Public relations definition has a PR problem
February 17, 2012 17 Comments
If you had an elevator ride to explain your profession or industry to a stranger, how would you tell it?
Would you tell the most interesting / exciting / engaging parts of what you do, or would you give your elevator passenger a robotic, jargon-filled rendition that is likely to confuse and make eyes glaze over?
For us communications professionals who work with the media, formulating succinct and interesting sound bites is a regular part of the job we do for our clients/organizations. And this is a valuable skill to have when speaking with any other person who you want to educate and keep interested in your organization or what your role is at that organization.
So when I read the three proposed definitions the Public Relations Society of America wants its members to choose from, I was confused.
Here are the proposals:
- 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.
Have a clearer picture of what public relations is? I don’t either.
Understandably, the criticisms of these proposals have been sounded. Even the chair of the task force behind redefining public relations agrees the criticisms have merit. Those criticisms include they suck, the jargon is mind-numbing, they don’t help change the image of PR and they don’t modernize the definition, among others.
If we expect people to understand what we do as professionals and what its purpose is, we, as a profession, cannot use a definition that makes eyes glaze over and brains shut down, and does not dispel the stereotypes we are trying to overcome.
Definitions are important and words matter; especially in PR and communications. They are the starting point to understanding. PRSA should go back to the drawing board and come up with a definition that will give people a better understanding of what public relations is and does.
PRSA does some good things for the public relations profession and I am a member of the organization. But if it instead adopts one of the jargon-filled definitions above, PRSA risks running public relations straight out of the lexicon and not getting businesses to see the value of needing it – not to mention losing clout, and possibly members.
These are also great posts on this topic you should take a look at reading.
PRSA’s #PRdefined: please don’t redefine failure – Frank Strong, Sword and the Script
Nailing Jelly to the Wall – Steve Crescenzo, Corporate Hallucinations, and via Ragan
Does It Matter if the PRSA Redefines ‘Public Relations’? – Brian Wagner, Talent Zoo