Public Relations redefined

prwordcloud2The search for a new way of defining what ‘public relations’ means has come to a conclusion after a lengthy public consultation process, a short list of three candidates from which to choose a winner, and the final public vote.

The contest was organized and spearheaded by the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) and partnered by professional associations around the world including the CIPR, CPRS, IABC, AMEC, Arthur W. Page Society, Institute for Public Relations, the Global Alliance and WOMMA.

And the winning definition is:

Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.

The PRSA said the winner was the second of the three candidates for the job, getting 671 of 1,447 votes cast, or 46.4 percent of the total vote.

In its own explanation of the phrase’s meaning, the PRSA says the new definition focuses on the basic concept of public relations as a communication process:

[...] one that is strategic in nature and emphasizing “mutually beneficial relationships.” “Process” is preferable to “management function,” which can evoke ideas of control and top-down, one-way communications. “Relationships” relates to public relations’ role in helping to bring together organizations and individuals with their key stakeholders. “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.

The PRSA has promised to implement the new definition to replace the one currently in use that dates from 1982:

Public relations helps an organization and its publics adapt mutually to each other.

I think the new one is a far more contemporary interpretation of how the profession practices its craft in the USA today. What about elsewhere? Here’s the CIPR’s current definition for the profession in the UK:

[...] Public relations is the discipline which looks after reputation, with the aim of earning understanding and support and influencing opinion and behaviour. It is the planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain goodwill and mutual understanding between an organisation and its publics.

And the inadequate Wikipedia definition, which begins:

Public relations (PR) is the actions of a corporation, store, government, individual, etc., in promoting goodwill between itself and the public, the community, employees, customers, etc.

I do believe the new one better reflects what PR today is even if it will likely still be a tough call explaining it to clients, journalists and others outside the profession. Here’s the new one again:

Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.

Today’s New York Times has a lengthy feature about the definition and the process leading up to choosing the winner, with comment and opinion from a number of association leaders including Gerard Corbett, 2012 chairman and chief executive of the PRSA, John Clemons, interim executive director at IABC, and Dan Tisch, chairman of the Global Alliance.

I have to admit that I was underwhelmed with this winning definition, as I was with the other two candidates. If this is the best we can come up with, will anyone really understand what PR people do? Will anyone within the profession get it?

Yet I accept that such thoughts are a bit unfair especially as I can’t offer a more compelling alternative. We have a definition, one that looks a great deal more effective than those it will replace, and one that’s been chosen in an open public vote by members of the professional associations and others, rather than only by those associations themselves.

That in itself is notable – a crowd-sourced definition, as it were.

So for better or worse, a new way of defining what public relations means is to hand. The essential work now starts for the alliance partners involved in this initiative – explaining its meaning. I wonder how it will further evolve once it’s presented as “the new PR.”

Related posts:

Three candidates for new PR definition

prwordcloudThe PRSA-led global initiative to find a new definition for public relations has moved into an interesting phase as it extends the time for deciding on what will be the one.

Rather than the PRSA and its global partners choose from three candidate definitions, those candidate definitions have been posted publicly to encourage further public discussion.

In an update posted earlier this week, incoming PRSA president Gerard Corbett said practitioners have until January 23 to express their initial reactions to these draft definitions, adding:

[...] We’ll then aggregate and analyze your feedback in preparation for a second “Definition of PR” summit meeting with our international partners, from which three final definitions will arise for voting by the profession. This additional step, we feel, will engender greater input and, ultimately, ensure we achieve the broadest possible consensus on — and satisfaction with — the new, modern definition of public relations.

So, here are the three #PRDefined Candidate Definitions:

Definition No. 1:

  • Public relations is the management function of researching, engaging, communicating, and collaborating with stakeholders in an ethical manner to build mutually-beneficial relationships and achieve results. (Annotated version here.)

Definition No. 2:

  • Public relations is a strategic communication process that develops and maintains mutually-beneficial relationships between organizations and their key publics. (Annotated version here.)

Definition No. 3:

  • Public relations is the engagement between organizations and individuals to achieve mutual understanding and realize strategic goals. (Annotated version here.)

If you have a view, add your voice in a comment to Gerard Corbett’s post (there are over 100 comments there already). Remember, the deadline is January 23.

Related post:

Have your say in redefining public relations for the modern age

prdefined

What’s your definition of the term “public relations”? Does it match that of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA):

Public relations helps an organization and its publics
adapt mutually to each other.

Or in the UK, that of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR):

[...] Public relations is the discipline which looks after reputation, with the aim of earning understanding and support and influencing opinion and behaviour. It is the planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain goodwill and mutual understanding between an organisation and its publics.

Or even Wikipedia’s definition, which begins::

Public relations (PR) is the actions of a corporation, store, government, individual, etc., in promoting goodwill between itself and the public, the community, employees, customers, etc.

The PRSA‘s definition dates from 1982 – almost 30 years ago. I can’t tell when the CIPR’s does but I suspect it’s a bit more recent.

Yet are any of these definitions still valid in today’s contemporary society? A society in which so much has changed that the very notion of the practice of public relations seems anachronistic to many where anyone today with an internet connection is a communicator and, often, seen as an organization’s spokesman? And when news events develop at the speed of the internet?

If you have a more accurate definition, one in tune with contemporary society and the evolving needs of organizations in the context of that society, then why not answer the PRSA’s call to action?

The PRSA is leading an industry-wide initiative to modernize the definition of public relations as the industry changes in the digital age. Their campaign launched today via Stuart Elliott‘s column in the New York Times entitled Redefining Public Relations in the Age of Social Media.

The US PR body has partnered with ten global communication organizations including the Arthur W. Page Society, IABC, AMEC, Institute for Public Relations, the Global Alliance and WOMMA.

Deciding on a new definition will be a good exercise in crowd sourcing. While the PRSA will lead on determining a short list of three new-definition candidates, the final decision will be made through open vote on the website between December 6 and December 15.

So wherever you are in the world, if you have a view about PR, share how you think it should be defined. The closing date for submissions is December 2. And why not also blog it, post it on your social network, communicate it and tell people what you think. Use the hashtag #PRDefined to connect your view with everyone else’s.

It’s a good time to be clear about public relations.

[Update Nov 23] Since this initiative was announced, there’s been widespread commentary in the social spaces, much of which you can find at the #PRDefined hashtag. In the UK, detailed blog posts have been written by practitioners that include Philip Sheldrake and Stuart Bruce, with strongly dismissive comment from Danny Whatmough.

Giving a keen fillip to the overall campaign is the CIPR which today announced its support for it.

I like Jon White‘s simple assessment of it, quoted in the CIPR announcement:

Public relations is a rapidly evolving practice. There are currently at least four competing views of what the practice is and is to achieve. The PRSA’s initiative is a good opportunity to clarify current views of the practice and the CIPR’s own work on the future of the practice fits well with the initiative.

As I mentioned earlier, it’s a good time to be clear about public relations.