Public relations is about reputation - the result of what you do, what you say, and what others say about you.
Public relations aims to earn understanding and support, and influence opinion and behaviour. It is the planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain goodwill and mutual understanding between an organization and its publics.
The organization might be a private or public company, a government, a public sector organization, or even an individual. The target of the communication might be a narrow or broad group, from a section of the public, to business customers, employees, investors, or shareholders.
A good reputation is not earned overnight. It has to be carefully cultivated as understanding and support develop. The management of reputation has to be carefully undertaken with integrity and honesty. It is very fragile and can be lost quickly if words or actions are found to be out of sympathy with reality.
A virtuous circle is created when a good reputation raises expectations about the kind of products or services a company supplies, and the quality of products or services enhances the reputation.
Public relations has to contribute directly to business success. If its task is guarding and managing reputation and relationships this must have a demonstrable effect and not just result in a feel-good factor.
Many different techniques and skills can be used by public relations professionals as part of a campaign to develop mutual communication and understanding with the target audience, from media relations and public affairs (lobbying), to online PR and sponsorship.
Public relations is not always about a short-term campaign, for instance the launch of a new product or service. It also encompasses long-term strategic areas such as advising companies on working with the local community or meeting environmental responsibilities to enhance or protect their image.