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3.2 The Subfunctions of Public Relations

Before we delve deeper into the profession, we would like to introduce you to the subfunctions or specialties within public relations. Think of the public relations function as a large umbrella profession encompassing many subfunctions. Those subfunctions are often independent units within an organization, sometimes reporting to public relations and sometimes reporting to other organizational units such as legal, marketing, or human resources. Learning the subfunctions and the lexicon of terminology associated with this function is crucial to understanding how to manage an integrated and effective public relations function. The following subfunctions will be discussed in more detail later in this volume.

Although there are many subfunctions that make up public relations, most people would identify two major types, corporate and agency. CorporateAn in-house type of public relations that functions to create relationships between an organization and its various publics., or “in-house,” is a part of the organization or business. It functions to create relationships between an organization and its various publics. The second type of subfunction is associated with the public relations agencyA type of company whose purpose is to assist an organization in a specific area of expertise. Generally, a public relations agency will assist an organization in promoting goodwill between itself and the public.; its purpose is to assist organizations in a specific area of expertise.

Typical Corporate Public Relations Subfunctions

It is important to note that each subfunction may differ according to organizational structure and size, as we discuss in Chapter 5 "Organizational Factors for Excellent Public Relations", “Organizational Factors Contributing to Excellent Public Relations.” Sometimes the public relations subfunctions overlap and one department (or even one person) is responsible for many or all of these activities. Large organizations, particularly those with multiple locations doing business internationally, will sometimes have multiple units covering just one of these subspecialties in public relations. Oftentimes the public relations function is structured with a separate department handling each of the responsibilities.

Issues Management

Issues managementA forward-thinking function of corporate public relations that is responsible for identifying and solving problems, and also for identifying trends, industry changes, and other potential issues that could impact an organization. It is one of the most important subfunctions of public relations. is arguably the most important subfunction of public relations. Issues management is the forward-thinking, problem-solving, management-level function responsible for identifying problems, trends, industry changes, and other potential issues that could impact the organization. Issues management requires a formidable knowledge of research, environmental monitoring, the organization’s industry and business model, and management strategy.

Media Relations

The media relationsA largely technical function of corporate public relations, it is based on the technical skill of producing public relations materials called outputs. It is often the most visible portion of an organization's public relations because it deals with external media. subfunction is likely the most visible portion of public relations that an organization conducts because it deals directly with external media. The media relations subfunction is a largely technical function, meaning it is based on the technical skill of producing public relations materials, or outputs. OutputsAn organization's actions and messages, such as news releases and podcasts, that result from adapting to environmental changes. Outputs are related to tactics. are often related to tactics, and examples of tactics include news releases, podcasts, brochures, video news releases for the broadcast media, direct mail pieces, photographs, Web sites, press kits, and social media (digital media).

Community Relations

As the name implies, the community relationsA subfunction of corporate public relations responsible for establishing and maintaining relationships with an organization's communities. It often includes oversight of philanthropy and corporate social responsibility (CSR). subfunction is responsible for establishing and maintaining relationships with an organization’s communities. Normally this territory implies a physical community, as in the borders of manufacturing facilities with their residential neighbors.

Philanthropy and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)

Oftentimes the functions of strategically donating funds or services and a corporate social responsibility endeavor are part of the public relations department’s efforts. The Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 requires corporations to hold to a code of ethics and to report on their socially responsible conduct. The public relations subfunction responsible for this reporting usually is called the CSR unit or department and often is combined with or managed by community relations.

Financial and Investor Relations

Many managers do not realize that public relations is the function responsible for writing an organization’s annual report, quarterly earnings statements, and communicating with investors and market analysts. This type of public relations normally requires experience with accounting and financial reporting.

Marketing Communications

Marketing communicationsA subfunction of corporate public relations that involves publicity and product promotion, targeting specific public consumers. Also known as integrated marketing communications and integrated communications. is also known as integrated marketing communications or integrated communications. Publicity and product promotion targeting the specific public consumers is the focus of this subfunction. Public relations strategies and tactics are used primarily through a press agentry model meant to increase awareness and persuade consumers to try or buy a certain product.

Government Relations and Public Affairs, Including Lobbying

The public affairs of an organization are the issues of interest to a citizenry or community about which an organization must communicate. Government relations handles maintaining relationships with both regulatory agencies and appointed and elected officials.

Internal Relations

Maintaining an effective and satisfied workforce is the job of internal relationsThe branch of corporate public relations that works with intraorganizational personnel in order to maintain an effective and satisfied workforce.. Public relations professionals who specialize in internal relations have the primary responsibilities of communicating with intraorganizational publics, executives, management, administrative staff, and labor.

Typical Public Relations Agency Subfunctions

In addition to the general media relations activities offered by many public relations agencies, seven specializations or subfunctions commonly exist.

Crisis Management

Crisis managementA type of public relations that involves planning for and reacting to emergency situations and risk management. involves both planning for and reacting to emergency situations. Organizations have a need for quick response plans and fast and accurate information provided to the news media that public relations agencies specializing in crisis or risk management often provide and implement in the case of a crisis.


As an adjunct to the government relations or public affairs unit of the corporation, an external lobbyingA type of public relations that typically communicates and maintains relationships with legislators, press secretaries, and other governmental officials. firm may also be hired. Lobbyists normally have expertise with the industry for which they are hired to communicate, and maintain relationships with legislators, press secretaries, and other governmental officials. They often provide educational documents, policy analysis, and research to those in government on behalf of clients.

Member Relations

The public relations subfunction known as member relationsA public relations subfunction that is responsible for maintaining good relationships with members of an organization or group that share common goals and require membership. Examples include alumni and activist groups., as the name implies, is responsible for maintaining good relationships with members of an organization. These members may be alumni, donors, members of activist or support groups, or virtually any group distinguished by a commonality and requiring membership.

Development and Fund-Raising

The public relations subfunction of development fund-raisingA public relations subfunction that is responsible for building financial support in the form of donations or government grants. often overlaps with member relations in that it seeks to build support, particularly in the form of financial donations or government grants.

Polling and Research

Polling and research are carried out to such an extent within public relations that specialized firms exist to conduct these activities full time, usually on a contract or retainer basis. It should be noted, however, that very large organizations often have their own research “departments” within one or more public relations subfunctions.

Sports, Entertainment, and Travel Public Relations

Specialized forms of public relations exist as public relations subfunctions for each of these very large industries.


Although advertising is a separate profession from public relations, it is usually employed as part of a public relations campaign.