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.
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