July 27, 2015
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March 5, 2012

PRSA Rolls Out Its New Definition of Public Relations: Winning Description was Agreed Upon By Org's "Public Relations Defined" Campaign with 12 Global Partners — PRSA Explains Why Each Word Was Chosen

The Public Relations Defined campaign, led by the Public Relations Society of America and incorporating 12 global partners, has revealed the winning description of the PR sector, following a public vote. The chosen definition, which received 46.4% of the vote, with 671 votes, was: "Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics" — even though the announcement comes on the heels of Gerard Corbett from the PRSA saying that "no universal definition exists" that clearly delineates the modern scope of public relations in the 21st century. "Simple and straightforward, this definition focuses on the basic concept of public relations — as a communication process, one that is strategic in nature and emphasizing 'mutually beneficial relationships,'" the PRSA said in a statement announcing the new definition. According to the statement, "process" is preferable to "management function," which can evoke ideas of control and top-down, one-way communications, while "relationships" relates to public relations' role in helping to bring together organizations and individuals with their key stakeholders, and "publics" is preferable to "stakeholders," as the former relates to the very "public" nature of public relations, whereas "stakeholders" has connotations of publicly traded companies.

There were 927 definitions submitted to describe the sector, but these three were chosen as the finalists, with the public given two weeks in February to choose their favorite. "Public relations is the strategic process of engagement between organizations and publics to achieve mutual understanding and realize goals." came second with 30.1%. "Public relations is the management function of researching, communicating and collaborating with publics to build mutually beneficial relationships." came in third out of the three definitions with 23.6% of the vote.

"One of the things that characterizes this profession is the wealth and variety of the roles we undertake, which creates a vast range of different understandings about the nature of public relations," said Jane Wilson, CEO of CIPR, the UK's professional body for the PR industry. "Our own research has highlighted the need for a better definition of the discipline in order for the profession to continue to secure a successful future. However, one size may never fit all and this is a debate that will continue even beyond the publication of this new definition."

As a management function, public relations also encompasses the following:

  • Anticipating, analyzing and interpreting public opinion, attitudes and issues that might impact, for good or ill, the operations and plans of the organization.
  • Counseling management at all levels in the organization with regard to policy decisions, courses of action and communication, taking into account their public ramifications and the organization's social or citizenship responsibilities.
  • Researching, conducting and evaluating, on a continuing basis, programs of action and communication to achieve the informed public understanding necessary to the success of an organization's aims. These may include marketing; financial; fund raising; employee, community or government relations; and other programs.
  • Planning and implementing the organization's efforts to influence or change public policy. Setting objectives, planning, budgeting, recruiting and training staff, developing facilities — in short, managing the resources needed to perform all of the above.


Sad definition

For decades, since it was founded, PRSA has stood tall for public relations as a management function -- pushing to always have PR execs as part of management team and at the C-suite decision-making table.

In one rather silly and sophmoric exercise ("word clouds" and online voting by a whopping 600 people and who knows if the majority were even senior PR people) fewer than HALF of that tiny group of people have turned our profession and us into "communicators."

No longer a management function -- at the C-suite decision-making table, advising CEOs -- we are the communications people who wait in the hall to be told what to communicate.

While no one will ever take this seriously -- a MINORITYof the equivalent of 3% of the PRSA membership, and when you add in all the strategic partners, it's about 1% of combined membership, and when you look at all the PR people who aren't in any of these societies . . .. . . . . you're looking at less than 1% of all PR people and for all we know, they could all be age 25 in a junior level position . . . .

SO no one will take it seriously, but PRSA will flog it all over and it will start showing up on searches and pretty soon, we'll all just be "communicators."

Perhaps PRSA will merge with IABC, since they own the "communications" sector of our profession.

PRSA must be held accountable -- they threw together this hasty process to get some visibility -- used a thoroughly unsophisticated by oh-so-trendy methodology -- and now they're stuck with this. A definition without words "management function" should never have been allowed to be considered. You can bet other groups, especially the leaders like the Page group, will not be adopting this definition.


Love that strategic communication is included. It's the title of my book. But...how can two-way communication not be included? Without it, we cannot succeed. Check out "The ABCs of Strategic Communication" on my website. It's not too late for PRSA to modify it new definition. (www.larrylitwin.com)? Remember, we have to be the number one, number two person in an organization. Thus, it IS a management function. We must be at the corporate table.

PR Defined

The subject has been discussed to death, and I am among many who are settling for this definition, but are hardly satisfied with it.

While I applaud the PRSA's attempt to "crowdsource" ideas for the definition, the final voting process was in my opinion, flawed. The final three choices were offered as a yes/no choice in the online balloting, with no option to offer added comments. So the resulting winner is really what many consider the least offensive of three weak options.

I offer more thoughts at http://t.co/pPc8ePp8

Silly is Right

I'm not satisfied and not settling. I will never use this definition with my constituents as representing what I do because it's too narrow. There are times when we do not work for organizations, and there are many times when "mutual benefit" doesn't enter the picture. The idea of mutual benefit is naive in many cases. Sometimes, our role is simply to advocate for or defend one side in a complex situation where we simply cannot strive to help the other side benefit. In the real world, sometimes there are winners and losers. That part of the definition is pollyanna at its best. And we wonder why there are times PR has to wait outside the boardroom for the big boys and girls to make the decisions.

PR definition

Crisis PR Pro is right on target. Mutual benefit does not belong in any definition of Public Relations. Mutual benefit is neither neccesssary nor sufficient for public relations to happen. Including this in the defintion simply makes us more vulnerable to external criticism by journalists and others who know that this is the case.

On the other hand, Anonymous is wrong about communication. PR can not occur without communication. Good communication involves receiving (research) as well as sending. Just ask Rush Limbaugh and his sponsors if how you say something is unimportant.

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