wasn’t satisfied just yet. While CIPR is official and a legitimate site, I wanted more of an academic backbone to help further my understanding and perhaps refine my understanding of the definition, maybe even getting a different perspective on the matter.Several searches and distractions from external stimuli later, I finally decided to look at this from a communications standpoint, seeing how I am a communications major. I found an article by Terrence Flynn PhD of McMaster University who wrote an article for the Research Journal of the Institute for Public Relations Vol. 3, No. 1 (August, 2016) edition and found it to be quite informative and worth the read.It went into the importance of effective communication is and how understanding how communication actually works will only increase in importance in the future. The one thing that struck me the most in this article and I always try to keep in mind is, as stated by Flynn,”Furthermore,  how audiences respond to specific messages is often dependent on the individual that is delivering the message and the receptivity of the audience to that messenger”(Flynn, 2016 ) I am glad to see at least some people are focusing on this specific facet of communication. But how does this affect PR? Well, maybe your message won’t always mean the same thing to every audience. Suppose you start a campaign about a new shoe you are selling? Well, who are your models? Where are your shoes coming from? What is the material made of? These and many more questions can and will pop up, so as communicators, we need to be aware of these details that may seem small to us, but could be huge to others.

I decided to look for something a bit different this time for a new perspective on public relations, so I decided to look at an example of excellent public relations in the world of video games and health. Don’t worry, this will make sense in a minute. While I personally know if this event, I will also cite an article to help prove my point. Back in 2005, the Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game(MMORPG) World of Warcraft experience and in-game pandemic. Due to an in-game bug, an ability that is only supposed to affect players in a certain area glitched and managed to escape to the general population, creating a pandemic. What ensued was chaos for a few days. Weaker players who couldn’t fight off the “disease” died off and were not able to resurrect, some tried to keep others alive, some hid in the wilds, others went into isolation and others decided to try and spread their “disease” to as many people as possible. After a few days, Blizzard hard reset the servers, apologized and the incident was actually used as inspiration for future content. But that is not the end of the story. A few years later, researchers requested to use data collected by Blizzard with the intent of studying how people might react during a health crisis.Yes, a video game was used by professional epidemiologists to showcase and study potential real world scenarios. The very fact Blizzard did this was an amazing PR move for the company, showing how flexible and creative they are. In the article I am citing, the author, Callie Stewart explains this event in great detail and even mentions some of the researchers who actually studied this event, like Ran Balicer, Eric Lofgren, and Nina Fefferman. So how does this apply to the definition of public relations? Well, one must be flexible in times of hardship, just like Blizzard demonstrated during the Corrupted Blood Event.

So at the end of this humble blog, we have gone over an official definition of public relations, a perspective of it from a communications standpoint and even looked at an actual public relations event that we used to help add to the definition. From reading everything, I can conclude that the public relations definition is alive, meaning that one set definition will not suite it for very long. Sure, the core concepts of maintaining good communication and relationships will remain, but the specifics and nuances are forever evolving.

Until next time internet, stay beautiful.



CIPR. (2016). Retrieved January 18, 2017, from https://www.cipr.co.uk/content/careers-advice/what-pr

This website and its content (except where explicitly marked and credited to a third party) is the copyright of the CIPR – © The Chartered Institute of Public Relations 2016. All rights reserved.

FLynn, T. (2016, August 17). You Had Me at Hello: How Personal, Developmental and Social Characteristics Influence Communicator Persuasiveness and Effectiveness. Retrieved January 18, 2017, from http://www.instituteforpr.org/hello-personal-developmental-social-characteristics-influence-communicator-persuasiveness-effectiveness/

Stewart, C. (2015, November 16). How Scientists Are Using World Of Warcraft To Save Lives. Retrieved January 18, 2017, from http://all-that-is-interesting.com/corrupted-blood



One thought on “Let’s Define Public Relations!

  1. Same. And I just refuse to acknowledge there are this many stupid people in the world, too depressing. I only watch bits and pieces of the show and then read the recaps, Patrick is great at capturing detail and I usually can plug right back in to a scene based on his hilarious descriptions.


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