Redefining PR : Inspired by the New York Times

If you have any experience in the public relations world, chances are when you have told someone you do PR for a living they asked something along these lines: “So, what is public relations?”

Even the Public Relations Society of America has difficulty defining what public relations encompasses. In his recent article in the New York Times, Stuart Elliot revisits this idea of defining public relations in the new age of social media.  It seems as though no one can clearly define what public relations is.

From a personal and academic standpoint, public relations involves three components: managing, analyzing, and marketing.

1. MANAGING: As a public relations professional, one is always checking social media sites, managing brand reputation, and making sure everything that has to do with a company’s image is running smoothly. In a sense, public relations professionals are mini-managers of all branches of marketing, advertising, and sales. Even though many public relations employees have no connection with these departments, it is their role to interpret and promote their company in a way that is favorable to the public.

2. ANALYZING: Analytics have recently become an important responsibility that public relations professionals have. They need to essentially analyze the use of their company’s online presence and use of marketing tactics and diagnose them as successful or unsuccessful. Analytics have become popular partly due to the easy ability to track an online image with help from sites like Google Analytics.

3. MARKETING: Whether they would like to admit it or not, public relations professionals are essentially promoting the marketing within their company. Through writing press releases, direct mailers, and articles that their company will use, they serve as a pseudo-marketer. The difference, however, between marketers and public relations staff is that marketers are solely responsible for marketing – while public relations staff are responsible for the successful marketing, promotion, analyzing, and managing of an image.

How can your firm or agency be successful in this process? Let’s take a simple case study of Boston University’s College of Communication (COM) and their own public relations behavior:


1. Boston University  has multiple Twitter accounts and Facebook pages. Almost each department has a Twitter handle (@Comugrad, @COMcareers), and even Dean Sabovik (@DeanSaboSays) has a Twitter account. This is an efficient and effective way of getting their message across and keeping everyone in the loop—at least for those who use Twitter.

2. Very nice, put-together adverts and posters about COM are all over campus—yet another great way to get their message out and to showcase the work of students at the same time.


1. The amount of social media COM produces can be overwhelming for new students or students who have not used Twitter before. Sometimes they may miss out.

2. BU has a large international student population. Providing an online presence on social media sites used in other countries may have a positive effect for these students and make them more involved.

In terms of print media, COM does a fairly decent job of communicating – although it seems that most of what they do is through e-mail or social media. Rather than redefining public relations in general, we need to redefine it as Elliot states, “in the age of social media”.

What do you think defines public relations? What components are necessary for a solid definition?

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