- 1: the business of inducing the public to have understanding for and goodwill toward a person, firm, or institution; also : the degree of understanding and goodwill achieved
Ivy Lee and Edward Louis Bernays established the first definition of public relations in the early 1900s as follows: "a management function, which tabulates public attitudes, defines the policies, procedures, and interests of an organization... followed by executing a program of action to earn public understanding and acceptance."
Public relations (PR) is the practice of managing the spread of information between an individual or an organization and the public. Public relations may include an organization or individual gaining exposure to their audiences using topics of public interest and news items that do not require direct payment. The aim of public relations by a company often is to persuade the public, investors, partners, employees, and other stakeholders to maintain a certain point of view about it, its leadership, products, or of political decisions. Common activities include speaking at conferences, winning industry awards, working with the press, and employee communication.
Most textbooks consider the establishment of the Publicity Bureau in 1900 to be the founding of the public relations profession. However academics have found early forms of public influence and communications management in ancient civilizations, during the settling of the New World and during the movement to abolish slavery in England. Basil Clark is considered the founder of public relations in the United Kingdom for his establishment of Editorial Services in 1924, though academic Noel Turnball believes PR was founded in Britain first by evangelicals and Victorian reformers.
Propaganda was used by the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany and others to rally for domestic support and demonize enemies during the World Wars, which led to more sophisticated commercial publicity efforts as public relations talent entered the private sector. Most historians believe public relations became established first in the US by Ivy Lee or Edward Bernays, then spread internationally. Many American companies with PR departments spread the practice to Europe when they created European subsidiaries as a result of the Marshall plan.
The second half of the 1900s is considered the professional development building era of public relations. Trade associations, PR news magazines, international PR agencies, and academic principles for the profession were established. In the early 2000s, press release services began offering social media press releases. The Cluetrain Manifesto, which predicted the impact of social media in 1999, was controversial in its time, but by 2006, the effect of social media and new internet technologies became broadly accepted.
The field of public relations is generally highly un-regulated, but many professionals voluntarily adhere to the code of conduct of one or more professional bodies to avoid exposure for ethical violations. The Chartered Institute of Public Relations, the Public Relations Society of America and The Institute of Public Relations are a few organizations that publish an ethical code. Still, Edelman's 2003 semi-annual trust survey found that only 20 percent of survey respondents from the public believed paid communicators within a company were credible.