PRSA’s Ambitious Campaign Clarifies PR’s Ambiguous Definition…or does it?

“Define public relations,” my public relations professor said to my research class last year. My class, which was comprised of mostly seniors, embarrassingly gave my professor a few blank stares before one brave soul uttered, “Public relations is a strategic management function that builds mutually beneficial relationships between businesses.”

“That’s a good start, but what does it really mean?” my professor asked. Sensing our distress, he didn’t wait for an answer. “You aren’t the only ones who struggle for a solid grasp of the term public relations,” he said. “That’s why the Public Relations Society of America is redefining it.”

PRSA issued an open call for entries to define public relations and received 1,000 submissions during a two-week period. After more than 1,400 votes (a few of which came from my public relations research class) PRSA released this modernized definition: “Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.”

The new definition was welcomed by some, including Global Alliance for Public Relations chairman, Dan Tisch. “[The definition] suggests it’s an ongoing process, a fitting idea when the cycle is continuous,” he said. PRSA’s choice certainly did not escape scrutiny. author Gini Dietrich took to her website to comment on the new definition. “I am a communications professional and I have no idea what any of these mean,” she said. “They all are full of corporate, marketing lingo bingo.”

If you share Dietrich’s opinion and still question the meaning of PR, click here to read our definition.

If you are a PR professional, what are your thoughts on PRSA’s definition? If you’re not in public relations, does the new definition clarify its meaning, or does it confuse you more?

Photo by: Imagerymajestic

About Sarah Hamilton

Sarah Hamilton provides support to the Lovell Communications staff and assists agency clients in the areas of media monitoring, media relations, writing, research, and other support services.
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2 Responses to PRSA’s Ambitious Campaign Clarifies PR’s Ambiguous Definition…or does it?

  1. The issue is the industry, as a whole, doesn’t know how to measure results. And that’s the ONLY thing businesses care about…what’s the return on my investment? If the definition talked about the results we derive, we’d have an easier time. A couple of years ago we redefined ourselves as integrated marketing communication and drove everything to results. In fact, I’m working on a strategy for a client right now that is focused on customer acquisition and revenue. Some of it crosses the marketing line (email, for instance), but most of it is PR – content, social, media relations, thought leadership, events, etc. We have a huge opportunity to measure our efforts because technology shows us where people come from. When we figure that out, we’ll have an easier time explaining what we do.

    • Thanks for your comment Gini. You make a good point. We are excited about technology’s current abilities to help us track results, and are having much more success tracking ROI these days.

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