Public Relations Scope

Study Preview Public relations is a prolific generator of mass media messages. The public relations industry is large and growing. Despite its size, public relations functions mostly behind-the-scenes. Done well, public relations contributes to social consensus. Although sometimes confused with advertising and news, public relations is substantively different.

Learning Objectives By the end of this module you will be able to:

  1. 8.1.1 Describe the current role of public relations
  2. 8.1.2 Outline dialogic theory as it refers to public relations

8.1.1 Public Relations Industry 1. Objective: Describe the current role of public relations

Public Relations is a profession in which professional help facilitate mutually beneficial relations between organizations and the public. Public relations agencies also help organizations portray the image they wish to project to general public, as well as an organization’s employees, investors, customers, analysts, and other key stakeholders. In contrast to advertising, PR firms create campaigns that focus on public interest and news coverage, rather than paid advertisements and marketing.

How do public relations agencies accomplish their goals? According to the PRSA, they engage in a wide range of activities focusing on communication and public image of their clients. This includes addressing public opinion that may impact an organization and counseling an organization’s management on a range of issues affecting its public image such as policy making, decision making, and

communication. Public relations agencies also research a range of issues to inform an organization about public dynamics that can impact an organization’s success, and they support an organization’s attempt to influence or change public policy.

Often, the work of public relations agencies is largely invisible as it occurs “behind the scenes,” so it may be surprising to many that there are about 87,000 public relations professionals working for about 7,000 public relations agencies in the United States. When those working in-house for organizations (institutes, nonprofits, companies, etc.), government agencies, and multinational organizations are taken into account, the number of public relations professionals increases dramatically.

A ranking of PR firms is difficult because some are part of larger advertising companies that don’t break out subsidiary revenue, but according to the Holmes Report, the top 10 public relations agencies are the following:

Agency Revenues Size Edelman $854,576,000 Over 5,000 employees Weber Shandwick $775,000,000 1,001–5,000 employees Fleishman Hillard $570,000,000 1,001–5,000 employees Ketchum $530,000,000 1,001–5,000 employees Burson-Marsteller $480,000,000 1,001–5,000 employees Hill+Knowlton Strategies $385,000,000 1,001–5,000 employees Ogilvy PR $347,000,000 1,001–5,000 employees Golin $227,000,000 501–1,000 employees Cohn & Wolfe $200,000,000 1,001–5,000 employees FTI Consulting $189,974,000 1,001–5,000 employees

Because globalization has increased the world’s interconnectedness, most organizations, even smaller ones, now conduct business on a global scale, which means that public relations firms must do the same. For instance, Edelman spans the globe, with offices in Canada, Asia Pacific, the Middle East, and Africa; Latin America, including Argentina, Brazil, Columbia, and Mexico; and throughout Europe, including Belgium, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.

In fact, the global nature of the public relations profession is so important that the Commission on Public Relations Education (CPRE) commissioned a research study that involved asking participants in public relations from around the world to make curriculum recommendations for public relations educational programs. The

recommendations are based on the contention that public relations educational programs must prepare public relations leaders who can compete in a global market that increasingly requires professionals to be globally minded, culturally competent, and able to utilize technology, such as social media, in a way that enables the globalization of communication. The result of the study was a Global Teaching Toolkit, which included a range of recommendations for future global public relations educational programs. Some of the recommendations included the development of global educational and professional standards, cases that drew from experiences outside of the United States, and curriculum that could be adapted to local realities and cultural differences. The ultimate rationale for increasing global content in public relations educational programs was that “students need to be competitive in global business and need to provide clients with whatever skills the client desires in building communicative relationships with stakeholders.”

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