In over a decade, of my experience in public relations (PR), I have repeatedly heard this question crop up in the most sagacious discussions to informal conversations; is PR today more of a science than an art? Having worked in the Indian PR business, my thoughts would preponderantly be limited to the Indian market; however, looking at the blurring of boundaries owing to the emergence of digital media, it might have some ramifications for other countries. First, in the colloquial sense, science for me is something more quantifiable and logical when it comes to measuring outcomes, while art is subject to wider interpretation and the outcome is more based on consensus than proof. I would, unlike most, not tread the path of labeling one more creative over another.
To answer this question we need to take a step back and look at what PR is all about? In the strictest sense of the word, what do we really do in PR? We look at maintaining the reputation of the client vis-a-vis its external and internal stakeholders, through dissemination of varied information to the stakeholders. PR is all about creating goodwill or discussing issues that need to be communicated to the stakeholders. The clients could be large corporates, startups, or even individuals.
So what are we dealing with when it comes to PR? Broadly PR is about client expectations, the message that needs to be delivered, reaching out to relevant stakeholders and finally the outcome of the whole engagement at each level or stage. If we see the engagement in totality it is a mix of understanding client expectations, audience behavior, the impact messages will make and the outcome that is finally gained out of it. There is a lot of subjectivity when it comes to gauging and understanding behaviors and expectations, as it entails a lot of engagement, attitudinal understanding of the target group and subsequently devising strategies to achieve the outcome. In this sense, PR will always remain an art of understanding human behavior, writing creative content to deliver messages to diverse audience, storytelling and driving engagement with clients.
I always believe that PR is all about storytelling, nuances and insights, which borders to the realm of art. But, at the same time there is lot of science that goes behind devising strategy, creating measurable outcome metrics, standardising templates, all of which adds to the overall PR deliverables and does not take it to the realm of esoteric.
Moreover, the emergence of digital media, especially social and online news platforms, has brought a sea change in how we look at the PR landscape. Digital media by its intrinsic nature of vastness has in a way necessitated a scientific way of looking at PR, especially related to campaigns targeted at the specific target group. Today, data analytics tools can zero down on the impact of a campaign in terms of reach. They can specify target audience in terms of demography, age, gender and even purchase habits. All this has surely brought in a lot of science to the art of PR, and we can see the spillover of it in the traditional PR space.
In nutshell, PR will always be a perfect blend of art and science, and one without the other, might look nice but long term sustainability will always be a question mark.