“What is” Wednesday – What is Public Relations? Anne Buchanan’s Take

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Each Wednesday, HMA Time asks a guest blogger one simple question – What is….?

Thus far, we’ve asked folks from across the globe to tell us “What is public relations” to them.

This week, we ask this question to Anne Buchanan. Buchanan is president of Buchanan Public Relations in Philadelphia and a founding member and a past-president of the Public Relations Global Network (PRGN), where she remains on the executive committee. She is also vice president of the Philadelphia chapter of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) and sits on the board of the World Affairs Council of Philadelphia is active in the Philadelphia Public Relations Association.

So, Anne, what is Public Relations?

I’ve always been a fan of simplicity. And for years, I struggled to find a succinct response to the question What is public relations?

Some years ago, I landed on one that I liked. It was broad enough to cover the full range of PR activities, but clear enough that an engineer (especially a mechanical one!) could grasp the concept. It went like this:

Public relations is building bridges with audiences that are important to you.

I still think it works as a good, general definition. But these days, when social media is changing – on a profound and fundamental basis – the way we interact with one another, I find it lacking. It fails to capture the all-important goal of engagement. I suppose if I wanted to address that, I could return to my original bridge-building analogy and add these words: and get them to meet you somewhere on the bridge.

More and more, though, I find the notion of public relations can be distilled down to two simple concepts:

Do the right thing. And make sure the right people know it.

Scott Hanson
Scott Hanson
President Scott is president of HMA Public Relations and a founding member of the Public Relations Global Network. He’s a Phoenix native, husband, father of two and a fan of all sports and a participant in some. Check out Scott's full bio


  1. Ultimately, you can’t answer the question “What is public relations?” with a succinct response. There are too many variables, from the types of people you are trying to reach, to the type of methods you are using to reach them.

    I’m a fan of simplicity too- especially in a world that is so complex – but to try to simplify this area of the marketing communications industry wouldn’t do it justice.

  2. I think I’ve also heard Anne say “building trust” as part of that definition. Thanks for your contribution.

  3. Great post, Anne, thank you.

    To capture this in terms of a conversation Abbie and I have been having, the statement could be: Be good. Do good. Tell it well.

  4. HMA Friends —

    Thank you again for letting me share my thoughts on your blog. Great question and a great idea to invite guest bloggers to contribute their thinking.

    Rick, I acknowledge your point that the term “public relations” is too complex to fit a simple definition. But in the 25 years I’ve been in the business, we have moved from having PR managers and directors as our clients to reporting to marketing or line folks who don’t really understand the nuances of our practice. For them, I have found a simple definition can work wonders in getting everyone gathered at the same table.

    And Mimi, I love your distilled definition! I may borrow that on occasion, if you don’t mind!

    Thanks again for the great conversation, folks.

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