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Introduction to public relations

The study of public relations covers many facets, from theory, to the strategic, to the tactical. Yet, in many instances each aspect can inform or be linked to others. The aim of this essay is to focus on a specific facet of public relations and describe its importance and relevance for successful contemporary public relations. In doing so, this writer would be gaining a better understanding of the topic, and therefore, be better positioned to become a more successful public relations professional.

In order to get a better understanding of the relationship between corporate social responsibility and public relations, it is very important to define and explain both of these concepts. Public relations can be defined as “the management of communication between an organisation and its publics” (Grunig & Hunt 1984, p. 6). Similarly, Cutlip, Center & Broom (2006) explains public relations to be “the management function that identifies, establishes, and maintains mutually beneficial relationships between an organization and the various publics on whom its success or failure depends” (p. 6). The concept of corporate social responsibility (CSR) is a little bit more difficult to define, as illustrated by Wadell, Devine, Jones and George (2007) who explains it as being “an evolving term without a recognised set of specific criteria and as such it does not have a standard definition” (p. 174). However, an indication of what the concept involves is presented by Robbins, Bergman, Stagg and Coulter (2003) who discuss social responsibility as a term to mean “an obligation, beyond that required by law and economics, for a firm to pursue long term goals that are good for society” (p. 138). So it can be assumed that corporate social responsibility will be the social responsibility that is expected from an organisation. It would require the organisation to focus beyond its economic and legal objectives, but to also act ethically and be a good corporate citizen by contributing to society.

The definition of both these concepts, particularly that which is provided by Cutlip, Center & Broom (2006, p. 6) makes it clear that corporate public relations involves considerably more than simply communication between an organisation and its publics. As Long & Hazelton (1987) explain, public relations are a communication function through which “organisations adapt to, alter, or maintain their environment for the purpose of achieving organisational goals”. This requires the public relations professional to have a thorough understanding of the organisation’s operating environment. Broadly speaking, the organisation’s operating environment include political, economic, socio-cultural, technological, environmental and legal influences (Harrison 2011, p. 241). The public relations practitioner would need to ensure that they are competent in their understanding of the trends, if any, they can be identified in each of these environmental areas, as well as be sensitive to issues and many other concerns that an organisation’s stakeholders may have, which will affect the organisation’s future.

Understanding corporate social responsibility and what it entails is actually very important. This is quite a broad area and requires looking at the organisation from a non-financial perspective. It requires getting understanding of the various stakeholders in the organisation has, as well as their needs. Organisations have many stakeholders, who are defined as “any constituencies in the organisation’s external environment that are affected by the organisation’s decisions or actions” (Robbins et al, 2003, p. 92). Orlitzky, Siegel and Waldman (2011) outline that “multinational firms are increasingly pressured by numerous stakeholders to engage in social and environmental responsibility” (p. 6).

In the modern competitive market is no longer appropriate enough to simply focus on producing high-quality goods and providing a high standard of service. There is simply too much competition in the market and most of the industry participants provide high-quality goods as well as a high standard of service. In order to differentiate themselves, organisations need to do something more. It is now not a matter of what the organisation does, but how they do it. Those organisations who are seen as being better corporate citizens tend to attract more customers, as well as employees. A professional public relations practitioner can do a lot to assist the organisation to be more valued by their customers and other stakeholders. The public relations practitioner can be the organisation’s agent who works with the organisation’s stakeholders to identify, establish, and maintain mutually beneficial relationships, on which the organisation’s success or failure depends.

In conclusion, organisations do not operate in a vacuum. Their operations are affected by various forces, which may include legal, economic, political and so forth. Furthermore, an organisation has multiple stakeholders. Gone are the days where the key stakeholders with owners and managers. Today’s society is much more sensitive towards the way organisations and managed and operated. Consumers, lobby groups and suppliers have certain expectations of the organisation, and these expectations are not met then this could have a negative effect on the goodwill and financial performance of the organisation. The public relations practitioner is the bridge between the organisation and is very stakeholders. It is therefore very important, for the public relations practitioner to identify who the organisation is very stakeholders may be, what their needs and expectations of the organisation are, as well as the influential forces which make impact their reputation operations of the organisation. These various factors form part of a study of corporate social responsibility. It is therefore very important for the public relations practitioner to be aware of the concept of corporate social responsibility as well as have an understanding of what it entails.


Cutlip, SM, Center, AH & Broom, GM 2006, Effective Public Relations, 9th ed, Pearson Prentice Hall, New Jersey.

Grunig, JE & Hunt, T 1984, Managing Public Relations, Holt, Rinehart & Winston, New Jersey.

Harrison, K 2011, Strategic Public Relations – A Guide to Practical Success, Palgrave MacMillian, Melbourne.

Long, LW & Hazleton, V 1987, “Public relations: a theoretical and practical response”, Public Relations Review, vol. 13, no. 2, pp. 32 – 5.

Orlitzky, M, Siegel, DS & Waldman, DA 2011, “Strategic Corporate Social Responsibility and Environmental Sustainability”, Business & Society, vol. 50, no. 1, pp. 6 – 27.

Robbins, SP, Bergman, R, Stagg, I & Coulter, M 2003, Management, 3rd ed, Prentice Hall, Sydney.

Wadell, D, Devine, J, Jones, G & George, J 2007, Contemporary Management, McGraw-Hill Irwin, Sydney.