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2.1 Defining Public Relations

Among the many competing definitions of public relations, J. Grunig and Hunt’s is the most widely cited definition of public relations: Public relations is “the management of communication between an organization and its publics.”Grunig and Hunt (1984), p. 4. Emphasis in original. One reason this definition is so successful is its parsimony, or using few words to convey much information. It also lays down the foundation of the profession squarely within management, as opposed to the competing approaches of journalism or the promotion-based approach of marketing and advertising that focuses primarily on consumers. The component parts of Grunig and Hunt’s famous definition of public relations are as follows:

  • ManagementThe body of knowledge on how best to coordinate the activities of an enterprise to achieve effectiveness.. The body of knowledge on how best to coordinate the activities of an enterprise to achieve effectiveness.
  • CommunicationThe process of not only sending a message to a receiver but also understanding the messages of others through listening and dialogue.. Not only sending a message to a receiver but also understanding the messages of others through listening and dialogue.
  • OrganizationAny group organized with a common purpose; in most cases, it is a business, a corporation, a governmental agency, or a nonprofit group.. Any group organized with a common purpose; in most cases, it is a business, a corporation, a governmental agency, or a nonprofit group.
  • PublicsAny group(s) of people held together by a common interest. They often self-organize and do not have to attune to an organization's messages.. Any group(s) of people held together by a common interest. They differ from audiences in that they often self-organize and do not have to attune to messages; publics differ from stakeholders in that they do not necessarily have a financial stake tying them to specific goals or consequences of the organization. Targeted audiences, on the other hand, are publics who receive a specifically targeted message that is tailored to their interests.

As “the management of communication between an organization and its publics,” public relations has radically departed from its historical roots in publicity and journalism to become a management discipline—that is, one based on research and strategy.