What is Public Relations? The Definition of PR

Recently we’ve been touching on the basics of PR quite often. This is due to the fact that PR is still largely misunderstood or confused with other communication practices. In this article we’ll be recapping what PR is, in its truest form, what a PR specialist does, as well as what the advantages and disadvantages of PR are (positives and negatives). We’ll briefly touch on the difference between marketing communications and public relations as well.

March 22, 2022 |

6 minutes

Photo of Matias Rodsevich, CEO of PRLab

CEO of PRLab

Cover photo for the article Public Relations Definition


What is PR?

You’ve probably heard someone use the term “public relations” before, but what does PR mean exactly?

To give a brief definition of what is meant by PR: Public Relations is a strategic communications process that sets out to build and maintain mutually beneficial relationships between two or more parties.

For example, this can be a relationship between a company and their publics (customers, consumers, general public), a business-to-business (B2B) relationship, or a relationship your company has with specific journalists.

1. What do you mean by public relations?

What is PR: Public relations is the process of managing and sharing information from an individual or company to the relevant public or target audience to influence their perception. PR also aims to generate mutually beneficial relationships by engaging with third parties for various purposes. In this sense, PR tactics are also famously implemented to develop, grow, enhance and protect reputations.

2. What is PR in marketing?

Considering the holistic spectrum of communications, we have what’s called the “Integrated Communications Process” or “Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC)”. Companies use this process to organize communications by following a customer-centric approach, ensuring that a clear connection is visible across all marketing and communications channels & platforms. This way all marketing and communication objectives align.

Within IMC, we have PR as a tool to support the overall marketing communications. So, the meaning of public relations in marketing is that PR focuses on promotion via editorial content. For example, thought leadership articles featured in magazines, online news channels and blogs is most likely the result of PR efforts.

Key to remember is that PR is not the same as advertising. In marketing, PR sets out to secure publicity through third-party endorsements and to gain earned media attention. This is different from advertising where you would pay to definitely get your advertisement featured.

In this case the benefit of PR is that third-party validation is gained, showing that other sources of information already support you. To have achieved this, someone has had to authenticate your content, giving the final PR product an added level of trustworthiness.

Skeptical audience
Guaranteed media placement
Visual contents
Convinces to buy
Public Relations
Third-party validation
Must convince media agents
More use of language (educational value)
Shares value

To give a practical example of non-paid marketing, a PR agency could establish a relationship with a journalist (endorser) and then get backlinks via guest blogging on their website (earned media). The relationship benefits both parties - the agency gets featured on the journalist’s site (good for SEO and market reach) and in return would share exclusive stories with the journalist.

It’s always good to think strategically about what you want to achieve with your marketing efforts, in some cases PR would be the first option to achieve your set goals, another time advertising would be the main priority and public relations could act as the supporting measure.

Within the IMC process, PR implements various techniques and tactics to help meet the holistic communication goals. In this, PR has a different set of objectives than marketing, the main difference being that PR focuses on promotion via editorial content and sharing value-adding materials that enhances the overall marketing plan.


Understanding PR

The idea of Public Relations is that a person, company, or brand is presented to the public in the brightest light possible. This is done by daily practices by PR professionals such as generating positive press coverage and suggesting business decisions that gain the support of the general public.

Simply put, PR is defined as spreading a brand’s image in natural ways, for example setting a thought leader - a name and a face to represent the company and add value to its image by attaching beliefs and movements that the brand supports, new ideas that are passed in the industry, and expertise in whatever the industry is.

These practices are extremely impactful for companies that operate with public shares because these shares are valued on the basis of the public’s trust in- and association with the company in question. The concept of PR includes, in its definition, practices like media requests, shareholder concerns, information about the company, questions regarding the brand, and the brand’s image.

It is also observed that PR professionals sometimes practice negative PR, which is the idea of devaluing competitors’ image, despite these practices being frowned upon and conflicting with the code of ethics established in the industry.


What is a PR Specialist?

A PR specialist is someone who helps a company, brand or person nurture a positive image and reputation for the public by creating, planning and executing PR strategies, including various promotional campaigns through different channels and formats, such as social media, press releases, real-life engagements, etc.

There’s two subcategories that engulf the role of a PR specialist - positive storytelling and negative damage control. The former relates to activities that boost a brand’s image like drafting stories, media outreach, and brand awareness through news and press, social media, etc.

The latter, on the other hand, handles negative PR that has stained the brand. PR professionals need to mitigate damages from such sources, which can be done via crisis communications, apology messages, strategies to restore reputation, and more.


Positive PR

Positive PR is a byproduct of a proactive company. The exercises PR specialists practice revolve around shaping the brand’s reputation and presenting it in a positive light. This includes anything the brand is related to - its ideas, product, achievements, people, thought leaders. The role of positive PR strategies is to improve how the audience perceives the brand and what it's associated with.

Examples of Positive PR Exercises

This category is purely constructive - it builds on values and beliefs. If the company you work for is in close contact with healthcare and medicine, positive PR will create a campaign to raise awareness for an important topic in healthcare. That way your brand will not only be seen as supportive of the movement but also builds a reputation for acting on it.

Some examples of positive PR include:

1. Campaigns to raise awareness
2. Data-driven press release indicating a company’s action/achievements
3. Two-way communication for a more intimate connection with the audience


Negative PR

Negative PR, as opposed to positive, does not build on something new, but rather deals with response to any negative connotations surrounding a brand’s reputation. In that sense, practices in this area are ex post facto (after the fact) actions that will mitigate any damage that might occur from a previous event involving the company.

Examples of Negative PR Exercises

This compilation of practices exists as a response mechanism to any unwanted or negative publicity. For example, if a company’s product malfunctions or in any way causes harm to its consumers, the PR team will deal with a backlash and potential threat to the existence of that product, and company. In these cases, emergency response methods must be used to ensure that the company is not associated with profit-making but rather puts the consumer or relevant audience first and foremost.

Examples of Negative PR, or damage control, are:

1. Reactive Crisis Communication (responding to the audience and reassuring them of the company’s priorities in this context
2. Releasing messages as a response or apology, addressing the current crisis in question
3. Strategies to restore reputation by focusing on keeping the brand’s values and act to
help the damaged parties


What is PR in Marketing and What are the Differences?

Public relations is often confused with marketing with people using these two terms as synonyms. But they’re different. Essentially by definition, public relations is the exercising of techniques and strategies that impact the reputation of a brand, company, or person with the purpose of cementing a trusting relationship between the brand and its public audience.

Marketing on the other hand relates to practices that aim to raise awareness and stimulate purchases of products and services by using consumer-driven techniques like strategic placement, advertising, pricing, promotions, etc.

The fundamental difference is that, while PR focuses on increasing a brand’s presence and creating a long lasting positive image for that brand, marketing fixates on increasing revenue and boosting the promotion and sale of specific products and services.

To take a deeper look, we can identify 4 main categories where PR and marketing differ from one another.

The daily life of a PR specialist includes writing up press releases, contacting and reaching out to media outlets, pitching story ideas, crisis communications, etc. In contrast, a marketer will create advertising campaigns for a product or service, review customer research, channel marketing, plan strategies for paid promotions of goods and services, etc. Each set of tasks has its own end goal, which differs from the other.

Secondly, the functions of a PR expert are to establish relationships that add value to the brand, create partnerships with mutual benefit, and manage the image of the company. Marketers focus on meeting the needs of the customer, acquire more customers, and promote operational qualities of the product or service.

In third place is the target audience that PR professionals and marketers have. The former aims to affect customers as well as employees, investors, journalists, media outlets, and other stakeholders. The latter’s target audience is all that fall within B2C and B2B categories.

Lastly, the metrics to measure success are different in a marketing and a PR campaign. A PR campaign’s success depends on its potential reach, voice shared, social engagement, the quality of the coverage, the domain authority of its online presence, and traffic earned from media outlets. Marketers have less metrics, which are however more fixed. Marketing campaigns indicate success on the basis of sales qualified leads, traffic from organic search, marketing quality leads, cost-per-click, return on investment (ROI).



Public relations is an industry with greater potential than one might think. Its impact reflects how the public perceives companies, brands, and people in a given sphere. It affects whether your brand is seen as just a mere corporation set to make money, or if it has values and beliefs attached to it, ideas to spread, and priorities that differ from financial gains.

PR specialists work day in and day out to make sure that a brand’s reputation is maintained and a positive image is created and spread for the public to engage with. Their activities constantly spread brand awareness, initiate campaigns, tell stories of their achievements and ideas, and tackle negative content that can stain what is built by communicating in more engaged ways with the target audience.

Whereas marketers struggle to increase sales and spread awareness about products and services through paid methods and ads, public relations experts nurture thought leaders and innovators that can lead an industry with ideas, trends, values, and movements.

The full meaning of PR is for an engaged audience to be able to relate to a brand or company not simply because of their products or services, but because of what they stand for. What does PR stand for in business?

It’s the stepping stone for all startups and scaleups, an opportunity to be placed on the map, tell their unique stories, how they want to change the world, and how they will benefit the most people and inspire others looking at the industry.

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