Written by Noemi Pollack on February 15, 2012.
Public Relations, although a century old as a discipline, and one in which businesses spend billions of dollars each year, has been, to date, a most misunderstood and often maligned profession, largely because the public at large is not clear on what public relations actually is, what practitioners actually do and who actually benefits from its services and how.
And that is why I delighted in the fact that the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) engendered a dialogue and debate about what is PR by launching a new campaign to re-define Public Relations last November.
In my blog dated November 22, titled “Re-Defining PR in the 21st Century,” I commented on the timeliness of the re-definition campaign, considering that the last definition was written by PRSA back in 1982 and that, in the ensuing 30 years, a seismic evolution has taken place in the industry. What was largely perceived at its start a century ago as a media relations-based discipline, has evolved to include responsibilities for a complex mix of online and offline stakeholders’ engagement, reputation management, corporate social responsibilities, thought leadership and digital marketing services, among a slew of other communication avenues.
Clearly the 30-year old definition that reads, “Public relations helps an organization and its publics adapt mutually to each other” sounds a bit lame today. To be fair, PRSA has made two attempts at defining public relations in the past 10 years. But nothing happened past the willingness to try…
So the latest good news is that, after soliciting suggestions from the public, along with public relations professionals, academics and students on its website: prdefinition.prsa.org, using a crowd-sourcing model, followed by an evaluation of over 1,000 submissions along with online comments and blog posts, PRSA will announce a winner on February 27th. All get to vote for the three final definition choices when you Click here to cast your vote, now open from Feb. 13 through Feb. 26.
Whether aptly timed for Awards Season or the timeliness was just happenstance, PR professionals are just as eager to see what will be the final definitive definition as any awards program.
And the “nominations” are:
- Public relations is the management function of researching, communicating and collaborating with publics to build mutually beneficial relationships.
- Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.
- Public relations is the strategic process of engagement between organizations and publics to achieve mutual understanding and realize goals.
What is missing here? Personally, I don’t get this “mutually beneficial relationship” line, which is found in two of the three finalists definition. Nor do I get the third one with its “mutual understanding” part. Nor am I too big a fan of leading a de facto definition with “management function of researching, etc.” However, I do think that “strategic process of engagement between organizations and publics” has merit and is on target.
Look, defining an entire industry is no easy undertaking, especially when it’s one as wide-ranging and often imprecise as that of public relations. But I would focus on the fact that we are counselors first and foremost — and that our profession is responsible for helping businesses navigate the many avenues of communication that can prove treacherous, protecting a company’s reputation, brands and assets from negative commentary or perceptions; for leading communication strategies that embrace new and expanded audiences; for evaluating economic factors that can impact a company’s business and executing plans to outthink the competition; and for staying ahead of the curve in this digital age.
Actually, it may take a paragraph…