Last November the Public Relations Society of America launched a campaign to come up with a new and more modern definition of public relations. It has been a hotly debated topic among communication professionals, academics, students, and the general public. After a public vote last month that gave voters the choice of three different definitions, the winner was:
“Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.”
The new definition will replace the definition in 1982, which was:
• “Public relations helps an organization and its publics adapt mutually to each other.”
The new definition received 671 votes, or 46.4 percent, of 1,447 total votes. The other definitions to choose from were:
• “Public relations is the management function of researching, communicating and collaborating with publics to build mutually beneficial relationships.”
• “Public relations is the strategic process of engagement between organizations and publics to achieve mutual understanding and realize goals.”
From Nov. 21 through Dec. 2, 2011 PRSA invited individuals to send in definitions of public relations to be considered. During that time they were able to gather 927 definitions. The final three were chosen by a panel made up of PRSA representatives and 12 global partners.
Gerard Corbett, the CEO and chair of the organization wrote in a blog post announcing the new definition:
“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.’ ‘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.”
A lot has changed in public relations since 1982 and PRSA realized the need for an update. The practice of public relations dates back to the early 20th century, but the various roles within the profession have continued to evolve with the advancement of society and technology.
The announcement of the new definition has brought continued debate on PRSA’s blog created specifically for the campaign and throughout the blogosphere.
It’s amazing to think about all the advancements the profession has made in just the last five years, particularly with online public relations and social media. As a public relations professional I don’t think the change is an entirely modern definition of PR, but it does serve things on a very basic level.
At the end of the day, I don’t think we should get hung up on defining public relations for the thousands of practitioners around the world. It’s going to vary from person to person based on the type of work they are performing. It’s like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. The real focus should be on providing quality communication services that will help in developing the relationships your organization needs with your customers, potential customers, and other key stakeholders.
What do you think of the new definition of PR?