Stop Trying to Define Public Relations
Why does everyone suddenly seem determined to find a clear definition? What is public relations is a question that inspires lots of opinions, yet we never seem to get a final answer. Most of us that have been in ‘the industry’ for a long time feel like we know what public relations is, so here is my answer…
Wait a second. Why, do we need to do this again? Okay, sure, it is strange that the profession has been around a long time and yet, we still don’t seem to agree on the definition, but, do we need one?
Do we have a universally agree upon definition of Love? Marriage? Do we agree on what Fun means? These things are (sorry to say) more important to me than public relations.
Okay, philosophical issues out of the way. An industry probably does require a definition. So let’s take a look at some of the recent work that has been done in this area. While there is no shortage of attempts to define public relations, there are a few recent ones that inspired this post, so let’s start there.
I agree with Frank Strong’s assertion that – if you ask 10 PR pros to define PR, you’d get 10 different answers. But, I disagree with Frank’s definition of “third-party validation.”
I agree with Jason Mollica’s notion that – Defining what PR is now would probably be a good thing. But I disagree Jason’s definition – The practice of safeguarding a client’s reputation. Public relations can also be the driving force behind obtaining positive and effective publicity for an event or product.
Nope, I still can’t define public relations.
As difficult as it may be to put forth a definition to be criticized, it is inversely easy to criticize the definitions of others. It is easy to call BS on almost every attempt. Including the often-criticised definition by the Public Relations Society of America – ‘Public relations helps an organization and its publics adapt mutually to each other.’ What?
BS on any…overly strategic definitions: academic definitions that use phrases like ‘highly strategic,’ or ‘board level communication discipline’ etc. We all like to see public relations as strategic, but truth be told many PR professionals make careers out of simply pimping new products for companies that ignore all the strategic advice.
BS on any…singular focused definitions that confines PR to media relations. Public relations is a wide-reaching discipline.
BS on any…overly wide-reaching definitions such as ‘highly integrated communications that includes branding, message development etc.’ Again, if a large percentage of the industry is making a living in media relations the definition can’t be too broad.
BS on any…definition longer than a couple of sentences. The longer the definition the less helpful.
Still interested in defining public relations? Here are some good conversations and resources.
- Check out the blog post by Jayme Soulati. Be sure to check out the comment section to see how quickly this process can get out of control.
- Ronnie Manning got some very interesting responses when he asked folks to define PR in 140 Characters or Less.
- Heidi Cohen recently posted a blog listing 31 common definitions of PR.
- A bit more dated, but the good folks at O’Dwyer’s kept an ongoing list.
All interesting, but no, I still can’t define public relations.
My next post will include my definition of public relations. What can I say, I may not (currently) know the definition public relations, but I do know the definition of hypocrite. Guilty.
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