Terms of endearment: Public relations nomenclatural

By Jillian Mikolaizyk / December 12, 2023 / , ,

Like any business or industry that has been around a long time, the world of public relations is often defined – both for good and bad – by its terms and phrases.

As we near the holiday season, when so many thoughts and messages are bombarding us and demanding our attention, I thought it might be worth taking a look at some of the more endearing terms that define or help to explain what we at Logos Communications do for clients.

Our industry’s words and phrases are everywhere in society, and can be important to better understand how to work with a PR firm and utilize their services.

These are, of course, terms used both by society in general and especially those that are important to PR practitioners. Some of them are outdated but still floating around, while others are much newer and reflect the changes in the industry.

Let’s look more closely at a few positive terms to help give you a better idea of what I’m talking about.

That’s why they call it Public Relations

The obvious place to start is with words that literally define PR – public and relations. There are some great resources on this through PRSA, a national association of PR professionals. They have put out several good guides if you want to better understand what our industry does for clients.

Okay, let’s start with “public.” There’s a couple of ways to look at this word. The most obvious definition is any group of people who are connected by a common interest or issue or idea. Football fans share a passion for their sport; they are a public.

This is important because PR professionals seek to identity these publics on behalf of clients and build relationships. Now, oddly enough, even “private” groups can be a public. For example, members of a church or a private club generally do not consider themselves “a public” even if they share a common bond.

Many publics are self-defined – people within them, like the football fans, know they are fans. Often, though, PR pros also seek to identify less obvious publics, perhaps by using demographics or geographic connections.

Within the idea of public is another term, “an audience,” which simply means someone receiving a message. This audience may or may not be in a self-connected group like those sports fans.

The second word in PR is “relations.” This is pretty simple to define but often is the hardest part when helping a client connect with a group of people. Relations, or relationships, are a connection or association between one or several diverse groups. Relations are built through interactions, transactions, exchanges of information or valued ideas or products. Relations are the glue that hold communities and publics together and PR professionals can be important to that process.

The best way to understand this would be to note that PR pros have two goals – define a public and help clients figure out how to connect with that public by buildings relationships that are sincere, honest, helpful and potentially even important.

Now is the season of goodwill

This is the time of year we call a “season of goodwill.” It’s an appropriate term used in PR as well. Goodwill is something that’s often intangible for a company or organization, but it can be as valuable as a business’s properties or assets. It is about your role and place in the community, what you do that goes beyond your core business. It might mean giving back to the community in a number of ways. It might be about how you and your employees conduct themselves in a manner that focuses on care and integrity. It’s also very much aligned with your overall reputation.

When it comes to public relations, goodwill is a key part of what you are sharing when you focus on things that go beyond the bottom line, such as when you focus on topics like the needy or the environment.

Ultimately, goodwill shapes our place in society and tells our publics that we are as concerned about what we can do to help as making money or a product to sell. Good PR teams help manage goodwill. I know that sounds bit a strange – you don’t “manage” goodwill, you create it. But here’s the thing, it’s not always easy to share or explain an intangible. And PR can help.

When it comes to another related term, reputation management, this is something public relations experts can assist with. The kind of messages, or actions, we focus on can help influence what people think about us. This can really come into play during a crisis when “crisis management” is called for.

Aside from a specific crisis, there is a strong sense of urgency when it comes to maintaining your reputation, where a good communications plan is critical, especially in a world populated by social media channels where opinion counts and can really make an impact for good or ill. The challenge is that often times there is an anonymous nature to what people can or will say about you and it’s up to public relations to respond in ways that are accurate, sincere, honest and explain your side of the story. This is clear from the realization in recent years that one’s reputation can be easily damaged, especially if you don’t react or respond in a thoughtful and honest way.

So goodwill and reputation go hand-in-hand and one certainly can lead to the other – a dedicated approach to helping others in the community, for example, will create goodwill and improve your reputation. And it may steel you against problems that arise when your company is facing a crisis or even just every day scrutiny.

Media’s place in your relationships

There is one relationship that public relations professionals consider the most important for their clients. That is the media. Today that means the traditional forms, like newspapers or radio station, as well as newer forms in terms of social media channels, local bloggers or even influencers.

When a company has a good reputation and has developed a strong place in the community, with solid relationships with its various audiences and publics, it is a good idea to work with public relations experts to develop a PR plan.

The idea here is to connect with the media, thus media relations, and seek a highly public information or information sharing, whether it be your local television station or a community newspaper.

This is a mutual relationship, for sure. You and your company get a chance to share a story with the media outlet’s wider audience, while the media garner material for their broadcast or business section.

Publicity is another term related to this, but sometimes it is considered a negative idea. For example, someone might say “Oh, you just want publicity.” Well, that may in fact be true, but if you’re a company selling a product or a valuable service to promote (another PR term) then one of the best ways to get the word out is through publicity.

Sure you can advertise and market through your own means, and most companies do just that. But seeking to be seen or heard on television or in the news is a legitimate pursuit that helps both parties. And with that, you have a media relationship.

For the PR pros, this relationship relies on a number of things but especially timeliness, accurate and truthful information, and a willingness to engage company leaders or team members with journalists when they come calling.

There is no need to fear the media, even in time of crisis, when you better understand the nature of the relationship, and the terms PR professionals use to explain what they can do for their clients.

In the end, during this season of goodwill, of joyous celebration and sometimes intense commercialization it’s good to know that terms of endearment take many forms and even play an important role when it comes to public relations.