Literature Review on Public Relations

Bizning Vakil By Bizning Vakil, 3rd Nov 2012 | Follow this author | RSS Feed | Short URL
Posted in Wikinut>Business>Analysis

In the last few decades, we have witnessed so many changes in the consumers’ preferences and cultural trends. These changes have resulted such that today's people have become less responsive to the traditional marketing pressures, especially advertising (Duncan, 2002). Yet, companies have sought out various ways of promoting their goods. One of the promotion methods is the concept of Public Relations.

Public Relations

The concept of Public Relations is a very important promotion tool for the business organizations because positive relations built with the public can directly and indirectly affect the organization’s business activities. Public Relations is the process of “building good relations with the firm’s various publics by obtaining favorable publicity, building up a good corporate image, and handling or heading off unfavorable rumors, stories, and events” (, 2011).

The earliest given definition for Public Relations, which still holds true, is that it is the attempt by information, persuasion and adjustment to engineer public support for an activity, cause, movement or institution (Bernays, 1955). Indeed, for decades, it was widely believed that public relations practice was largely a 20th century phenomenon (Sriramesh 2009). Until about 15 years ago, the origins of ‘modern’ (20th century) public relations had also been traced to early 20th century practices predominantly in the US and UK. Especially in the past decade, a growing number of scholars have argued that public relations-like practices had been in existence even in pre-biblical times (ibid). Al-Badr (2004, cited in Sriramesh 2009) argued that public relations in the Middle East can be traced back at least 4,000 years “as evidenced in a cuneiform tablet found in Iraq resembling a bulletin telling farmers how to grow better crops” (pp. 192–193). German scholars Bentele and Wehmeyer (2009, cited in Sriramesh 2009) have traced the roots of ‘modern’ public relations in Germany to the mid-nineteenth century. Others have done the same for several other countries of the world (Sriramesh 2009).

Public relations scholarship is even younger than the ‘modern’ form of the public relations practice. Although Edward Bernays is credited by scholars with authoring the first book of public relations in 1923 titled Crystallizing Public Opinion, theory development in public relations only began in the mid 1970s (ibid). Hence, this field that exclusively studies Public Relations is relatively new and, therefore, according to Leeper and Leeper (2001), this field borrows theories of communication from the social science disciplines yet there is no one theory that is Public Relations. They also claim that the field lacks a sense of identity, “failing to define its purpose, scope and dimension” (ibid, p. 463). There are some unfavorable definitions given for Public Relations. One example is that it is “the manipulation of public behavior for the benefit of the manipulated publics as well as the sponsoring organizations” (Grunig, 1989, p. 18–19). However, these unfavorable perceptions are often neglected.

Public Relations is not a simple concept. While it may truthfully be a very effective marketing tool for the business organizations, it comes with some serious problems that must be dealt with. The fundamental problem in the successful Public Relations lies within the very term itself: the breakdown of the word public. Carthy (1992) has found that:
The public is divided into many smaller publics or audiences. These include employees, the community, customers, consumers, suppliers, distributors, politicians, public servants, financial institutions, stockbrokers, shareholders, financial analysts and opinion leaders” (1992 P5).

Clearly then, to engage or relate to each public a different relative approach is needed. However this diversification of approaches has caused public relations to branch, overlap and otherwise be confused with other disciplines. This in turn has lead to the public relations process having many various roots and functions leaving it almost indefinable in its own right, as already commented on.

Another challenge within the Public Relations can be seen in the discussions on its identity. Indeed, it is claimed that the Public Relations is not an activity so much as ongoing ever evolving process. Based on this claim, Wilcox et al (2001) argue that most definitions are redundant as they only embrace certain elements of the full public relations role. What most authors fail to realize, Wilcox et al (2001) argue, is that “public relations is a process involving many subtle and far reaching aspects. It includes research and analysis, policy formation, programming, communication, and feedback from numerous publics” (Wilcox et al, 2001, P11).

In search of a better definition, Harrison (2000) explains, “the best definition of a term may be what the experts who practice in the field usually mean when they use it” (P2). Arguably the most repeated and revered account of what pubic relations is, has been offered by the Institute of Public Relations (IPR) the UK’s professional representation for the industry. They declare that “Public Relations is the planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain goodwill and understanding between an organization and its publics” (cited in Harrison 2000). This statement encompasses three highly important aspects of the profession:
1. It is, like other business functions, composed of a strategic base
2. It highlights an end result (goodwill and understanding)
3. It invests in the concept of communicating. After all it is only through this that understanding can occur.

Through this definition public relations can be identified as a profession which supports, rather than hinders an arena of understanding and facilitates debate. On this discussion, Wilcox et al (2001) put it better when they wrote: “their approach represents the same theory that Public Relations is more than persuasion” (P3).

Because it is such a complicated concept, difficulties not only in defining it but also in practicing it arise. Take, for example, today’s new media. Although corporate websites, chat-rooms, email customer response facilities and electronic news release distribution are now viewed as standard aspects of public relations practice (Galloway, 2005) many public relations practitioners are struggling with the impact of new media, and especially the Internet. Research has shown that practitioners are not fully embracing new media, are ill-equipped to do so and have a fear of the technology (Alfonso & de Valbuena Miguel, 2006).

The terrain of public relations practice is also shifting with new media bringing about substantial increases in stakeholder strength through smoothing the progress of communication within stakeholder groups and between different stakeholder groups (Van der Merwe, Pitt & Abratt, 2005). Information “pours out of digital spigots” (Stephens 2007, p. 35) and news now arrives “astoundingly fast from an astounding number of directions” (Stephens 2007, p. 35) and it is often free. Anyone with a computer linked to the Internet has the ability to publish information for potential global consumption and it is clear that the internet “is revolutionizing many aspects of public relations research and practice” (Taylor & Kent 2006, p. 145).


From its initial stages of development, Public Relations has been very effective. A few historical observations conclude the review perfectly. For example, Chartier and Leray, (2007), in their work “The impact of public relations on organizations’ sales,” found that Public Relations was responsible, in several historical cases, for the company’s sudden, dramatic growth. They give an example of EntreMed whose sales dramatically rose after the front page article promoting that company and establishing public image. “Close examination of the company’s financial data, particularly changes in its stock market price, reveals that the public virtually pounced on EntreMed shares, which jumped from $12.06 on Friday to $51.81 on Monday, more than quadrupling in value in three days” (Chartier and Leray, 2007, p. 9).


Alfonso, G.-H., & de Valbuena Miguel, R. (2006). Trends in online media relations: Web-based corporate press rooms in leading international companies. Public Relations Review. . 32, pp. 267–275

Bernays, E. L. (1955). The theory and practice of public relations: A resume. In E. L. Bernays (Ed.), The engineering of consent (pp. 3-25). Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press.

Carthy, Xavier: Farewell to hype: the emergence of real public relations. Dublin : Able Press, 1992

Duncan, T. (2002). IMC: Using advertising and promotion to build brands. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

Fisher, L. M. “THE MARKETS; Smaller Biotechnology Stocks Stage a Spirited Catch-Up Rally”, New York Times, May 5, 1998.

Galloway, C. (2005). Cyber-PR and ‘dynamic touch’, Public Relations Review, . 31, pp. 572–577

Grunig, J. E. (1989). Symmetrical presuppositions as a framework for public relations theory. In C. H. Botan & V. Hazelton (Eds.), Public relations theory (pp. 17-44). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Earlbaum, Assoc.

Harrison, Shirley. Public relations : an introduction. London : Routledge, 1995

Leeper, R. V., & Leeper, K. A. (2001). Public Relations as practice: Applying the theory of Alasdair McIntyre. Public Relations Review, 27(3), 461-473.

Sriramesh, K. (2009). Globalisation and public relations: The past, present, and the future. PRism 6(2):

Stephens, M. (2007). Beyond News. Columbia Journalism Review. . 45, pp. 34–39

Taylor, M., & Kent, M. (2007). Taxonomy of mediated crisis responses. Public Relations Review. . 33, pp. 140–146

Van der Merwe, R., Pitt, L. & Abratt, R. (2005). Stakeholder Strength: PR Survival Strategies in the Internet age. Public Relations Quarterly, 50, pp. 29–39.

Wilcox, Dennis L. Ault, Phillip H. Agee, Warren K. Cameron, : Essentials of Public Relations. New York; London : Longman, 2001

Image source:


Advertising, Literature Review, Marketing, Public Relations

Meet the author

author avatar Bizning Vakil
An economist by definition, a teacher by practice, a journalist by nature, I find it hard to find any one permanent place to settle down...

Share this page

moderator johnnydod moderated this page.
If you have any complaints about this content, please let us know


author avatar mkmalls10
3rd Aug 2013 (#)

input this URL:

( )

you can find many cheap and high stuff

Believe you will love it.


Reply to this comment

Add a comment
Can't login?