public relation

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Public relations , synonymous Public Relations [ ˌpʌblɪk rɪˈleɪʃənz ], short PR or rarely also ÖA , is a broad term for the management of the public communication of organizations towards their external and internal sub-publics or stakeholder groups . Organizations include companies , non-profit organizations , authorities , political parties and NGOs . Particularly in more recent publications, with reference to organizational theory, PR is understood as a sub-area of ​​a higher-level organizational communication. Communication activities relate only to the organizational form of companies, is of Corporate Communications spoken.

Concept and definition

The term public relations was first used in 1882 at Yale University (USA). Since there is no exact German equivalent, the English term is usually used in science and practice. The German term public relations , which came up in 1917, corresponds best to this. The terms can denote both a mediation activity between organizations and their reference groups as well as the responsible unit of an organization. The function of public relations has changed several times in the course of its differentiation (see history ) - and with it the definitions.

From a management perspective, Grunig and Hunt define public relations as “part of the management of communication between an organization and its publics” (“part of the management of communication between an organization and its publics”).

Carl Hundhausen gave the following definition in his article in the magazine Die deutsche Werbung from 1937: “Public relations is art, through the spoken or printed word, through actions or through visible symbols for one's own company, its product or service, a favorable one to create public opinion. "

On the one hand, public relations is conceptually differentiated from agitation or advertising insofar as it does not target individual actions (e.g. voting, purchasing goods), but rather aims to achieve a general positive image and a good reputation . At the macro-social level, public relations can be understood as a social sub-system that is interdependent with marketing and journalism , which, as related subsystems in business and journalism, perform similar tasks (cf. Ronneberger / Rühl 1992). In the 1990s, a detailed study of the relationship between public relations and journalism took place under the heading “ Determination hypothesis versus intereffication approach”. The media response analysis (1992) in Lothar Rolke's study showed a ratio of self-portrayal to external observation in the media content of around 70:30 as normal, which means that journalists more often take over press releases from companies and institutions than do their own research.

The equation of public relations and propaganda used by Michael Kunczik in recent times is seen as problematic, especially in Germany.

Public relations and the terms public relations, organizational communication, communication management or relationship management, which are used synonymously by some authors, represent the type of public communication that fulfills functions and tasks for an organization or institution . These public relations goals can be: information, communication and persuasion , and long-term goals such as building, maintaining and creating consistent images. The term corporate communications only refers to one type of organization, namely for-profit companies.

Since public relations operates in the field of tension of an organization, a consensus with the sub-publics in the environment of the organization should be created and thus credible action of the organization in the event of conflicts . Special attention is paid to the reference groups of the organization, i.e. shareholders, residents, citizens, associations , citizens' initiatives , the legislature , investors , customers , suppliers , mass media , employees , etc.

So-called astroturfing is not believable and therefore frowned upon . Parts of guerrilla marketing also fall into this gray area.


The main goal of external public relations is the strategic development of a relationship between organizations (e.g. companies, non-profit institutions, parties) on the one hand and external stakeholders (e.g. customers, suppliers, shareholders, employees, donors, voters) on the other Generate sympathy and understanding of these groups towards the organization. This includes the acquisition of opinion leaders , influencing political decision-makers ( lobbying ), the occupation of terms (wording), i. H. the provision of a catalog of euphemisms , the use of which is intended to promote the development of a consistent public image. Another goal of external public relations is to increase the level of awareness of an organization (e.g. through media relations ).

The main task of internal public relations is the development of a corporate culture and a corporate image . The main stakeholder group are the employees, especially managers. A distinction is made between the information, contact, image , harmonization, stabilization, sales promotion, continuity, balance and social functions as individual functions (not necessarily systematically refined) . Occasions include the launch of new products on the market, personnel changes, anniversaries, annual financial statements, establishing new relationships, social commitment, important visits and crisis communication .

Differentiation from marketing (communication) and advertising

Marketing , marketing communication and advertising primarily relate to market-relevant processes. The focus is on the consumer as the most important target group . In contrast, the PR term refers to all stakeholder groups , especially the large, very heterogeneous public.

Marketing communication can generally be described as the exchange of information and comprises all elements that serve to convey meaning internally and externally. The purpose to be implemented by the integrated marketing communication is derived from the corporate goals. In view of the resulting networking of the individual forms of communication, there is inevitably an overlap in the individual goals. Delimitations can be shown based on the design and the type of transmission of information based on the following properties: Public relations and advertising communication differ from one another in terms of their intended goals, the feedback of communication, the intended target groups and their different arguments. Advertising is understood to mean all communication activities that make offers (products, services) known and stimulate their sales. This type of influencing purchasing behavior is primarily aimed at increasing sales.

In contrast to this, PR primarily pursues the goal of gaining understanding and trust by influencing the formation of opinions and thus strengthening the image of the organization concerned. The central means of PR is media work - however, like advertising, PR can be done via a paid media room (advertisement, poster, radio / TV spot) and social media . PR does not focus solely on the sales market, as it usually operates more indirectly than advertising and is geared towards the public with a long-term effect. Nonetheless, good PR supports advertising and other marketing communication.


Public relations work became necessary in the course of the differentiation of society and increasing spatial delimitation of organizations. In terms of professional history, it has roots in common with journalism in particular. As a result of the emergence of the mass media, it grew together with them considerably in scope and complexity. This does not affect the fact that certain actions that are part of the typical tools of public relations have a tradition that goes back much longer than the middle of the 19th century.

The current state of research primarily enables a comparison of the history of PR in the USA and Germany. While the developments and challenges facing organizations in terms of mass media and growth were comparable, different traditions of thought and socio-cultural developments had a considerable influence on the lines of development of the specifically developed PR systems. Particularly noteworthy are the two dictatorships of the 20th century in Germany.

Periodizations of the history of public relations (and collected examples of PR activities) are available from Günter Bentele , Edward Bernays , Scott Cutlip, James E. Grunig, Kordes / Pollmann, Franz Ronneberger and Albert Oeckl . Along the development of a structural change in the public sphere ( Jürgen Habermas ), fundamental currents can be traced supranationally, but the differentiation of public relations in the respective societies can be described with greater benefit at the national level due to considerable socio-historical differences.

Forerunner of public relations

  • In Ancient Greece and Rome: Thoughts on the Relevance of Public Opinion. The pursuit of fame is now partly understood as an application of impression management .
  • 1622: Foundation of the Congregatio de propaganda fide by Pope Gregory XV.
  • 1641: New England's First Fruits published in London, the first PR brochure according to Cutlip (with the aim of "fund raising")
  • 18th century: The work of the revolutionaries in the American Revolutionary War bears PR-practical signature.

Origin in today's sense

  • 1848 (Germany): Founding of the " Ministerial Zeitungbüro " for state public relations (from 1851 " Central Office for Press Affairs ")
  • Mid-19th century (USA): Press agents especially for the railroad and “circus”, such as PT Barnum's American Museum
  • 1851: Krupp has a large steel block presented at the (first) world exhibition (often rumored as the first PR event ).
  • 1886: Soup spice manufacturer Julius Maggi sets up a “advertising and press office” in Germany to make its products better known and to better market them.

20th century

United States

In the illustration according to Cutlip, the following temporal stages result:

  • to 1917: The emergence of PR ( seedbed era ) as a defensive information activity by companies towards investigative journalists ( muckrakers ) and for far-reaching political reforms under Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson
  • 1917–1919: Use of PR in the time of the First World War ( creel committee ) to increase the willingness for war loans , donations and to go to war.
  • in the Roaring Twenties : Founding years of the professional field and boom in PR for economic, political and social purposes
  • 1930–1945: In the period after the economic crisis and the Second World War , the development of political and public relations work dominated under Franklin D. Roosevelt and Louis McHenry Howe.
  • 1945–1965: In the post-war period a wide range of professions developed.
  • from 1965: Globalization and information society: With the exponential increase in communication options, the need for communication management also rises rapidly.


According to Günter Bentele , the following processes have occurred here since the middle of the 20th century:

  • 1906: The first state “press office” was established in Magdeburg, in 1914 there were already 20 communal press offices.
  • until 1918: War PR, the profession was born.
  • 1918–1933: Press work became a matter of course in business, politics and municipalities.
  • 1933–1945: During the National Socialist era , press work was heavily influenced and even subject to political propaganda .
  • 1945–1958: In the Federal Republic of Germany, after the capitulation, a discovery of public relations based on the American model began as something new that quickly developed into a professional field.
  • 1958–1985: After the professional association was founded in the Federal Republic of Germany, the industry grew and developed practical training paths. A type of socialist public relations work developed in the GDR.
  • since 1985: growth in PR agencies and academization of the profession

The rapid growth of PR agencies in Germany since the mid-1980s was based in particular on the increasing importance of public relations for companies as a further communication channel and instrument for addressing target groups. According to the rankings of the trade journal W&V ( Werben & Sell ), large PR companies today generate sales of up to 50 million euros per year in Germany.

While the working conditions of journalists, the fourth power in the state, are deteriorating due to the media crisis, more and more (30,000 to 50,000) PR employees care for around 48,000 full-time journalists in Germany (2007). According to estimates by the Federal Statistical Office, there are around 2,200 predominantly very small PR consulting firms in Germany (the largest has over 400 employees, the number ten only 60).

Special case in Switzerland

PR has a special position in the land of direct democracy: In Swiss referendums, the boundaries between public affairs and PR become blurred - public relations work in the context of voting campaigns pursues the same goals as lobbying, but with the (electoral) people, i.e. the public ( and not with administration, government and parliament).

Fields of activity and instruments

The basic task of public relations is to establish, consolidate or expand the contact between a client or employer and a defined stakeholder group.

The German Society for Public Relations (DPRG) divides the field of public relations work into twelve areas:

  1. Human Relations are aimed at employees, but also their relatives as well as former and potential employees.
  2. Media Relations are aimed at representatives of journalistic mass media as potential multipliers of public information dissemination.
  3. Public affairs are aimed at mandate and decision-makers in politics and public administration and in practice, contrary to the name, is more of a confidential matter.
  4. Financial / investor relations are aimed at those with capital interests such as co-owners, creditors or financial analysts.
  5. Community relations are aimed at residents and the neighborhood (see also Corporate Citizenship and Corporate Social Responsibility ).
  6. Product Publicity / Product PR is aimed at users and potential users of products and services .
  7. Eco-relations are based on critical discourses about norms and values ​​of the environmental balance.
  8. Issues management is used for topic-related communication.
  9. Crisis Management regulates critical communication situations.
  10. Corporate identity shapes the communicative appearance.
  11. Sales PR supports sales activities.
  12. International public relations take place globally or on a country-specific basis.

A number of communication tools are available for this purpose, including:

  • Press and media work : Writing and disseminating press releases , topic articles for various media, user reports , speeches , biographies , topic planning, via press conferences and round tables, editorial visits with customers, answering press inquiries, carrying out journalist trips and interviews, press conferences, press talks, press invitations, Internet support, providing photographic material.
  • Media observation : Observation of the media presence as well as evaluation and analysis of the reporting, for example by creating press reviews and quantitative and qualitative media response analyzes.
  • Communication controlling : beyond media monitoring, making measurable and evaluating PR activities. Measure the contribution of PR to the success and increase in value of a company.
  • Media design: Creation of business reports, brochures, flyers, advertisements, newsletters, consumer magazines, websites, advertorials .
  • Event organization: planning and conducting of conferences, seminars, parties, consumer events, trade fairs and other events such as meet and greet
  • Internal communication : Development of employee magazines, newsletters, planning and implementation of events for employees, training of employees, intranet support, wording
  • Online PR : improving classic PR tools through additional services (e.g. online newsroom), developing your own tools and strategies (e.g. corporate websites, themed websites, corporate blogs, online magazines, online campaigning)
  • Training: media training , advanced training, writing training

Professional field

The professional field includes work in PR departments and PR agencies. There are PR departments in the economic, political and social sectors.

The work of the PR consultant can also be divided into business-to-business PR and business-to-consumer PR . B2B PR relates to communication and public relations from company to company, in contrast to business-to-consumer PR (B2C PR), which is aimed from companies to end customers. In addition to common differentiating features for differentiating B2B communication from B2C communication such as necessary or usual rational addressing of the counterpart in the case of the former versus an emotional addressing of the customer considered appropriate in the case of the latter or a target groups defined as small versus broadly held in B2C, the following applies in particular: In the B2B area, there is not necessarily a match between users and purchasing decision-makers .

Outstanding people

  • In the 19th century, Phineas T. Barnum is regarded as a prototype user of the idea of attention ( publicity ).
  • Barbara Baerns was the first professor for public relations in Germany (1989 at the Free University of Berlin ), research on the determination thesis .
  • Günter Bentele held a chair for public relations at the University of Leipzig for 20 years, the first chair of its kind in Germany.
  • Edward L. Bernays wrote the first book on PR (Crystallizing Public Opinion) in 1923 and, as a result of his lifelong theoretical and practical work, served as a role model, especially for German PR.
  • Carl Hundhausen introduced the term PR to a broader practical and theoretical public in Germany in the post-war period.
  • Josef von Ferenczy is considered the first media manager in the history of the German-speaking area. Advised political and business leaders for decades.
  • Moritz Hunzinger advises politicians and arranges contacts with business . Due to various scandals and entanglements, he is considered the enfant terrible of German PR. PR scientists and practitioners deny that Hunzinger's activities actually belong to the PR sector.
  • As a university lecturer and PR expert, Klaus Kocks combines science and PR practice.
  • Ivy Ledbetter Lee put his work as a press agent under the motto of public information activities in 1906 ( declaration of principles ).
  • Albert Oeckl is regarded as the Nestor (old master) of PR in Germany, was extensively involved in theory and practice and for decades was at the head of first the DPRG , then the IPRA.
  • Arthur Page accompanied the rise of AT&T from 1927 as Vice President with scientifically and ethically sound PR.
  • In 1992, Franz Ronneberger published “Theory of PR. A draft “laid the foundation for a first scientific examination of public relations and was one of Germany's leading PR theorists alongside Oeckl and Hundhausen. He tried v. a. in the 1970s and 1980s to explain PR work from a theoretical point of view, paying particular attention to the analysis of the mutual relationships between society, public opinion and public relations work, from which the political-social model of PR arose. See also : socialization through mass communication
  • Ludwig Roselius was not only a theorist, but also made Kaffee HAG one of the first international branded products. He promoted artists not as patrons but as entrepreneurs (Böttcherstraße in Bremen) and thus laid the foundation for modern sponsorship in terms of social and cultural responsibility.
  • Ansgar Zerfaß is professor for public relations at the University of Leipzig.

Agencies in Germany

The 20 industry agencies with the highest turnover in Germany are (as of 2015):

rank Agency Seat Fee turnover 2015
(million euros)
Fee turnover 2014
(million euros)
Fee turnover growth
Employee growth
1 Media Consulta Berlin 54.93 52.44 +4.7 317 −10
2 Ketchum Pleon Dusseldorf 49.55 49.09 +0.9 423 +4
3 fischerAppelt (agency group) Hamburg 42.00 39.50 +6.3 395 +35
4th Edelman.ergo Frankfurt am Main 30.14 18.26 +65 329 +72
5 Oliver Schrott Communication Cologne 22.49 19.84 +13.3 172 +25
6th serviceplan PR Group Munich 16.72 14.60 +14.6 113 +14
7th Weber Shandwick Munich 15.69 14.34 +9.4 135 +16
8th Attention! Hamburg 14.07 11.86 +18.6 125 +17
9 Häberlein & Mauerer Munich 13.40 13.10 +2.3 175 +7
10 Hill + Knowlton Strategies Frankfurt am Main 12.76 12.70 +0.5 101 0
11 Factor 3 Hamburg 12.50 11.10 +12.6 161 +16
12 A&B One communication agency Frankfurt am Main 10.40 10.70 −2.8 75 −10
13 F&H Porter Novelli Munich 10.14 9.79 +3.6 64 +2
14th Roth & Lorenz Stuttgart 9.78 10.40 −6.0 127 0
15th Fleishman-Hillard Germany Frankfurt am Main 9.34 8.49 +10 78 +7
16 MSL Germany Berlin 8.78 8.40 +4.5 65 −5
17th Burson-Marsteller Frankfurt am Main 7.92 8.80 −10.0 72 0
18th Palmer Hargreaves Cologne 7.56 6.98 +8.4 88 +16
19th Jeschenko Media Agency Cologne / Berlin Cologne 7.51 8.24 −8.9 48 −4
20th Brandzeichen Brand advice and communication (agency group) Dusseldorf 6.60 6.30 +4.8 64 +4



For the German Council for Public Relations , the codes of its own profession are particularly relevant. At international level, these are the Code d'Athènes , a moral code, and the Code de Lisbonne , a code of conduct. For Germany, the “seven voluntary commitments” of the DPRG members also apply. This German text contains the most specific provisions. The German Communication Code continues to apply .

The Code d'Athènes was adopted on May 11, 1965 by the Confédération Européenne des Relations Publiques (CERP) and the International Public Relations Association (IPRA) in Athens as an international moral code to which all subordinate national societies and associations agreed. The author of the code is the French Lucien Matrat.

The Code de Lisbonne was adopted on April 16, 1978 by the CERP in Lisbon . It should apply as a Europe-wide code for all 18 national societies (from 15 European countries) that are members of the CERP.


The scientific description of PR often uses communication science approaches for description and explanation , but these must be assigned to different disciplines, including the following:

  • 4-type model (Grunig / Hunt 1984) management theory
  • Determination thesis (Baerns) and intereffication approach (Bentele / Liebert / Seeling)
  • PR work as an organizational function (Szyszka)
  • PR = construction of desirable realities (Merten 1992) constructivism
  • PR = interaction in society (Faulstich)
  • PR as a difference management between external context control and internal self-control (Hoffjann 2009) system theory
  • PR as a social subsystem (Ronneberger / Rühl 1992) system theory
  • Public Trust Theory (Bentele)
  • Communication-oriented public relations work (Burkart 1993) Sociology
  • Win-win model of excellent PR (Grunig et al. 1992, 1995, 2002)
  • Networked communication (Bogner)
  • PR as a functional element of strategic corporate management (Zerfaß 1996) business administration
  • PR = control, reflection and interpenetration (Jarren / Röttger 2004) structuring theory

Training and teaching

Public relations is now taught at universities and technical colleges, and training is also possible in PR traineeships in companies or agencies. In July 2010, there were eleven PR master’s courses in Germany , three of them at universities, five at universities of applied sciences and three part-time programs. At many universities, public relations is part of the bachelor's degree in communications and media studies. In some cases, PR can be chosen as a study or specialization focus.

Due to the growing relevance of activities that can be subsumed under the term public relations , the professionalization of the field of activity is also advancing. As a result, the demands on future PR specialists also increase. While in the 1980s just 41% of PR specialists were recruited from academics, this proportion rose to 79% in the mid-1990s and was already 83% in 2012.

In addition to a degree in a course with an explicit PR-reference and a subsequent internship or trainee program, there are also numerous entry and qualification paths, especially for university graduates, but also for career changers from other professional fields. Different degrees and certificates can be acquired, which are issued after the corresponding courses and exams. The most important institutions that offer and issue such courses and certificates were brought into being on the initiative of various larger PR associations. One of the most important contacts for this is the Akademie für Kommunikationmanagement e. V. , as well as the testing and certification organization of the German communications industry (PZOK), which was founded by the three major communications associations, the Federal Association of Communicators , the German Public Relations Society and the Society of Public Relations Agencies .

Qualification opportunities are also offered in compact seminars (e.g. by the German Institute for Public Relations e.V. ), full- time courses (e.g. at the Journalist Academy ), part-time courses (e.g. via the German Press Academy ), and part-time courses (e.g. at the Leipzig School of Media ) or offered as a distance learning course at various certified distance learning universities and schools.

See also


  • Horst Avenarius : Public Relations. The basic form of social communication. 2nd, revised edition. Primus, Darmstadt 2000, ISBN 3-89678-181-2
  • Edward Bernays : Propaganda. The art of public relations. From the American by Patrick Schnur. orange-press, Freiburg (Breisgau) 2007, ISBN 978-3-936086-35-5 , first edition in German
  • Norbert Franck: Practical knowledge of press and public relations. 3rd edition Springer VS Wiesbaden 2017
  • Romy Fröhlich , Peter Szyszka, Günter Bentele (eds.) (2015): Handbuch der Public Relations. Scientific foundations and professional activities. With lexicon (3rd, new and completely revised edition). Wiesbaden: VS Verlag. ISBN 978-3-531-18917-8
    • with Sonja B. Peters, Eva-Maria Simmelbauer: Public Relations. Data and facts from gender-specific occupational research. Oldenbourg, Munich a. a. 2005, ISBN 3-486-57857-X
  • Olaf Hoffjann: Public Relations . Constance: UVK / UTB. ISBN 978-3825244347
  • Miriam M. Köhler, Maike Althaus (Ed.): Professional field of public relations. Career guide for young PR talent. polisphere, Berlin a. a. 2011, ISBN 978-3-9-3845616-3
  • Michael Konken : Press work. Journalistic professional in theory and practice. Gmeiner, Messkirch 2007, ISBN 978-3-89977-110-7 .
  • Jan Lies (Ed.): Public Relations. A manual (= UTB. Business Administration, Media and Communication Studies 8408). UVK Verlags-Gesellschaft, Konstanz 2008, ISBN 978-3-825-28408-4
  • Claudia Mast : Corporate Communication. A guide (= UTB. Business Administration, Media and Communication Science 2308). 2nd, revised and expanded edition. Lucius and Lucius, Stuttgart 2006, ISBN 3-8252-2308-6
  • Werner Pepels : communication management. Communication and Identity Policy in Marketing , 5th, completely revised edition, Duncker & Humblot, Berlin 2014, ISBN 978-3-428-14203-3 (1st edition 1994)
  • Manfred Piwinger, Ansgar Zerfaß (Hrsg.): Handbuch Unternehmenskommunikation. Gabler, Wiesbaden 2007, ISBN 978-3-409-14344-8
  • Ulrike Röttger (ed.): Theories of Public Relations. Basics and perspectives of PR research. 2nd, updated and expanded edition. VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, Wiesbaden 2009, ISBN 978-3-531-15519-7
  • Winfried Schulz : Public Relations / Public Relations. In: Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann , Winfried Schulz, Jürgen Wilke (eds.): Fischer Lexikon Publizistik, Massenkommunikation (= Fischer 18192). Updated, completely revised and supplemented edition. Fischer, Frankfurt am Main 2009, ISBN 978-3-596-18192-6 , pp. 565-592
  • Ansgar Zerfaß / Rademacher, Lars / Wehmeier, Stefan (2013): Organizational Communication and Public Relations. Research paradigms and new perspectives. Wiesbaden: Springer VS (Organizational Communication series). ISBN 978-3-531-18098-4

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. cf. z. B. Weder, Franzisca (2009): Organizational Communication and Public Relations . Stuttgart: UTB; or the book series Organizational Communication edited by Günter Bentele since 2000 . Studies on public relations / public relations and communication management.
  2. ^ Klaus Merten : Introduction to Communication Science. Volume 1: Basics of communication science (= current media and communication research 1, 1). LIT, Münster u. a. 1999, ISBN 3-89473-592-9 , p. 279.
  3. James E. Grunig, Todd Hunt: Managing Public Relations. Holt, Rinehart & Winston, New York NY u. a. 1984, ISBN 0-03-058337-3 , p. 6.
  4. Beate Wedekind : The first media manager Josef von Ferenczy turns 90 ,, April 2, 2009.
  5. Alexander Antonoff: The Eleventh Commandment - Konsalik, Kolle and the communicator: The philosophy of media manager Josef von Ferenczy ,, September 25, 2000.
  6. Pfeffers PR sales ranking (2015) , accessed on April 25, 2015.
  7. Codes ; Seven voluntary commitments by DPRG members
  8. German communication code
  9. CERP: International Code of Ethics ( Code d'Athènes ) ( Memento of June 13, 2007 in the Internet Archive ), accessed on January 31, 2010.
  10. CERP: European Code of Professional Conduct in Public Relations ( Code de Lisbonne ) ( Memento of June 13, 2007 in the Internet Archive ), accessed on January 31, 2010.
  11. cf. news aktuell (2010): PR trend monitor flash survey. Education and training in communication and PR , p. 20.
  12. Comparison of three studies in: PR training in Germany
  13. Bernays himself named the originally selected by him to phrase propaganda later in public relations to ,