What is PR, what is it not?

Written by J.Brooks Christol

We spend a lot of time thinking about public relations – that segment of the marketing field where I began my career, and lived in it for many years. While we tell people we’re in advertising, we spend just as much time working in the other realms of marketing, like PR. This is the first in a four-part series about Public Relations.

Up every morning, out every evening

Hustling for headlines, that’s what I do

Table at Sardi’s, grappling for gossip

Working the press for a mention or two…

Public Relations, Public Relations

Boozing and schmoozing, that’s what I do

PR’s my vocation

And I’m a sensation

Public relations

Such hullabaloo

Chorus of Public Relations, Norman Paperman in Jimmy Buffett’s Don’t Stop the Carnival.


The public has a misconception about what PR actually is. It’s been the longest running joke in our field that the industry that manages the reputations of clients has no handle on its own reputation. We won’t get into the debate here, but you may be able to discern for yourselves after a while.


There are whole chapters of textbooks, no, whole textbooks, defining PR. Let’s go to the “source.”


Or, how about those other sources:

  • Google’s Official Dictionary -the professional maintenance of a favorable public image by a company or other organization or a famous person
    • OR, the state of the relationship between the public and a company or other organization or a famous person.
  • PRSA – “Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.” http://www.prsa.org/AboutPRSA/PublicRelationsDefined/#.U9eKu0jPbTk
  • Edelman – The largest PR firm in the world – Edelman delivers the best in communications strategy to our clients so they can reach their business and communication goals.http://www.edelman.com/what-we-do/


So, four different authoritative definitions, each one fairly different. Each one accurate.


The public, on the other hand, has another version of the definition. Anytime a company tries to do something good, it’s for Good PR. Anytime a company puts on an event or a fun attraction, it’s a PR Stunt (stunts are real things but this is often said with such disdain). If a company finds itself at the wrong end of a pointing finger, its Bad PR.  PR people are just celebrity managers that party all night and become alcoholics by age 35 by boozing clients and reporters. If a company is wishy-washy in the public’s mind, they “need PR.” Okay, so this last one is relatively true.


Here’s the fallacy, the public sees PR as the product when PR is a discipline. For Barker & Christol, Public Relations is:

the strategic process of proactively and reactively teaching a target audience about a brand via the influencers in the audience’s lives, therefore instilling a carefully-crafted brand identity as truth.


Public Relations is a process that works to improve and maintain how the public perceives a brand (organization or product), whether that member of the public is a potential customer or not. Why do we care whether a non-customer cares? Because, as we’ll explore later, the non-customer falls into another category of Public, and that is the influencer.


In the next post I’ll delve into a little about the influencer and why it’s a unique and vital part of the PR Strategy. If you can’t wait, give me a call and we’ll set up some time to talk.


If you’d like the rest of the Norman Paperman story, read the complete lyrics here or Read the original work by Herman Wouk.