Public relations are everywhere. From sections within government departments, to large independent consultancies, to units contained in large corporates - no organisation seems able to function without a specialist division to manage the way it is perceived by the public.

But what about the workers? Could individuals benefit from applying the principles of PR to their own lives?

If you ask the experts, it turns out that good public relations can indeed be good private relations. And by the same token – anything that's bad PR in the commercial sphere, is going to be bad for your rep in the domestic realm.

The notion of PR for one doesn't seem as unusual as it would have a few years ago, before social media gave everyone access to things – media and mass communications – that previously were hard for an individual to access.


One quality that's crucial in public and private lives is authenticity. Many people believe, to paraphrase the old joke, that if you can fake being authentic, you've got it made. In fact, you can only fake it for so long in either sphere.

Porter Novelli's Louise Wright. Photo / Chris Loufte
Porter Novelli's Louise Wright. Photo / Chris Loufte

"But if you are a person who cares about what you are and what you stand for, not what you stand to get, you can employ PR principles in your life," says Porter Novelli executive director Louise Wright. "You don't drive it because you think you ought to; you drive it because that is the way you are."

In PR as in life, says Wright, it's not just about acquiring lots of followers or friends. Meaningful relationships – whether with clients or other humans – are not about high numbers, they're about good meaningful connections.

Wright has a touching example of authenticity at work close to home: "I have a friend who every birthday sends me a card. She's probably keeping the greeting-card industry going singlehanded. And I am sure she will have a little diary – not an electronic one – with birthdays in it. She remembers my kids' birthdays and drops them a card, but it's not just 'happy birthday', there's always a message about 'I remember when ... ', or 'I'm looking forward to ...' and it's a catch-up." That's good PR on the most personal level.

Asked to define public relations, Deborah Pead of Pead PR provided this summary: "For me, PR is about consistently shaping, promoting and protecting a positive reputation for a brand, product, service or individual with the goal of an enhanced relationship with the target audience and the outcome of influenced behaviour.

"In short – reminding the audience why they should like you and trust you, believe you, copy you and support you.

"Support is not always about dollars and sales – it is often behaviour, e.g drink more milk to improve calcium, improve your recycling habits to reduce waste, improve your saving for better retirement and so on.

"The magic is in the way we do it and of course that has changed dramatically with the triple revolution – the internet, the smartphone and social media - now added to the mix of media relations, events, ambassador relations, direct communications, word of mouth sponsorships and unique campaigns (stunts) to drive word of mouth, promote a message and influence behaviour."

One of the first people to PR their own life was Dale Carnegie, whose 1936 book How to Win Friends and Influence People advocated a number of effective strategies for doing those two things. Carnegie's book has never been out of print and has sold more than 15 million copies.


Public relations had barely been invented when Carnegie wrote his guide, but as Pead's definition shows, winning friends and influencing people is exactly what PR aims to do.

Most of Carnegie's advice arises from one core principle – the realisation that people want to be respected, and that if you treat them as human beings rather than prospects they will want to co-operate with you.

Carnegie presented himself as someone people wanted to like. He applied basic PR principles such as always telling the truth, accentuating the positive, always admitting mistakes and being a good listener.

Like PR itself, Carnegie's book has acquired a reputation for insincerity over the years, especially among people who have never read it. But the reality of his message could be better described as unsentimental: "When dealing with people, let us remember we are not dealing with creatures of logic. We are dealing with creatures of emotion, creatures bristling with prejudices and motivated by pride and vanity."

People can only try to fake it till they make it, in the short term. And the same applies to those who try to bake it till they make it. "You need to know what are you really about in business and in life," says Pead. "If you cook, by all means, take biscuits when you go to visit someone. If I did that, my friends would know it's fake, because they know I can't cook. But they wouldn't be surprised to see me turn up with champagne."

Social media has made it easier both to be a fake and to see through fakes: "If you subscribe to blatant brand promotion," says Wright, "like posting something and saying: 'Which haircut - this one or that one? Please vote now,' and follow it up with 'Thank you, Fashionable Hairdresser of the Moment, for my new haircut,' that's not authentic."

Pead concurs: "Some people's lives are so curated and the tragedy is you can see it's fake. I guess the things we always tell our clients are: transparency, honesty, integrity, act with empathy, be ethical."

Scarlett London was mocked over this post. Photo / Instagram
Scarlett London was mocked over this post. Photo / Instagram

Last year, UK Instagrammer Scarlett London copped flak after posting a photo of herself, pajama-clad sitting on her bed, apparently drinking tea and eating pancakes in a bedroom filled with balloons.

One poster said there was no way it was "anybody's normal morning".

He added: "Instagram is a ridiculous lie factory made to make us all feel inadequate".

It was pointed out the so-called pancakes looked like tortilla wraps folded in half and that the cup of tea she was holding appeared empty.

The placement of a Listerine bottle on her bedside table (not in the bathroom) made it clear what the post was about, as did the "this is a paid partnership with Listerine".

Many people in search of good PR would rather just go out and buy the virtues. In fact, they are quite transparent about it.

Pead says her company has invested heavily in software that can check a potential client's social media for fake followers. And though you might think she'd seen it all, she says she is shocked at how many people don't seem to care whether their followers are fake or genuine. As far as they're concerned – the numbers are good PR whether they're real or not. "It's like a magazine liberally altering their readership to get more ads."

So good PR strategies are likely to yield good real-life results; and bad PR strategies are bad in either realm.

A conspicuous and increasingly common example Pead can think of where bad PR principles are applied to real life with bad results is the modern-day Instagram wedding. Just as an event to launch a product needs to have some sort of rationale to justify it, so a wedding needs to be about the relationship, not about how it's going to look on social media.

"You go to parties and people have an Instagram wall. Social media has changed the way people do so many things. They are treating their lives like brands. Everything is designed to have maximum impact but you have to be genuine in your efforts. I think that's why we're seeing a backlash against people with these fake heavily curated lives we see on Instagram. It's obscene the way they pretend everything is perfect. If you think that is PR-ing your life you've got it wrong."

Likewise, says Wright: "Disingenuous friendships don't work. You have to be friends with someone because you care, not because there's something in it for you."

That person who always brings something when they come to visit, from a bar of chocolate at the low end of the scale through to a bunch of flowers (bonus PR points if they're from your own garden) to home baking is actually practising great personal PR whether they realise it to not.

Pead does see a perfect public/private match when it comes to dealing with mistakes and complaints, or "PR disasters" as they are commonly known. "You have to face them with 100 per cent transparency and honesty in PR, and those are the same principles you should bring to real life. If something goes wrong, front foot it, be honest and ethical about it."

One area in which people are increasingly using bad PR principles in real life is parenting.

"There are definitely some parents who PR their children through school," says Pead. "If I think back to when my kids were at school, there were the parents who befriended the teachers or headmaster, and their kids got into the teams or got special treatment. Now, especially with social media, we see parents really talking up their kids' abilities."

She cites upsetting cases of parents tying themselves up in knots because their children aren't getting the likes on Instagram. "I saw a vile comment on Instagram the other day – a woman didn't understand why one of her kids gets less likes than the others kids. What are these people thinking?"

Instagram parents are the pushy showbiz parents of yesteryear who nowadays don't need to get their kid on stage to have an audience.

Insta-mums or mummy bloggers can make thousands per post and spend hours curating their fodder.

Anna Reeve with husband Jay Reeve and their twins Hunter and Oscar. Photo / Instagram
Anna Reeve with husband Jay Reeve and their twins Hunter and Oscar. Photo / Instagram

Model Anna Reeve runs @thereevenuggets, an Instagram page for her twin boys Oscar and Hunter.

She says it started because she had a hard time entering motherhood. She suffered hyperemesis gravidarum, a pregnancy complication which causes nausea, vomiting and weight loss. Then the boys were born premature.

"I struggled to bond with my babies and had post natal anxiety and depression. I didn't have anyone to connect to who had experienced not bonding with their kids right away and it made me feel so alone and like I wasn't a good mum which is what I think triggered the PND. I just wanted to share my story so that others knew that those experiences were normal too and it was okay."

She insists what she displays on social media is the real deal.

"It's easy to keep it authentic as I'm just being myself, people see through you in two seconds if you're trying to be someone you're not. I also don't feel the need to make everything look curated and beautiful. Sure I can take pretty pictures but my stories are full of normal day to day reality and I share my ups and downs."

Reeve also shares her alopecia journey, showing photos of herself with and without wigs.

"That's just who I am. It's really nice to connect with people going through the same thing. In fact that's what the platform is all about for me. Connecting with people from all different walks of life."

Pead worries about another more subtle effect that the PR of social media is having on society as a whole - that the sort of self-censorship that has always meant businesses had to choose their words carefully so as not to offend customers may be inhibiting how freely people express themselves in real life.

"People have really become aware of what they say," says Pead. "At least, everywhere but Twitter. It's like the old philosophy of not discussing politics or religion at the table has come back. People are avoiding those conversations in places like Instagram and Facebook. They are becoming much more measured and controlled and neutral on social media. They do that because, like a brand, they don't want to alienate part of their target audience."

So they don't say anything at all. And that is not what PR is about.

2018's biggest PR disasters

Melania Trump

First lady Melania Trump walks to her vehicle as she arrives at Andrews Air Force Base. Photo / AP
First lady Melania Trump walks to her vehicle as she arrives at Andrews Air Force Base. Photo / AP

Her "I really don't care, do you?" jacket — which she wore to a children's centre on the US border — immediately caused outrage.

Melania Trump putting decorations on an Xmas tree in the White House while wearing gloves. Photo / Instagram
Melania Trump putting decorations on an Xmas tree in the White House while wearing gloves. Photo / Instagram

And in November when the US First Lady shared photos of herself putting Christmas decorations on the tree, the internet couldn't understand why she wore gloves and a winter coat. Is it that frosty inside the White House?

The Pride Parade

The Auckland Pride Parade in 2017. Photo / Dean Purcell
The Auckland Pride Parade in 2017. Photo / Dean Purcell

In an event priding itself on inclusion, many saw the decision by the parade's board to ban police from wearing their uniforms, as the opposite.

It's understood all corporate sponsors have pulled support, and the parade was cancelled.

Israel Folau

Israel Folau. Photo / photosport
Israel Folau. Photo / photosport

In a stroke of good PR, the Australian Rugby Union showed their support for same-sex marriage only for Wallabies star Israel Folau a few months later to suggest on Instagram that gay people would burn in hell for their sins.

Destiny Church leader Bishop Brian Tamaki voiced his support, calling members of the LGBT community "cry baby gays".

Roseanne Barr

John Goodman and Roseanne Barr
John Goodman and Roseanne Barr

One racist tweet made in poor taste destroyed the US star's career and reputation and led to her sacking from her own sitcom.

Princess Eugenie's wedding

Princess Eugenie of York with her father Prince Andrew, Duke of York arrive for her wedding to Jack Brooksbank. Photo / Getty
Princess Eugenie of York with her father Prince Andrew, Duke of York arrive for her wedding to Jack Brooksbank. Photo / Getty

Her father Prince Andrew didn't handle the PR well when it emerged BBC turned down the opportunity to screen the ceremony - an embarrassing blow for the bride.

Black face saga

Hawera's A&P parade featured a float of Mt View Lions Club members in black face. It later emerged the Mayor of South Taranaki was on a judging panel that awarded second prize to the float.


Snapchat ran an ad for a game which asked users to choose between slapping Rihanna and punching Chris Brown.

Users were shocked considering Rihanna suffered domestic abuse at the hands of Brown in 2009. She took to Instagram to shame the app and the game was pulled and a public apology issued. Thousands of users uninstalled the app.

Facebook/Cambridge Analytica

In March it was revealed that many people on Facebook had had their personal data harvested without their consent.


The fashion giant apologised for its ad featuring a black boy wearing a hoodie with the slogan: "Coolest monkey in the jungle".

Yanny/Lauren or a bomb?

An audio clip went viral in which some people claim to hear "yanny" and others "laurel".

In the midst of a bombing campaign in Afghanistan, the US Air Force tweeted that Taliban forces would rather have heard "yanny" or "laurel" instead of the noise of an A10 dropping bombs.

Black Panther

Fast fashion brand Forever 21 posted a tweet featuring a white model sporting a Black Panther holiday sweater. Twitter was quick to point out the easily avoidably social marketing misstep.

Lady Doritos

Doritos. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Doritos. Photo / Brett Phibbs

The chief executive of PepsiCo said the company was considering releasing Lady Doritos.

"As you watch a lot of the young guys eat chips ... they lick their fingers with great glee, and when they reach the bottom of the bag they pour the little broken pieces into their mouth," Indra Nooyi said.

"Women I think would love to do the same, but they don't. They don't like to crunch too loudly in public. And they don't lick their fingers generously and they don't like to pour the little broken pieces and the flavour into their mouth."

Nooyi also said the company was brainstorming women-specific snacks that could be marketed and packaged in a different fashion.

PepsiCo later assured the public they were not making Lady Doritos, stating, "We already have Doritos for women – they're called Doritos."


The University of Adelaide's mansplaining billboard
The University of Adelaide's mansplaining billboard

The University of Adelaide attracted adverse attention after a billboard appeared featuring a bunch of women appearing to be hanging off a man's every word.

2018's best PR

Canterbury police Twitter


journalist Jason Walls posted a picture on Twitter of a matching gold suit and said he was calling the police.

Canterbury police responded with: "Hi Jason. While we usually don't recommend reporting via social media, on this occasion we'll make an exception because, by Odin's raven, there's been a crime committed here. That said, we think our CIB would look fab-u-lous in this."

Wall said he would be introducing "by Odin's raven" into his day-to-day conversations, before police said: "Please feel free to use, 'By the Hammer of Thor,' and, 'By the power of Greyskull,' also. And when you're with colleagues in the Gallery, please consider standing in a circle and chanting thusly, 'With your powers combined, I am Captain Planet.' Just stuff we do every day."

It's not the first time the social media account has kept fans in hysterics. Run by Inspector Hirone Waretini, last year the account warned people not to call them complaining about the finale of the hit HBO series Game of Thrones, adding "just in case you were contemplating calling us to find out when Season 8 comes out, don't do that. Mainly because we don't know. Because we're in Canterbury, New Zealand. And we're the Police."

Meghan and Harry's wedding

Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex kisses his wife Meghan, Duchess of Sussex. Photo / Getty
Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex kisses his wife Meghan, Duchess of Sussex. Photo / Getty

Despite all the family drama attached to the big day, including uninvited guests and a heart attack, Prince Charles swung in to save a lonely walk down the aisle for the bride.

The day also ran like a PR dream, with the ceremony filmed and streamed on the family's YouTube channel, accompanied by regular social media updates on its various platforms.

Invite a whole bunch of Hollywood A-listers, throw in a charismatic preacher and it was a recipe for success.

The Royal Tour

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex participate in the sport of gumboot throwing. Photo / Jason Oxenham
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex participate in the sport of gumboot throwing. Photo / Jason Oxenham

Prince Harry's new wife paid homage to New Zealand during the couple's tour Down Under, opting to wear Kiwi designs, including by Karen Walker and Emilia Wickstead.

The Duchess of Sussex hugs a little Catalina Rivera, 2, who got through the security at Government Gardens during their visit to Rotorua. Photo / Alan Gibson
The Duchess of Sussex hugs a little Catalina Rivera, 2, who got through the security at Government Gardens during their visit to Rotorua. Photo / Alan Gibson

They followed a carefully curated list of events, starting with a speech by Meghan on the anniversary of women's suffrage in which she opened by speaking te reo Māori. It included visits to many charities, a gumboot-throwing competition and a public walkabout. The public lapped up every bit of it.


A full page advertisement in the British tabloid press for KFC after a chicken shortage
A full page advertisement in the British tabloid press for KFC after a chicken shortage

Chicken restaurants shouldn't run out of chicken. When it happened to KFC, it took the PR crisis seriously, first setting up a website letting its customers know which locations were still open.

Then, it took out a full-page ad in The Sun and Metro, scrambling the letters in its name to read: FCK.


The management of a Starbucks in the US called the police on two African-American men who sat in a store without ordering anything and asked to use the restroom.

The men were arrested but the store later apologised and closed its 8000 stores for a day to conduct anti-bias training.