Public relations has become the conventional term for a wide range of activities aimed at making corporate use of the media. As it is generally used, it would include the pursuit of publicity as well as its opposite: the attempt to extinguish media interest. It would include the dissemination of information as well as the restriction of access to certain kinds of information or, in some cases, the active distribution of false or misleading misinformation. It has to be admitted that the term is associated with a widespread impression that the activity of the media is open to manipulation and control by professional public relations operatives, or ‘spin doctors’. Demonised in the popular media (who, presumably, would be lost without it), the performance of ‘spin’ is widely regarded as an intrinsic feature of the modern media landscape—and just as likely to be employed to promote the Olympics, a new political party or a brand of underwear.
Despite its broad application, however, public relations is not an accurate label for the full range of activities involved in what Andrew Wernick (1991) calls ‘promotional culture’. The activities of booking agents, unit publicists and celebrity managers fall under the umbrella of this term in general usage, but it is important to recognise that they constitute different kinds of activity. The blurring of the distinctions in the public mind between advertising, publicity and public relations has made it difficult to separate the various kinds of activity from each other.
According to Johnston and Zawawi (2000, p 7), there are three functions properly ascribed to public relations. To paraphrase what they have to say, the first is controlling what the public thinks or does in order to serve the interests of an organisation. This might involve coordinating the promotion of a concert tour for a famous musician, or orchestrating a series of events in support of a charity. The second function is responding to public concerns, developments or initiatives on