Public relations is a highly complex and exciting industry, requiring PR professionals to flex a variety of muscles to get the most out of their careers.

In a previous media update article, we uncovered that a job in PR involves a variety of tasks, including, writing, managing crises, research, shaping public opinion and much more. The dynamic nature of the industry has led people to debate: Is PR an art or a science?

Some view PR purely as a scientific, functional task because you can measure the outcomes and results in numerical terms.

Others, however, view PR as an art form because it is intangible; it’s something you feel, such as the ability someone has to convince you to trust a particular brand.

So, which is it: An art, a science or perhaps both?

Let’s take a deeper dive into this debate:

What makes PR an art?

As a PR pro, you are in a position where you need to charm the public to convince them that your client is indeed amazing — and that alone should be enough to define PR as an art. Why? Because you can’t learn how to be charismatic. PR deals with people where they need to build relationships with the public and create feelings within their audience which means that it will always be an art.

The more sophisticated, more experienced, and more human its practitioners become, the more artistic, elegant, and effective its practice will be,” says Michael Turney, contributor to Practicing Public relations.

Being a communication specialist also means you need to be able to make use of the information and pitches you receive from clients and tell it in a way that is compelling and engaging for their audience, even if the information they have to give you is rather drab or boring.

For example, telling a story that consists largely of stats needs a lot of creativity, and quite frankly, if anyone can sell those numbers and make them sound fantastic to audiences, it’s a PR pro.

It is also important to remember that there are so many brands out there, making it hard to stand out from the crowd. That’s why PR pros often have to get creative and make their content look and feel different, which allows their press releases, social media posts and clients to stand out.

This is where the artistic side of PR really comes into play — no amount of statistics and data will convince people that they need to listen to what you or your client has to say.

Here’s a tweet by Women in PR Ghana that sums up PR as an art quite nicely:

What makes PR a science?

There is an extremely analytical side to the job; PR professionals need to be able to figure out the science behind what works and what doesn’t work in their campaigns, events, press releases and more.

For example, they need to work out the perfect formula for timing a press conference correctly, sending out press releases and choosing the right time to communicate certain messages with the public.

There are also specific ways of measuring PR results to show whether or not a practitioner’s efforts have been successful or not, arguably making PR more of a science.

While return on investment is a metric that should apply to just about every campaign, there are other identifiers like target audience reach, social media engagement and positioning that can signal whether the campaign was a success or not,” says Mikaela Slattery, an analyst at media analysis company Focal Points.

What do the PR experts have to say about this debate?

— Jenny Griesel, founder of Jenny Griesel Communications
PR is both an art and a science. There are certain tried and tested approaches that we acknowledge as effective ways to achieve our goals in PR. However, if you want to achieve excellence, stand out results, you need to be a lot more creative than that. Nothing ‘ordinary’ will ever be great. To achieve the extraordinary, you need flair. This is where the art comes in.

Using your creativity and intuition to conceptualise unique interventions and solutions that will generate true excitement and buzz around your projects.

— Gabbi Brondani Rego, PR Aficionado at urban espresso
I’d say PR is a bit of both, PR specialists establish and maintain relationships with the media, relevant trade media, and other opinion leaders as well as with an organisation's target audience — which I feel is an art.

Success in the field of public relations requires a deep understanding of the interests and concerns of each of the company's many stakeholders, as well analysing different trends and using different methods for business internal and external analysis — which I feel is a science.

— Tressa Robbins, customer onboarding vice president at Burrelles
Known as the 'father of public relations’, Edward Bernays said the most important function of PR is knowledge of the social sciences, individual and group behaviour, on social responsibility. That lends itself to the profession being a science; however, he also said that we should advise on coping with these problems in a professional way. To me, that indicates there is certainly an art to it.

In practice, we know there is an art to communicating in such a way as to establish and cultivate relationships — be it the media, external stakeholders, or employees. Credibility and transparency are crucial to those relationships.

At the same time, we are increasingly using science to evaluate and measure our work and its outcomes. These include pre-campaign research and benchmarking, ongoing evaluating and adapting throughout the life of the campaign, and being able to report the campaign's effectiveness on the desired business results.

While all this scientific data is necessary, we don't typically communicate the results through data alone — we, [the PR pros], tell the story of how our outputs resulted in outcomes, and that storytelling is an art.

Do you think PR is an art, science or a combination of both? Be sure to let us know in the comments section below.

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Do you want to learn more about the importance of creativity? Then be sure to read this Q&A with Tracy Jones on creativity in the PR industry.
*Image courtesy of Pixabay